5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Tweet During Presentations. Really.

jeff-havens-tweetJeff Havens is a keynote speaker and corporate trainer who addresses leadership, generational issues and other areas of professional development through a unique blend of content and entertainment. He has been a regular guest on Fox Business News and featured on CNBC, Businessweek and Bloomberg News. To read more from Jeff Havens, visit jeffhavens.com.

I’ve been a professional keynote speaker for eight years now, and in that time it’s become more common to tweet during presentations, mine and everyone else’s. (“More common” is sort of obvious, I guess, since tweeting didn’t even exist when I started. It used to be when we liked what we heard we all just grunted and pounded our chairs with the palms of our hands. Those were the good old days.)  Anyway, tweeting is often viewed as a tool for engagement, to keep an audience focused on the core pieces of information they’re taking away from whatever presentation they’re listening to.

But more and more, I’m not sure that’s the case. I know there are excellent reasons to tweet during presentations, but I also believe it that doing so can be far more harmful than beneficial, both to you and those around you. So here are five things to consider before you pull your phone out at the next presentation you sit through.

–You’ll be unable to synthesize what you’re hearing. Most of the tweets that happen during presentations are carbon copies of a phrase or sentence that the presenter has just uttered. And sometimes that’s fine. But what if—and I know this is going to sound a little crazy—but what if the presenter actually has five or even 11 interesting sentences all in a row? If you start tweeting the first cool thing you hear, you won’t have a chance to process everything and put it into a context that you’ll be able to remember later.

You’ll almost certainly ending up checking your email. Or sending a text to someone, or sneaking in a quick game of Angry Crush or Candy Birds or whatever’s popular right now. Before you know it you’ll have missed five minutes of the presentation, and it was probably the best five minutes of the whole thing.

Your neighbors will think you’re not paying attention.  Some of them will, at least.  And then they’ll have a harder time concentrating themselves. It’s like that really ugly dress you see in church sometimes. You want to pay attention to the sermon, but seriously, why did she wear zebra stripes with leopard-print shoes?

It’s impossible to have a coherent discussion on a Twitter feed during someone’s presentation. Although I have seen people try. But even if you somehow manage to follow the disconnected and out-of-order thread of conversation to put together a thoughtful narrative, you’ll still be trying to do so while someone’s talking. And while all of us think we’re masters at multitasking, we really aren’t. If you don’t believe me, try singing your favorite song the next time you write an email and see if you can do both of them without screwing up. I’ll bet $5 you can’t!

You’re already plenty smart, and more than a little awesome. I don’t have data for this, but I think about 70 percent of the reason people like tweeting during someone’s presentations is because they think it makes them look smart. That implies that you normally wouldn’t consider yourself especially smart. But you are. You’re one of the most interesting people I know, and sometimes I wake up at night in a cold sweat because I know I’ll never get to be you. You don’t need to tweet while I’m talking to convince me that you’re amazing. I already know it.

—Jeff Havens