The Garden Blog Presentation at the GWA Symposium

– Posted in: Blogging Art and Practice

Program description of Garden Blog panel discussionFor those of you just joining us, this past fall I spent a week traveling to visit friends in Austin and to attend the Garden Writers Association symposium in Oklahoma City, where I agreed to be part of a team presenting on garden blogs. My original intention was to chronicle my entire trip from airport departure on September 26th to airport arrival on October 2nd, giving a detailed account of each day. Fortunately for my readers, I have been way too busy for that, else I fear I’d be the online equivalent of the overly enthusiastic tourist, subjecting her friends to interminable slides of palm trees in Florida. However, I did have several requests in the comments section for an account of the Garden Blog presentation I did with three other members of the GWA. So, here goes.

Mary Ann got me into this

I occasionally help Mary Ann Newcomer with Idaho Gardener. She, in turn, had always encouraged me to start going to GWA meetings, and I always whined about how I couldn’t afford it. But then last winter her tune changed. She started telling me how she sang my praises to Debra Prinzing (a member of the GWA board of directors), and that I was going to be asked to be on a panel on garden blogs for the symposium.

Well, it was only a rumor at that point, but it got me to thinking. If I was going to explain blogging to a bunch of garden writers, what would I tell them? The ideas came fast and furious, so I got up out of bed, went downstairs to the computer, and started typing away. (Yes, I do my best thinking at night, in bed, when I should be sleeping.) One thing I have learned in my life, is that good ideas do not stay around in my head forever. It’s best to get them out of my head and into a more permanent form as soon as they show up. They can always be changed or discarded entirely later on, and it definitely helps avoid the “blank sheet of paper” brain freeze. For a writer, it’s like money in the bank, saved up for a rainy day.

Although the email inviting me to be part of a panel discussion on garden blogs was sent to me in Februrary, the panel’s roster wasn’t finalized until early June. Debra, the moderator of our panel, submitted the original proposal for the discussion. Mary Ann and David Perry, a photographer, were the other panelists. I uploaded my previously typed up thoughts to a Google doc, and shared the link with them. But we were all busy, and the symposium wasn’t until the end of September.

We attempt to get organized

At the end of August Debra set up a conference call, and we finally made our first attempts at getting our act together. We discovered we couldn’t have wireless access for our presentation, so we were going to have to use screenshots of our blogs to make our points. At the time we were all disappointed, but from my perspective it wound up being a good thing.

The Handout

I volunteered to prepare the handout. I had thought from the very beginning that one hour wasn’t nearly enough time to say all that should be said about blogging, and I figured it was up to the handout to make up the difference. We were allowed three sheets of paper, and our handouts were due into the GWA office in two weeks if we were to take advantage of free duplicating and distribution. I compiled the handout from my extensive collection of bookmarks, along with a few new sites that I discovered as I verified my bookmarks, or via Google as I filled in the gaps in my bookmark collection. This is one time when my Google doc came in handy, as it reminded me of topics I wanted to include. By the time I was finished, a person reading through all the links on the handout would know more than I know about blogging–because I included some sites I have yet to read myself.

The Screenshots

After I submitted the handout, I had about two weeks to get all my screenshots ready–in between obsessing about packing and other travel arrangements. This forced me to figure out what I was going to say, because I had to know what to take screen shots of, and in what order they should be displayed during the presentation. Since I was also working on the GWA website task force, running a household and making arrangements for the household to run without me, blogging, and gardening, the temptation to put things off until later was overwhelming. I can’t remember now what got short shrift, but those screen shots did get done.

The Night Before

We scheduled a dress rehearsal in Debra’s hotel room for 5pm the night before we were to give the presentation. Debra sat with her laptop at the desk, and we took turns sitting next to her, going over our section of screen shots. While we waited our turn, we perused the proofs of Debra’s forthcoming book. David cracked jokes. Mary Ann started writing out her lines for tomorrow. And I chafed, because it was the last night of the trade show, the last night to get free plants, and she who had deprived herself of plants to come to this gig was determined to get her fair share. All right, more than her fair share. Debra finally had pity on me and suggested I go down to the trade show and come back later to finish up.

The Morning Of

“Later” turned out to be the next morning; our presentation was scheduled for 10:30am. Our breakfast meeting ended early, so I scooted up to Debra’s room to review the order of my screen shots. Something seemed to be missing, so I made a note to change my presentation, and dashed out to catch the last bus leaving for the tours. The idea was that these chartered buses would follow a predetermined loop, and you could get off at any stop, and get back on and continue around the loop to another stop. Only problem was, our bus was a last minute addition, and the driver started on the loop in the opposite direction of all the other buses. It seemed that we were on the bus forever before it stopped at the garden I wanted to see, which was spectacular, well worth a trip on its own, but too small to sustain a visit from the entire symposium itself.

