How to LiveBlog Part 2: My Top Ten Tips

In How to LiveBlog Part 1 I discussed why you should LiveBlog your event. But once you’ve decided that you will be LiveBlogging how do you actually go about it?  Well…

1. Be Prepared

To borrow a catchy phrase from the boy scouts (and Tom Lehrer) you should always be prepared!

For liveblogging there are several essential bits of preparation which will make your life much much easier:

  • Decide what you will be LiveBlogging – if you are one of the event organisers then talk with your colleagues about what will be useful to capture, what might not be appropriate to cover. Usually you can assume that talks and presentations will be fine to LiveBlog. It can be tempting to decide to cover the main content rather than any question and answer sessions but I would always recommend capturing question sessions – they are the easiest way to add value to an event write up as they are the least easy to capture part of the event (and may be absent from recordings, others’ notes, and obviously are not covered by slides), and they tend to add the most value to a session – surfacing all the issues, awkward questions and surprises that are often absent in a main presentation.
  • Be realistic in your planning – you cannot be in two places at once so don’t over commit your schedule. Full on LiveBlogging is tiring enough without adding running between rooms or buildings so make sure you can deliver the LiveBlogging you plan to.
  • Create draft posts for the session you want to cover – this is a simple and really effective time saver. It will force you to decide if you wish to blog as part of one long post or a series of shorter LiveBlog post. If you are organising a major event I would recommend setting up one post per session or (depending on presentation lengths) per presentation. This will help each talk stand out on your blog, be findable by search engines, and encourage your delegates to engage. If you are blogging an event you are attending then I would instead create a single blog post as you don’t want to jam your blog – and your RSS feed –  with loads of posts on one event and emphasize how frequently (or infrequently) you update your blog the rest of the time.
  • Prepopulate those draft posts -whilst speakers, titles and all kinds of details can change on the day it is increadibly useful to have somewhere to start your blog post. When I’m preparing for LiveBlogging a major event I will set up a draft post with a paragraph explaining the name of the event, a link to the event page and/or programme, a sentence explaining that “this is a liveblog so please be patient and let me know about any errors, typos etc.“. I will also add the speaker name, role, affiliation and talk title. This means all I have to do when their talk begins is to correct any key details (often the title!), add any important framing information (e.g. “well we’re just back from coffee…“) and start typing my record of the presentation/talk/discussion.

2. Work with your Limitations

When you are planning your LiveBlog you need to be aware of and work out how you will deal with any potential limitations, they might include:

