The Phone’s For You: Social Media at Conferences, Conventions and Big Events

Posted on August 2, 2018

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It’s a common occurrence these days — you’re at a conference, sipping coffee during the opening keynote, and you glance around the room. Fully two-thirds of the attendees are on their mobile devices, furiously tapping and swiping as the keynote speaker works through his or her material. Seems rude, right? I’m here to tell you it’s not. In fact, the best conference organizers embrace the digital revolution and encourage attendees to share, post and tweet throughout these events. Here are just a few real-world applications for live social media during conferences, conventions and other events.

Live Note Taking
I have a penchant for writing in notebooks with fancy pens and pencils, but let’s be honest — that’s impractical at conferences, where you’re often hustling from room to room while balancing a bagel or a fruit plate one-handed. So ditch the notebook and use Twitter for bang out quick, just-the-facts-ma’am notes in real time. Here’s a sneaky trick: Rather than frantically thumb-type the highlights from a dense PowerPoint slide, just use your phone to take a photo of it. You know what they say … a picture is worth 1,000 words.

If you’ve got a following of like-minded local gov folks, they’ll no doubt turn green with envy reading your play-by-play. Once you’re back in the hotel or office, you can quickly bring up your Twitter feed and reorganize that data dump into a more coherent download of the day’s proceedings.

Share with Your Team
Budgets these days don’t allow most organizations to send an entire team to a big national event. Congratulations — you drew the short straw and got the plane ticket, hotel room and per diem this year. Show some love to your long-suffering colleagues by keeping them in the loop via social media! Twitter works well for this, but you can also try out slightly more private social media team-sharing platforms like GroupMe and Slack. Periscope turns your phone into a miniature live camera feed — just remember to hold it still during the broadcast! Some organizations even have a private Facebook group for teams. This approach is also a great way to crowd-source questions from your team back home to pass along to presenters and panelists.


Meet New (and Old) Friends
My favorite time of day during conferences is 4:45 p.m., when Twitter lights up with stuff like “That closing keynote made me hungry for oysters…let’s go to the place across the street!” and “Leaving the technology panel…who wants to continue the convo over gin cocktails at Kenny’s Tavern?” Social media is a great way to figure out exactly who’s in the room with you during these events! The best conferences have their own hashtag (such as #LWM2015 for the upcoming League of Wisconsin Municipalities annual gathering) which you can use to track the conversation throughout the day. If someone brings up an interesting point on social media, feel free to reach out with an invitation to chat more!

This is a good time to note how important it is to have a well-developed bio on your social media pages. It’s difficult for someone to find you in the room if your profile picture is your dog and your bio says “Packers fan, Barney’s dad, living life to the fullest, no regrets, #blessed #grinding.” I’ve met plenty of new friends and professional acquaintances just by browsing conference posts on Twitter and Instagram, then seeking out those familiar faces during the post-event mixer in the evening.

Strike a Balance
My point here is to show that, rather than be a distraction, social media can be a powerful tool to dig deeper into the knowledge being shared at conferences and conventions. There’s plenty of time for real, honest conversation, too — particularly if you forgot to bring your device charger!

What’s your favorite social media story from a conference or convention? Email [email protected] or tweet me @PatrickWRollens!

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