I was almost late

From there I was able to walk to the next garden, charming enough, but I was starting to get uneasy. I hadn’t seen one bus shuttle through since I had arrived at the first garden. Where were the buses? When they came, would there be room for me? I wondered if I would make it back in time for the presentation. I heard the bus before I saw it, and I hurried to the curb and made sure I was on that bus. As I suspected, it arrived half full and left completely occupied. We drove past a large group waiting at the first garden. They would have to wait for a following bus, but at least they weren’t scheduled to give a presentation in approximately fifteen minutes.

I walked briskly into the hotel lobby and took the stairs to the second floor meeting rooms, not trusting the elevator to be available and unoccupied. As I entered the rapidly filling room, I saw Mary Ann, David, and Debra already sitting at the table up front, looking very relieved at my appearing. I had known Debra was going to skip the morning tour, but apparently David and Mary Ann had cut theirs short, David making some comment about not being as calm before the talk as I was. Ha! I wasn’t calm or confident, just naively trusting that the symposium organizers would get me back in time, as they had for every other event. I had been nervously energetic all morning, and it was only the first-timer’s fear of missing something that had spurred me onto the bus earlier that morning.

The presentation begins

Debra introduced us and outlined the program. Mary Ann went first. She described how she used her blog to connect gardeners all over her sparsely populated state. Then David opened his segment with this quote from The Old Man and Lesser Mortals:

Writers and prostitutes grow accustomed to being asked why they do the things they do. There is no easy answer. Of the two trades, writing appears the more mysterious simply because there seem fewer sane reasons to take it up.

That really got the audience’s attention. However much they enjoy gardening, these professional communicators are usually hired to communicate someone else’s message, not their own. Someone else determines the length, the style–even the topic. And quite often it is significantly changed after they’re done, by whoever hired them. David’s point, which he illustrated with many hilarious examples from his blog, was that you get to pursue your own vision, present your own message, on your blog. I envied his relaxed manner, his natural way with the audience. He had them in the palm of his hand.

Then it was my turn. I opened by saying it was my first symposium, and my first public speaking since high school. (That made me feel better, even if it did nothing for my presentation.) First I defined hosting, server, and domain name. Then I displayed a spreadsheet with various expense scenarios, illustrating that webhosting for a year doesn’t cost any more than what many people spend on a hobby for a month. (Assuming you already have a computer and internet access, of course.) I went through the elements or structure of a blog, from top to bottom, using screen shots of my own blog as an example. “This is the header. It’s the first thing people see, so you want it to be attractive yet simple. Here’s my tagline…” and so on. I showed them the admin side of my blog, so they could get an idea of how easy it was to post. Frankly, I don’t think you would have learned anything new from listening to me. Most, if not all of it, could be picked up by reading half a dozen blogs.

Time’s up!

All too soon, our assistant moderator sitting in the first row was lifting a sign that said 5 MINUTES. I immediately lopped off a whole section of my talk and starting talking faster. Then the dreaded 1 MINUTE sign appeared before my eyes, and I wrapped things up as best I could. We answered a few questions from the audience, and Debra dismissed the group. Jeff Lowenfels yelled, “You did good!” from the back of the room. A few people came up to the front to ask further questions, and to compliment us on our presentation. Throughout the rest of the symposium, strangers came up to me with compliments or other expressions of appreciation. Of course, none of them remained strangers for long.

Recording and handout available

If you want to, you can purchase a recording of the presentation from GWA. It is the audio portion only and costs $15 plus $5 shipping. However, I think the most valuable part of the presentation was the handout I developed, and you can just bookmark that and access it as needed. I’ve so far resisted buying myself a copy, as I know I will cringe at the sound of my own voice. However, I’m sure my mother would be delighted to have a copy, since she wasn’t able to be in the audience. She’s so proud of me.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

susan harris January 2, 2008, 6:02 pm

Thanks again for your amazing hand-out, and your blog-coaching site. I’m linking to it!
Btw, I recently tried using WordPress and was amazed at how unusable I found it, as a nongeek. I finally gave up after having to consult help for every single element of setting up the blog. So yeah, it offers flexibility galore, but only for the tech- and code- and language-savvy. How frustrating!

