Flip The [Twitter] Bird: The COPA Agreement

It’s time to flip the bird for your next conference or event.

Not literally. Figuratively.

It’s time to flip the little blue Twitter bird for your next conference by creating a COPA Agreement. An Agreement between the Conference Organizer, Presenter and Attendee (COPA).

Many conference organizers wrestle with the idea of projecting the Twitter stream on the screen behind or beside the presenter during general sessions. This is not a post about why you should or shouldn’t encourage the backchannel use. This post assumes that your audience is texting and tweeting regardless of image magnification of a backchannel. And, it offers some tips on how to encourage good tweetiquette in the process.

Your Grandparent’s Unspoken Presenter-Attendee Agreement
The traditional, old-school, old-guard unspoken presentation agreement looks like this:

  • The conference organizers know what’s best for you. Accept it and attend all their events.
  • The presentation description, if there is one at all, does not need to match the actual presentation.
  • The presenter reserves the right to deliver a different presentation.
  • This presentation is about and for the speaker, not you the attendee.
  • Sit down.
  • Be quite.
  • Eyes and face forward, watching the presenter intently. (Actually, looking at the back of the heads in front of you straining to see the presenter.)
  • Take notes on paper quietly.
  • Don’t speak unless spoken to by the presenter.
  • Did we tell you to be quiet?
  • Don’t leave until the end of the presentation, regardless if it’s not what you expected.
  • Save all questions until the end of the presentation.
  • Don’t complain. It cost the organization money, time and labor to set this up for you. Accept it.
  • If you must complain, do it in the hallways quietly to your friends.

This implied agreement has served many conference organizers for years. It will continue to serve some conferences in the future.

However, many audiences will no longer tolerate these old-guard agreement tactics. Times and expectations have changed. So the agreement needs to change as well. It’s time to flip the Twitter bird.

Why The COPA Agreement
Some will come to your conferences and expect that the old unspoken agreement is in place. They may become offended if someone else is texting or typing in the computer. They may think heads in computers or focused on smartphone as rude and inappropriate.

As the conference organizer, you need to render the old implied agreement null and void, especially if you are using a backchannel and encouraging social media engagement. Educate your attendees and presenters before they arrive about how you’ve flipped the bird with a new agreement. Follow the same process many savvy speakers use.

Seeking buy-in and permission from an audience at the beginning of a presentation sets the stage for a successful learning environment. It honors both parties and manages expectations. Establishing rapport with attendees, making positive learning suggestions, setting ground rules and boundaries, and selling the benefits of learning and active participation are important aspects of the agreement process. The agreement also builds trust and establishes credibility which are necessary for a productive physiological learning state.

The COPA Agreement also includes texting, tweeting and other social media sharing applications. It can set a tone for the entire conference by managing expectations. You’ll want to promote and educate your new agreement early and often. Invite presenters to incorporate parts or all of the agreement into their presentations as well.

What To Include In Your COPA Agreement
Here are 11 things to include in your COPA Agreement and what to say as a conference organizer or presenter to your attendees.

1. The Law Of Two Feet
If the session’s learning objectives did not match your expectations or at any time you feel the session is not meeting your needs, use your two feet and go to another presentation. As an adult, you have the right to control your learning. The session is for you, the learner. It’s not about the presenter.

2. Texting, tweeting, live blogging welcome.
We encourage you to text, tweet, live blog and share your experiences of the event with your friends and social networks. Here are some examples of the good, better, best ways to tweet from a conference.

3. Good vibrations please.
Turn mobile devices to vibrate and please mute the sound from laptops.

4. Be present. Be active. Use respect.
Please be present and actively participate. Your learning depends upon it. If you’re taking photos of others at a conference, use respect before posting online in social media networks. Obviously, if the group posed for a picture, they are giving their unspoken permission to publish. If they are unaware that you took their picture, ask them before you post it.

5. Take care of your own needs.
You’re an adult and we trust you. If you need to use the restroom, don’t wait for a break. Feel free to leave the room. If you need to take a call, please do so in the hallway. We understand that your business is important and continues whether you are in the office or not.

6. Can we talk? You betcha!
Assume all information is free, public and can be shared unless you’re told differently. We’ll give you something to talk about with your friends and colleagues.

7. Follow the Social Media Sharing Golden Rule: “Tweet unto others as you would have them tweet unto you.”
The same holds true for posting anything in your social networks.

8. Say something good before you say something bad.
We know you may not like everything. Try to focus on the positive first before you start a negative Twitter riot or send a flaming text. If something is said that upsets you, sit on it for a couple minutes before responding. If a few minutes later you still feel the same, post it.

8. The session description and learning objectives are our contracts.
If we break that contract or fail to meet published expectations, tell us.

9. Disagreements and differences are valued and important.
We know that not everyone is going to agree with what is being said. When a presenter says something that you don’t agree with, try to respond with a question asking for clarification. If you know the presenter is sharing outdated information, share your facts. Accuracy is important.

10. Don’t tweet or text anything that you’re not willing to say out loud.
Nuff said!

11. We invite and welcome your feedback and opinion.
Your comments, feedback and opinions are important to us. We may agree to disagree with some of your thoughts and we will always do so openly with respect, authenticity and integrity. We also embrace that we’re all still learning. Thank you for allowing us to learn, fail, and take risks along with you.

Final Thoughts
Establishing some meetings ground rules and protocol is a good way to increase attendees’ engagement, reduce negative risks and expand the rewards for everyone.

What do you think about the 21st Century new COPA agreement? What other items you would add to the list? How do you flip the twitter bird?

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  1. […] Establish a Twitter agreement with speakers and attendee before the event. Promote it often and early. This will help manage some […]

  2. […] 2. Seek buy in through agreements and ground rules. Create and share your own COPA (conference organizer, presenter and attendee) agreement. […]

  3. […] conference attendees at the presenter’s mercy. Jeff Hurt makes a great case for creating an agreement between conference organizer, presenter and attendeed. Get value out of the session or walk to […]

  4. Christine says:

    Thank you, Jeff. Relationship building is so important, even (or maybe especially) in these venues. Keep up the good work!

  5. […] 2. Seek buy in through agreements and ground rules. Create and share your own COPA (conference organizer, presenter and attendee) agreement. […]

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