First, Do No Tweeting (at #NCA09)

On November 13, 2009, in public relations, by Barbara Nixon

notweetingThis week, I am attending the National Communication Association convention in Chicago. In its own words, “NCA is a scholarly society that works to enhance the research, teaching, and service produced by its members on topics of both intellectual and social significance.”

While preparing to attend this convention, I told my students at Georgia Southern University that I would be sharing what I learn, along with random observations about the convention, using Twitter and identifying the NCA-related tweets with the hashtag #NCA09 to make it easy for them to find what I was writing.  NCA itself is also using a Twitter account to share information & answer questions about the convention, as well as maintaining a Twitter list of NCA members attending the convention.

But then something took me aback.

At the first session I attended yesterday, I had my Palm Pre out and was prepared to take my notes on the session on the device and share them via Twitter.  The session chair stood and made his opening remarks about the panel discussion that was about to take place. And then he asked everyone to turn off and put away all electronic devices.

I was taken aback, but I complied (mostly because I was sitting in the front row.) Then I took my notes old-school, with a notebook and paper. (I did notice later that I was taking my notes in 140 characters or fewer. Hmmm.) This must have been an aberration, just the preference of one panel? Over lunch, I did a barrage of tweets with everything I would have tweeted live if I had been permitted to.

Apparently at the Newcomers Welcome Session, NCA participants were specifically asked not to tweet during sessions. (I arrived in Chicago after the welcome session, so I was not there to hear the request myself. This bit of information was shared with me at the #NCAtweetup held at Buddy Guy’s Legends last night, where ~30 or so NCA members who are connected via Twitter gathered to meet in person.)

UPDATE as of 7:27am on 11/13/2009: According to the NCA Twitter account, “Tweet restrictions during sessions are decided by presenters, not NCA. We do not have any policies against tweeting during sessions.”

At a later session, on the use of social media in public relations classes, I asked permission to tweet, and that request was warmly welcomed by all members of that panel. So several of us DID use Twitter during that session, and we even received feedback and questions from others not attending the convention while the session was going on. We shared those tweets with the panel during the Q&A session. And to me, THAT is the power of Twitter.


So here are my questions…

As a speaker, what are your thoughts on people tweeting while you speak?

As a listener, does Twitter enhance or detract from your listening?

As an association, does asking/telling members not to tweet equal a type of censorship?

I welcome your thoughts.


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14 Responses to First, Do No Tweeting (at #NCA09)

  1. […] during conference sessions. Barbara Nixon wrote a post about the controversy entitled, “First Do No Tweeting.” The vibrant conversation on Twitter about the snafu prompted NCA’s leadership to […]

  2. […] — When I attended the National Communication Association convention last fall, there was a bit of a kerfuffle about Twitter usage during conference sessions.) var ecov = "sh"; document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='' […]

  3. […] Public Relations Matters » Blog Archive » First, Do No Tweeting … Tags: facebook, google, international diplomacy, virtual gifts […]

  4. Wow . . . this post sparked some great conversation by several people. Thanks so much for your thoughts.


  5. I think Debra’s point about other distractions is an important one. Twitter did not create rude people – it’s just another way for them to be rude.

    That being said, tweeting during a talk doesn’t automatically make you an impolite audience member. I’ve been to plenty of conferences where the audience was writing notes, typing on laptops AND tweeting and most people were still engaged with the speaker and listening closely. In fact, when I’m tweeting from a talk, I often pay more attention, b/c I want to catch the best info and record it accurately.

    It seems that the view from the stage would be pretty similar regardless of how people are taking notes – a sea of people, some with heads down recording information. So why should the speaker care? The only difference with Twitter is that it erases the idea of a captive audience. If the speaker isn’t effective, people can use Twitter to virtually escape the room. But that, in my opinion, is the fault of the presenter, not the technology.

  6. Chris says:


    Thanks for posting these questions. My thoughts match with Bill’s above. I am not attending NCA this year, so receiving Tweets allows me to keep up with some panels and ongoings from afar, almost a “distantconferencing” via Twitter. In regards to listening, we are slowly adapting to new technologies and adapting our listening behaviors and cognitions accordingly.

    Technology use, listening, and ethics would be a great panel/paper presentation at the ILA convention. And, now for a shameless plug for the 31st International Listening Association (ILA) Convention: Albuquerque, NM Mar. 25-26-27, 2010. Check out Deadlines for submissions are in December.

    Follow Friday @cdbond

  7. SDB says:

    As an adjunct professor of PR at a university I’ve learned several things about social media and academia in the last year or so. First, students don’t know squat about it because they’re not being taught it in school, either as a technology, or how to use it strategically in communications. Second, they’re not being taught it because most academics are behind the curve on what’s going on in the “real world” and therefore are sending graduates out into the world who have few skills usable in the business world.

    Why? They think social media is a fad, the CB radio of this decade, and they don’t know how to blend theory and practice in the classroom.