Kathy Purdy January 1, 2008, 10:09 pm

I wouldn’t say you gave me fits. I was inexperienced and nervous, but also just as busy and trusted it would all work out–which it did.

Mary Ann Newcomer January 1, 2008, 9:49 pm

DEAREST! Love that story and happy to have been a part of it! What a great morning that was……goosebumps and all. I know we gave you fits because we were so slow pokey to get it all together…….but you shined as the star you are and all went well. I, too, still use my handout from our discussion.

Hugs and more hugs,

debra December 29, 2007, 5:00 pm

Greetings Kathy and Cold Climate readers….reading this entry puts a huge smile on my face as I remember feeling like a “proud mama” that my three panelists, including Ms. Purdy (aka the computer fairy), shared their perspective as garden bloggers. It was truly inspiring. I just listened to the hour-long presentation again on CD and hearing the panel’s warm, confident voices gave me goosebumps. Regardless of Kathy’s insistence that she was nervous and sleep-deprived (well, okay, she WAS sleep-deprived!), you wouldn’t have known it! Everyone of us was on our game that day – and I think it’s because the audience was with us. More to come, right Kathy?! x0x0dkp
PS, the CD is in the mail! Let us know what your mom thinks when she finally hears it.

Kathy Purdy December 28, 2007, 3:25 pm

Common Weeder, the words Stumble It! are an easy way for people who belong to StumbleUpon to mark the post as one they find interesting. Those words are there because I’m experimenting with “Feed Flare” options in Feed Burner. For more information about StumbleUpon, check out Colleen’s informative explanation and this one.

Genie and Mr. McGregor’s Daughter, thank you for stopping by. If you come across other great resources that should be in the “handout,” let me know.

Kathy Purdy December 28, 2007, 3:09 pm

mss, thank you for loving the detail.

Dee, it means a lot to me to learn the handout has helped you. You got the physical handout at the symposium, but I’ve added more to the virtual one, so stop by.

Carol, I have a fear of being late, too, but at that point I was so sleep deprived I didn’t realize what a tight schedule they had planned. I was “supposed” to get on the bus, so I did. In retrospect it would have been smarter to visit the botanical gardens, which were an easy walk from the hotel.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter December 28, 2007, 2:39 pm

They say that public speaking gets easier the more you do it. I don’t know if that’s true because I made my living writing, rather than speaking (a deliberate choice). Thanks for the great summary & the “handout.”

Genie December 28, 2007, 12:49 pm

Kathy, thanks for the wonderful write-up and the link to the handout! That’s going to be a great resource (with a long tail!) for seedling garden bloggers to use. Congrats again on being selected to speak — you’re such a pioneer in this arena, and have so much knowledge to impart!

CommonWeeder December 26, 2007, 1:22 pm

I wish I had been there! As a new blogger I learn something new every day. If would be great to build up a little more speed. And what does ‘stumbleit’ mean? I couldn’t handle a computer in the middle of the night but I do keep a pad and pencil by my bed because so many ideas come just as I am falling asleep – or just as I am waking up. You’ve also made a good point about the value of GWA meetings.

Carol December 25, 2007, 10:15 pm

Thanks for the recap and the great handout you wrote up to introduce people to garden blogging. As one who fears being late, I don’t know if I would have even gotten on the bus for fear I wouldn’t get back in time.

I wonder how many garden writers, who often do have to write what editors or others tell them to write, are able to still open up and follow their own vision on a blog? Or do they end up self-editing, in case one of those editors might happen along and read their blog?

Dee/reddirtramblings December 25, 2007, 10:42 am

Kathy, I think you need a laptop by your bed. You could open that sucker up and type your thoughts in. Just a thought. I loved remembering the talk, and I’ve used your handout so many times, I can’t tell you how helpful it is. Also, your information was invaluable. I didn’t know what a server or a domain name was or how to get them. Now, I feel much more confident. Thanks.

David’s talk brought tears to my eyes. This writing thing has to be inspired because it causes such emotion in so many people. To be able to write about the things I love, it is priceless.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens December 25, 2007, 9:06 am

Lik you, I also do most of my writing in my head in bed. If I don’t have to be anywhere, the best thing I can do is write in the morning before I get up. I find that I can sort out my thoughts best with pen and paper. If I get in front of the computer, I have too many distractions and turn into a reader instead of a writer.

I love the detail of this post. I have spent most of my professional life writing to other people’s spec so I find the allure of blogs difficult to resist. I can’t remember who gave the advice, “Write what you want to read.” but it is what I do. I’m happy that a few other people like reading it too. I hope your handout gets more people into garden blogging.