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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

My Spinach Stuck in Teeth Test

I didn’t know I had spinach stuck between my 2 front teeth at a business lunch.  Thank God I had a friend who told me.

Friends have helped me a lot over the years with almost embarrassing moments.  Juggling family, a business,  and a job means I have done some stupid things. Ranking near the top in the years when I struggled to get out the door without baby spitup on my blouse:

  1. Wearing a shirt backwards to a cookout
  2. Wearing moccasins with my business suit into McDonald’s because I forgot to slip on my dress shoes

I’m grateful for trusted friends who save my bacon before I accidentally fry it. Wouldn’t it have been awful if they hadn’t told me?

The same thing happens on social media. Years ago, my first month on Facebook, I sent an “I love you!” card to my husband.  Except I clicked the wrong box and posted it on all 60 of my friends’ walls. One of them told me what I had done, and I spent an afternoon removing it from every single wall.

If you are my friend on Facebook, and it looks like I’ve been hacked, or if I posted something in bad taste or with a spelling/grammar error, tell me privately.  I would rather know I have spinach between my teeth on my Facebook wall than walk around smiling at everyone where they notice it and I don’t realize it.

My social media footprint is my brand. I’ve slowly figured out what my brand is – learning by doing badly at times. I learned my social media is a place to build and encourage – not incite debate.  I’m a teacher & encourager, not an arguer.

If you’re my friend, and I see that you’ve been hacked or have a potential problem on social media, I’ll most likely call you – if your phone number is listed in the Facebook phone book.  If you post a status with the words my,stupid, boss, I’ll probably warn you before it appears on the “My Stupid Boss” community FB page.

I have known people who have lost scholarships, jobs, and clients because of posting something stupid on social media. College is expensive. A good job is hard to find.

You can “let it all hang out” without letting the spinach dangle between your two front teeth. 

So show those pearly whites and smile! You’re on candid social media!


Chicken Dance Speech Class

The chicken dance inspired me! I was teaching a new public speaking class to teens and wanted a different icebreaker to begin the year.

The first day of class, all chairs and tables were pushed to the sides of the room. All students formed a big circle but didn’t know why.  Then I began to play the chicken dance – telling them the first class assignment was dancing the chicken dance. Some were more reluctant than others. For the fun of it, I wore a big, bright yellow outfit.

After we did it, I had them help me go through the steps of the chicken dance. When do we flap, and when did we wiggle? When we had the steps broken down, I gave a mock demonstration speech on the chicken dance, after which we danced to it one more time.

After we finished, I asked, “How many think starting a speech class with the chicken dance is stupid?”

All agreed.  So I continued, “Did anyone feel stupid doing the chicken dance in front of everyone else here?”

A few admitted to it. So I continued, “Fine. You have just done the dumbest thing you will do all year in speech class. Now we can get to the business of speaking in public and doing it well.”

I hate writing or speech classes where students spend more time studying the theory or art of speaking or writing than they do in the actual writing and speaking. The best way to write well is to write often. The best way to be a good public speaker is to speak publicly and often.

In every speaking or writing class, the bulk of our time is spent speaking and writing. We cover a little theory, practice, and then analyze what we learned. Finally, I encouraged them outside of class to read and explore their interests. 

We don’t teach kids musical instruments by having them study theory and occasionally experiment with the real instrument.  We do encourage them to practice daily and see incremental improvement over time.  When kids learn to swim, we don’t have them sit poolside to study books or videos; we take them to the shallow end, have them get in the water, and encourage them to discover what it feels like to move in the water.

The same should be true of the written and spoken word.


From the Diary of Noah's Wife

Hello God?

You were talking to Noah this afternoon.  Well, this is Noah’s wife, and now I want to talk to you.

You told him to build a boat?  Don’t you know that man can’t catch a fish to save his life?

Don’t you know our plans for our farm? We’re growing it so it can support not only us but each of our son’s families as well.  Just getting the garden in and harvested, and taking care of the animals is a full time job.

I don’t even know the last time we had time to sit down.  Sometimes we’re so busy building the homestead we barely have time to have family time alone together.

Don’t you know how mean our neighbors are? What are they going to say when he starts building a boat? The closest water in walking distance is a creek, and we don’t need a boat to cross it.

And he says you want a big boat? With animals? Just where are those animals going to come from? He says the boys are going to help him build that boat too?

I don’t get it. Build a boat, you say. If he and the boys are building the boat, who will take care of the animals we do have – not just those you say we’re going to get?

