March 18, 2009

How to Blog Live Events and Publish With Lightning Speed

One of the major trends I've been irked by at the last few events I have attended is the general lack of blog posts and reactions to panels and keynote speakers. While in years past, one could expect solid reaction stories from attendees, many are instead choosing to "live tweet" the proceedings, or with the right equipment, are recording it and posting the results as a podcast or YouTube embed. While I was at the SXSW this weekend, I thought I'd practice what I preach, and post, post, post. I ended up writing 14 posts over the four-day period from Friday through Monday, including 6 separate entries on Saturday. And in one case, on Sunday, I had a post up and on the site even before the panel had concluded, posting it at 10:50 for the 10:00 to 11:00 session. I thought I'd tell you how I do it and how you can do it too.

Saturday's Six Posts from SXSW

Pick A Comfortable Note-Taking Application

I both take my notes and write my blog posts in Apple's Mail. Mail leaves my raw text as text, without putting in rich style elements, and without fear of losing my data if the application ever crashes. Mail also is flexible enough that I can open two active "New Message" windows and place them side by side, one to take notes, and the other to write the post.

Find one that works for you, even if it's WordPad.

Start With the Background Details

If you're blogging a panel or a speech, make sure to get the background details right by copying them from the program or title slide, and into your notes - including the name of the speech, and the participants, where they work, and their titles, if provided. From this point, you can, in your notes, reference them by last name, first name, or simply their initials, to shorten your note taking.

Consider The Goal of Your Story

There's a reason you're at the panel or event. Is there something that is most relevant to you or your readers? Are there individuals on the panel who you think are more interesting, or might be more quotable? If so, be predisposed to be more alert and a better note taker when they are speaking, and more likely to skip the comments from others if you need to catch up and have fallen behind.

My live notes from the "Run for the Hills" SXSW Panel

Take Down As Much as You Possibly Can

Just like reading quickly helps you power through RSS feeds, typing quickly can get you the best quotes. While some reporters turn to shorthand for live interviews, when typing, you can use abbreviations, word fragments, and ignore misspellings as you type your notes, but be sure to go back and fix the mistakes, especially if you end up using the material.

When I take notes, I tend to write down the last name of who is speaking, and type their every word. If they are a very fast talker, I am constantly filtering what they are saying and trying to determine if the statement they are currently making is "better" than the one I am currently typing. If it is, I'll delete the sentence I've started, hit return and start a new one. But if you have the ability to write down every word of every sentence, that's the very best way, giving you a chance to have a full record.

My post draft from the "Run for the Hills" SXSW Panel

Form the Story In Your Mind as It Develops

As the panel or speech unfolds, you should be getting an idea in your head as to your angle. On Sunday, a panel called "Ditch the Valley, Run for the Hills" took an interesting turn when one panelist said the Valley's high cost prevented all except 20-something bachelors from starting companies. That led to my title, "Is Silicon Valley Too Expensive for Normal People to Launch Startups?". Similarly, a panel on recommendation software led to a clash between editorial recommendations and community picks.

If you can see the story unfolding, it's a great time to actually start writing the story, as it happens.

Know the Law of Diminishing Returns

At the "Run for the Hills" presentation, which started at 10, by 10:35, the panelists had moved off the main topic, and were taking questions from the audience. To continue taking notes at that point would have been less useful, so the right move was to start fleshing out the post, while keeping one ear on the proceedings, in case either a more interesting story, or a continuation to the existing story would come up.

Also, have a built-in filter for comments and quotes you know will never make it into the story. Instead of writing down one person's witty banter, you could be taking down the notes from the next commenter instead.

Write While You Still Remember and Have the Quotes

The sooner you write the story, the fresher it will be in your mind, and the less likely you are to find interruptions. Since you remember the discussions, you can scroll through your notes, copy them into the story, and format them to fit your angle. Using the quotes you have separates you from those who are simply recapping the story.

Practice and Then Practice Some More.

I have been taking notes from phone interviews and putting them to press since my college days at the student newspaper. I've done the same when interviewing customers at the office, or simply summarizing comments from company executives, press and analysts for several years. Trying to take notes, verbatim, and chronicling an event can be challenging the first few times you do it, but the more often you do it, you will find your notes and quotes become more thorough, and your time to publishing will get very quick indeed.