Why I Banned Twitter at My Last Event

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Back in November 2009, I launched a book marketing venture that rapidly spawned a sold-out live event in NYC—Tribal Author Camp.

I did it because I love teaching, especially when I get to combine my jones for writing and experience as an author with marketing and social media. A big chunk of the event was focused on leveraging social media to build an author platform, then create a 3-stage launch campaign.

Which is why I got some raised eyebrows when my new book marketing mini-tribe turned to the first page of the manual to discover the following policy

No live tweeting, Facebooking or blogging – BE HERE NOW! You can tweet, email and Facebook your ass off during the breaks! And, no recording devices, cell phones or pagers. Cow bells…absolutely. We can never have enough cow bell!

What the?!

Why would I ban social media and smart phones during an event that’s all about marketing with those very tools?

Doesn’t that just hurt me? I mean, I lose all that precious twitter hashtag back-channel buzz, I forgo the participants’ followers wishing they were there and passing along a stunningly abundance stream of quotes to the huddled authorial tweet-loving masses.

What on Earth would make me give up the marketing and PR benefit of a room full of people live-tweeting the event?

Was it that I’m just a control freak?

Nope, that wasn’t it. Well, actually, I AM a control freak, but that wasn’t behind the ban.

Was it that I didn’t want my precious genius (read “inane rambling”) leaking out to the unpaid masses?

Nope, that wasn’t it, either.

Then what? What would drive me to make such a rash, horrifically unjustifiable policy?

As Curly said in City Slickers…”One Thing.”

I wanted everyone in the room to actually BE THERE.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to conferences or events where people are cycling mercilessly between tweeting every other line, taking notes and, can you believe, checking email. Then, they walk out of an event, you ask what it was about and the closest they can come is “I don’t know, but I tweeted the hell out of the best lines!”

The reason I instituted a social media ban during my Tribal Author Camp event and gave up the potentially substantial opportunity for twitter hashtag fame was because it was far more important that I be able to give everyone in the room exactly what I promised. And, to do that, I had to create an environment that ensured minimum distraction, minimal task-switching and maximum engagement.

Because, if you’re genuinely THERE, if you’re engaged during the event, things sink in on a whole different level, questions arise at the time I am there to answer them and relationships are formed by listening, truly listening not just to me, but to everyone else who participates.

And now, the big question…did the twitter ban hold?

Pretty much. At one point, one participant came to me to share his guilt over tweeting something I said that, as he put it, just had to be shared. And, I did notice a bit of tweeting during the breaks. But, for the most part, the ban stood the test of ADD time. In the end, the result was an amazingly coherent, deeply engaged tribe who left, I hope, with not only great information and relationships, but a renewed sense of the need to occasionally disconnect, tune out…and drop in.

Now, I’m curious…

Have you ever suffered such indignity?

Had to endure an event without the refuge of twitter?

What do you think of my ban? I’m all ears…

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68 responses

68 responses to “Why I Banned Twitter at My Last Event”

  1. If a presentation is interesting enough, I don’t tweet. If it is boring, controversial or has dead spots, then I tweet to keep myself engaged and prevent me from falling asleep. However, I don’t surf or check e-mail or tweet on an unrelated topic.

  2. Live tweeting is no fun at all. You can’t participate and “be there” as you say, because you’re too busy documenting.

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by remarkablogger: RT @jonathanfields Why I Banned Twitter at My Last Event http://bit.ly/bpSGRV (pls RT)…

  4. Mark Silver says:

    Amen. We’re going to do the same thing for our March event coming up.

    Presence is in such high demand and such low supply.

  5. I love the idea! I haven’t (unfortunately) been to an event with this kind of ban – but have wished for it!

    I experience the same thing, as an audience member, when the people there are not REALLY there because they’re busy texting/tweeting/emailing. In fact, I find it distracts me from the presentation (even though I’ve tucked my peripherals away).

    I find it rude and inconsiderate of the presenter and the other participants. Why go to a live event if you don’t want to engage and interact – live?

