The Peace Tree Mystery – III

Continuing the discussion of The Peace Tree Mystery.

It was decided to add the word ‘mystery’ to the title. The hope was to gain more attention than just The Peace Tree. There is a mystery involved but don’t think it’s a typical private investigator or police procedural story.

Despite the frustrations I felt in the months before publication, I did have fun writing many of the chapters. I tried to stick with the original visions of each.


Jacob Wildcrow – Part of the Sac and Fox tribe. Widower. Used to own an artifact and gift store in Harvey. He is a caretaker around Lake Red Rock. Lives in an Airstream trailer. Spry and energetic for his age.

Grace Snow – Jacob’s granddaughter. Vet in Ames. Grew up separated from her Indian heritage. Her Indian name is Gray Swan.

Justin ‘Digger’ Clay – Yeah, nice play on words considering he’s into archaeology. History teacher at the high school. Enjoys cigars and will often take a few moments to contemplate the current smoke. When I wrote extra scenes with him, I had to inquire the original writer of his character to learn about certain cigars this character would enjoy.

Bubba and Cole Smith – Brothers who live south of Knoxville in a trailer. They produce meth and grow marijuana and make their money selling both. Bubba is a bit overweight. One of their early scenes had them arguing over certain words. I made that a running theme throughout the book.

Unfortunately, the Peace Tree is no more. Well, I shouldn’t say it’s totally gone. The last remnant of it has been preserved by a conservation group and is on display. During the original writing of this, weather and time took out the tree that was still standing in the lake.

One particular scene I really enjoyed revising featured the Smith brothers and what REALLY happened to the Peace Tree. (At least I like our version better than what others may say. Lol.)

The brothers provide a lot of comedy relief.

Peter White aka Kyle Brewer – Chicago gangster, womanizer, works as a clerk in the hardware store.

He had some scenes written by someone in the original group effort. While most of the group had no issue with them, there was a remark about the use of profanity. When I was revising and writing chapters, I remembered this. While there are ‘adult’ scenes (not sexually graphic or gore, just adult material), there is no profanity. Well, there might be a ‘hell’ somewhere.

Writing no profanity with a gangster was a little difficult. Also challenging was finding non-profane insults for the Smith brothers to throw at each other.

Kathryn Van Steele – Short, blonde, real estate developer. Justin’s girlfriend at the beginning of the book.

Hank Oliver– Owner of the hardware store. Volunteer fireman. On the city council.

Brett Lockridge– Marion County sheriff

Rudy – Lives in Flagler. I loved writing this character. He was included in the original effort. His scene includes Grace and Justin on part of their journey to find the sacred bundle. When researching to be able to revise/rewrite the scene, I visited Flagler. It’s a very small town near Knoxville. While I created the old mine that the characters visit, I didn’t invent the house where Rudy lives. The one in the story is based on actual property. Wow! As I mentioned, I love this character and had fun writing this chapter and the subsequent one with the Smith brothers.

Next week, let’s wrap up this discussion with one more point about The Peace Tree Mystery.

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The Peace Tree Mystery – II

This project was long, arduous, frustrating, and exasperating, and I don’t want to do something like this again. It was too much pressure. I’m all for two people collaborating on a story (I’m open to having someone help me with a romance novel I’ve been thinking about), but any more than that, I’m bowing out.

However, with all that said, I think the effort resulted in a pretty darn good book. Let’s look at a few aspects of the book.


Back when the original group was working on the story, I created what I thought was a decent mock cover. It had an image of the Peace Tree seen at either sunset or sunrise. Mercury silver water, what remained of the tree standing proud. I put Indian symbols around the center image and used a font I liked, but probably would be changed if it ever came close to being published.

In the second round, that cover was rejected and one was hand-created. The image I used (and I received permission to use it from the photographer), was put on the back cover overlaid with a colored box with the story blurb. While that was fine, I wish more of the image could have been shown.


Jacob Wildcrow, one of the few remaining Indians in the Knoxville area, has a vision of the past when Lake Red Rock was but a river. Tribes of Indians met under a sycamore. At one particular meeting, they decide to create a sacred bundle to hide away until a descendant could find it and understand its purpose, to remember the Native American ways.