    So, when I saw that this conference was for an organization of educators and researchers, it all clicked. They don’t want Tweeting because they aren’t used to teaching in a room full of Twitterers–no electronic devices are allowed in classrooms because many students use the technology to cheat. And academicians are too often guarded about their research and don’t want to share anything until it’s peer-reviewed and published. In a world where your survival depends on “publish or perish” you play your cards very close. Academics are not drumming up business, looking for business contacts or potential clients when they’re talking at a conference, like professionals are. They’re protecting their turf.

    The “No-Tweet” rule is based on fear. If these speakers went to more actual professional conferences, like PRSA and IABC and participated in the local chapters in their towns, and actually interacted with professionals in the field, they’d know that Tweeting during presentations is a good way of getting your message out, and getting feedback immediately. As one commenter said here, looking at the hashtag feed later is an excellent means of self-evaluating the presentation.

    I agree it can be rude to sit with your head down staring at your mobile communications device. But not every statement is Tweetworthy, so look at the speaker, and only look down when you need to Tweet. I also try to approach the speaker ahead of time, introduce myself, let them know in general who my followers are, (students and professional contacts) and tell them I may Tweet a few comments. Then I don’t sit on the front row, so as not to call attention to (and make them nervous about) every Tweet I send.

    A little common courtesy and some good manners will go a long way in all social media settings.

  8. Bill says:

    I love this type of conversation. Thanks Barbara for opening the opportunity.

    I have a quick question for the group – for context when is it not okay to tweet?

  9. I am relieved to hear there’s no NCA policy on tweeting.

    As to the individual speakers, I think they may request whatever they want (everybody give me $20) and it’s an individual decision whether to comply or not.

    What worries me is that so many communication researchers dismiss or ignore significant changes in society, when it’s their job to study them. I interpret the “no tweeting’ request as a desperate attempt to fight back change & control audiences, and a total disinterest in keeping up with the times. Am I reading too much into it?

  10. teamsiems says:

    Good article. I suppose it all boils down to context. At #heweb09 it looked like a iPhone convention. Everyone either had one or wanted one. The unfortunate were relegated to netbooks/laptops. We would have LOL if a presenter said please don’t tweet this. The context of the conference was tech in higher education. Twitter is another tool we use daily and we wouldn’t be caught without it at a conference.

    On the other hand, if I was at a PR conference, or a formal dinner/presentation, I would expect everyone to pay attention to the speaker and not tweet.

    If you can write notes you can tweet. Your head will be down either way. If that is a distraction to the speaker, then the speaker needs more speaking engagements.

  11. Susan says:

    Having recently presented at the conference that led to the birthing of the term “harshtag”, this topic is fresh on my mind. 🙂 (shout-out to #heweb09!)

    I appreciated being able to go through the backchannel on twitter and read the comments regarding my presentation. It allowed me to see both the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation itself, as well as my delivery. Since my coworker and I were asked to present our session again two more times on the last day, I was able to use the criticisms to my advantage and address them while we presented again, to help clear up any confusion or to get feedback from the next two audiences.

  12. Bill says:

    Taking Occams approach I am sure there are legit reasons why someone would ask folks not tweet from a session although no one has yet to define why… but then again I’m not sure they need to. They are the speakers and their requests should be met with respect unless there is an overwhelming reason why it shouldn’t. There may be speakers who aren’t as comfortable having tweeters in the crowd or might just find it completely rude and disrespectful. So now the question is, do we tell those who aren’t comfortable with it to tough it out at the risk they don’t come back or simply ask the participants to take notes and tweet out their learning after the session which still provides the same value.

    As an aside, I think it would be a very interesting study to capture a tweet stream and compare those with someone who is taking notes in the session and then compare it to all the facts shared by the speaker (capture that with a recording).

    Finally, for what its worth, I am okay with tweeters and any other tech in our session so long as they sit in the “tweeter’s section” (back two rows with the smokers) ;).


  13. Interesting questions, Barbara. If I were ever to provide a presentation where listeners/participants felt inclined to tweet, I would be flattered. Whether sharing information or even challenging the presentation, at least what I shared was thought provoking. Twitter during a conference is no more distracting than folks checking email, rustling through materials, or drinking coffee. We work constantly through distractions and our work frequently does not stop because we are at a conference. Although, I may respect the wishes of a presenter who asks that I not tweet from the front row of a session, as a payer of the heavy conference fee, I may take my ears and twittering thumbs to another session.

  14. Claire Celsi says:

    Hey Barbara! Thanks for writing about this subject. I have mixed feelings about this. Here is what I’ve come up with for a response.

    I find tweets from conferences annoying when they appear in my Twitter stream. Even if one tweet among many from one of my friends gets my attention, I rarely search for the hashtag. Gone are the days when one social media conference every six months came up and the “lucky ones” carried the water for the rest of us and tweeted the precious bits of information out.

    When I’m speaking, I don’t appreciate seeing heads down, bent over devices. Unless I’m doing a live demo and ask people to participate, it’s really inappropriate and rude, in my humble opinion.

    That’s my two cents! Thanks, The “PR Princess” Claire