NCPHactive: Conferencing From My Laptop

When I first saw the notice for (Re)Active Public History I immediately put it on my calendar. I hadn’t participated in the first Twitter mini-con organized by the National Council on Public History (NCPH), so I was intrigued to see how this would work. Would it be a glorified Twitter chat? Would it be akin to tweeting a hockey game?

This Twitter mini-con did not disappoint. Let’s take a look at how things went down - the format, the value, and some tips for participating the next time an opportunity arises.

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Your Conference Program

The set up of NCPHactive was remarkably effective. Each presenter had 30 minutes to “present.” They would send out a series of tweets, attaching photos, slides, memes, and links to a variety of wonderful resources. Allison Tucker, at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, provided particularly helpful links to their Front Page Dialogues, a fantastic resource to help historic sites incorporate current events into their programming. Each presenter left some time for Q&A at the end of their session, and I was impressed by how well they responded to questions.

One interesting advantage to their format is that there weren’t overlapping presentations, so conceivably, one could attend every session. And because this all happened on Twitter, one can always go back through the conference hashtag to dig up threads of missed sessions. I approached it like an in-person conference, attending the sessions that had the most direct connection to the work I’m doing now, and picking up others as I could.


Conferencing Inside and Out

I approached this mini-con expecting to gather some good information, but skeptical that much would be accomplished in terms of networking and making connections. I was right about the former, and surprisingly wrong about the latter. I was able to “meet” people I hadn’t discovered yet, and had wonderful side conversations in my DMs. It was not unlike your typical hotel atrium chatter at a traditional conference.

I found this format to be especially appropriate for NCPH. Taking place on Twitter meant this history was about as public as it could get. I loved that I was participating in direct conversations that were reaching unintended audiences. (My hockey followers got an inside look at my history nerdiness.) And it was great to be able to tweet my non-history contacts who I knew would find relevance in the content, saying, “You should jump in on this.”

Get In On This Action

If you’re not on Twitter yet or you’re just getting started in social media, check out this piece by John Fea about history Twitter and here are some thoughts on conference tweeting that might be helpful.

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If you are on Twitter and ready to present, excellent! Here are some tips that might help your presentation go a little more smoothly:

  • Write out your Tweets in advance, that way when it’s go-time all you have to do is type things into Twitter.

  • Number your tweets and compile them in a thread. This will make it easier for people to follow and for folks who may not attend your session live to go back and scroll through your information later.

  • Use the hashtag on every tweet and every response to questions.

  • Use visuals - pictures, charts, links to resources - but take into consideration that your audience may click away from your tweets to better view your content. This is a good thing! But you should then time your tweets accordingly.

There was some overlapping in presentations as people retweeted previous presentations or promoted sessions coming up, but this was minimal. If it happens during your presentation, don’t worry, it’s all good. And as much as I hate Tweetdeck, this was one situation where I really appreciated it. I was able to follow the sessions I was in while not missing follow up from other sessions. It’s a bit messy, but worth it to see multiple conversations and mentions.

Kudos!

NCPH and its speakers did an excellent job with (Re)Active Public History. It definitely wasn’t a typical Twitter chat. The structure and advanced planning gave it a professional feel. And the open engagement felt like a virtual networking session (only less awkward.) Twitter mini-cons can be an excellent vehicle for historians to be able to share their work and engage with each other and with audiences outside our traditional history nerdland. I hope other organizations will consider following NCPH’s footsteps.

And to NCPH...kudos on a job well done!



To Tweet, Or Not To Tweet

In July 2017, I was in Philadelphia for the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR). Washingtonians are open to pretty much any excuse to get out of town during the summer. We'll go practically anywhere to escape the scorching heat and unbearable humidity. Unfortunately, Philadelphia was brick-oven hot. I’ve never been more content to sit in hotel conference rooms soaking in all the history. This year, a traveling conflict kept me from attending SHEAR in Cleveland, but that didn’t keep me completely out of the loop. A quick scroll through Twitter and … yeah, I see you #Twitterstorians. Pictures of badges, laughs over cocktails, and practically verbatim coverage of some of the sessions. Were you at SHEAR? Were you tweeting? Should you have been tweeting?

Yes! 

Or no. 

Let’s talk it out.

To Tweet

There are historians who are incredibly good at live tweeting events. They stream together presenter remarks, share photos and videos, and they interact in ways that raise the discussion to a higher level. It’s a conversation in (sometimes) real time. It allows people unable to attend a particular conference to follow along at home, and it gives attendees a chance to contribute to related discussions happening outside the meeting room. Live tweeting builds community and expands the reach of historical work. This is exactly the good that Twitter can be used for and I appreciate those historians who maximize its potential.

Not to Tweet

But it’s no small thing to be able to record a conversation in real time in a way that will make sense to an outside audience. Mistakes are possible, in fact, likely. Misrepresentations of what was said during a presentation can challenge both the tweeting historian and the presenter. Juggling the need for accuracy with the desire to add value and process information is a tall order. For many, putting the phone away is the answer. There’s tremendous value in being singularly focused on a presentation, soaking in all the information, and using other mechanisms and techniques for communication after-the-fact.

So, What’s the Answer?

The answer is surprisingly simple: do what works for you. I’ve found I’m most effective when I use Twitter to let people know what sessions I’m attending, share some highlights, and provide a peek at some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans. But during a session, I’ll be scribbling notes with a real pen on real paper for deeper consideration later. That’s just how I roll.

Whatever you choose, do it with professionalism, integrity, and authenticity. Everybody wins.

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