    I love Twitter, and my Blackberry, and I am a technology junkie, but I also believe in limits. There is a right place and a right time.

    I hope more events model your approach!

  6. Lisa Frank says:

    Absolutely a good idea – I agree that you need to be present in order to get the most out of the course, session, etc. I attended a webinar yesterday and out of curiosity performed a Twitter search on the company name and had that running in TweetDeck. The number of people who not only tweeted quotes from the presentation but sometimes tweeted part of the statement was eye opening. I ended up closing the search because it was too distracting and I wanted to focus on what the presenters were saying. If you spend all of your time retyping someone else’s words, you may end up missing their point.

  7. Just playing devil’s advocate here… but don’t you think if attendees would rather tweet away than pay attention to you – that it’s a sign you really need to improve the engaging quality of your presentation?

    Yes, if I’m attending a conference, I definitely agree with you about “being there”. I wouldn’t personally live tweet over actually focusing on the content… but is banning it outright just treating the symptom, not solving the bigger problem?

    • Mark Silver says:

      Interesting thought, Jordon. Here’s my take: if people aren’t paying attention, there are plenty of other signs other than tweeting.

      And, the pull of social media can be so powerful, addiction-like really, that it’s not a fair competition. If I get uncomfortable with an idea or exercise, if I have a legitimate out and tweet “Wow I’m uncomfortable with this exercise” it takes me away from the actual discomfort that I may need to sit with and work through.

      As a presenter I’d rather see glazed eyes, yawns, and shuffling to alert me to the fact that I’ve lost the crowd, than to see everyone bent over their mobile devices tweeting, and be unable to know if they think they are engaged and are tweeting because they like it, or are bored and tweeting because of that.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Great question. One that’s actually dealt with in a pretty fascinating way in Dan and Chip Heath’s new book, Switch. What they found was that often, environment played a large role in whether people could exercise self control even in circumstances where they were highly motivated to be engaged.

      Put another way, I agree, your job as a speaker is to enrapture people. But, it’s also important to do what you can to change the environment in a way that counters attendees natural and trained behaviors, often to the point to compulsions, in order to “support” their desire to override those compulsions and simply be there. And, these days, checking twitter has become a major compulsion. People often check it not because they want or need to, but because it’s become an unconscious, ritualized behavior. Some even call it an addition.

      So, I think we agree. A speaker’s job is to engage, but also create an environment that optimizes engagement…especially when you’re running a multi-day information-loaded professional training.

    • H Lee D says:

      No, I don’t think it is. That’s like leaving out a fresh (read: aromatic) batch of cookies within arms’ reach at a Weight Watchers meeting and blaming the group leader for participants eating a cookie.

    • Laura Roeder says:

      Jordan – the atmosphere at these tech events is that it’s not “cool” to just sit back and listen. Everyone is on their phone/laptop so you should be too. I can tell you that a speaker its an absolutely miserable experience! You have no idea if anyone is engaged or listening. It’s really difficult to gauge the room.

    • Gordie says:

      I think people are now programmed to tweet first, rather than listen. Therefore, their tweeting will immediately hinder them be able to get the full force of your message. They may end up thinking your message was just okay, because from the start they had been focused on tweeting rather than listening.

  8. ami says:

    whoa – you’ve hit on a soapbox issue for me, tho’ my soapbox isn’t limited to twittering but also includes email checking, texting, etc. during meetings.

    I have a strong, perhaps old-fashioned, reaction to all of this distraction, which is that I think it’s rude to the speaker – and minimizes the value of the meeting or event to the participants. Perhaps speakers and meeting organizers have brought it on themselves by having purposeless meetings or allowing events to last too long. Fine, meeting organizers should get to the point quicker, attendees should be actively engaged throughout. Be present, add value, help the meeting reach its conclusion. THEN go share.

    I think more event organizers should institute a ban during presentations. If the meeting is not worth your full attention, don’t attend. Otherwise, save the twittering, texting, emailing and other noise for the break.

