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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

A Tale of 3 Audiences and a Hammer

Last week, I spoke to 170 high school students about how they can brand themselves better with social media. Message: what happens on Facebook can help or hurt you in the job market. Add good content.

This week, I showed over 50 somethings how to use Facebook. Message: use it to build relationships and promote your community.

And I attended RE Barcamp in Indianapolis, honing my own social media skills for business. Message: leverage it to add content to build your business.

3 audiences, different demographics, different reasons for using social media.  All still had the same message:

  • Be honest
  • Be positive
  • Teach
  • Delight or amuse
  • Share your toys
  • Help your friends

In each audience, I heard a few negative comments:

  • Students won’t learn anything with social media.
  • People are selfish and stupid in social media and in real life.
  • Facebook is stupid, but I have to learn to use it to see pictures of my grandkids.

I disagree with all of the above:

  • College classrooms can use Twitter as a backchannel for life conversation. Three business owners from Evansville IN and two business consultants from Washington, D.C., talked to our high school groups live, while we were presenting. Live classroom conversation with pros around the world excited students more than a traditional lecture.
  • People on social media want to do good things. They just need to see how. This month, I saw strangers offer a guitar for a paraplegic student who wanted to try to learn to play. Strangers donated meals for an anonymous family facing a medical emergency. When a young mother faced a 14 hour surgery, prayer requests spread via social media around the planet. When a local shelter for the poor needed funds, an active social media user posted requests and personally collected over $1,200 in 3 hours.
  • The older man who said he thought Facebook was stupid left my class two hours later, ready to promote community events in his own hometown.

Social media is a tool, like a hammer.  If I have a hammer, I can choose how to use it.  I can tear things down or I can build them up.

If I have a hammer, I would rather use it build a home, a tribe, a village, and a better world.

Whatever I do with that hammer will show in social media.

Will the social media mirror show you using your hammer to build a town or tear one down?


Open for Business

“We’re open for business.”

Those words can be hard to say with a smile in a tough economy. What you are when times are tough shapes who you will become for a lifetime. Others have made it. So can you.

The Copper Lion, Inc.Ten years ago, my husband and I started our own home business, The Copper Lion, which does digital illustration and retouching for ad agencies.  Nine years ago on a Saturday night, we were paged at a baseball game. “Your house is burning,” a neighbor told us.

We raced home to a street of fire trucks. Friends met us. When the fire was out and heat levels were down, the fire chief gave us 15 minutes to remove any needed posessions. Friends helped Richard haul his office equipment out. They pushed, dragged, pulled, and carried his basement office equipment up what had been basement stairs, now littered with construction debris and insulation.

Sunday morning, we wore borrowed clothes and took our kids to church, kneeling in desperation – no home, no business, and no idea what would happen next. We moved to a friend’s house, and Richard set up a temporary office in a spare bedroom.

Monday morning, we returned to the shell of our home. The ceiling and roof were gone. We had water and phone service but nothing else. I needed to wait for fire inspectors and our insurance adjuster. First step: hung the American flag outside. Second step: set up a card table in the driveway and a long phone cord so I could answer the phone.

At 8 a.m., a client with a deadline called after he heard about the fire. I told him, “We’re open for business. Your work will be finished on time. And we’ll finish any other jobs you can send.”

Richard stared at me. “I’ll get to work.” He left and finished the job on deadline.

For the next 3 months, we lived in a 2 bedroom, 800 square foot apartment. Our kids called our bedroom “Dad’s office” because he worked in there, keeping our business going. I supervised the insurance claim and rebuilding.

Many would say a 1 year old business with a fire is most likely to close. By the grace of God, and with hard work, we are still here 9 years later.

When things are at their darkest, don’t give up your hope. Great opportunities present themselves in big disasters. Remember to be:

open for business.


God's Got This

A miracle is like a rainbow pebble that touches a pond and spreads multi-colored ripples to distant shores.

