Category Archives: Teach/Learn

What I’ve been taught, and what I pass along in structured educational settings.

How to promote your heritage event using the web

Last week, I attended WordCamp Dallas, a meeting of bloggers and web professionals who are using the WordPress platform. WordCamp was phenomenal both in terms of the information delivered and the wonderful people who were there.

Seeing all the fabulous strategies used to make this event happen on a registration fee of just $30 per person, it got me to thinking, how could these strategies be applied to make heritage events more accessible and successful?

The are lots actually.

Invest  folks who are already have an online audience

Advocates are important. For WordCamp, this was easy. Lorelle VanFossen, one of the web’s most noted bloggers, actively promotes WordCamp events on her personal site as well as several external sites and podcasts. While there are few wildly popular heritage bloggers, organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training frequently feature events that they don’t necessarily organize.

Additionally, there are web experts with strong heritage values. For example, the teenage social media titan Dave Moyer has worked with Laura Bush on the Preserve America initiative and even testified before Congress about heritage issues. While Moyer doesn’t publish exclusively on these issues, his interest and reach potentially makes him a strong ally.

Connect Your Participants Before the Event

When someone registered for WordCamp Dallas, their name, website and twitter handle went up on the event’s official site. This enabled folks to connect before the event and arrive with a sense of the networking possibilities.

Then Put Them to Work

With an e-mail required for each registration, the organizers and a ready-made pool of folks who were potential volunteers. They took advantage of the situation with calls for help for everything from setting up tables to running video cameras. This excited participants and invested them in the event.

Use Keywords to Track Buzz about Your Event

While the official WordCamp Dallas site served as a source of information on the technical details of the event, its organizers provided a special tag “wcdfw09” that participants could use for their communication about the topic across any social network.

Bottom Line: Stay Focused on Your Participants’ Needs

In a down economy, it’s tempting to try and make every part of your event a moneymaker. But the benefits of showing an interest in your audience and creating an experience that will enhance their lives and careers will create benefits for the long run. Personally, I’m still realizing benefits from the first WordCamp I attended in 2008. While my mind is still reeling from the 2009 event, I know there are still great things in store as a result. And it’s because the organizers of the event took into account the wants and needs of their audience.

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Boag takes an already great conference FOrWarD

Paul Boag in character

Chairing a tech conference and maintaining the eccentric air your audience of artsy-techie designers expects would seem to be mutually exclusive goals. Not for Paul Boag, the brilliant designer and podcaster, whose on-stage persona hovers somewhere between Gilbert Gottfried and Steve Coogan in Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible. But hold it all together he did, through tech glitches, speaker overruns and who knows what else.

My favorite Boag moment followed the blatently useless Photoshop face-off. “I thought this might be an exercise where we actually learned something … But NO!!!” I nearly fell out of my chair. Thanks to Paul, Jo Andrews and all the Carsonified folks for a conference that was at least 98 percent useful.

I hoped to shake Ryan Carson’s hand and say hello in person, but he had the best excuse in the world for staying home. The first weeks after my daughter was born were the most special of my life. Sleep eventually comes again, but those early moments with big blue eyes staring up at you at three in the morning are so, so fleeting.

My one <rant> vaguely related to the conference would be all the whining in social media about the product demo’s. FOWD is open to folks besides web design geniuses and I personally did learn a couple of things from the demonstrations. And if the demo’s can keep the conference price down so that folks trying to establish a name for themselves can afford to attend, show some grace and just tune out for the half hour, especially if you’re a presenter!

You can make up the time by opting out of the design challenge next conference.

This is the last post on FOWD. Loved it. Loving London. Thanks to Adii, who gave me the pass to be there.

More posts coming on my adventures wandering the city.

FOWD: An unconventional way to present a concept

I’ve never consciously thought during a presentation “I want to speak like that person.” But such was the case with Litmus‘ Paul Farnell’s presentation on unconventional ways to promote your site.

What was more unconventional was his “every guy” conversational style of presenting. He didn’t need to be abrasive or over-the-top to engage the audience. Just a straightforward, evenly paced, well-articulated and even humble presentation of a concept. What a concept!

Don’t get me wrong–the content was great as well. Everything from the use of satellite sites to building communities by building a culture of trust was highly relevant and insightful.

I will definitely use the info. But this guy is my presentation hero.

Yet another reason to buy the Conference-in-a-Box: to study what made him so effective. Trading my southern U.S. dialect for his British accent? That’s going to be the hard part. 🙂

FOWD: Holy Cheesophile! A presentation that’s practical

Hicks Cheesophile

For a while now, I’ve been trying to adopt the Beyond Bullet Points presentation style outlined in Cliff Atkinson’s book of the same name. Some folks call it the Web 2.0 style as well. It focuses on gaining audience buy-in by connecting them to the material through high-impact visuals. It’s essentially linear storytelling. In fact, Atkinson tells the presenter to outline the presentation in “Acts”–just like plays or television shows.

I don’t know if John Hicks of Hicksdesign knows of this concept, but he carried it out wonderfully. He took the audience through the process of redesigning a website–starting with the problems with the original, all the way through the redesign. Humorous and thoughtful, it was enough to keep me awake for the hour after my grease-laden lunch. Considering I had a severe case of jetlag as well, that’s saying something!

The best thing about Hicks’ style is that he talked about the underlying “whys” of the redesign put the super-geeky css talk in context and HELPED A NEWBIE “GET IT.” He could conduct a seminar series or write a university curriculum this way. What a service to help the web designers of the world use both sides of their brains!

I’m buying the Conference in a Box just for this presentation!

