Visualizing Europe – How attentive were attendees? Or: How much time you *really* have to present your idea

15 Jun

The Visualizing Europe conference at Brussels was mind-blowing in many respects and I’m glad that I had the chance to attend to it. There were many presentations to talk about and many useful tools to examine, but in this blog entry I’ll talk about something completely different.

As usual for conferences nowadays, lots of people sent Twitter messages which led me to ask a very simple question (I don’t know why I waited for this conference):

How much time did the conference attendees spend on Twitter during the Visualizing Europe event?

And I decided to use very simple data visualization to answer the question. Here are some relevant numbers: I counted the number of tweets sent during the conference hours using Twitter search and looking for the tweets containing #vizeurope hashtag. People sent approximately 500 tweets during the conference. Then I estimated the time it takes to write a tweet. Depending on the message, the device (phone, iPad, laptop, netbook) I took it as 40 seconds on average. (If this seems like a high value keep in mind that not everybody touch types and people make mistakes, correct them and doing this on a phone may lead to a different duration compared with a normal keyboard, etc.). That means approximately 5.5 hours were spent for sending Twitter messages. The duration of the conference was about 3.5 hours (counting a short coffee break during which many people drank coffee and had a chat). To sum it up:

How attentive were Visualizing Europe attendees?

How attentive were Visualizing Europe attendees?

Does spending more time on Twitter than the total duration of the conference seem weird? Maybe that’s the power of Twitter nowadays 😉 Your natural reaction is probably: But how many people were there and how many of them tweeted? As far as I remember there were 60-70 people in the venue, so let’s assume each of them tweeted equally. That means every person spent about 5.5 minutes of tweeting. And remembering that every presentation took about 18 minutes, we get:

How much attention did an attendee pay to a presentation?

How much attention did an attendee pay to a presentation?

But of course it is not very healthy to assume that the level of addiction to Twitter was distributed equally among the conference population. Let’s assume only half of the audience tweeted (heavily) during the presentations. That means those people spent 11 minutes on Twitter while trying to listen to a presentation that lasted about 18 – 19 minutes:

How attentive were attendees?

How attentive were attendees?

You have every right to object to my numbers, and question my assumptions. Please feel free to do so and plug in your numbers and estimations, calculations are very simple and you can get an idea on how attentive were attendees from your perspective. You can also come up with different “attention span indexes“.

I may be mistaken but if I’m not mistaken horribly, then the take home message is that generally you have much less time than you believe to pitch your ideas to an audience. If a 15 – 20 minute time slot seems short then think about again, you actually have less than that, at least for a large subset of your audience. Well, at least for the ones who are connected. 😉

Finally: Why didn’t I ask this question before? I think the previous conferences had no such effect on me, they did not make me ask this simple question and try to answer it using simple data visualization. That’s why I’m thankful to the organizers as well as the wonderful speakers who made such a beautiful and informationally rich event possible.

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Posted by on June 15, 2011 in General


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