Back in 2008, Tara Brabazon visited CERLIM to give a talk. If you’ve never seen Tara speak, I’d recommend it! I found her an intelligent, engaging, and entertaining speaker. I didn’t take notes – I just sat there and listened, absorbed in the talk. At the end of the talk, she told me that I was such a good listener, she wanted to take me back to Brighton.

Alas, I’m unlikely to gain any such approbation now. Despite knowing that speakers value attentive, smiling faces, you’re more likely to find me hunched over my keypad, frantically tweeting. This might be good for me, but…

Hang on – is this actually good for me? I’m generally a big fan of tweeting at conferences. I say it helps me to engage; gives me an online, searchable note archive; and helps others to experience the conference. It can also help the speaker to see what people have taken away from their talk. While I’m not doubting the value of these things, I’m starting to wonder if I’m really engaging in such a way as to give and others maximum value.

When I was in college, we were given a listening lesson. We all sat round in a circle, and closed our eyes while listening to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. The idea was that closing our eyes would help us to focus, help us to forget that we were in a grubby portacabin instead of Llareggub. Being one of those annoyingly ‘good’ people, I kept my eyes faithfully shut the whole time, and it did work. Not surprising, really – deny your primary sense, and others come bounding into play.

But it’s not really practical in everyday life. It may be all well and good to recline, yeux firmly fermé, and enjoy some Wagner, or a jolly good play on Radio 4, but it’s not quite so practical in a large conference hall. And besides, people are bound to think you’ve fallen asleep, and snigger at you during networking.

Nor would either of these methods go down very well at work. You may have noticed that in the opening sentence of this post I’ve very carefully not mentioned exactly what Tara Brabazon came to talk about. Why? Because I’ve forgotten. Oh, I’ve got a vague idea (something to do with undergrads and research), but I don’t know exactly – and I have no notes to refer to, to find out. And while speakers do value attentive faces, I’m sure they value what they say being taken away, remembered and used more.

So, note-taking wins out here. And using those notes to spread the learning, to enlighten and inform others, is an absolute must. But is twittering as I go along really the best way to do it?

I tend to choose tweeting events over blogging for a fairly simple reason: I don’t have time to go back after each event, revisit my notes, and write them up as a blog post. I wish I did! In an ideal world, of course, that’s what I’d do – read and digest my notes, to produce a blog post about each session that not only reports session content, but contains reflections and links, ideas and questions. But if I did that, I’d never have time to go to any other events…

Some talented people can live-blog events. I like to blame my inability to do this on my inability to touch-type, but I know it’s more than that – it’s the pace of my thoughts, as well as my typing, that’s holding me back. Something to aspire to, but for now? Out of the question.

Which brings us back to tweeting. I’ve got my conference tweeting method down: start off with the name of the presenter and title of talk. For all subsequent tweets, get the presenters initials and the hashtag ready written, then wait for a snippet. Tweet and repeat. This has worked for me quite well so far, but I’m not sure if it’s giving maximum value. While I tweet, I’m missing things. While I’m tweeting one point, another, more important one might come along. There might be important things that don’t – shock horror! – fit into 140 characters. What to do about this?

Well, here’s an interesting question: does tweeting from an event need to be live-tweeting? Would it be better to take notes, and then tweet selected highlights? This could be done during breaks and changeovers, or on the train home. It would give me a chance to go back through my notes, but in a less time-consuming way than reworking for a blog post. It would give those following on twitter a chance to read my selected highlights – what I think, after consideration, are the main points of the talk – not just what I manage to type.

Obviously, there are drawbacks: where there are other people tweeting from the event, my out-of-synch tweets might be confusing for followers. Fine in a digest-format, not so fine in a timeline. The less the difference in synchronisation, the better.

There’s also the issue of my time. I optimistically say ‘during breaks and changeovers’. Well, there’s other stuff I want to do during that time too. You know, like have a break. Drink some coffee. Chat to some people. Conferences don’t (currently) have tweeting/blogging breaks – maybe they should?

So what I’d need is a tool that makes tweeting from notes as quick and easy as possible. My ideal? A cloud-based word processor that allows you to tweet selected text. with the addition of a pre-defined hashtag. So, if my blog is #blog, and I wanted to tweet that previous sentence, I could highlight it, select the ‘tweet with #’ option, and bam! my followers see ‘@bethanar: #blog A cloud-based word processor that allows you to tweet selected text’.

I really hoped Evernote would do this (it seems to do everything else!) but, alas, its twitter integration seems to be purely in the other direction. Anyone know of anything that might do the job?