Friday, 27 April 2012

A Year in the Blogosphere

I'm in danger of missing the boat with this blog, so I'm going to quickly finish it off and publish it before its 'tell-by' date has expired.

This is my 21st blog (It was going to be my 20th, but attending the recent L&DConnect UnConference in London on Tuesday forced my hand with another blog instead).  No big deal in itself, but I am writing this as part of my reflection on the fact that I have now been blogging for one whole year.  I posted my first blog - on the subject of posting my first blog - on 14th April 2011.  

So, at the risk of disappearing up an ever-decreasing orifice of blogging blogs about blogging, I thought I'd review how it's going, and share what I've learned thus far, in case anyone else out there is in two minds about starting.

Feel the Fear...

...and do it anyway.  I procrastinated for a long time before actually committing myself to blogging.  I confess to not having been a great blog-reader beforehand - having only just got the hang of micro-blogging on #Twitter - but I noticed that many of the people I followed in my Twitter #PLN (Personal Learning Network) were already blogging.  So I started reading their blogs and commenting, mentioned on Twitter that I was toying with the idea and getting inspiration from their postings and suddenly, I got a flood of encouraging comments back from those same people - and others - suggesting that it was time I bit the bullet.

Biting the Bullet...

I'd been keeping a document going of blog ideas, fleshing them out as I could, so I felt that I might be ready to have a go.  So I crowdsourced recommendations for a hosting site (i.e. I asked the question on Twitter).  Again, the wisdom of the crowd was generously, quickly and effectively given, and I settled on #Blogger.  Nice n' easy interface, no complicated web presence requirements.  I signed up, copied & pasted my first blog content into the window, published - and I was out there on the blogosphere!  I tweeted the fact, along with the link to my new blog page, and to my surprise and delight, people went to my site, read my blog, commented on it and retweeted the link to my new page!

Holding Hands...

Apparently there were several of us taking our first steps into blogging and we quickly established a couple of Twitter Hashtags (which seem to have fallen by the wayside as we've all gained confidence) #bloggingnewbies, followed a couple of months later by #bloggingimprovers.  We published our blogs and announced them to the twitterati with either of those hashtags and then we knew to go and check out ch others' latest and offer our support/feedback.

I want to acknowledge here and thank a great bunch of people who offered their support and advice then, and continue to do so now - Mandy Randall-Gavin (@ MandyRG), Kate Graham (@ KateGraham23), Stephanie Dedhar (@ StepanieDedhar), Lisa Johnson (@ TuppyMagic), Craig Taylor (@ CraigTaylor74) and Colin Steed (@ ColinSteed) - all of whom write and publish their own excellent blogs, which I thoroughly recommend to you.

It's not a one-way street...'s a two-way street!  Engage, don't pontificate.  I am thrilled when someone takes the trouble to read one of my blogs in the first place, but even more excited when they comment.  I will always try to respond (room for development here, I think) and then we are in dialogue.  A recent blog by David Goddin (@ ChangeContinuum) touched very effectively on this subject 

Review and Reflect...

I've gone back and re-read my 20-blog output over the last year, and I see a definite change in them.  My early blogs were a tad forced, contrived even, when I felt unsure of my own voice or what I wanted to talk about ("Don't over-think them" was the advice from a seasoned blogger here).  However, when I was inspired or - as importantly - energised or empassioned about the topic, they flowed more naturally and with more authenticity.  People notice that kind of stuff, and comments and feedback from my great #PLN confirm that fact ("It read much more 'conversational' and as such, I found it easier to read" was a recent comment from another experienced blogger).

Oh, one thing I do think I do well (feel free to challenge) - I write great, catchy Titles. I like puns and I try to make my headlines intriguing, walking the middle line between being too clever or too pompous.  Like I said, feel free to challenge that one!

My key learning points?

I've written some of them already as the sub-headings in this blog.  But here they are in a convenient, take-away sized bullet list.
  • Feel the Fear
  • Bite the Bullet
  • Maintain a potential topic list
  • Hold Hands
  • It's not a one-way street
  • Invite your Friends
  • Follow other blogs
  • Review and Reflect
I'm no expert here - I'm sure you will have other tips.  Let's add to and share this list.  

So here we are; the end of my 21st - but not my last - blog.  Thanks for taking the time to read this one. Now let's talk...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Sharing my Learning from My FirstUnConference

I have just posted a blog on our internal HR Social/Collaboration site at work. I attended yesterday's L&DConnect UnConference in London, and had been asked by my boss to make sure that I shared whatever learning points had arisen for me, with the rest of my colleagues. This seemed to be the most impactive way of doing that.

Incidentally, much respect to the organisers, the contributors and the 'summarisers' of yesterday's event.

Here's the blog I posted at work...

