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The Art and Practice of Blogging at the SIETAR Conference

Here's how the blogosphere works. A few months ago, I didn't even know Christine Martell. Then came the 31 Day Challenge, during which we supported and goaded each other to reach the finish line, still connecting only in the virtual world. Then came some phone calls and an invitation from Christine to join her at the SIETAR conference in Kansas City, MO to present a session on the Art and Practice of Blogging. The first time I actually met Christine was when I arrived at the hotel room last Wednesday night at 11 p.m.  We spent the next four days together and parted this morning as life-long friends.

I'm posting this from the Kansas City airport (thank you for having free wireless!). It's the first time I've had to really think in several days. Christine actually liveblogged the SIETAR conference. That was more than I managed to do. I was busy absorbing the culture and experience of working with an entirely new group of people who work outside of my normal areas of expertise. An intense learning experience to say the least.

A couple of things from the past four days . . .

In our session on blogging, we put up signs around the room that range from "What is a blog?" to "I read blogs," "I comment on blogs," "I'm thinking about starting my own blog" and "I blog." Most of our participants (20+)  clustered at either "What's a blog?" or "I'm thinking about starting a blog."

Lots of questions--most of them around how honest and transparent to be in blog postings, how to find the time and how to decide on content. We were also able to introduce them to RSS (most had not heard of it) and to other applications like Gcast and Slideshare. We also shared with them your excellent advice on how to get started with blogging.

Blogging is a perfect medium for this community, whose expertise lies in facilitating intercultural communications and conversations. But it's new and they're not sure how this would apply. They are also used to more "academic" writing--publishing articles and papers--so the kind of in-process writing that is the nature of blogging is very different for them. It will take time to help them see how blogging can further their mission.

Some people already see it. On the bus ride to the airport this morning I sat next to (almost) 21 year-old Eugene Fertelmeyster, aspiring playwright, musician and interculturalist. We talked about how blogging and other social media are helping to break down the borders and barriers between people around the world and how it's these individual connections that will help us reconnect to our own humanity. We discussed, too, how blogging can be a way to have difficult conversations in a "safe" environment, something that's critical for a community that is focused on helping people overcome their cultural biases. It was an incredible conversation to have, especially at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.

The other big thing for me in this experience was getting the chance to see Christine's VisualsSpeak products in action. VisualsSpeak is a set of 200 professionally produced photographs of various sizes specifically designed and tested to facilitate conversation. I participated in two of Christine's workshops and was quite simply blown away by how the tools got people talking about things like conflict, teaming, communication styles and differences. The process tapped into very different parts of our brains and helped us discuss some difficult subjects in really meaningful ways. As a trainer and facilitator, I can see a ton of different applications for the tools and I'm excited to try these out myself. I STRONGLY encourage you to check out Christine's site if you're looking for some different, exciting ways to build teams, develop strategic plans, etc. Really awesome stuff.

We took pictures, but my camera is acting up, so I didn't get to upload them. I'll have to share when I get home. We also recorded a quick podcast that you can listen to here and Christine shared some of her thoughts on the liveblogging process here.

This was a really profound and exciting four days for me. Lots to think about now and blogging is what made it all possible.


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Hi Michele - with "In our session on blogging, we put up signs around the room that range from "What is a blog?" to "I read blogs," "I comment on blogs," "I'm thinking about starting my own blog" and "I blog." Most of our participants (20+) clustered at either "What's a blog?" or "I'm thinking about starting a blog."

I have some questions. I assume you put the signs around the room before the session started? On each sign did you provide information that explained it? If so, how big were the signs? And did you then ask the people to walk around the room and look at the signs?

Hi Sue--The signs were on large flip-chart sized post-its that we could easily stick to the wall and we did put them up before the session. When it was time for them to stand along the continuum, we pointed to each one and explained what it meant before we asked them to go stand next to the sign that best explained where they were at. We also used the paper blogging exercise from:http://classroom20.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=649749%3ATopic%3A9618

They seemed to really like this as a way to understand what blogs were about and how they work--even those who had more experience with blogs told us they developed a better understanding after going through the exercise. We were also able to demonstrate how RSS works by gathering up all of their posts and bringing them to a person so they got the picture that RSS delivers content to you, rather than you having to visit the content. It made it more concrete for them.

Hi Michele, Glad the conference went so well. Like Sue, I was also struck by the signs on the wall. It's a great strategy for a conference because it lets the participants actually participate (surprisingly unusual in conferences that I attend) and it gives you, the presenter, a clear sense of your audience--where they're at and what they want to learn.

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