Selfie stick optional

Seven ways to do better live reporting from events

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We’re all using social media, so there’s an assumption that anyone can also live tweet from an event. But I don’t think that’s the case, or at least, not without practice. Often conference updates feel a bit bland (so what?), or irrelevant to those who aren’t in the room, or they simply miss out a lot of opportunities.

So I attended the Nonprofit Tech for Good webinar last week on live online reporting, and learned it takes a fair bit of thought to create useful, accurate updates that add to the conversation in the room, and that are valuable long after the conference has finished. Below are some tips:

1. Do loads of preparation.

Live reporting looks spontaneous, but the bulk of the work actually happens beforehand. That means things like:

  • Creating a (short) event hashtag and using it in all promotional materials — event brochure, website landing page, social media graphics, etc.
  • Drafting posts (with event hashtag and link) that you know will be relevant to the discussion and that you can copy-paste later. Heather Mansfield, founder of Nonprofit Tech for Good and presenter of the webinar, suggests preparing at least five call-to-action posts and 10 informative/facts and figures posts. You might also want to share links to your publications, other events or products.
  • Prepare images for your posts too, and make them useful: a map image for your first Tweet of the day, graphs or charts to go with statistics, a portrait photo of the keynote speaker, a screenshot of the website you know they’ll mention.
  • You can also prepare images in which you embed quotes from a keynote speech you’ve seen in advance— the quotes that won’t fit in a Tweet or the ones you want to highlight. Prepare some template images too so you can slot in quotes on the day.
  • Look up speakers’ Twitter handles, and include these in their bios and in relevant session descriptions. Display them in the room so listeners don’t have to spend time searching for them.
  • As you’re planning your content, think about what you’ll be able to use for the rest of the year — so not just photos of a panel or interviews about the event, but photos that could illustrate your events in general or that can be used promote the next one; or topical interviews you can later embed in a blog post.

2. Assign one person solely to the job.

Organisations often ask a project manager or intern to live tweet at the last minute, but to do it properly you need someone whose only job on the day is to tweet, post, share, photograph, record and stream. If you plan on doing interviews, you’ll probably need a second person.

3. Tweet thoughtfully.

It’s tempting to shorten words to fit them into your 140-character limit, but Mansfield advises against that: people retweet less when they have to think just that little bit longer to understand what you’re saying. Use complete sentences and correct grammar. Take notes and draft posts first, ideally in Word on a computer, which will help avoid mistakes. Take time to crop/tidy up images if you need to — then upload. Remember to use the event hashtag in everything you post.

Taking a bit more time over each post might feel like it’s slowing you down, but that’s ok. Mansfield suggests the ideal Tweet rate is every 8-10 minutes and not more than ten times per hour (for Facebook the ideal is just a few times a day). No one really wants a constant stream of verbatim quotes.

4. Use session breaks. 

When coffee time comes, your reporter won’t be milling around chatting; they’ll be going back to those pre-written tweets and posting the relevant ones, and retweeting others.

Break time is when a lot of people take out their phones, Mansfield points out, so it can be a good time to grab attention. Participants are also posting less at that time, so there’s less noise to compete against.

5. Be useful.

Don’t fill people’s feeds with stuff they already know — fill the gaps instead. When a keynote speaker stands up, tweet a link to their bio. When it’s lunch time, post a map helping people to find the right room. When lunch is over, share relevant parts of the agenda.

6. Record really short interviews.

When you’re interviewing people on the day, keep it short and punchy. Instagram has extended the maximum length of their videos to 60 seconds, but working with even tighter time limits (15, 30 seconds) can be great for getting interviewees to really think about what they’ll say, and short clips are better at keeping viewers’ attention. Try asking the same simple question to lots of people (again, think about what’ll be useful later).  Let your interviewees re-do it a few times if they need to, and don’t rush when it comes to finding a quiet enough spot and a background that’s not going to distract your viewers.

Mansfield recommends sharing questions with interviewees in advance of the event, though in my experience it’s hard to find people and stick to pre-arranged appointments at an event – it’s often easier to see who’s available on the day.  That’s ok; just give them a few minutes to think about their answers if they need to. If you’re appearing on camera as the interviewer, you’ll also want to practice your own intro/question.

7. Organise your equipment.

Maybe obvious, but that means a laptop, smartphone with video recording/editing facilities (make sure it can record decent sound or get an external mic), and a tripod, as well as chargers/adapters and access to sockets. And, Mansfield says, you’ll “need a selfie stick”. I’m not quite sure about that one… can I stick with being behind the camera for now?

Nonprofit Tech for Good webinars are free till the end of 2017, but are not recorded. The one on reporting live will be held again in October, and in the meantime there are more tips here.

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