  • Typing Speed – I am one of nature’s touch typists thanks to a misspent youth hanging around chat rooms. We can be a slightly smug bunch when it comes to liveblogging but what we gain in verisimilitude, we can lack in quality. Sometimes the very best liveblog summarises down to key nuggets. The popularity of visual notes (such as Francis Rowland’s excellent sketches shared on Flickr) are a super illustration of why summarising can be powerful. I may be able to grab almost every comment in real time (albeit with occasional typos) but slower typers can make for great and still very thorough LiveBlogs.
  • Acronyms – I do a lot of LiveBlogging of acronym-heavy events. If you know you are about to encounter a lot of these I’d recommend making a handy cheat sheet or keeping Google open in another tab or application for swift checking – it can mean the difference between an embaressing typo and a hugely valuable link through to a website/wikipedia page that enlightens others.
  • Come to Terms with Your Spelling and Autocorrect Demons – No LiveBlogger has 100% spelling or accuracy hit rate. The nature of the medium means errors will creep in. You either have to live with that or find a way to fix errors fast. Other attendees will often be happy to comment on your post and correct any facts, name spellings etc. so do keep an eye on your comments and approve those (if you don’t already authorise each comment before it is published you should be, there are too many spammers out there not to). But embarrassing typos can creep in often through autocorrect functions in word processing packages (again a reason to stick to the blogging software or a plain text editor) or, worst of all, tablets and phones. I will usually LiveBlog on my laptop but sometimes I run out of power or decide to LiveBlog something at the last minute and find myself trying to take notes on the iPad. Because they are not designed for long form typing the autocorrect function is particularly awful. I suggest switching it off entirely or applying a wee bit more proofreading than normal as mobile devices seem hugely imaginative and bizarre in their autocorrect suggestions.
  • Connectivity – if you are organising event you should know if wifi/wired internet access will be available and may be able to ensure it is. If you are attending an event it can be a hit and miss affair. You can and should ask the organisers or venue about connectivity ahead of time – it will help raise their awareness of the importance of wifi for their attendees and they might be able to do something about it – if I am speaking at an event or if I have been asked to LiveBlog an event for others I will always ask whether wifi will be available and find out about logins/connection set up either ahead of or at the very beginning of the event. However it may also be worth having a backup plan. If you can take some sort of device that ensures you have a connection then do – I usually carry a pay-as-you-go 3G dongle with me to events and it has been hugely helpful many times. If a dongle is not an option or the issue is an intermittant wifi connection then most blogging programmes will save your work as you go – but you can always do a swift CTRL-A, CTRL-C to copy everything in the post before hitting “Publish” or “Post” so that you don’t lose any work if the connection falls over. If you know that the wifi connections resets every hour, or cannot handle the load of a whole conference or twitterers, or is just very slow, then you may want to draft your work in another application to ensure it’s safe even if the internet connection goes down. Given how badly formatting transfers between programmes I would recommend a really basic plain text or rich text editor if you are using this method – it will be much easier to format basic text than to fix formatting conflicts between, say, Word and WordPress.
  • Power – depending on how difficult it is to find power you may need to preserve your battery life in creative ways – closing down background programmes, turning down the brightness etc. It can be the difference between a saved/posted blog post and a wasted afternoon.  This is where having a second device – if only a phone – to hand to email yourself any final notes can be useful. As a last resort I have also been known to switch down to paper notes (but if your handwriting is like mine that really will be a very last resort)!
  • Guidelines – these really shouldn’t be a limitation but… you may need to ensure you are going to be able to stick with any organisational social media guidelines (like the EDINA guidelines we have here) as you blog. Typing quickly and constantly can really push your adrenalin up and you need to always have a little concious reminder to employ good judgement before you publish that blogpost.

3. Advertise your Blog – with Realistic Expectations

I find that readership of my blog sees massive spikes when I’m LiveBlogging – that’s a reflection of the fact that I will make it known that I am LiveBlogging, usually through Twitter and using the event hashtag. If I am at an event all day I will tweet at the very beginning or – or even en route to – that event to let people know that I will be liveblogging and where they will find the post.

If I’m attending an event I might post a link to my skelatal draft saying something like “I will be blogging x in this post: <URL> today…“. If I am covering a multi-day event or am organising an event I will usually post something brief explaining forthcoming liveBlog activities. I try to explain where I will be, where more information can be found, and what should be expected: am I just LiveBlogging or am I also planning to tweet? Will I be taking pictures of the event? Is any of the event being videoed or streamed somewhere? You don’t have to promise the world, you just need to advertise what will be blogged, where, and how. Set realistic expectations and make sure you can deliver on them.

4. Know your Kit Bag

On the day it’s important to know you have everything you need to hand. That means that what you pack is important but also how you pack it – you need to know where you can quickly find your power lead, your pen, your schedule for the event, etc. Typically I will have the following items packed in my own eccentric combinations of bag pockets/sections:

  • Laptop. This will be fully charged the night before the event but I will try to use mains power throughout to ensure I don’t have to think about checking battery level.
  • Laptop Power Cord. This will always be very near the laptop in the bag, usually in a bag full of cables.
  • Extension Cord(s). I work in academia and the kind of buildings events are held in can be a real lottery in terms of power access. In the last year I’ve LiveBlogged in venues including a medieval chapel with two power sockets, a railway museum with numerous sockets but only at the edges of the room, an education room with 4 power sockets in the corners of the room and with a film crew using half of them, and a seminar room with multiple sockets on every desk. There are no guarantees. So I usually carry either a 10m surge protection 6-way extension lead (essential if you are carrying a large number of devices) or a 20m 2-way extension lead. As a result of barcamps past I have my name, email address, mobile number and twitter handle permanently marked on both of these as it’s easy to lose your cables out there! If I’m staying overnight with a bigger bag I’ll take both. A side benefit of multiway extension cords is that it’s a great way to make new friends at events as  there are always a raft of laptop users looking for power!
  • Tablet, SmartPhone or similar second screen. If you are organising an event you may want several of these but there are two reasons you should always have at least one extra screen: (1) To have a spare device to take notes on and (2) to keep an eye on conference/event tweets in parallel to notetaking. It’s often easier to grab your phone and do a quick check of the discussion whilst you are saving a post than to switch tabs, wait for a page reload, etc.
  • Camera. Pictures add value to blog posts so I try to take some form of camera with me to every event. My iPhone does the job fine but if I can find space for it a DSLR does better. If I’m running an event I use both with the DSLR on a tripod with remote and the iPhone for quick complimentary snaps.
  • Chargers and cables, various. To keep LiveBlogging you need to know your kit will all be fine. I keep a cable bag stocked with iPhone cable, VGA converter cable for my laptop, mini USB cable (for camera), spare headphones, memory sticks, and the all important 3G dongle. That little bag comes in handy as a LiveBlogger or presenter and I’ll top it up with camera remote, micro USB cable, iPad charger, etc. depending on what else I’m carrying.
  • Printed programme. Not all event organisers think to provide you with the details you want to hand for liveblogging. Often you want to be able to glance at the schedule and remind yourself of names, topics, etc. to complement those pre-populated posts. I tend to print my own programme and keep it my laptop case so it’s always to hand.
  • Business Cards with Blog URL. If you do this LiveBlogging lark a lot it’s helpful to have your blog on your business card – then if colleagues ask where they will find your post you can quickly reply without them needing to note down a full URL. My cards have a QR code for my blog on them which is even easier!
  • Paper, Pen. Sometimes tech lets you down. A trusty old pen and paper are essential for those quick notes, reminders, emergency note taking etc.
  • Water. Because almost no event has an endless supply of water and sitting with a warm computer on your lap in an air conditioned room can be dehydrating. If there are only short breaks having your own stash of water also enables you to finish a post rather than join slow moving refreshment queues.
  • Emergency Snacks. A flapjack, a banana, some chocolate, some wasabe peas… it doesn’t matter what type of snack you pick (as long as you like it) but some sort of energising snack (bonus points for those that make no noise) will help you cope with unrealistically short coffee breaks or just very tiring long sessions. LiveBlogging may look like sitting still for the day but typing for that long is a bit like running a marathon. If you have friendly colleagues on hand to pass you refreshments that’s great but my experience of big conferences is that having a snack to hand will save time, queuing and keep you at the energy level you need to keep up with the action. For similar reasons you should never begin a LiveBlogging day without a proper breakfast and, for me at least, a coffee.
Cake, an excellent emergency snack...

Cake, an excellent emergency snack…

There is other kit I’ll take to events I am full-on social media amplifying – video camera, MP3 recorder, etc. – but the list above is what you’ll find in my everyday kit bag for attending events.

5. Add Value

Capturing Q&A sessions, as already mentioned, can add a lot of value. Adding links, explaining acronyms or pointing to related projects or websites is also really valuable for remote readers and those in the room. You also need to get a flavour of the room and to put across the mood without being too judgemental about the event or providing too biased an account (assuming you are there to record not critique – which is better done after the event anyway).

Do capture the detail others may not: lunch and coffee breaks make readers feel involved but, most importantly, they also explain gaps in streaming, liveblog update speed, a quietening down of tweets, etc. But remember that you do need to respect your fellow participants – if someone asks you not to record a question or comment or service name then make sure you respect that wish. If someone falls over a step there’s no need to blog that. But if a fire alarm starts going off LiveBlogging that moment may help explain any tweets or recording issues – you are the eyes and ears of the remote audience so reflect the character and mood of the room but don’t feel like you must be on surveillance duty.