  9. Being in the moment. Very good idea. I think a lot of us are getting too much into multitasking and we don’t allow ourselves to experience things. Which is bad cause I remember some research ib positive psychology which shows savoring experiences is a key component to happiness. But savoring requires focus, and maybe leaving your Blackberry at home.

    PS: Back in November 2009? From the phrasing, I thought you were gonna say “Back in 1949…” 🙂


  10. I completely agree with the ban. I just wish MORE people would ban live tweeting, FBing and blogging. Its bad enough when people whoa re at the table with a group of people talk on the phone in restaurants and bars, let alone tweet!

    140 characters to many people can never beat a conversation in the present.

  11. I think the argument can be made two ways: 1)”presence” and 2)”we all learn our own way”. I’ll make the latter since you’ve enumerated the former:

    I’ve yet to attend an event where I felt the need to tweet, though I can see how some may use their stream of quotes as their own sort of notes to be referenced later. Heck, I frequently type words or phrases into my iPhone so I can use them for posts later.

    And, since I’ve come to the point where I (nearly) abhor using paper for anything and prefer to scribble things out digitally, I might be able to sneak a tweet on my laptop without you even knowing.

    The most important thing, if you’re providing valuable content, is that people find a way to absorb and use it. Is it possible the inability to throw things out into the internet stream kept them from doing so?

  12. Scot Herrick says:

    I will take great notes on my laptop during the presentation. I find it clarifies my thinking around what the speaker is saying and writing it helps me learn the stuff as well.

    One thing missing from all the comments: I get totally ticked at spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to go to an event to listen and learn from experts only to have all that expertise twitted right out of the room for free.

    If I’m paying to go to an event, I want the exclusivity that should come with it. I am paying for the knowledge (and networking, of course). Otherwise, I’ll just go get the hashtag. It’s not the same as being there, of course, but it certainly is a lot cheaper.

  13. Looking at it from the other side… from the side of the people who have to read the tweets, I must say Thank You!!

    #hashtag flooding of the same tweets by loads of people during an event is sometimes as hard on the eyes as the #followfriday list of names.

  14. Nicola Lees says:

    As someone who was at the Tribal Author Camp I was kind of shocked that there even had to be a ban – for me it would have seemed extremely rude to Jonathan to have been tweeting away during the sessions (like having a cell phone conversation in the middle of a seminar), particularly as it was a reasonably small group.

    In a conference situation with hundreds of attendees, I don’t mind so much, but do find blaring white screens a distraction especially if you can see people are constantly checking emails – again, just rude.

    Having said that when I can’t attend a conference I do appreciate the Twitter stream to get an overview of proceedings.

  15. Srinivas Rao says:


    I’m probably one of very few bloggers who might never have an iPhone for this very reason. I think it’s ridiculous that people are tweeting about the conversation they are having with me while they are talking to me. It also makes you lose out on the interaction. Tonite I’m going to see Seth Godin speak and I’ll probably be in a room full of iphone owners and tweeters. I’ll be there with most sophisticated technology I own, my brain. So more power to you for instituting the ban.

  16. Awesome!

    I know I’m probably still in the dark ages without a mobile device or a cell phone # that anyone other than my husband and a few lucky people know about. And I’m sure I’ll eventually jump on the bandwagon, simply out of convenience.

    However…I completely value and honor the idea of wholly being present–for whatever is front of you. Life is meant to be lived fully and that means jumping in, showing up, and “being” there 100%.

    So, I appreciate your renegade leadership by banning Twitter! Woohoo! It’s funny, I’ve been blogging for several months now, and the majority of my posts seem to consistently make their way back to that fundamental gift (to others and ourselves) of being present.

    You are on to something, and I dare the rest of us to follow!

  17. fantastic idea to keep people engaged where they belong. I find there is no way to keep my computer open and do things with my family, toomuch digital focus.
    Many schools are doing the same thing, my kids elementary for example. Sad state when you have to ban phones from first graders.