When I asked him questions, he told me I needed a little faith.

If you didn’t tell him to build that boat and he’s gone crazy, would you stop him now before he turns our world upside down? Maybe give ME a hint so I know if it’s real or not?

If you did tell him to build that boat, would you tell me what to do and how to handle this?

Pitch? You said get some pitch? I’m not sure how that can help, but I’ll try.

Lord, if you called him to build a boat, show him what to do when he makes a leap of faith.

And if he makes that leap of faith, would you show me how to handle it so I can make a leap of trust?

Thanks for listening, God. After dinner, I’ll see if I can find something big to mix some pitch. Maybe that would be a good olive branch after I spouted off when he told me about the boat.


Learn by Living – 4H Achievement Records

Accountants have tax season. Greeks have hell week. With 4-H, I have Achievement Week, and this is it.

As chair of our county’s awards committee, I work with a committee that reviews 800 achievement records. Area companies have awarded scholarships which we give so our older members can attend state-level workshops in fields from food science to animal science to engineering. They also send 20 middle school students from our county to a 3-day career exploration workshop at Purdue University. Others send teens to leadership training.

Each 4-H member turns in an achievement record which we review to select award and scholarship trip winners.  We look for a lot more than the prize-winning jelly or grand champion dairy cow.  As we read, we look for the learning experiences that went into the project: experiments, failures, research, and more.  But that’s just the beginning of what we evaluate.  Drilling deeper, we review workshops, demonstrations, field trips, and community service projects that involved those project areas.  It’s not about the ribbon at the fair but about what you learn and how you will share it with the world to build a better community. We look for leadership experiences and activity participation.

Sometimes the project that earned a red ribbon and involved lots of struggles teaches more than a champion. 

I love the fact we nurture such a wide range of project categories that there is room for every member to discover an area of talent and be recognized for it.  Each time they try something new, their confidence grows.

4-H is a microcosm of life.  Our self worth is more than a resume. It’s more than a ribbon at the fair.

“Learn by doing” may be the 4-H motto, but when I see those 4-H records, I think of something else:

“Learn by living.”


Teaching Plato Outside the Cave to Teens

How could I get teens excited about ancient Greek literature?  Specifically, how could I help my 14 year old son who loves robots lots more than reading get Plato? As I sat on a back deck today, the sun beamed among the trees. I suddenly saw how to help get Plato’s cave. 

I called the teens outside and told them to pull chairs into a line, facing the house’s outer wall.  Then I told them their legs and necks were bound; the only thing they could see was the blank wall.  Sunshine was behind them, but they could not see it. We could make shadows with the sun, onto the wall of the house, but shadows were different from the real thing. This was our version of Plato’s cave.

One girl was “set free.” She walked behind the row of chairs and could see the sunshine.  I told her to note all the things she never saw because all she had known was a wall. Like the prisoner in a darkened cell, the sunshine would take some adjusting.  After she had explained it, I told her to go back to her chair to sit with the others.

I asked her what it felt like to return to the chair to only see the wall.  Depressing. I challenged her to explain what she had seen to those who had only seen the wall.  She struggled to find words, and the teens played along as good skeptics.   She was now the philosopher who had seen things the others never realized.

As a conclusion to the exercise, I noted Plato’s observation that if those who had always been chained got the chance, they would most likely kill the philosopher.

After the real live exercise of Plato’s allegory of the cave, the kids got it.

We sat in the sunshine after that, and I thought about how this applies to us. We think we know the whole universe, and then we see a light and realize we’ve gone from Kansas to technicolor Oz. If we then return to our old wineskins, we struggle to explain to those who’ve never seen the light what we’ve encountered.

Our challenge is to explain what the light is such that people will listen instead of kill us. Those ancient philosophers are more than just a bunch of dead Greek guys. 

Are you in a cave? Have you turned around to see the light? If so, did you share what you saw with others?


Five Deadly Villains in Social Media World

“Where’s your portfolio?” Clients always ask that of commercial artists.  

Digital illustrators and retouchers like my husband, Richard Biever, gladly show their work to prospective clients. Clients then can evaluate them. One of his portfolio pieces is linked.

When you hire social media strategists, evaluate their portfolio.  How do they personally use social media? Where do you look? If someone offers to train you on social media, make sure the person uses all of the following well:

  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Geolocation platforms like 4Square 
  • Blogs

Check their Twitter klout rating (the higher, the better). Do people retweet and reply to their conversations? Who is in their peer to peer network?  Who do they recommend that you follow – locally and globally?

