Rubber Walls, Infinite Chairs

Think of a really good presentation you attended recently. What made it good?

For me, the top criteria are an interesting speaker (or panel) and lots of relevant audience participation. There are lots of other things that can enhance the event, but if the featured speaker(s) aren’t knowledgeable and engaging or the audience looks like they’re dozing off, not much is going to help.

Let me introduce you to Twitter chats. The idea of holding an online presentation on Twitter is so ridiculously simple that I participated in my first only two days after signing up for a Twitter account. And it was huge! It introduced me to people I wanted to follow on Twitter and a bunch more who followed me. I even discovered a former real-life colleague in the stream! It made me think that Twitter chats might be the best thing about Twitter; almost four months and more than 2,000 tweets later, I’m convinced.

Here’s what happened: Immediately after joining Twitter I heard that the American National Red Cross would be holding a conference in Washington, DC, with live video stream and a Twitter chat. (It was officially called the Emergency Social Data Summit, but is usually referred to by its hashtag, #crisisdata.) Being new to Twitter, I thought the chat might be interesting, but expected the video would be most useful. Ha!

The morning of the conference I booted up my laptop, logged in to Twitter, and tried to log in at the video. No luck. Taking a moment to figure out what a hashtag is, I started following #crisisdata and saw that others were having trouble with the video stream. It turned out that Red Cross had anticipated about 100-200 people watching the video. 1,200 tried to log in and it crashed. That would explain how roughly 1,500 people ended up in the Twitter chat.

A few people at the conference were tweeting live quotes from the speakers. The rest of us joined in with retweets, comments, links to (mostly) relevant web pages…. It was crazy, but I gave up any hope of reading every tweet and simply followed as much as I could.

Let me repeat what I said a while back: 1,500 people contributed to that Twitter chat! That’s a large auditorium–and it only counts those who sent at least one tweet with the #crisisdata hashtag. I have a mental picture of a few hundred more, new like me or just shy, who watched and read but didn’t tweet. The virtual auditorium had rubber walls and infinite chairs; the “back row” might have held hundreds.

Are you as intrigued as I was? Then join a Twitter chat. Odds are there’s one happening now–or another one on a topic dear to your heart in the next few days. The #crisisdata chat was a one-time event, but many Twitter chats happen weekly or monthly.

Many great resources exist to get you up to speed. Here’s a short list of useful how-tos.

  • Tim Lanahan (a/k/a TimmyJohnBoy) blogs about his first experience with #blogchat.
  • There’s a Google Documents spreadsheet, updated regularly, that lists scheduled recurring Twitter chats.
  • Lisa Barone wrote about how to participate in a Twitter chat for Small Business Trends.
  • Wild Apricot has a very detailed description of how hastags are used. (I learned a couple of things, too.)
  • If your Twitter account automatically sends tweets to Facebook, LinkedIn or another site, disable the “auto” part before actively joining a chat. Your feed won’t make sense to people not at the chat. (You can still selectively share or retweet individual tweets across platforms.)
  • There are several good ways to follow a Twitter chat. My favorite is TweetChat, but you can use HootSuite, TweetDeck or even plain ol’ Twitter. Just remember to add the hashtag! I like that TweetChat does it automatically.
  • Beth Kanter, non-profit social media guru, reflects on how to host a Tweet chat.
  • Want to tweet or blog live from a presentation? Respect the speaker! (I suggest you avoid sitting front and center. A speaker doesn’t want to see the top of your head. Leave those chairs for the visibly engaged audience members.)

Lisa Barone‘s article advises, “Don’t just sit there, say something!” It’s good advice, but some people are shy or not very comfortable with technology. While I think that actively participating is the best way to go, don’t let bashfulness hold you back. Pick a Twitter chat that looks interesting to you and follow it. Even if you don’t contribute, you’ll learn something. Remember: there are infinite seats in the back row for those of you auditing the class. Next time you’ll be more prepared to get active and tweet along.

Ready, set… GO! Look up a Twitter chat in that spreadsheet and give it a try. Or if you can’t decide, join us for #tweetdiner on Saturday nights at 8:00 CST/9:00 EST. Tweet Diner is a chance for new tweeple (Twitter slang for “people”) to learn more about Twitter and social media in general. It’s fast-paced, but don’t let that scare you. Ask a question and you’ll get plenty of answers.

6 thoughts on “Rubber Walls, Infinite Chairs

  1. Donna Svei aka AvidCareerist December 2, 2010 / 8:39 pm


    You had me with your headline. Loved it.

    I too love Twitter chats. I offer a post ( on how to sign up for Twitter and start participating in chats. It’s easy and helpful for chat newbies.



    • tim December 3, 2010 / 1:05 pm

      @Donna and @Karen: I notice the link in the comment above is broken (nice article BTW donna). all that happened was a missed space b/w the “)” and “on”


    • Karen E. Lund December 3, 2010 / 2:59 pm

      Thank you, Tim! I think it’s fixed now.

      The cool thing about having other bloggers in my audience is editorial advice.


  2. tim December 2, 2010 / 1:56 pm

    thanks for the mention! For my first chat I used tweetchat and I was able to keep up ok. Some article mentioned tweetgrid and I’ve been using it ever since. It allows you to create multiple real time search columns. Now I typically have one for the hashtag, one for the host, and one for mentions of me.

    I don’t remember who tipped me off about tweetgrid but is definitely give them a mention if if did. Anyways, here’s more tips: How To Use Twitter As A Mad Cool Chat Tool

    Thanks again for the mention!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.