  18. Helen says:

    Makes sense to me, I’ve always been the same about cameras, too. We bought a video camera and never use it. I don’t see the point of living life through a lens – unless you are making real art or documentary. Snap the odd moment, sure, but be there.

    Twitter… I log on a couple of times a day to see what people are up to, but I just find it too hard to say anything meaningful in that character limit.

  19. Pamela Slim says:

    Charlie and I will ban all live social-media-ing from our retreat at the end of the month, with the one exception of allowing anyone at any time to tweet:

    Hey @jonathanfields, you SO are missing out and should be here!

    Otherwise, only deep, profound conversations around the fireplace allowed.

  20. bchase says:

    I joined twitter for all of a week, I think. I found most of the chatter to be noise and not worthy of my time or attention.

    I think we live in a noisy world. I think we use that noise to hide from ourselves and from others.

    I, too, find it exceedingly odd that one would have to institute a ban to elicit what I would think of as basic manners, to stop what you are doing, listen to the speaker and take in what he or she is saying. If you agree, ponder on why and how your views differ. If you disagree ponder on why and how your views differ. Grow from the event. If it is so boring that you can’t be bothered, leave. Or, politely tell the presenter so they can learn and get better at their job.

    Be where you are. Attend to what you are doing. Do one thing well.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Two quick things. One, I actually DO find tremendous value in twitter in daily use. For me, it’s everything from a social outlet to a human search engine and place where I’ve cultivated tremendous personal and business relationships. It takes a few months to get to a place where those benefits begin to accrue. So, I don’t knock twitter as a general premise, just in the context mentioned. Also, and this probably isn’t apparent to those who are not regular users, as has been mentioned before, many on twitter develop what rises to the level of a near irresistible compulsion to tweet, regardless of what’s going in front of their faces. It’s not that they’re bored or disengaged, they just can’t resist the siren call.

      • You make a great point, Jonathan with your comment: “Many on Twitter develop what rises to the level of a near irresistible compulsion to tweet, regardless of what’s going in front of their faces. It’s not that they’re bored or disengaged, they just can’t resist the siren call.” I have seen this way too many times. In fact, I have even fallen victim to doing this. I am even taking a break from Twitter to re-focus on how I use the tool and how I can use it more effectively without spending precious time aimlessly viewing and commenting on what people share in a never-ending flow of information. I am thinking my break will help me realize what is most important in my life is those who I can look in the eye on a daily basis and have real conversations.

      • bchase says:

        To begin, I will admit to being something of a Luddite. With that said, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I think the whole twitter thing (or any other electronic means of interaction or entertainment) is entirely useless but I do stand by my statement that it generates a lot of noise and, I think, we have far too much noise in our lives. In addition, I also stand by my statement that we use that noise to hide from ourselves, avoid uncomfortable thoughts or feelings and to keep things on a safe, surface level. Twitter is not the only tool people use to create noise so they can hide, they also use iPods, cell phones, TV, radio, anything. Before these technologies existed people had other ways. This hiding thing is not a new phenomena.

        I think there is another phenomenon going on with the compulsive need to twitter and that is a strong, competitive desire to be “first”. If I don’t tweet this now, someone will beat me out and I won’t get the attention for having the “scoop”. I am not saying that this is inherently bad either, just that one needs to make a conscious choice about what rewards one wants, the scoop or the in depth knowledge.

        I think that your statement about the need to tweet being compulsive, a form of an addiction, supports these ideas. I would also agree with you. As a teacher of 9th grade students I sometimes feel that my students think I am performing an amputation without anesthesia when I ask them to hand over their cellphones when I catch them texting in class. The difference between your audience and mine is that, in theory, your audience actually wants to be there.

        My point is that twitter, and all the rest, are just tools. It seems a shame to me that we let the tools dominate our lives to the point that we forget to attend to our place of being and can walk away from an experience without really taking in much more than soundbites. I think this is consistent with other things you have posted about.