Five Villains to Beware in Social Media World:

Paranoid Protector: The Protector only posts protected tweets. Twitter is a global conversation, and that only happens if you share what you say with the world.

Bullhorn Blowhard: They blast “What are you selling” instead of “What are you doing?”  Social media is not a billboard; it’s a conversation. 

Zombie-Tweeter: They link all Facebook and LinkedIn to Twitter.  If you follow a zombie and receive an auto-dm reply, avoid at all costs.

Undead Follower: They never speak, never reply, and no one’s really sure if they breathe. Social media requires a voice, and avoid the expert who never speaks up or out.

Vampires:  They beg for your blood but never offer to help you back.  Your blood – and how it can help them – is their only interest in you. Social media vampires may live forever, but no one cares because no one reads their tweets or their posts.

We can beat the social media villains. Unfollow them. Don’t friend them. Don’t promote them.

Because social media is transparent, given time, bad guys show their true colors. The villains get caught.

The good news Social Media World has more Superheroes than villains. Superheroes with truth, justice, and a good sense of humor, beat villains every time.

Your company has a unique spot in the social media world.

Seek out the Social Media Superheroes and soar around the planet, faster than a speeding tweet.


Writing With Passion and Heart

For 10 years, I’ve tutored students in writing.  Using my own methods, I’ve never once met a reluctant writer who could not write.  I have met students so stilted by structured programs they struggle to complete a sentence.  What is the difference between my approach and theirs?

Writing programs that obsess with small building blocks to master focus so much on style that they forget substance.  As they focus so hard on the small parts, students lose their voice.  They may write well academically, but they will struggle a lifetime to write with their own voice.

Social media utterly transforms writing. For students today to succeed on platforms like Twitter in the future, the style-obsessed writing systems will build barriers that will make them less effective writers in new media.

What do I do instead? Go for the passion! What would a student write about for fun? Tap into that interest, and the writing will flow.  Not only will it flow for the writer, but it will be more interesting for the reader. 

Integrate writing into other school subjects so it’s more interesting than just writing for the sake of writing. Literature and history courses offer countless opportunities to practice writing.  You can write summaries, present arguments, develop character sketches, and compare/contrast countless people and topics.  Read good stuff. The better stuff you read, the better your writing will be.

It doesn’t stop with writing from the heart.  Be the editor after you are the writer. Review the writing for mechanics.  After the assignment is written, tweak word choice, sentence beginnings, and good grammar. If students worry too much about the best word choice and sentence beginning in the first draft, they forget the substance of what they are writing. Then their whole writing piece seems disjointed – just like the writing itself.

Don’t expect perfection on each piece.  Daily practice is more important in early years than crafting a perfect essay only once a week. Musicians practice daily, and the process of practice improves them over time.

The more a student writes, with breaks to tweak the grammar and mechanics, the better writer the student will become.

With social media, writing programs need to emphasize keeping a student’s unique voice. They need to learn academic writing which is 3rd person but also be able to write with 2nd and 1st persons.

Be who you are. Write who you are.

I write, therefore I am.


Have Phone, Will Tweet

“Just a minute,” I told a 4-H meeting as I tapped a message on my phone.

“If you would quit texting, we wouldn’t have to wait,” my 16-year-old daughter (who was running the meeting) complained.

“I’m not texting. I’m tweeting.” I explained.

That inspired me to explain what I tap on my phone during the meeting. It’s not just texting. 

My phone is my calendar, pencil, and paper.  I use it to take notes during the meeting.  If it’s during a live presentation, I’ll probably tweet those notes so I can go back to them later.  My attention span is limited, and having to focus on a talk intensely enough to absorb it and re-interpret it into 140 character tweets makes me focus better on the subject at hand.

When my daughter admonished me, I was corresponding with Robby Slaughter, author of a recent book on Failure: The Secret to Success. He gave an example of a failure game to try, which we used as recreation during our meeting.   After we did it, I was tweeting him feedback on how the game went. (It went well.)

Where could I listen to a meeting and correspond in real time with an author of a book whose idea I have just tried in a meeting with 27 students?  Twitter!

If I’m in a meeting and you need pronto information, I’ll use my phone to search for it. If we set a meeting, I’ll enter it into my calendar.  If there is only 1 copy of a handout, I’ll take a photo of it with my phone and let someone else have the paper copy.  I can take photos of the experiment or other pertinent info to either post online, email, or refer to later.