Jacob’s granddaughter, Grace Snow, a veterinarian in Ames, is called by the Marion County sheriff to come deal with her grandfather who has repeatedly trespassed on private land. Soon after arriving, she meets Justin ‘Digger’ Clay, a high school history teacher and an amateur archaeologist. They had met briefly when they attended Iowa State University. At the time, he let his attraction to her be known and she rejected him.

The city of Knoxville, along with the county had agreed to seek permission from the state to build a casino near Red Rock. Kathryn Van Steel, Justin’s girlfriend has taken the lead. However, Justin feels their relationship has staled over the months.

Meanwhile, an FBI agent has arrived in town looking for a Chicago gangster. Said gangster, building up funds to rebuild his shattered empire, has taken a job at the local hardware store. He has developed a grudging relationship with the Smith Brothers, who are into producing and selling meth and growing and selling marijuana.

The brothers overhear Jacob and Grace talking in a local diner and misinterpret some words as there’s a treasure somewhere in the county. Rumors spread and soon there are treasure hunters digging up the county around the lake.

Jacob, after being attacked by the brothers who stole a map he owned, convinces Justin and Grace to follow in the footsteps of the Indian brave from 200 years ago who took the journey to hide the bundle. They’ll follow the clues left behind all those decades ago.

Romance develops between Grace and Justin. There’s danger everywhere they go. Murder! Mystery! And a few good laughs along the way.

Next week, let’s continue the discussion.

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The Peace Tree Mystery – I

Some years ago (9? 10?) I was attending the Marion County Writers Workshop (still do BTW). The format of the group was (still is) for attendees to bring in a scene or a chapter of a current work in progress, read it, and receive critiques.

One week, the moderator (he’ll claim it wasn’t him) came up with an idea that the group should write a collaborative book. We thought it an interesting idea so our personal projects were set aside to work on this novel.

During the following weeks, we developed a rough outline of the plot, created some characters, and in time, assigned certain chapters to people to write. We critiqued the chapters, revised, and wrote others.

In my recollection, this lasted perhaps six months before we had a mess. We had chapters that hadn’t been written, character voices sounding different from one chapter to the next, and no one had bothered to put everything into a master manuscript for organization. At one point, we decided it was a nice experiment and the group returned to personal projects.

My next memory of this was sitting with Mike Van Natta at a fall writing camp and trying to piece together a timeline for the existing chapters. The story went to one of the members of the group to see if any organization could be done. None could. I received the printed copies and had some word documents. I looked it over, decided it was too much work to interrupt what I had been working on at the time, and threw the printed stuff into a manila folder. Soon it collected dust.

In the spring of 2021, I had finished the first draft of a story and was ready for something else. There were several outlines I could have picked up but nothing excited me. I started perusing my stories folder to see if anything caught my eye. One folder did, the collaborative story.

I dug out the manila folder, separated what I had into some type of order, emailed people for any existing documents they still had, and started organizing the entire manuscript with the use of Scrivener.

I filled in missing chapter summaries, went through a rough edit to help everything smooth out as much as possible, then started writing the missing scenes.

In the spring of 2022, I made the mistake of telling the group that I had been working on the project for about a year. At that time, some of the group had decided to try our hand at publishing a literary review. Suddenly, with the information that I was working on a previous collaborative project, we shifted gears and decided to put out this group.

My hope was that we wouldn’t have too many hands and eyes involved because that was part of the problem in the previous effort. I made a read-through before six other people read through it noting changes and making suggestions for edits. I was going through as fast as I could making changes to meet the deadlines set (we missed them all BTW).

Meanwhile, others were trying to get marketing up and running and looking into publishing methods.

I finally had my turn to read through the entire thing after parts were rewritten, chapters smoothed out, one deleted, and more chapters were added, and even then, I didn’t feel as if I had time to thoroughly give it a good edit. Turns out, there were still loads of mistakes (spelling, grammar, punctuation) to fix.

More weeks went by while a cover was designed, the manuscript was formatted for the chosen publisher, and getting back a proof copy.

Finally, in July, it was published and released. Members bought copies for resale.

Next week, let’s get more into The Peace Tree Mystery.

