liveblogging a conference – my tips following ATEM-SSCC-09

When I suggested to Jon that the ATEM-SSCC-09 should have a liveblogger I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into but leading up to the event I did a bit of research and found some useful guides from the US including those written by Lee Odden, Jeffrey Keefer, Josh Hallet, Beth Kanter, Lisa Barone, Dan Karleen and of course Ethan Zuckerman

So I felt like I had a general idea when I arrived at the Esplanade on Thursday morning – needless to say I learned a great deal during the 2 days so I thought I’d add my own reflections and tips to anyone interested in knowing more – they’re not a definitive guide and you should read some of the sutff linked above for more detail.

Be prepared
It’s pretty obvious but the more work you can do beforehand, the easer the experience will be.  Choose which talks you’ll go to and draft the posts ahead of time (usually with the title, abstract and bio).  You can then paste your session notes into the draft and upload it pretty quickly.  I had a new USB wireless internet key (I don’t think I need to say that you shouldn’t rely on the hotel’s internet access!) but frequently fell back on my ‘plan B’ when it went offline.

Get help
Conferences are never put together by one person and whether it’s the event committee or just someone you notice taking a lot of photos, there is work going on that you can’t (and shouldn’t) replicate.  Look out for who arrives early or leaves last – they often know a lot of people, have an eye on what’s happening and can point you in the right direction for anything from an introduction to a keynote presenter to a spare extension cord.  You might want to introduce yourself to the AV/venue people (remembering that there are different people on different shifts throughout your event).  It just might help you down the track if you need some technical advice (not that they’re there to fix your IT issues), but they often know the building, the staff and the facilities really well and can get you out of a sticky situation in a pinch.

Decide on your approach
I hadn’t thought about this at all until I had my fingers on the keyboard during the first post!  I couldn’t take ‘notes’ like I usually would as they were no use to anyone but me and I didn’t want to transcribe the presenter word for word (plus my typing isn’t THAT good) so I quickly had to find a middle ground where key facts, themes and issues were covered with some added commentary from me about what was happening in the room, which parts were emphasised by the speaker and what questions were asked.  This meant I sat back and listened and then tried to summarise the ‘story’ for people who weren’t there – anytime the speaker told a story or gave an example I tried to include that they were the best vehicles for the message and I could get the core of them into my posts.  Probably a godo idea to see what other peopel do to get a sense of what tone you’re comfortable taking.

Be visible
I had emailed all the presenters and keynotes prior to the event to let them know what was happening and to see if anyone wanted to opt out of being blogged entirely (good to give people an ‘opt out’) and had made sure there was a blurb about the liveblogging in the conference booklet.  I suppose doing 2 x 45 minute talks during the conference also helped but I had also has a t-shirt made with my blog avatar on the front and the word ‘liveblogger’ across the back so pretty much everyone knew who I was by the end!  I also tried to sit at the same table in the main room every day (just inside the door at the back of the room) which gave many people the opportunity to come up and have a chat – I probably met more people that way than by going to morning tea!  People seemed happy to come up and ask about the blogging, or about a Web 2.0 tool they were wondering about or any question relating to my online project so it was certainly worth it.

Be sociable
It easy to be tempted into tapping away on the laptop in the corner throughout the day but I made sure I went to lunch each day and sat with different people, I tried to swing by the morning and afternoon tea sessions and made an appearance at the conference dinner.  You get a different sense of the conference at the social bits – where people are from, whether they’re staying in town after the vent, which bits of the conference they’re enjoying etc.  Plus it gives you a good chance to meet people who might not be presenting a paper and also allows them a chance to chat to you if they want to ask questions about the blogging.

Pay attention during question time
When blogging the question time of a presentation, try to get the name of the people asking questions (tip for organisers – people asking questions need a microphone so everyone can hear their question and should always state who they are and where they work).  This provides extra context to their question and acknowledges their contribution to the post-presentation discussion.  It also allows the presenter to follow-up with more info directly to that person if they feel inclined (when you’re a presenter it’s hard enough to remember the question, let alone who asked it).  Use the delegates list to get the spelling of peoples’ names right.

Remember you might have to spin things sometimes
Keynote presenters are particularly prone to voicing their opinions, making strong statements on contemporary issues and addressing political policy (that’s pretty much why they’ve been invited).  I considered it quite ok to blog that content but really made sure I’d got the exact wording down – no danger of spinning something the wrong way if I quoted them as best I could.  However, other situations might arise where a presenter reports on something in their institution that isn’t going very well – a project that has gone off the rails a bit.  It’s one thing to discuss this with colleagues on a conference room but I used careful wording when describing the ‘challenges’ facing various institutions.  It’s another thing what content appears in my blog suggesting that a project is in trouble (even though the people running it might have said exactly that during their talk!). Happy to hear comments on how I handled that!

Appreciate that not everything has to be (or can be) perfect
Before the conference I had visions of perfectly written posts, complete with photos, links and access to the speakers’ slides uploaded mere moments after the presentation had finished!  But it just doesn’t work like that – or it didn’t for me.  There were times when sessions ran late, I didn’t have the photos ready, I couldn’t hear the questions properly, I had to run off to do a talk myself or any number of other things that meant that live posting had to wait a bit!  But I got there in the end.  Writing draft posts definitely helped and I learned on the fly to upload an incomplete post, to put a ‘disclaimer’ at the top and to add the extra information (like photos and links) later.  I worked out that I could edit the ‘upload’ time on the blog so that the posts appeared in the order I wanted them to.

Follow-up afterwards
If I uploaded a post about someone’s talk I think it’s important to email them and let them know (although of course I introduced myself to the presenters of the sessions I attended) so I’m in the process of doign that now.  Once presenters get back to their own offices after the event they can check out the post, add comments, send me a photo, opt to host their slides online or add in any weblinks to material they’d like their audience to look at.  I suppose it’s a bit of a service to presenters as they have a forum in which they can follow-up their talk with people who want to know more.

That’s all I’ve got for now – happy to hearwhat people think.  I might add more as I think of it.

3 thoughts on “liveblogging a conference – my tips following ATEM-SSCC-09

  1. Another tip – make sure the photos you use are of the right people! Thanks to Wendy Panaccio from Monash who pointed out that the photo I was claiming to be of Carole Jackson was actually of her. Completely my fault – case of mistaken identity!

  2. I had i great time reading your informative post..
    Thanks for sharing this kind of ideas about liveblogging. This will surely help my start in this type of blogging… Thanks! 🙂

  3. Glad you found it useful – I really enjoyed it in the end once I got all the details sorted. Good luck with your liveblogging – let me know how you get on!

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