Using Twitter to enhance a conference experience – a how to guide

5 11 2011

I am doing @gasmanbax a favour – the ASPiH conference is on next week and they want to get people Tweeting during and afterwards. So we thought a “how to” guide was a good idea, and I volunteered to write one.

Here it is – my question is what have I missed/got wrong? Thoughts much appreciated!

How to use Twitter to enhance your ASPiH conference experience

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social networking site which is increasingly used by professionals to form networks and share ideas. It adds an extra dimension to conference attendance. It is not just for teenagers to tweet about Justin Bieber, or for Stephen Fry to complain about his flight being delayed. Twitter is an excellent, free CPD tool.

How does it enhance conference attendance?

By using tweeting your ideas, questions, feedback, notes and thoughts during a conference using a specific hashtag, other Twitter users “following” that hashtag can interact with you. This results in discussion and reflection during and after the conference. It will provide you with an instant network of people with a common interest, who you can then continue to follow and learn from.

How do I get an account?

If you have a smartphone, download the Twitter app. Or on your laptop, go to Create an account – register with your full name, but by all means be imaginative with your username (the president is @gasmanbax). Just don’t make it too long.

What then?

Search for some people to follow. Some examples – @ASPIHUK, @gasmanbax (president), @gooddoctoruk (GMC),  @nursingtimes, @SafetyNurse, @PtSafety1st, @PatientsafetyUK, @Atul_Gawande. When you follow someone with similar interests to you, have a look who they are following to get some more ideas.

How do hashtags work?

Hashtags are a way of highlighting the topic you are tweeting about to other interested people. During the conference, when you tweet make sure you include the conference hashtag #aspih2011. If you search for this hashtag in Twitter, you will see a full stream of everybody’s tweets. Save this search, and you can dip in and out to see what people are talking about. Follow anyone who looks interesting, and you will continue to receive their thoughts after the conference. The hastag #meded is commonly used by people tweeting about medical education, and #ptsafety for patient safety tweets.

How do I reply to a tweet?

If someone has said something interesting or controversial, or you would like to answer their question, then you can reply to them by including their username in your tweet. There is a reply function in Twitter which will automatically include their name for you, and if you are replying to multiple people you need to try and include everyone who is involved. When somebody replies to a tweet you will get a message on your smartphone if you are using an app. This tweet also appears in a special timeline on your homepage of Twitter.

I can’t fit in all I want to say!

Twitter is challenging with its 140 character limit – but in a way that is the point, as it makes you succinct! However, if you want to say more, there are a couple of options one of which is Tweetdeck. If you set up an account here you can manage your twitter feeds and tweet longer sentences which then appear in a link at the end of your tweet. Another alternative is to use Evernote, which allows you to Tweet your notes for people to comment on, for example. If you are tweeting links, use a url shortening service such as tinyurl to make it shorter.

What does RT mean?

If someone tweets something which you think others following you might appreciate, you can retweet this message. You will see retweets appearing in the #aspih2011 stream. Sometimes people quote the tweet and add RT at the beginning as this allows a comment at the end. You should always include the persons twitter name in the tweet in this case. You might also see MT which means modified tweet – someone else’s tweets which you have changed and then tweeted to your followers. It is good Twitter etiquette to reference your sources!

How do I get more followers?

By tweeting interesting things! Twitter etiquette also says that if someone follows you, it is polite to follow them back. Make sure you complete your twitter profile as people will search for others with similar interests. If you become an active tweeter you will soon build a following.

Anything I should be cautious about?

Yes – Twitter is completely public, apart from direct messages (DM). Always bear this in mind when tweeting. You should always get consent before tweeting photographs of people. The public nature of Twitter is one of its strengths, as it allows networking with people you may never come across otherwise. But this has been forgotten in some high profile examples (think Liz Hurley and Shane Warne). Using Twitter on your smartphone is not considered bad manners during a conference, but don’t be totally distracted by it – face to face networking is still vital!

Created by @mossposs and @gasmanbax, November 2011


The fourth dimension of conference attendance

3 09 2011

So, I’ve just got back from two conferences – the NOVICE Summerschool in Budapest, and AMEE in Vienna. I always feel like I don’t make the most of conferences. I love AMEE – 3000 medical educators in one huge conference centre and multiple streams of symposia/workshops/posters/short comms….its absolutely manic! But as I sorted out some bits to take with me this year, I found last years conference bag, unpacked, still holding my notes and abstract booklet. Now I’m not saying I haven’t used what I learnt last year, because I definitely have (and made some new connections by sharing our business skills curriculum for vets in a poster), but it occurred to me that my physical output from it was rather static.

It struck me that there must be a better way….and then I heard all these people talking about Twitter during a previous conference…and I had a bit of a rebirth moment. To me, as I gain in experience as an educator, networking is one of the most important elements of conferences. Its a bit like the lowest level of the EBM triangle, but the (often beer driven) conversations with new contacts are a brilliant way of learning and getting new ideas. However, face to face networking is such a small part of a conference (even a brilliant one with lots of interactive sessions) and so this is where Twitter comes in.

Once I’d got the hang of the whole hash tag thing (#amee2011 and #budvet11) I started Tweeting in a couple of ways

– I took notes into Evernote and Tweeted them from the various sessions I went to (also with photos of slides etc)

– I tweeted questions/thoughts during sessions – and one of them even got asked live to the presenters at the time!

As my notes are in Evernote they are a bit more permanent and so it’ll be interesting to see if I go back to them over the next few weeks. I’ve already sent the link to certain sessions to colleagues who I thought might be interested.

So my conclusion is that CPD and conferences needn’t be as static as they sometimes appear….I guess I am completing that reflective learning cycle with a little help from some Twitter friends, and discovering that there is a fourth, social networking dimension to conference attendance!