FOWD: Print is the New Web

Image via CrunchBase

As a public relations practitioner who does a good bit of design for both print and web, this topic intrigued me. Elliot Jay Stocks is one of the social media/web design deities of Carsonified (for the moment anyway) so this session was a must-see for me. He began by stating he came up with the provocative title and then shoehorned a presentation into it. Fair enough; it turned out well nonetheless.

He began by showing examples of print, such as book covers, and described how to find in them inspiration for web design. He then progressed to other print media and used a process of overlays to demonstrate how print design elements can be effectively ported into web design. It’s made me look at the process in a new way. I’ve already started scanning bookstores (since I’m in them all the time anyway) and magazine racks for great design ideas.

I twittered during this session about whether there is a conference out there that addresses a holistic view of print and web, allowing designers to consider both out the outset of a project.

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FOWD: User experience v. brand experience

pearce and clarke

Steve Pearce of Poke and Andy Clarke of Stuff and Nonsense had presentations that basically boil down to the fact that you have to remember your audience and make sure your site is not only beautiful, but functional as well. Pearce’s presentation replete with handdrawn cartoons with a torn-paper background was a brilliant demonstration of the user experience iceberg concept. Though I remember being entertained by Andy’s talk, I think his persona overwhelmed the subject matter, because I honestly can’t remember any of the points he made. I do remember that he has the longest e-mail address in the universe. Which is more important, I guess, because at least I can contact him to find out what his points were, if I’m interested.

FOWD: Finding inspiration from design

Paul McNeil

Patrick McNeil kicked off FOWD this morning with design examples from his aggregation site Design Meltdown. His ideas for “living” inspiration–know your sources, practice, and have your inspiration detector “always on”–were commonsensical kind of things that make a difference. But it was his examples of these traits that were particularly helpful.

For example, “just practice” inspires no one. However, a practice regimen, like the “one design a day” concept really changed my point of view. Structured practice is the key. Even if it’s just-get-it-out-of-the-way crap practice.

His notations about trends in web design were interesting. Brown is a big color now (new WordPress admin, and even the FOWD site itself). Oversize banners, formerly a no-no, are on the rise. I think Matt Mullenweg beat that trend by a few years at least, though he said at WordCamp Dallas he planned to reduce it somewhat. And no more eye burning colors like hot pink. McNeil says colors are starting to get softer as Web 2.0 settles into its groove.

Perhaps the trend I found most interesting, and one that made a lot of sense to me, is the horizontal scrolling site. Monitors are cinema-shaped now, instead of roughly square. And lots of people are using multiple monitors. So it makes sense that a site would have more horizontal space. Karlik Design is a beautiful illustration of the concept.

Fast times at WordCamp Dallas

My wife took this picture. Does that make it a three-way?
This is what happens when you ask to take a picture with the magnificent Lorelle

I know just enough code to be dangerous, and my wife has never even heard of WordPress. So it was with equal amounts of faith and trepidation that we loaded up the truck last weekend and moseyed over to Dallas for WordCamp 2008.

Now, I’m a communicator and my wife is an educator. Both geeks in our chosen fields. But how would we hold up in a room of 150 pro bloggers? Between talk of php, sql, seo and “link love” would we understand anything being said? Did we even want to?

My descent into social media madness will likely be detailed in another post. For now, the relevant fact is that I’m attempting to build the elusive social media newsroom for the federal organization with which I work. I chose WordPress as my platform because it’s a content management system that regular folks can figure out. It’s also Web 2.0 saavy, with a plug-in and widget for every flavor, nationality and orientation of social media. I’m a big fan of it, which brings me back to WordCamp.

I’ve been jonesing for professional development in social media in the worst way. But federal travel cutbacks, the insane cost of conferences these days, and the rural location of my hometown has limited my training to webinars. Then I subscribed to the WordPress podcast a few weeks ago. Hosts Charles Stricklin and Jonathan Bailey were talking about WordCamp Dallas. Dallas?! Four hours away. I can do that! Just 20 bucks? You’re kidding me. A T-shirt and lunches too? Then the kicker: Charles lives an hour north of me and Jonathan a few hours south, in the Big Easy. The stars were aligned. I had to go.

Continue reading Fast times at WordCamp Dallas

PR + Web 2.0 + Teaching equals one real mashup

In January, I took over as an adjunct instructor in the capstone “Campaigns” course for PR majors at the local university. Three hours, one night a week. Piece of cake.

After all, I had 15 years in the PR practice since graduating from that same university with a journalism degree. Lots of experiences to pass on to these pliable young minds. My plan: make the class exciting with a cool social media spin. I’d be brilliant (thumbs in suspenders). It’d be fun.

Who could have known the extent to which a social media focus would challenge the traditional PR pedagogy. When I talked to faculty, the conversation took on a “oh how cute” sheen. The students scarcely had a conception of what “social media” was, and OMG, you mean we have to, like, APPLY it in REAL LIFE PR?!!! After the first two classes, I would have settled for Second Life.

We all persevered, hopeful that the team-based nature of the class would inspire the ol’ Higher Order Thinking Skills to kick in. Then I started seeing it–those moments when a face would light up, expression intent on my stumbling monologue. A raised hand. An honest-to-god social media “connection.” And one-by-one, I’ve witnessed those moments on each face.

But then I look at them and know the field they are going into is much different than the one I faced in the mid-1990s, back when a lot of the internet was still text-based. In the last couple of years, the learning curve has steepened within a rapidly changing spectrum.

Continue reading PR + Web 2.0 + Teaching equals one real mashup