Open Letter to Conference Presenters

Dear Educational Technology & Digital Pedagogy Conference Presenters,

Consider this trend: The nature of conference participants and participation are changing.

The proof is already in the statement, of course. Conferences now have participants, not attendees. Gone are the days in which people are resigned to sit in their chairs and listen to you drop wisdom from the stage and upon their heads.  Conference-goers bring knowledge too.  They want and should come to a conference to contribute, engage, challenge, and make things.  You need to find ways to learn from them just as they will learn from you.

Most conference organizers know about this trend by now. Their top-down response to it has manifested itself through the increasing presence of  workshops, unconferences, interactive sessions, hands-on sessions, lightning rounds, speed dating sessions, affinity groups, makerspaces, and so on in conference design. My own organization is thick in the mix of this trend.  Check out VCU’s upcoming ALTFest in May and you’ll find makerspaces, ignite sessions and similar. ALTFest is a festival, not a conference.  We aim to celebrate teaching and learning and energize the crowd (and by “crowd,” I’m including us, too) with the creative spirit. I highly recommend it; we know how to have productive fun.

However, the same trend in conference participation has a bottom-up approach, initiated and controlled by the participants rather than conference organizers. I’m talking about the social media backchannels. Dear conference presenter, if you don’t believe me throw up a slide and speak for 5 minutes. Assuming that what you have to say is the least bit interesting or controversial (and please be both), I guarantee that at least one person in the room has snapped a picture of your slide or quoted you in a tweet.  It is becoming increasingly common for conference participants to document and disseminate the information shared in conference sessions through social media in real time, as it is happening.

And so, conference presenter, I offer up something for your consideration. Help us, the participants, capture, credit, and amplify your message more effectively and accurately. Help us help you.  Here are some ideas:

  • Include your Twitter handle and conference hashtag on each slide.  If you do not have a Twitter handle, consider getting one and using it.  Alternatively, use one from a research partner or affiliated program or institution that will monitor Twitter for you. Participating in conference tweeting benefits you in several ways.  First, it provides session participants with an easy way to give you credit for your ideas.  Second, it allows you to monitor what they are tweeting about your session.  If they quote you incorrectly, you have the opportunity to correct them or engage them in dialogue. Finally, by having the twitter handle and conference hashtag on each slide, it automatically provides a source and context when participants take pictures of your slides – even if they fail to caption the pictures on social media.
  • Publish your slides to a digital slide sharing service. Many presenters across disciplines are beginning to publish their slides – either in advance or immediately after –  to public, digital slide sharing platforms such as www.slideshare.net.  This allows attendees to revisit the presentation and reaches individuals who were unable to attend your session, thereby amplifying your message far beyond your session.
  • If you don’t want to share your slides, consider writing a summary blog post that hit on the main points of your session and list your resources.  For the same reasons as above. 
  • Ask session participants to crowdsource notes, feedback, and comments in a group Google Doc that you will publish for public consumption afterwards. For the same reasons as above.
  • Curate the backchannel footprint of your session.  Now this idea was completely new to me until Andrea Rehn mentioned it in a conversation the other day, but it makes a lot of sense. It can be fun and revealing to examine the backchannel chatter that took place around and during your session. Web curating platforms such as www.storify.com allow you to capture, annotate, and bring order to this feedback. 

That’s all I’ve got.  If you have any questions, comments, or other suggestions around good practices in digital age presenting, please let me know – these ideas may be coming soon to a conference near you.

Sincerely,

Laura Gogia – @googleguacamole

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