I’ve watched one happen this week online through Caring Bridge, a different kind of social media site – one that helps families in medical crises communicate updates to friends.

Three weeks ago, Kristy, the daughter of a friend & lady I work with was hospitalized. Nothing seemed to beat her infection. Her pain grew worse as she battled endocarditis.

Her mom kept me updated through the phone and Facebook.  Kristy’s condition worsened daily.

Her friends and family came together to pray for her – and to support her husband and 2 young daughters. Last week, she was rushed by ambulance to a teaching hospital 100 miles away, diagnosed with an aneurysm, and placed in a neuro ICU unit.

Prayer chains from Kristy’s hometown to the other side of the planet prayed for her.

The prayers grew more urgent. Surgery, predicted to last 12 hours, was scheduled. Kristy continued to pray. Two days before her surgery, while in Neuro ICU preparing for the operation, she wrote a poem:

He’s Got This

I will not fear, cause God, He’s got this
I will not tear, cause God, He’s got this
I’ll share with all, cause God, He’s got this
I will not fall, cause God, He’s got this
I will praise, cause God, He’s got this
My hands I’ll raise, cause God, He’s got this
I have no needs, cause God, He’s got this
I’ll plant my seeds, cause God, He’s got this
Those seeds will grow, cause God, He’s got this
He’s in control, MY GOD, HE’S GOT THIS!!!!!!

The morning of surgery, Kristy told her family and friends not to worry. “God’s got this.”  Updates were given by way of Caring Bridges. Facebook friends and family posted updates and prayer requests.  Her Caring Bridge guestbook filled with notes from those concerned about her.

Fourteen hours later, we learned her surgery was a success.

God took a situation straight out of the valley of the shadow of death and turned it into miraculous steps climbing a mountaintop.

Though I’ve never met Kristy, through her family’s updates, I feel that I know her now.

Those who face death and witness miracles are never the same. In Kristy’s case, by way of social media, I know God’s got this and will use her ordeal for good.

She’s reminded me once again life is precious and to treasure every moment with Richard and our kids.


Tiptoe with the Typewriters

“Young people get this stuff easier.”

For 14 years, I’ve worked as a corporate computer trainer. My biggest success story was a 70 year old lady who learned to keyboard and moved up to designing databases in 6 months.  She said, “If I can outlive 2 husbands in marriages of more than 20 years each, I can learn to use a computer.”

The biggest challenge is overcoming the Fear Factor.  I tried an experiment that can help. 

I did turnabout with high school students.  I divided 10 students into 2 teams and brought in typewriters for the challenge. One team had an electric typewriter, and the other had a manual. They had an assignment to type a page of text in an hour. I gave them 0 instructions on how to use a typewriter.

Questions asked:

  • Where’s the printer?
  • This typewriter needs a new toner. (I showed how to rotate the ribbon wheel.)
  • You have to push this bar for EVERY line?

It took each team at least 5 minutes to figure out how to put a sheet of paper into the typewriter.  Within an hour, each team had typed a paragraph.

I got out a bottle of liquid paper and told them, “This is spellcheck.”

After the challenge, I noted their frustration.  Then I told them I learned to type on a manual typewriter and remember when my school got a single row of electric typewriters. 

Then I told the teens that the amount of change I had encountered would be miniscule to what they will see by the time they are my age.

Finally, I added – to be open to the challenges those changes present. 

Never quit learning. Broaden your horizons. Try something new.

Yes, when I got my Android it took me a month to use it comfortably. My teens had to show me how to make a phone call and answer it. But I did learn it.

You can learn it too.

Think of it as a tiptoe through the typewriters to the 21st century.


Five Verbs to Thrive with Presentation Night Live

Saturday Night Live was groundbreaking 35 years ago.  I was young but remember the chatter; everyone wondered what would happen because they performed live to a national audience.

Now, as a speaker, Twitter back-channels change everything I’ve known for the past 25 years.  Though first it scared me, I love it.  What is it?