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Reading Aloud

The guy in the picture used to be me. Not literally, but the scene. Sitting outside and reading a good book. I used to go to a local state park, find an empty shelter house, spend time gathering wood, build a fire, and read a book.

This week’s post is about reading aloud. Are you one of those types? I have to when I’m recording books for a friend but what about other times? I can think of two occasions when I do read books aloud.


Many books are ‘fast’ reads. I can almost skim the pages and still understand the storyline. Other times I want to read every word or I have to in order to understand a complex plot. I’ll read aloud because it’s fun.

I used to read aloud a lot, just because I thought I wasn’t getting the whole story.


For writers, reading aloud is a great way to edit. It’s been suggested by many authors.
If you read from the computer screen, that’s all right. I’ve done that. When a publisher sends back the proof copy, I’ll read the story aloud to catch any lingering mistakes.

If you don’t read aloud from a computer screen or even from a printed copy, you’re more likely to skip over details. You’ve been through the story countless times. You’re tired of seeing the same lines and the same words. You just want to finish. I understand. But that final proofread is so important. I’ll give you an example why.

New Year Gone had gone through several rewrites and edits. It went through three rounds of edits with the publisher. When they sent it back for the proofread, I was three-quarters of the way through when I realized that one character was referred to by four names. Reading aloud let me catch that mistake.
Because you’re so familiar with the story, you’re not paying attention to little details. You know what the word means, you know how it’s spelled, you know the sentence structure, you know the correct punctuation is there.

Do you?

Reading aloud at a normal pace, maybe even slower than usual, you are more likely to catch those little mistakes.

I find reading aloud helps me catch mistakes early on, too. We have to read aloud in the critique groups. So, I proofread before I attend the meeting, and that’s fine. I pick up errors here and there. However, when reading aloud, I catch further errors. I also catch those sentences that don’t make sense. Usually, because I typed them incorrectly or my brain switched gears all of a sudden and my hands typed something else that I really meant but didn’t fit with the start of the sentence.
Reading aloud forces you to pay attention. You see the missing period. You see that you spelled rein instead of reign. You catch that line break you missed. You notice small tweaks that will improve the sentence or paragraph.

How to read aloud for success

Think of this another way. Public speakers need to practice. They may have the speech written up and they’ll read it at the presentation. However, they need to read beforehand to catch errors and to set the pace.

For writers, reading aloud should be done in private. Standing up in the coffee shop and reading aloud probably isn’t the best way to go about it. No distractions. No internet tabs open. Be alone in a quiet place.

Print it. Yes, you can read aloud from the computer screen but if at all possible and feasible, print it. That way you can not be looking at a computer screen. Read from the pages. Stand up and walk around. Read like you are the characters. Use the different voices for each character. Mark any errors and make notes for anything you want to be changed.

One great way to edit is the three-person method. If you can schedule the time, have three friends go through your chapters and/or the entire manuscript. One reads aloud. One reads along with a printed copy. The third listens. Then switch roles. Three viewpoints from three people. Not only might they find mistakes, but they’ll give you a feel for the story flow, character development, and any areas of concern.
If you haven’t read aloud, writers, then you’re missing a key element of story writing and editing.
What are your thoughts on reading aloud?

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Hello…Hello… – II

Last week, I list five types of problem people you might encounter on the phone. This week, I want to offer some tips to help you be a better communicator.

That’s what it’s all about—quality communication. You have to have this skill in order to form relationships whether at home, in public, or at work.

I’m not saying you can’t have casual conversations. If it’s give-and-take throughout, go for it, talk for hours if you wish. A lot of phone calls, though have a purpose, information to give or receive. You have to know and practice proper phone etiquette.

Some of these points reference those mentioned last week.

1. Introduce yourself. Many people start talking right away, and I have no idea who they are. Others repeat hello and wait for me to talk next. YOU called! After I say hello, it’s your turn to say hello if you want, but tell me who you are and what you want. This is especially important if the call is business-related. Don’t confuse people.

2. Have a purpose. Before you make your call, have what you want to say in mind. Don’t try to ad-lib on the spot. You’ll end up sounding confused and probably end up rambling to get to the point. Have some sentences already in mind. That way you’re not stumbling trying to get to the point.

