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How To Live Blog an Event

As the euphoria of SQLBits X sadly begins to fade, I wanted to take a moment to share with you my experience of Live Blogging the keynote of Europe’s largest SQL Server conference.

To be honest this was not something that I had planned to do but when I received an email from Chris Webb (Blog|Twitter) inviting me to be part of the Blogging/Tweeting panel for SQLBits there was only ever going to be one answer, “absolutely”! To be given an opportunity to author magic alongside community champions such as the likes of Jamie Thomson (Blog|Twitter) and Jen Stirrup (Blog|Twitter) is a privilege. Not to mention the hoards of Twitterati also in attendance, needless to say it’s a bloggers Wrestlemania (i.e. a very BIG deal).

This was my first attempt at Live Blogging an event. I had certainly not expected it to be easy but I did underestimate just how tough it would actually be. I want to share with my fellow bloggers what I did to prepare and what I learned from the experience.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

In order to successfully Live Blog an event you absolutely have to bring your A game. There are no second chances when publishing content live. Of course your readers understand this and the odd little typo here and there is not going to cost you in a big way but it will still cost you. It’s all about being professional so make sure you are ready to deliver.

  • Keeping Up – Staying focused on an event (a presentation/speaker) can be difficult at the best of times, let alone when trying to publish a live blog in parallel. The most important thing you have to do is to remain engaged and to stay on point. If you loose this, you’re going to struggle for content to write about and lag behind. The trick is to not try to capture and communicate everything to your readers but just the pertinent points of interest.
  • Preparation – Consider what you could do ahead of time in order to prepare for your live blogging experience. What research can you do, what references can you gather, in order to include and enrich your live blog content on the day? These little injections of added value will help separate your posts form the competition, as well as prove interesting reading for both live and future readers. Do some research on popular live blog posts and identify what made them so good. Perhaps you can adopt a similar style and try it out to see how it works for you.
  • Practice – If you have never published a Live Blog before then how will you know what your performance will be like? You don’t! An excellent way to hone your craft before the big event is to practice. You can choose any event you like but the important thing is to practice at the pace and duration you expect to have to deal with. This will help you gauge what you can and can’t handle on the day, which leads nicely onto my next point about….
  • Multi-Tasking – Listening to the speaker, taking photos, checking up on Twitter, soaking in the venue atmosphere, writing commentary, editing images, these are all things that you will likely be trying to do and in rapid succession, all the while remaining engaged and focused on the event. The mistake I made was trying to do too much. For beginners I recommend potentially ignoring Twitter completely and focussing on live blogging only. If you want to tweet your live blog entries, there are plugins you can use for this in WordPress but consider that your commentary format may not port well to Twitter.

Weapon of Choice

To live blog an event you’re going to need a device or two to get the job done.

  • Hardware – What will be your weapon of choice be on the day? Whether you choose a laptop, iPad, or iPhone, just make sure that you are comfortable with your choice and that you have validated it will cater for all of your publishing needs before the actual event. In my case, I chose to use my laptop to author the live blog and my iPad to check on the status of the blog as the reader would see it and to check on Twitter banter.
  • Connectivity – Arguably the most important requirement. If you can’t connect to the Internet then you won’t be publishing anything. Often the event venue will provide Internet access but consider you will be competing with a lot of other folks for bandwidth. If you are invited to live blog the event by the organises, you may be given an alternative means to connect to the internet in order to ensure your quality of access. Check ahead of time what Internet connectivity will be available. Rather than take any chances, I chose to bring my own 3G device to use in order to ensure the quality of my connection.
  • Photos – Ideally you want to be using a camera that is appropriate for the event you are live blogging. If it’s an indoor presentation then you will want a camera that can take good pictures in low light quality. My photos were pretty bad. The Pros out there will bring a photographer and I think next time I will try and enlist a fellow community buddy to help me out with this. You want to be focusing on the event and blogging it, not messing about with SD cards and image optimization.

Monkey Wrench

Fortunately there are number of tools available to help the aspiring live blogger.

  • Live Blogging – If you are using WordPress to host your blog then this is the plugin you will want to use. It allows you to insert micro/live blogs into posts with automatic updating of the content. Watch out for the Super Cache plugin playing up here. I had to manually drop my cache during the event to ensure readers where receiving the latest post content. When you’re logged in as an Admin, you won’t see this issue. Another reason why the iPad came in handy to check for this.
  • CoverItLive – For those feeling particularly adventurous you will want to take a look at this powerful product. It creates an embedded application on your site and includes an awesome array of integration features for things such as Twitter. I actually tested this out as part of my live blogging practice but opted against using it for my first venture due to the complexity involved.

Further Reading

Fancy having a go at Live Blogging your next event or want to find out more. Take a look at some of these excellent resources.

There’s no doubt that Live Blogging an event is an incredible amount of fun and hard work but it’s something I would suggest every blogger try their hand at. Share your Live Blogging tips and experiences in the comments.

John Sansom - SQL Server DBA in the UK

John Sansom (Blog | Twitter) is a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) of SQL Server and publisher of the free SQL community ebook DBA JumpStart, an inspiring collection of advice for Data Professionals, written by 20 SQL Server experts. Awarded the Microsoft Community Contributor(MCC) award, John is a prolific blogger and can be found regularly writing about SQL Server and Professional Development over at www.johnsansom.com.


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