Twitter back channels, conferences, sessions and engaging the audience

A couple of days ago we did an experiment around presentations that included the use of a twitter back channel (hashtag: #eair). The following is a reflection on what that allowed me to do and implications for conferences.

The question I end up at is “Should conferences have twitter hash tags for individual sessions?”

What I could do

After I finished the presentation I was able to review the tweet stream and see what people had said. This gave me a different and much greater understanding of what some of the audience were thinking and talking about. It was also frustrating because it revealed that I hadn’t effectively engaged some of the audience, they didn’t get “it”. I did end up replying to a number of tweets to expand on ideas or give alternate perspectives. The tweet stream enabled me to extend the conversation.

This ability has given me a better understanding of what worked and didn’t work for the presentation. I plan to try and use this for all my presentations.

The problem

It was easy to do this because I used a hash tag that was unique to my presentation – #eair. As I’m the only one use that tag for my local presentations, that should be ok. But conferences are difference. I’m just back from EDUCAUSE’09 which used the tag #educause09 for all discussion. There wasn’t a tag for individual sessions. So I couldn’t easily couldn’t easily find what people had said about a particular session, including the one I gave.

This absence/difficulty of tracking tweets for a particular session reduces the number of possible conversations.

Ignorance alert

I haven’t really gotten into the Twitter thing as much as others and was pre-occupied during much of EDUCAUSE’09. Is there a simple, well-known solution that I’m missing?

Solutions oriented

I keep being told I should be solutions oriented – apparently I’m cynical/pessimistic. So here’s my initial idea.

Each session at a conference get a unique number. That session number get added to the conference hash tag.

Example, ASCILITE’09 is using (I think) #ascilite09. If I’m tweeting in session 55, I’d be using a tag something like #ascilite09s55 or #ascilite09#55.

The drawback, based on very little testing, is that this would split off the conference tweets into the sessions. Perhaps the conference would need an aggregator? Perhaps, people just have two different searches? Perhaps the conference creates a Twitter list?

Don’t know enough to say. But the ability for each session tweet stream to be identifiable would be something I’d use.