1 June, 2011 by ehauke
I thought I knew all about Twitter. After a false start with the micro-blogging site a couple of years ago, I recently re-engaged with the idea. After cleaning out all my naive, first-time-round follows, I began to build a useful timeline for myself. Keeping myself informed on news, science, health and entertainment. Plus, of course, my friends’ and colleagues’ activities and thoughts. But despite this new-found savvy for all things twitter, I was recently caught out at a public event.
I was speaking at the Science Communication Conference in London. Now, I reckon that I normally make quite a good connection with audiences in a public speaking situation. I’m by no means funny, but I usually squeeze out a few titters and giggles here and there, and get knowing smiles and nods from people in my eye-line. This conference was different though.
I began with my usual confidence. Made eye contact with some likely looking people. Kept up the patter. And threw in the first giggle moment (I think ‘joke’ would be putting it too strongly…). And nothing happened. Well, I think there was a suppressed sniffle if not snigger from the other speakers on the stage behind me. But nothing from the floor. In fact, most heads were down-turned. Maybe people just weren’t interested. But everyone seemed focussed. And there didn’t seem to be any restlessness in the room. Puzzling.
Then we came to the Q+A, and plenty of people had questions. And they’d obviously been listening to us. The questions were relevant, insightful and interesting. Now people were coming alive. Maybe it wasn’t that bad as it seemed. But why the feeling of speaking to a brick wall? Why the apparent icy reception?
On leaving the room at the end of the session, one of the conference organisers approached me.
“That was great – it went down a real storm! Fantastic!”.
Funny, no one seemed that excited by our presentations during the session.
“Twitter has been going crazy”.
You what now?
“Really. This session has stirred a Twitter frenzy. All about podcasting. They were tweeting every word you guys said”.
OK. So I went and checked out the massive real-time twitter stream screen in the foyer, just in time to see the last podcast-related tweets disappearing off the bottom. I then spent the next session, rather vainly back-stepping through twitter to see what people had been saying about our session. It seems it did go down well. People did like the points we made. And people tweeted the funny bits too!
You can check out the Storify of some of the tweets from our session on this Nature blog page – scroll down to about 10.15am to see some of the tweets sent out during our session:
So this made for a rather strange engagement experience.
On the one hand, there was no real-time, human evidence that anyone was even listening. No eye contact. No nods. No giggles. But on the plus side there were no yawns either.
However, we did make contact with a significant proportion of people in the room. They tweeted as much. We just had no way of knowing at the time. So their real-time communication with the twittersphere, left us lacking real-time feedback. I don’t even know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
I guess it’s great that aspects of our presentations were being shared with a much wider audience than the 128 people in the room with us. It just would have been nice if, while tweeting, they could have laughed at my jokes!