  21. At TEDx MidAtlantic 2009 I was one of three people who got advance authorization to be livebloggers or tweeters. One was liveblogging the other was tweeting, and I decided to ditch either and did handwritten notes that led to commentary afterwards. The talks were captivating, and so while the social media and cellphone ban was sent in advance, it was also well-appreciated by the attendees.

    The only caveat to such a ban would be that, now that the distractions have been set aside, it is the speaker’s responsibility to hold his audience captive.

    • Suzi Craig says:

      My eye opening experience with live megaphoning happened at Brogan’s Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston last fall. Not only were we encouraged to live Tweet, but our Tweets were fed into two big screens during the presenters’ talks. The result was astonishing: we all felt compelled to one-up each other by posting the most stellar insight first and, as far as I could tell, when it came to question and discussion time, I suddenly felt like we had spent too much time reporting on what was discussed instead of thinking about how we could add to the conversation with relevant and provocative discussion.

      Not only that, you had splinters of conversations developing among audience members, aside from the presentations. Basically, Twitter took over and the same thing that happens in the Twittersphere happened right there in the room. The result was that I left the conference feeling disappointed in my experience, yet it was me who let myself down. I should’ve stopped my own madness and paid more attention to the content happening in the room!

      Before that conference, I was proud to allow people to Tweet and post and blog, etc. during my own presentations but not anymore. When you’re in the room, be in the room. The world can wait an hour to hear what was discussed. And, then you will have a more thoughtful conversation to start, instead of creating more noise out there with your “Must Tweet now before the guy next to me gets it out first!” approach.

      One caveat: the interesting thing about live Tweeting is that the expectation of trust is instantly granted and the power is given directly to the people. Just try and talk out of turn and get away with it. The crowd, once again, rules.

      Less noise, more thought please. Jonathan, you are helping us to get there by taking a stand with a #tweetban.

      • “it was me who let myself down”

        just wanted to thank you for that lovely phrase, Suzi; nicely put

        • Suzi Craig says:

          Rock on Joel.

          My mantra these days, as I send myself down the difficult and worthy path of growing up, is to shut my mouth before a complaint comes flying out and ask myself first: “is it the other guy that I really have the problem with, or me?”

          So tough to do, but I’m trying to do it every day.

  22. Dark Angel says:

    I’ve found myself increasing live-tweeting more and more at various events over the last few months, but after reading this I think I want to try taking a break and really just experiencing the event for the sake of such.

  23. Tabitha says:

    I don’t go to a lot of conferences and such but I go to concerts quite a bit and I’m always astounded at the people twittering about the show or trying to get good pictures or video. I can’t help but think what they’re missing in the music and the experience while they’re focusing on all that. I just don’t understand it.

  24. Great points made, Jonathan! I have seen people tweeting, texting, etc. not just at conferences but in gatherings where the focus was to meet with those you normally talk to online. In those times, I have to shake my head since some people can’t even give up their access to their electronic device to have actual face to face discussions. What is this world coming to when we choose the way we communicate through Twitter, texting, etc. and not embracing what we can learn by being PRESENT in everyday conversations.

  25. Farouk says:

    you are right , people are becoming mad about status updates

  26. I think your ban is an excellent rule. I send various staff members to conventions and conferences during the year, and this is now going to be a standard requirement. They can engage during the break, but I send them to conferences to learn and participate and it’s very hard to fully focus when all you’re thinking is what the tweet should be.

  27. As one who is not much of a twitterer, this ban wouldn’t affect me too much. However, my dislike of cell phones is growing. I feel that too many people today have no basic respect; interrupting conversations, ignoring cashiers, etc. If I’m having a conversation with you, I want to talk to YOU, not to part of you.

    So, over-all, I think the ban was a great idea. I’ve sat in many classes and watched fellow students not pay attention. Then, come time for exams, I’ve seen them frantically studying and complaining about how hard the class was. All because they missed the info the first time and had to learn it all in one short period of time.

    Bravo on the ban!

  28. […] Why I Banned Twitter at My Last Event […]

  29. Phil Bolton says:

    Hell yes! I love this. Live in the moment and enjoy it. That’s why I ditched the smartphone – cell phone is next in my crosshairs! Brilliant and refreshing.