It’s a live feed Twitter stream where members of the audience comment live, during your presentation. They share a common hashtag for conversation. You may see the conversation live on a screen while you present.

This is the biggest change for public speakers since the advent of television.  Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook first discovered its perils at SXSW in 2008, when his audience revolted via Twitter.  Wired published  an article about it, SXSW: 2008, the Year the Audience Keynoted.

 How can you survive and thrive with Presentation Night Live?

  1. Tweet. Get comfortable with Twitter.  Know how to follow hashtags. Set one for your presentation if one isn’t given. Share your Twitter handle with your audience. Have access to the Twitter conversation. Bring a device with you, view it from a screen, or designate a trusted friend to view it close to you and share information.
  2. Prepare. Prep your talk and publish the materials. Either use Prezi or Slideshare and show your stuff. 
  3. Practice. Every phrase and sentence can be tweeted. Know your stuff and do it well, and you’ve got great publicity with a large audience.
  4. Seek. Feedback. Give sample presentations to the smartest, toughest friends you have, who will tell you exactly what they think. Listen to their feedback and adjust.
  5. Engage. Listen to your audience and adjust your talk to the feedback. 

Five verbs: tweet, prepare, practice, seek, and engage. Giving a talk with a back-channel is as exciting as skiing down the tough slopes at the resort. You never know when you begin what will happen during the ride. It’s not easy. With practice, the ride can be the thrill of a lifetime.  If you crash, you can view the instant replays via hashtag and figure out how to do better next time.

There’s a learning curve to backchannels for moms like me who remember when Saturday Night Live began. It’s worth the effort.  As a speaker, it’s the new What to Prepare accessory for your Presentation ensemble.


Oil Spill Cleanup Robotics Contest

Competitors arrived at 5 p.m. and learned what the contest was about.  They had until 6:30 p.m. to design and put together their robot for the contest.  During their experiment time, they could test the course.

This is what they were given:

A terrible oil spill has happened this summer in the Gulf of Mexico.  Robots are being used to assist in the cleanup.  You must decide how your robot is going to improve the situation.  You will have 2 runs during the contest.  You can practice run before the contest. You have 5 minutes maximum for each run.

  1. Swap containment cap: Remove cap from pipe and replace it with another one. (10 points, for removal of the first cap and 20 more points, for placing the other cap on it.
  2. Move berms off the shore and into the ocean to try to prevent the oil from coming ashore. (5 points per berm that reaches the new goal.)
  3. Pick up tar balls from distant shore. (1 point per tar ball)
  4. Caution: avoid hitting the 2 oil skimmers. (robot dogs) (3 point deduction per hit)
  5. Avoid hitting the hydro fire oil boom (10 point deduction per hit)

As an added bonus, since this related to a real life scenario, each team could try for bonus points in Internet research. A laptop with Internet access was provided if they wanted to use it.

Bonus Questions (1 point each):

You may use the Internet to find answers to these questions.

  1. When did the oil spill begin?
  2. What is the name of the oil company that had the oil spill?
  3. Which of these challenges listed has a robot really been doing this weekend?
  4. How is a new containment cap supposed to help with oil spill cleanup?
  5. What do the berms do?
  6. What are tar balls, and where are they?
  7. What is the job of the oil skimmers?
  8. How has the Jones Act, or Merchant Marine Act of 1920, impacted oil spill cleanup?
  9. What is a species of animal impacted by the spill and how does it impacts them?
  10. What is a business or industry hurt by the oil spill and how?
  11. What does a hydro fire oil boom do?
  12. The largest maker of oil spill equipment in the U.S. is in Carmi, Illinois. What is its name?

I hoped the contest would help the participants better understand different problems and solutions with the oil spill, so they could better follow future updates on it. 

Our contest this year experimented with new features we had never seen tried.  We changed the judging with individual judging plus team judging.  We added an impromptu Internet research unit.

How did our changes work? That’s tomorrow’s blog.