If I can’t find it on google, I’ll probably tweet out to my lifeline of hundreds of followers and ask them if they can help me find the right answer.

If I’m at a meeting and you see me punching quickly into my phone, don’t automatically assume I am zoned out, living more inside the phone than I am in the real world.  It could very well be I’m using that phone as my personal transporter, to pull the rest of the world into our meeting so we can dialogue in new ways, with new people, in ways we never imagined.

Have  phone, will tweet.


The Tweeting Working Girl (or if Tess Tweeted)

“Your hair is so big no one knows you have a brain,” I was once told in the 80’s. “You’re just like Tess McGill in Working Girl.  No one knew what she thought with all that hair.”

Tess McGill was my heroine at the time.  She read everything she could find, about business, culture, whatever. And then she saw new ways to use that information and make money. Her stock broker bosses used her ideas as their own while Tess was trapped in her working class caste.  Most of the movie is based on her machinations to rebrand herself and get her ideas taken seriously.

During the course of the movie, she pretends to be a manager and crashes a wedding to get the right people to hear her ideas.  Once the right people hear her, they listen and take note. Of course, Tess gets caught. But at the end of the movie, she is finally taken seriously, on her own merit.

Working Girl is a movie that most likely won’t be remade. Why?

Tess McGill would be on Twitter. She would share her clever ideas a single tweet at a time, often with a punch line at the end. She could tweet opportunities. 

Most importantly, she could skip past the gatekeepers who never saw past her hair and get direct access to the people in charge.  They could develop relationships with her on Twitter such that when she came up with the ingenious plan to buy radio instead of television, they would first make time to meet with her and then would listen to her ideas.

If she did pretend to be a manager, someone in Twitterworld would catch up with her and call her out.  If her stuffy boss, Katharine Parker, deigned to be on Twitter and really wrote her own Tweets, her pretentious tweets would sound like twits.

I think if Tess had been on Twitter, she would have met Jack Trainer without the subterfuge, and they would have built their own business empire.

Not as interesting a movie. But I’ll bet $ stories like it happen on Twitter every day.

Twitter offers you the chance to be what you tweet. You can be judged on the character, intellect, and humor of your thoughts and deeds.

It’s a new world just like what pioneers sought 200 years ago. And it’s just as exciting.


5 Steps to Avoid the Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman made it in sales in the 1950’s. By the 1970’s, his “charm”  failed in Arthur Miller’s tragedy, Death of a Salesman. When Willy realized he couldn’t sell in a new world, he killed himself. 

We’re in a tough economy of salespeople who want a happy ending. What once worked doesn’t.  Everything is different. We don’t know the end of the story or how the new economy will look. How do we change and survive?

  1. Listen – Willy’s boss, family, and friends tried to discuss problems with him. He would not listen.  Find your customers, potential customers, competitors, vendors, friends, and peers. What are they saying and where? 
  2. Learn – Willy discouraged his sons from studying new things. Do better. Learn to use new tools like Facebook, blogs, videos, and Twitter.  Make the time to learn to use them well. Your ROI in learning today could be that your business survives tomorrow.
  3. Position – Willy got so involved selling gizmos he didn’t think position. Then his boss fired him to position the business. Don’t be a pawn in chess – position your pieces across the board. Think strategy, not mere tactics. Anticipate; global is the new local. Find peers and potential customers around the planet. Surround yourself with great pros who will raise your game.
  4. Brand – Willy’s brand was full of sound and bluster, signifying nothing. The new brand shows who you and your company really are.  If you don’t build your brand, you won’t have a voice in what your brand becomes.  Your every move, online and in real life, reflects your brand. So be smart, be good, and be branded the same.
  5. Build – Willy only spoke of himself and his illusions of greatness. No one listened.  They didn’t think he cared, so they didn’t. If you build relationships, communities, and others, they will see that you care and will then pay attention to what you have to say.

Businesses survive when they listen to their customers’ needs, they provide the product to meet that need, their customers buy it, and their customers tell their friends. Purpose driven, not product driven, thrives.

Arthur Miller understood desperation in changing times. He captured how awful it feels.

I met him at a reading years ago, as he shared a new play.  Though his voice cracked and he was frail, he moved me to tears.  Unlike Willy, Arthur never gave up.

We can do the same.


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