The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Talk on Twitter

Last week, I had the chance to speak at the IH AMT Conference in London. I was talking about the difference between receptive and productive vocabulary and its implications for teaching. It was a fun event with a buzzy atmosphere and an engaged audience, and my session seemed to go down well. I was also lucky enough to have the wonderful Sandy Millin live-tweeting from my session so when I checked Twitter afterwards, I found a huge flurry of mentions and retweets. This got me thinking about the implications of Twitter when you're giving talks and workshops ... what are the benefits - and downsides - of having your session tweeted out to the wider world?

On the plus side ...
- You can reach a wider audience and engage more people in the discussion.
- You get to see what the main points the tweeters picked up on were. It's an interesting exercise,  especially when you compare the tweets to the points you'd hoped to get across!
- You also get to see which ideas sparked most interest through likes and retweets, which is both interesting and provides useful feedback, perhaps for refocusing future talks.

On the downside ...
- Putting all your carefully prepared material out there online leaves you rather compromised if you plan to give the same talk again to another audience! This is especially true if pictures of key slides where there's a surprise element get tweeted ... I'll definitely have to think twice now about reusing some sections of this talk exactly as they were.
- It's easy for your ideas to be misrepresented. I have to say that all the tweeters from my session were actually really good at putting points across accurately, but the tweet that turned out to be the most retweeted wasn't actually quite what I said ...

What I did say was that 7 is considered to be the magic number by psychologists when it comes to the number of items we can retain in our short-term memory and that memory's one factor you need to consider when designing vocab activities - you need to think about how many items to focus on (not necessarily exactly 7!) and be careful not to overload students. Of course, in 140 characters, context and hedging tend to get lost ...

Overall, it was a really interesting experience and I think the pluses of being tweeted definitely outweigh the minor drawbacks. Big thanks to the IH team for inviting me and for organizing such a great event and to the whole audience - including the tweeters! - for being so engaged.

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Blogger Sandy said...

Hi Julie,
It was a pleasure to watch your talk and it's interesting to see your thoughts on live tweeting. It reminds me of a post from Jeremy Harmer from a few years ago, apparently also prompted by the IH conference (then DoS, now AMT): https://jeremyharmer.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/presenters-in-peril-is-twitter-to-blame/ The post was short but it generated a very long and thoughtful comment thread.
One of the reasons I live tweet talks is that it was how I got involved in the whole idea of being on Twitter and of going to conferences. I know that I'm very privileged to be able to attend these events, and I want to be able to share that experience and those ideas. I often find that the replies I get or the questions people ask me about tweets prompt me to think about talks in a different way to just being in the room. I have also seen talks which I know have previously been tweeted, and I've never felt that the element of surprise is lacking. Sad as it may seem, I feel it's quite unlikely that more than one or two of any future audience will have seen any of the tweets, much less enough of the talk to derail it for you. (At least I hope not!)
The other reason that I tweet the talks is that it's my notes to go back to them later to write my blogposts, though this one will probably be a couple of months in coming due to other commitments.
Misinterpretation is a key problem though - soundbites do inevitably appear, and aren't always an accurate reflection of the talk. I think that's one reason why I tend to tweet a lot of the talk, rather than one or two highlights - it gives it more context. One thought about that though: people may have written exactly the same thing in their personal notes, but it's impossible to correct it there. If you reply to that tweet and correct it, it can continue the conversation for longer and encourage people to think more.
Sorry - stream of consciousness here! It was good to see you again, and looking forward to catching up with you at IATEFL.

11:16 am  
Blogger The Toblerone Twins said...

Hi Sandy,

Thanks for commenting and thanks again for tweeting my session! Hopefully, you got the impression from the post, that on balance I like the idea of my talks being tweeted - the benefits of reaching that wider audience, definitely outweigh any minor niggles.
I've just had a quick look at the Jermey Harmer blog post and scrolled through a few of the comments - lots of ideas there chimed. Especially, I think, the point that people following a Twitter stream don't necessarily get the whole content of a talk, but individual points can provoke interest or reflection or a desire to find out more ... that's certainly my experience of Twitter and, I think, one of its strengths as a medium in general.
I think the misrepresentation issue is probably something that bothers you when you see your own ideas tweeted way more than it's noticed by anyone else ... it's a bit like seeing photos of yourself - other people say it's a lovely photo and all you can see is the bit of hair that's sticking up ... if you see what I mean! It has made me think a bit about the way I tweet from things I'm at though - I often mix up what the speaker's saying with my own thoughts and comments and it hadn't occured to me before that the distinction might be missed by people who read my tweets. I don't think it's a major issue, but it is something I'll bear in mind in future.

3:46 pm  

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