March 1, 2011

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Get More Value from Blogging, part V: Communication Matters

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Get More Value from Blogging

Paul Gillin invited me to do a tweetchat on the professional and personal value of blogging on March 3, 2011 (2pm-3pm EST, #infoboom). When I brainstormed some of the things I’d like to talk about, I ended up with a big list: not just the value I get from blogging, but also tips for how you can build that too. I hope you enjoy this blog series!

You might feel awkward in the beginning, but trust me, all that writing practice from your blog will pay off. Blogging is a great way to figure out not only what you want to say, but how you want to say it. Better communication skills will help you at work and in life!


1. Writing

  • Blogging helped me fall in love with writing. I got frustrated in school, writing book reports and essays that didn’t really matter. When I started blogging, I discovered the joy of writing for myself and others. It turned out to be a lot of fun, and now writing is one of my favourite activities. It pays off at work, too.Tips:
  • Practise outlining or mindmapping your blog posts. As you get better at planning your posts, you’ll be able to write them more quickly.
  • Review your old posts and revise them. Figure out what you keep writing about, and summarize or update your posts.
  • Read lots of blogs to get a sense of the kinds of blog posts you enjoy reading. Emulate different styles and challenge yourself to try different techniques.
  • Don’t let perfectionism stop you from writing. Your blog posts may feel like rough drafts, but you’ll get better at writing over time.

2. Visual communication

Whether you’re writing a professional blog or a personal blog, it can be good to add visual interest through photographs or drawings. You can develop an eye for images and visual communication by including Creative Commons-licensed photos or stock photos in your posts, appropriately attributed when necessary. You can also take your own pictures or draw your own illustrations, adding more of a personal touch to your blog while helping you develop your skills.

My blog–and the presentations that grew out of it–helped me rediscover drawing. You can see the evolution of my sketches from scrawny stick-figures on a Nintendo DS to slighly-less-scrawny stick figures on a tablet PC. I’ve come to enjoy drawing, and sometimes people even ask me to draw something for them.

Tips:

  • Add something visual to your blog – either something you made, or a relevant image from the Internet. (Respect copyright.)
  • One way to get better at photography or drawing is to set a public goal of posting a photo or sketch regularly (ex: one photo a day). Give it a try!

3. Presentation

If you give presentations, a blog can be an incredible resource. You can use your blog to draft and share ideas, collect material, get feedback, share your presentation, and follow up with people.

Many of my presentations have grown out of blog posts, and I’ve received a number of invitations to speak from people who’ve come across my posts. My blog gives me a place to try ideas out, refine them, get feedback, and put together presentations.

Tips:

  • Post your presentations and share the URLs when you give presentations. This gives people a way to follow up.
  • Post your outlines and presentation ideas on your blog, and use your blog posts to draft presentations or collect material. This will make it easier to prepare presentations later, and you can learn from other people’s feedback along the way.

4. Conversation

Blogs make conversations so much easier for me. When I talk to people, I often find myself thinking about or referring to things I’ve written. It really helps to have thought about some things and be able to express them clearly, and I love sharing additional resources.

My blog posts have also led to all sorts of conversations I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I sometimes find it difficult to start a conversation. Fortunately, people read my blog and start the conversation with me, both online and in person.

Conversations lead to blog posts, too. There, my blog gives me the opportunity to continue the conversation, reflect on things I’m learning, and share them with a wider audience. I get to show my appreciation for the insights people have shared with me, and I get to learn from other people’s perspectives.

Tips:

  • Write about things people might find useful, then blend these thoughts into your conversations where appropriate.
  • Follow up on conversations in your blog.

5. Avoiding the curse of expertise

Many people don’t want to write about things they don’t feel are their expertise. Experts are experts because they’ve achieved unconscious competence; they’ve forgotten more than other people have learned. Experts often have a hard time explaining things to other people because they’ve forgotten the details that stump newcomers. So experts aren’t really the best people who can write about things, especially for beginners. It’s better to write along the way, while you’re learning, so that people can understand and so that you won’t take things for granted.

Tips:

  • Don’t wait until you’re an expert. Write while you’re learning.
  • Use your archive to remember what it was like to learn something complicated.

 

Dealing with intimidating projects

I’m working on my first big IBM project, something that goes beyond Perl scripts and Drupal websites. My manager thinks it will be a good assignment for me. The component diagram looks like alphabet soup, and I haven’t worked with any of the pieces before. It’s intimidating.

Open source projects like Drupal or Rails don’t scare me as much, even though they require a lot of figuring out and hacking as well. I think it’s because I’m confident that I can figure things out from the source or from the Internet, and because I can hold more of it in my head. This project will involve quite a few IBM components, and I can’t work with, understand, or even remember everything. It’s big.

But I know this feeling of incipient panic, and I’ve dealt with worse before. It’s the same feeling I got as a teaching assistant at the University of Toronto, doubting myself because I was helping people learn something I was just learning about myself. I remember feeling uncertain. I remember feeling like an impostor. I felt like giving up. Then my department chair set me straight, and I made it through.

I can deal with this. My manager thinks I can handle it. IBM has a great support network and I’ve got plenty of mentors. I’m learning a lot from the other people on the team. It’s going to be okay. And at the end of the day, I’ll learn how to work with a pretty decent-sized IBM software stack, integrate with lots of middleware, work with complex web services, and maybe even turn things that scare me into things that I enjoy.

Here’s what I’m planning to do:

  • [X] Install Rational Software Architect and learn how to use it to view project designs.
  • [X] Learn how to use Rational Software Architect for web services.
  • [X] Figure out what I need to learn for Websphere Application Server or Websphere Portal to make the web services happen.
  • [X] Stay sane throughout the process. =)

2011-03-01 Tue 16:26