    Phil –

  30. I’m sooooooo old that I can’t conceive of using an electronic device while someone is talking to me, and I consider it egregious in the extreme when someone does that to me. (My business partner, 15 years my junior, knows better than to whip out his Blackberry while we’re talking. My daughter won’t even answer her phone while we’re talking; she just lets it ring.)

    I did a seminar last year. Small group; a dozen people. Eleven of them were, I’m proud to say, enraptured. Taking notes with, believe it or not, pens and paper.

    Except one guy, a free guest of the other presenter. He sat behind his laptop and his typing was so loud and constant it disturbed those around him. Fortunately, there were other seats they could move to, and they did. I did’t speak up because he was the other guy’s guest, but I wasn’t pleased.

    After the event, every single person but Mr. Typer stayed and engaged and bought books and CDs and we had a great time. Mr. Typer just packed up and left.

    His feedback to the presenter who gave him free entry? “I didn’t hear anything I cared about.”

    Guess how many of my events he’s even received an invitation to since then . . .

    I would pay a *bonus* if I knew an event was going to ban obnoxious antisocial behaviour (yeah, engaging in ‘social’ networking while someone is talking to you is antisocial.)

  31. This is the same principle behind why I record all my coaching calls – how can I participate fully if I’m trying to take notes?

  32. Mike Cassidy says:

    Love the idea of “being there”. We’ve evolved into a society or “socialmediaty” in which anecdotal tidbits rule the day (and night). Marketing has become a petri dish of these anecdotes, some of great wisdom and others more whimsical.

    Soon, we will have to keep our presentations down to 140 characters — that’s all the audience will be able to bear before moving on.

  33. Engaging in an event seems obvious. Don’t know why people don’t seem to get the “being there” bit on their own. A pet peeve of mine, also is to be holding a conversation with someone and have their fingers flying at the same time. I guesss I want undivided attention.

  34. Hi J, A great post and I totaly support what you did at your recent event.

    In the environment I currently work in people turn up to meetings with their laptop, mobile and blacberry (sometimes all 3) and proceed to use them which to me sends a message to the organiser that they are not as engaged with the subject as they should be. Whenever I meet with members of my team I make sure I never take my iphone with me and give them my uindivided attention.

    I distinctly remember an interview with the tennis great Martina Navratilova where she stressed the importance of focus and being in the “here and now” as opposed to thinking about the previous point or next point. I believe that this principle is just as important in the workplace and introducing your “no twitter” principle is one of may steps that need to be implemented to get to that elusive “here and now” state.

    In the UK prisons have started to introduce new scrambling technology so that inmate mobile phone signals are scrambled. I am sure it’s just a matter of time before some bright spark starts to market these to businesses. May be a tad draconian but would definitely work. Haha.

  35. Sarah Mae says:

    I think this is awesome and I applaud you! I am hosting a blogger conference in October and I really want a Tweeting ban, at least for some of the sessions – but I think the addiction is just too much.

    We’ll see.

    I really appreciate this post though – glad I’m not the only one!

  36. JCrow says:

    YAY! I’m a coach and the one thing I KNOW we humans do poorly is show up and truly experience the moment. It’s like going on vacation and trying to capture it all on camera, videocamera, tweets, cellphone camera. When all’s said and done, did we really experience it? Nope. As much as we’ve gained from digital, we’ve lost something, too.

  37. jskipburns says:

    yeah good call on the ban. It is remarkable how people “multitask” and do not pay attention. When I present or teach I can clearly see people checking their phones. It’s annoying and frustrating…and those people always ask questions that show they were not paying attention.

    skip “go big” burns

  38. I applaud you for banning the tweetness right out of the room. Many points here about paying attention, being engaged, enjoying the material you paid $$$$ for are all valid.

    I love being on a client call or in a conference session because it allows me to shut off all the extra noise and obligation to report on every dang thing. I use a notebook to capture what the speaker is saying so I can report on it later if I want.