I was recently invited by a contact on LinkedIn to attend an UnConference, to discuss with other Learning & Development professionals issues and ideas about what, why, how and could we do what we do.
So yesterday, a focussed half day, at the Brewery in Brick Lane, Algate East London, was attended by about 30 people, most of who I had never met before, but several of whom I was already following or being followed by on Twitter.  A very loose agenda was offered and we divided up into groups to discuss various kick-off topics, which we then post-it-noted into further discussion groups.  Refreshements were on tap all afternoon, so no need to take specific breaks where we all queued for the toilet at the same time.

No keynote speakers, no experts to tell us how c**p we are at what we do - just enthusastic professionals sharing knoweldge, opinions and ideas.

Rather than give you a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings, I'm adding links to this blog, to take you to some of the great reflective resources that other attendees created.  If you cannot access these links via the network at work, can I strongly urge you to try from home or elsewhere, as these are the kinds of tools that can open up our discussion and our own knowledge sharing potential.

Links: A blog from Sukh Pabial, one of the organisers. A Storify summary of the event in Tweets and pictures, curated by Ian Pettigrew, one of the attendees. A video blog by Martin Couzins, where all the attendees were invited to speak directly to camera on our way out, stating what one big 'take-away' each of us was leaving with.

One final thought.  Wouldn't this be a great format for our next internal HR Conference - an HR UNConference?

End of the work blog.

I'll let you know what kind of interest and/or feedback I get from my HR colleagues...

Friday, 20 April 2012

A Good Write Up

I find your writing pretentious and difficult to read.

That was the dismissive comment written by one of my tutors at the end of a hand-written essay I had submitted as part of my coursework when I was a First-Year drama student in Edinburgh in 1974.  This was not the first time my less-than-perfect writing had been commented upon.  In fact, I later found out that the Primary School I had attended as a child was notorious for turning out children with bad handwriting.

Ironically, I had completed my secondary school education holding an SCE (Scottish Certificate in Education) 'O' Grade in Secretarial Skills and Typing, but had not bought (or had not been bought) a typewriter when I went to college, so I was still presenting written work in my poor handwriting at college.  I saved up and bought a typewriter after that comment.

And it was those typing skills which ultimately led me to my current role and responsibilities.  When I was a professional actor, I spent a lot of time 'resting' (a misnomer if ever there was one), temping as an audio typist.  Not many men in that role in the 1980's!  That led to a job in a news agency, transcribing news broadcasts, where they introduced word processors just before I packed it in.  Suddenly, I was an IT user - and have never looked back.  My handwriting ceased to be a professional issue, whilst it remained - and remains - a personal embarrassment to me.

I commented in my last blog about the challenges I experienced around taking notes whilst I was a juror on a rape trial during my jury service at the end of February. This evidently struck a note (of another kind) with a few of my readers who were kind enough to comment on the blog and on #Twitter, and has made me reflect further.

At the start of the trial, I was trying to take notes where I felt that there were inconsistencies in witness responses under questioning from the Prosecution and Defence Counsels. I was  determined to be the best juror I could be, to assess all the evidence as objectively and with as much clarity of recall as I could, so I started off taking basic notes on the notepads provided for that purpose in the court room.  After all, there would be no slide decks "available on the website after the event"!

Several things became apparent immediately. In trying to capture one point, I realised I was missing another, and another...  And my handwriting was just not up to the task!   In desperation, I started scribbling notes without looking at them, as I tried to watch and listen to the to-and-fro between the players on the floor of the court.  As a result, my notes were becoming more and more illegible - and therefore irrelevant.  I was in danger of - literally - losing the plot.

So I decided to take a more relaxed view, sat back and started really paying attention, listening closely and hoping that my fellow jurors -  many of whom were not taking notes either - were paying similar close attention, and that all the necessary discussion points would arise in our deliberations as and when the time came for us to consider our verdict.  This was going to be a real test of memory and recall then. Ironically, after six days, the Prosecution withdrew its case and we were directed by the Judge to acquit the Defendant. My notes were redundant anyway!

On reflection, I realised that, partly due to the A5 size of the cheap lined notepads supplied, I had not attempted to note-take in my preferred style, which is to mind-map on A4.  This is my default, everyday method of organising myself.  My work Day Book is page after page of daily maps; I capture all my own meeting notes in mind-maps; I do shopping lists in mind-maps; my To Do Lists are mind maps.  They suit my way of thinking and allow me to free-flow ideas, capture thoughts that may not have occurred to me at the time, spark ideas, get everything onto one page, etc. as well as let my inner graffiti artist/doodler/cartoonist loose at the same time.  Somehow, that approach did not feel right for the seriousness of my juror responsibilities.

And before anyone points it out, yes, I am aware of and do use mind mapping software as well.  I have an old version of MindJet's MindManager on my work laptop and I have a personal MindMeister account as well.  However, they were not an option for my Juror role, for the reasons already mentioned.

So, is it too late to re-learn how to write neatly? Can I undo 50 years of ever-deteriorating handwriting skills?  Does it matter?  Evidently tech is not the answer to every situation where physical writing skills are required. How are your hand writing skills? Anyone got any ideas?  If you do, don't expect a hand-written thank-you letter!