Speed is the other big value-add that you can offer. I try to hit “Publish” or “Update” often as that keeps the version being read as near to current as possible. If you are using a plugin to help with shorter, more frequent updates then this can be easier to manage but the general thing to note is that the faster you share, the more useful that is to your readers. The more often you share, the harder it is to fall behind or lose data.

6. Images matter

I don’t use a huge number of images in myLiveBlog posts but I do usually take them and they can make a big difference – if you can include them you should (attributing correctly of course) even if those images are added back in after the event. Images are even more important now that Pinterest and Tumblr are so popular – the sharing of posts and websites via particularly interesting images is becoming a mainstream method of discovery so a good picture may not say a thousand words but it could garner you several hundred more clicks.

The OR2012 Pinterest page showing how images are collated and used.

The OR2012 Pinterest page showing how images are collated and used.

As an event organiser images are essential – even if these are shared elsewhere they will help others write up the event. At OR2012 we created a Flickr group and allowed any delegate to add their images here. Use of this group and the taking of hundreds of photos by the OR2012 team, all shared under liberal CC licences, meant anyone else reporting on the event could find details from liveblogs and add their own value by pulling out their own highlights and illustrating their reports with photos.

7. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

I’ve already said that you shouldn’t plan to be in two places at once… but if you let people know what you are LiveBlogging you may be able to get some friendly fellow bloggers our covering that second room, that other round table, etc. I’ve also already said that other attendees and presenters will often be more than happy to help with corrections or clarifications. If you ask for help you’ll hear about others’ blog posts that complement your own, you’ll see those reports of your events, and you’ll make sure you correct that speaker’s surname before the autocorrect error becomes too big of an issue.

8. Link, Connect, Be a Good Blogger… 

Links to related websites, slides, etc. add real value and can be done on the day or afterwards. If people leave comments make sure you engage with them. Connect to speakers’ websites or blogs, point to related resources. Basically make sure that you add value without being too cynical – it’s not about SEO type linking to anyway, it’s about adding value for yourself, your readers, and your fellow bloggers, writers, participants.

9. Shout About It

This is the best way to ensure that YOU get the best value out of your post. Do make sure you let people know about your LiveBlog – tweet when you update it or when the event is completely blogged, let the organisers know your post is there and so make sure you link back to their website.  Don’t get obsessed but make sure that those that want to see the post know where to find it. If you are running the event I would recommend including links to blogs – and a note that LiveBlogging will be taking place, in any printed materials (if you do this via you have the bonus feature of being able to track the most effective route to accessing your post(s).

A rather modest recent example of a tweet shouting out about a LiveBlog.

A rather modest recent example of a tweet shouting out about a LiveBlog.

Finally and most importantly make sure that you shout about your post to your colleagues, your peers, etc. It can be really easy to only think about those in the know about the event, your fellow delegates, and that big wide world of people on the web but the most value in your post might be the person at the next desk. Shouting out to the web is easy, summarising the relevance and advertising your posts to colleagues can be harder but is at least as important in most cases.

10. Keep the Momentum Going

Make sure you build on your LiveBlog. If you have been attending an event you might just make sure you link back to that post where appropriate – in your weekly round up of activity perhaps, by highlighting it next time you blog about the same project, event in a series, etc. Again this adds value for you and for your readers.

If you are running an event your LiveBlog should be the start of the conversation. Others will be blogging and reporting on your event and your LiveBlog will be linked to. Do keep an eye on those other posts and help to highlight them through tweets, through highlights posts on your own blog, etc. This helps reward your fellow bloggers for their participation, it recognises their own efforts, and it reinforces the value in LiveBlogging an event as it evidences interest in that event and, through links, in those specific LiveBlog posts.

So, those are my 10 rather extended top tips… what are yours? Leave a comment or any questions below!



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