by Sally Cameron
Bristol Community College
Fall River, MA
That was the buzz at the annual Summer Institute in Chicago in July, when more than 40 people from all over the country gathered to consider all the different types of writing we as community college communicators do. Held in the fancy schmancy Mid-America Club, high, high above the city of Chicago (what a view!), we heard from presenter Jenni Prokopy, founder and editrix of ChronicBabe.com. She led us through exercises and offered sage advice to help us tell our story “fast and fabulous, for any audience.”
Jenni was engaging and energizing – she kept our feet to the fire as we tried our hands (and laptops) at writing like an editor, conducting effective interviews, writing for radio and video, and writing for the press. Lots of group work and critique took place as participants shared their work in the large group and in smaller groups. Day 1 ended with hysterically funny radio commercials, read deadpan by several of the participants. (It made me want to go to the duct tape canoe race and the Bigfoot exhibition!)
Our presenter is an independent writer and editor, and she has been making a living in Chicago for more than 10 years. Some of the key takeaways for me?
For your best interviews, research the heck out of your subject on Google to save you from wasting precious time on the demographics – that is, the nuts and bolts that can bog down your conversation. Find that stuff on the Web and then look for those connection points that make your interview a conversation. I loved her advice about interviewing someone who is boring: Break from the interview and ask about their weekend plans, the ball game – whatever it takes to get them out of their conversational rut.
Another takeaway that was warmly embraced by many in the room “know those common bugaboos such as toward vs. towards, affect vs. effect, and my personal favorite, anxious vs. eager. (I misuse that one all the time.) Do you know when to use these? It was a great refresher.
Finally, her advice on conquering writer’s block hit home. Rather than just toughing it out, “check your conditions.” Are you hydrated? Hungry? In addition, she gave some tricks for using index cards and online resources.
We went home tired but empowered. What a great day-and-a-half! Already I see the benefits, not to mention the additional networking benefit as Jenni is putting us in touch with speakers to enhance our 2013 national conference in Chicago. What a treasure trove we have in Chicago! I’ll fill you in on more as we move through the year.