A 4-H Robotics Contest with a Twist

My kids have been involved in robotics contests the past 4 years.  They enjoy them, and I love the varied skills learned in a single contest.  First, there are the technical skills: a problem is presented, and a whole team has to work to solve it.  Physics, mechanics, engineering ingenuity, and computer programming are all key elements.  Second, there are team building skills: team members must learn to communicate and work together.

Besides being a parent, I’m a 4-H leader in Evansville, Indiana.  4-H has a major emphasis towards science, engineering, and technology and has a national goal of inspiring 1 million new scientists for our new century.  I began the process to have a robotics project in our county. 

A robotics project wasn’t enough, however.  We needed a club that focused on technology.  I didn’t want a robotics club; when Edison invented the light bulb, were there light bulb clubs? It’s more than robotics.  Our information revolution is the biggest transformer of world culture since the Industrial Revolution, and I wanted our kids to be ready to be the best riders in the world Technological Rodeo.

So we began a Technology Club.  (Actually, the kids in the club voted they didn’t like that name and renamed it Tech Club.)  At each monthly meeting, we have a different workshop topic in engineering, electrical science, aerospace, computers, and physics.  Each member tackles a 4-H project in one of those areas and gives a demonstration each year in one of those areas.

Our county sends several teen 4-H members every summer to participate in science and engineering workshops.  I hope, with our club, we raise the interest in those workshops and the knowledge base of those who participate.

We also organize our county’s robotics contest. The last 2 years, the contest has mirrored other contests in which my kids participate, with teams competing against one another.  Our contest is an impromptu design contest;  kids don’t know until they arrive what the challenge is and have limited time in which to complete it.

This year’s contest adds an element almost out of a reality show.  In addition to the team contest, we will have judges observing the competitors individually.  They will evaluate the competitors both in problem solving and team building skills.  And they will award an individual champion in each of 3 age divisions. I have not seen another robotics contest try this twist and am curious to see how the experiment works.

Problem Solving:

  1. Understands challenges presented and develops strategies to overcome them.
  2. Develops a good robotics design for the challenge.
  3. Assists in robotic programming to meet the challenge.
  4. Demonstrates strong troubleshooting skills.
  5. Is able to make needed adjustments to robotic design or problem solving.

 Team Building: 

  1. Participates on the team.
  2. Communicates constructively with other team members, actively listening to them.
  3. Encourages participation of all team members; pulls strengths from individuals to build a better team.
  4. Takes good care of robot and its parts.
  5. Treats everyone in the robotics contest in a respectful and supportive manner.

My goal is to teach the 4-H members to not only strive to win but to strive to win well.  We’ll know later tonight whether my experiment to mix up the contest is a success or an epic fail.

Either way, our leaders and our club will learn by doing.


7 Steps To Finding Your Pet Via Facebook

The giant sucking sound you hear is the hole that opens in your heart when you realize your pet is missing.

If you are well connected on social media, Facebook and Twitter can help you look for your pet.  Here’s how to look on Facebook:

Digit's FB photo helped his owners find him!

  1. Have a digital picture of your pet on your computer.  Make it a shot where your pet is easily recognizable. I don’t recommend including people or kids in the shot. You want people to see the pet, not the people. Especially don’t recommend kids in the photo to protect their privacy.

  2. Make sure your Facebook friend lists includes some neighbors who live in your area.
  3. Find Facebook pages of media outlets in your area. WIKY in Evansville, Indiana, posts lost pet photos as a service to its fans. “Like” them. If none in your area offer this service, ask your favorite one if they will.
  4. If your pet disappears, post the picture of your missing pet on your wall.  Do this directly in Facebook, not from Hootsuite. You want the link to be sharable.
  5. In the caption area, tell the pet’s name, breed if it helps, any special characteristics, where the pet was lost, and contact info to reach you. If you have a landline and a cell, I would post the landline phone # as you don’t know where this will go.
  6. If a media outlet helps with this in your area, send the photo of your missing pet to them. 
  7. Ask your friends to share your photo with their friends, and pray the right person sees the photo. Be sure to ask them to show the picture to everyone in their family at home.