    As a speaker, I completely rely on body language and the visual clues people give when they are restless. With the phone in the way, it’s difficult to read them.

    Thanks for taking and sharing your stand on this. I hope it helps all of us focus more and learn more and be more relaxed and present.

  39. It is rude to tweet a live event without permission of the organizer.

    It is also stupid and rude to not give the presenter your undivided attention. You will not get the same bang for your buck if you’re too busy trying to fit each concept and story into less than 140 characters, including the hashtag.

    Additionally, the presenter may have taken years to accumulate/assimilate and coordinate their information. It should be up to them what parts are tweeted, if any at all. That’s their marketing decision, not yours.

  40. Chris Baltzley says:

    I guess I’m too old school for new school, but I don’t understand why we should even be debating this. If you are attending a presentation, meeting, dinner, etc., and you are checking your email or tweeting or whatever, that is rude. Simple … it’s just rude.

    Take notes by all means and pass along whatever you want to later, but not while the event is going on – and don’t try to tell me tweeting is the same as taking notes, because it’s not. Your focus is not on what is happening – it’s on you – and it’s not fair to the speaker, other attendees or your companion.

  41. Normally, I would be against tweeting, but the last conference I was at the panelists were completely unsuited for the panels they were on and the conversation amongst tweeters was the only redeeming feature of the conference.

  42. Lisa Vielee says:

    Good. For. You.

    At my company, we often recite the mantra, “We’re all right here” as a reminder that we don’t always have to be connected, all the time. Reflection on what was said and what was learned is a lost art.

  43. I’ve been toying with how to handle the backchannel at various events I do, and am leaning toward encouraging it, but with some guidance. Rather than simply reporting on what’s being said which has limited and potentially negative value for those attending, I think participants can use Twitter as a group flip chart and post questions that come up for them as I speak. Other participants can then help me answer those questions too. I’m trying to use it that way now with GoToWebinar for online training, because participants can’t see each other’s questions in that interface. Twitter lets them help each other, but it only really works if I give specific directions that that’s what I’d like to see people do.

  44. Randy says:

    All of the common courtesy, rudeness, and boring presentation comments aside, what amazes me is this whole generation of people who are unable to simply SIT STILL WITH THEIR OWN THOUGHTS for any period of time.

    Like when I see people on my morning commute who are furiously texting away in their car. It’s seven freaking AM in the morning! What on earth is soooo damn important that it couldn’t wait 20 minutes for you to safely arrive at your destination? And judging from their cars and personal grooming, these people are NOT doing any kind of real, actual business on their way to work.

    Seriously, if you tweeted me at 7:00am I’d find you and stick a fork in your eye.

    I relish my solitary moments with no distractions, no feeds, no music, no nothing. I need that quiet time to reconnect, to re-energize. Just me, myself and my thoughts…Aaaah, deliciousness.

  45. Ari Adler says:

    Since there has to be at least one dissenter in every group, I’m going to volunteer. I don’t support a ban on tweeting at conferences. And I say that as a conference speaker.

    When I’m an attendee, I use my laptop to take notes. If I’m going to be typing important points and highlights, why not just type them into Twitter instead of on a Word document? That way, I can help my followers who may have wanted to attend but couldn’t due to money or time constraints.

    I’ve had people react to my tweets from conferences, helping me craft questions for the speaker. I’ve also found it as a great networking tool while at the conference. People who also are on Twitter have sought me out, and vice-versa, based on tweets sent from a conference session.

    Having said all of that, I do agree that people who are checking email, surfing the web and doing other forms of multitasking are being rude to the speaker.

    The points being made about focusing and being in the moment are valid, but one way for me to do that is to take notes. People learn in different ways and none of us should judge anyone’s methods as being the “wrong way.”

    • Ari, while it’s true that using Twitter for note taking isn’t ‘wrong’, do you think it’s the best choice for an organiser to depend on the self-control of the entire audience to use Twitter responsibly during the presentation?

