Conference Tweeting or What Is Up With That?

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed: I was at a conference last week. Not only did I announce it several times, but I’m sure that the frequency of my tweets increased at least slightly. (Actually, I think it increased a lot, but who am I to say?)

The problem with tweeting from conferences is that it can easily scare those who don’t really have a connection with whatever I’m talking about. There probably were a couple of questions: What the hell is up with that? Why is she tweeting so much? And what’s she talking about? And why is she suddenly tweeting in English?

Well, there are answers to all that. But let’s begin from the start…

About the same time last year I was at a Lean/Kanban conference in Munich. Those were two days filled with talks, keynotes and pecha kuchas about Lean and Kanban, agile and processes.

I didn’t really think about it when during the first talk I unpacked my laptop and began tweeting about what was happening on stage. Even better, and faster than I expected I got feedback. People replied to my tweets, retweeted and faved them. Pretty quickly there was an official hashtag for the conference so that it was even simpler to follow all the tweets between and during the talks.

„Ah, you are Anne. I think I’ve retweeted you“, someone said when I sat down for a talk. I’m not one of the hot shots of the Agile scene, but using Twitter made it unbelievably easy for me to get to talk to other people. After all, we had been going back and forth on Twitter all day.

It was at this conference that I learned how to use Twitter. Before that I didn’t really feel comfortable replying to people who didn’t follow me. I thought it would seem weird, even a bit pushy, since – after all – they didn’t know me. At the Lean/Kanban Conference I learned that this is bullshit. Twitter, for me, is best when used as a tool for communication and that’s what I’ve been using it for ever since.

A lot of the people I started to follow at this conference, I still follow. Some people who started following me then actually still follow me, although a lot have dropped out when they realized that usually I don’t actually tweet in English and very seldom about software topics. I can’t blame them. But it means that I’m even happier for those that stuck around.

This year, once again, I was at a conference. This time it was the Agile Testing Days in Potsdam. Because I was pretty certain that I knew what was about to happen I wrote a couple of warning tweets, including the hashtag of the conference. And indeed it was just as predicted: The minute the first keynote started I was there with my Laptop tweeting along and following the tweets of my fellow conference tweeters. Of course I wasn’t alone, actually a lot of the speakers of the conference were big on Twitter, too. There was Lisa Crispin, active as always, as well as Mike Scott and Matt Heusser (whose talks I unfortunately missed), Sigurdur Birgisson and Huib Schoots, who walked up to me during one of the words saying „I have to meet you, I’ve been retweeting you all day“.

The experience basically was the same as last year. The timeline was busy with people writing, replying, retweeting and faving. I seem to be at least fairly good at what I call „conference tweeting“, at least that’s what I gather from my average retweet quota. Conference tweeting isn’t actually that easy and has some disadvantages. First of all, it’s hard to adequately squish the content of a 45 to 60 minute talk or keynote into a couple of 140-character-or-less snippets. And secondly, it does require some of your concentration. I’m still busy repeating these last three sentences in my head to write them down as truly as possible while on stage it just goes on. Nobody waits for me to be done with that tweet.

It’s a trade-off: Trade you loads of awesome interaction and communication for a certain percentage of your concentration. But since I believe that this interaction and communication is one of the most important things at a conference I’m happy to trade. I can understand why other people won’t do it, though.

But I will keep on doing it. For all my „normal“ followers, there’s no need to be scared. I don’t go to conferences that often, and it’s likely to stay that way. But maybe now it’s a bit clearer why I do what I did. And if you don’t happen to find what I tweet from conferences interesting I’m sure there’s a neat filter option in your Twitter client that you wanted to try out anyway.

Most of all I was amazed that some of my tweets actually got positive feedback from people who were not at the conference, sometimes not even involved in software development, but still seemed to like what I was writing (or at least some of it). I actually would like to write about „Agile“ for non-software people, but I will have to think about finding the right angle to attack this huge topic. We’ll see.

After all, you can have a lot of fun on Twitter. When in the first keynote of the conference, Scott W. Ambler said „in the real world“ one time too often, Gojko Adzic couldn’t help but writing:

another f*ing „in the real world“. does everyone else live in the unicorn land? #agiletd

Gojko Adzic, November 20, 2012 10:05


new task for #agiletd speakers. add unicorn pictures in your slides

And that’s why at least 75 percent (that’s a complete guess, by the way) of the presentation suddenly contained unicorns. This caused enthusiastic cheers from those who knew and some irritation for those who didn’t know what the hell that was about. It wasn’t until the second day when I realized that in this case, what happened on Twitter kinda stayed on Twitter, when I overheard a conversation from three conference participants who tried to figure out what was up with the unicorns. Apparently they didn’t use Twitter.

I love tweeting at conferences. Before you know it you are in, communicating, getting to know awesome people and having fun. It’s also great for those who cannot make it to the conference but get to follow it at least a little via Twitter. If anyone is looking for professional conference tweeters for software or internet conference, I’m totally up to it! Although I’m sure there are lots of people who will be there anyway willing and able to do the job. (Damn.)