My Facebook friends had a Saturday night drama with a missing dog last night.  Digit’s owner posted this photo and the situation.  Her drama had a happy ending. 

 The daughter of a mutual friend of ours, who lives nearby, took her kids in a walk, hoping to see Digit.  They spotted Digit, cowering in the doorway of a nearby college fraternity.  Digit was terrified, but my friend’s resourceful daughter acted like a Dog Whisperer to calm him and coax him to their home.

Because our friend’s family had seen Digit’s photo on FB, they knew who he was and where he belonged.  They, and other friends began posting details of his find on different Facebook walls.  By this time, people who knew neither the owner nor Digit were part of the story.  We were all glad to read Digit was back home with his happy family.

Another friend posted on my wall that she had posted a photo on FB when her dog disappeared a month ago.  A friend saw the photo, was visiting the dog pound, and recognized her lost dog at the pound.  Her dog was saved because of a photo on Facebook.

Then a friend shared that she found a lost dog on her porch, posted his photo on FB, and he was returned to his owners. She added, “Facebook saved him.”

If you’re on Twitter, you could do the same with Twitpic and tweets, but that’s another blog.


The Chicken Text

If hens could text, this is what they would say. Written to the tune of the Chicken Dance.

Our eggs are laid. Our eggs are laid. (They wave their beaks)

Come get them now. Come get them now. (They flap their wings.)

Our eggs are laid. Our eggs are laid. (They shake their tails.)

Come get them now. Come get them now. (They clap their beaks.)

Oh girls, let’s beware the rooster. He is prowling about.

We can outsmart him.  We’ll run faster, escape, and wear him out. (During the chorus, the hens race to outrun the rooster before he catches them.)

Repeat the song all morning. Then all afternoon. The hens win some and lose some. Until it’s evening and time for the chickens to come home to roost.

[For real time updates on this song, check the Tweeting Hen’s Twitter.]

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Tragic Tweets

When I was 16, I leafed through my grandmother’s photo albums. In the trunk bottom, I opened an album of my uncle. The photo on the first page shocked me so much I set it down and cried for an hour.

I knew the story. My uncle died when he was 22, a paratrooper on leave, heading home.  His car hit a bridge embankment 3 miles from home, and he was killed instantly. My mother and her parents watched for 4 hours as they cut his body from the car.

Until that photo, I didn’t realize the horror.  A news photographer happened to stop by and take a graphic shot of the dead soldier in uniform in his car, with blood splattered everywhere. The shot was picked up by AP wires and printed in several newspapers.  My grandmother clipped the picture for the front of the album.

There was no newsworthy need for that graphic photo to be taken or printed. 

Now we see struggles between the immediate news coverage on Twitter and a family’s need for privacy.

I am grateful for real time updates on Twitter.  It’s helped me avoid traffic jams and be alert for problems.   I want to know news first.

I would hate to be in the shoes of a journalist with New Media expectations, when real time means right now.  

Now with Twitter, everyone is a journalist.  Now we can all be first to break the stories around us.

At the same time, I wonder what will be in the scrapbooks made today.  Will a mourning mother not only include a news photo but a Twitter stream of news media commentary?  Will it include screenshots of Facebook posts? Will another niece open up that scrapbook in 30 years and see graphic details that reduce her to tears?

Will that niece search Library of Congress archives and find those tweets posted in heat of the moment, from reporters and spectators? What will she read?

How do we balance real time news coverage with real life tragedies involving families whose lives can be shattered in a single moment?

How do we remember, in the impulse of the moment to post that tragedy or someone’s bad hair day that there’s a person in that photo with friends and relatives?

I have no simple answers but a final thought:

The picture we post could show the worst tragedy a family ever faces.

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