      It’s easy to think about what you, personally, would or would not do. And, as a presenter, you might simply choose to focus on the members of the audience who are engaged and let the others do as they will.

      But I don’t think that choosing to ban a particularly pervasive and easily abused tool constitutes ‘judging someone’s methods to be wrong’, does it? If you were at Jonathan’s event and he said “no Twitter!” would you raise objections of ‘right and wrong’ or would you just find an alternative? I’ll bet you’d simply type your notes in a Word document.

      And I’ll take this moment to promote my favorite note-taking tool: my Sheaffer fountain pen and a notepad.

      • Ari Adler says:


        It’s the presenter’s decision about whether to ban the use of phones, laptops or any other devices at their presentation. Of course, if they are going to prevent me from using a laptop to take notes, I’d like to ban them from using a laptop and abusing us with poorly done PowerPoint presentations. (I’m not saying all PPT presentations are bad, but we’ve all seen some winners and some losers.)

        It would be great, however, to have some sort of punishment available for people who haven’t figured out how to put their mobile phones on vibrate or silent so we don’t have to hear ringtones in the middle of a presentation! LOL

        On a side note, due to some sort of nerve issue in my hands, I cannot take notes with a pen for more than a few minutes anymore, but typing doesn’t seem to bother them. I know some people probably think I’m being rude by typing during a presentation, even if it’s just to put notes into a Word document, but I really don’t have a choice.

        • I have to agree, if we’re going to ban something, PowerPoint goes before Twitter does!

          The bottom line, I think, is to be reasonable and flexible. If we all know why the presenter or attendee is doing what they’re doing, everyone ends up in the best place.

        • Jonathan Fields says:

          I probably should’ve mentioned, too, that in conjunction with the ban, I offered to make recordings of the entire 2 day event available to the attendees for free, once they’ve been edited.

  46. Shubham says:

    I consider it shouldn’t be banned…
    Lot of people go to FB, twitter to get the updates and its good for marketing activities..

  47. Sachit Gupta says:

    Will definitely keep this in mind for TEDx 😛

  48. Stella says:

    Totally behind you with the ban, Jonathan. And grateful for your positive modeling with this…especially since you are a proponent of social marketing, etc.

    Frankly, if I choose to attend an event such as this or even if I’m required to attend an event, it is basic respect to pay attention to the presenter.

    And if I’m paying for it, why would I want to dilute it’s value, impact, etc. by splitting my attention with Twitter (or anything other than taking some quick notes)?

    As for people “justifying” Tweeting because they are not “engaged” with a presentation…that’s just lame. All of life will NOT capture you on the same level, but a lot of times it’s YOUR fault because you’re either not paying attention or expecting too much.

    Business presentations may be entertaining, or not. But they are not entertaiment, stop expecting to get the same “jolt” as you might from something else–focus on actual content. Maybe if people learned how to pay attention, by doing it, and spent less time thinking about other things and focusing, they’d get more out of any presentation.

    And if you think it’s a bad presentation, make notes on how to make it more relevant, etc. and share those in a professional and respectful manner with the presenter or host during a break.

    And if you aren’t interested in the presentation, just leave.

    FYI: Good idea to offer the event recordings Jonathan. However, for some people, knowing it’s available…just gives them a license to not pay attention.

    By the way, just because an event is live, doesn’t mean it should necessarily be open to the public, which is what, in essence, Tweeting does. A presenter has the right to control access to what they are presenting.

    And others are right, we should even be debating this.

    For all the plusses of social media, far too many people have abandoned commonsense, good manners and professionalism so they can basically act like kids who can’t sit still and pay attention for more than a few minutes. Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean it’s worth sharing or should even be allowed.

    You wanna share? Share after the event.

    These gatherings are NOT the equivalent of a press conference or open to the public meeting.

    Show some respect for the presenter.

  49. Stella says:

    Meant to write: We should not even have to debate this topic. It’s the presenter’s right to have such a ban.

  50. this is a great !! really good ideas

  51. I’m with Stella, if the presenter doesn’t want it, than it shouldn’t be there.