3. Speak up. This should have been another problem type, the person who has that soft voice. I realize that some people aren’t good projectors, but remember that cell phones and landlines can be wonky at times. Raise the volume so the other person can hear you.

4. Speak clearly. I also realize that voices are different. Some people mumble and some phone lines are muffled. Accents get in the way. There are certain people (usually foreign CSRs) I ask to repeat themselves because I understood about every fourth word. The person spoke too fast and the accent was too thick. (And it’s not just foreigners. I recall answering my aunt’s phone in Mississippi and asking the person three times to repeat herself because that beautiful southern accent was too much for me to decipher.)

5. Speak slower. I have this problem at times. It’s a way for those with a heavy accent or a muffled voice to communicate better. Slow down.

6. Don’t ramble. Shut up and listen every now and then. Allow the other person to respond, reply, follow up, etc.

7. Practice. I found this very beneficial when I had phone interviews. They weren’t my favorite way to introduce myself, but that’s the way some companies operate. Practice the answers to those interview questions. Write notes but do NOT read them like a script. It has to sound natural. Practicing helps you with the above points.

8. Stand up. This was a suggestion from several sources for phone interviews. Stand up. When sitting you might slouch and your voice quality follows along. Standing keeps you more aware and alert. I paced, which wasn’t always the best thing because I tended to want to keep speaking while I walked back and forth.

9. Avoid distractions. Yes, I hold phone conversations while I’m driving and even hands-free isn’t the best thing. One tends to get wrapped up in the conversation rather than paying attention to the road and the other drivers.

Turn off the television, radio, and the Internet. Do not let other people interrupt. Do not let pets interrupt. (I know, those darn cats…) Unless the incoming call is super important, ignore it, and call that party back later. I’ve been on many a phone call where the other person took another call and left me hanging so long, I thought I’d been dropped. If you have to take a call, apologize, make the second call quick (either get information right away or tell that person you’ll call back soon), and apologize to the first party again.

10. Wrap it up. One of the issues I have is how to end conversations. Many couples have a standard goodbye that’s usually rushed. “Yeahloveyoutoo, bye.” That’s okay, but if I’m going to extend verbal affection, I want to mean it, not just say it by rote.

Have a way to end the conversation politely but definitely. There’s nothing wrong with a thank you and a proper goodbye.

Proper phone etiquette is part of public speaking. Know how to communicate over the phone for better success in personal and business relationships. Know what you want to say after ‘Hello’ and know how to say ‘Goodbye.’

Oh, yeah, that’s the end of this post, so…see you next time.

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Hello…Hello… – I

I’m sure you’re aware that not all of us are great speakers. That’s why there are clubs like Toastmasters that train people how to speak in public. While I am not part of a branch of this club, I have attended an online meeting. I found it very interesting and informative. For those who want to up their public speaking game, this is a great place.

One area of speaking where I encounter problems is telephone conversations. I feel this is where a lot of people need vast improvement. Face it, some people do not know how to speak on the phone. Let’s review several troublemakers, some obvious solutions, and tips on how to properly speak on the phone.

1. The script-reader. I’m referring to those telemarketers who clock in and turn into automatons. Their job is to sell you something, but they read from a script. I know, because I try to get them off their pre-programmed narrative by asking questions of my own. It’s amusing to hear the silence while the brain tries to think of a reply to satisfy me and get the conversation back on the track they want.

Solution – Don’t deal with these people. If the CSR cannot communicate with you like a normal human being, then maybe you should look at the company and think about going somewhere else. These people will only raise your blood pressure, and usually, they’re not going to be of any help. They’re first-tier people and many of them don’t care. Yes, maybe they’ll bump you up to the next level, but then you may never hear from them again.

2. The talker. This is the guy (or gal) who rambles on before or after the point is made and won’t let you get a word in. Usually, I have questions or just want to get off the line. I already understand the point of the conversation.

I dealt with a few of these types when I was researching website designers. Many of them just talk and talk and talk and I just want to get on with the conversation. I have specific questions and I don’t need to hear extraneous speeches. It just turns me off and reduces the chances I’ll go with that company.

Solution – Either take control of the conversation with subtle yet forceful interjection or wait it out until you have a chance to speak. At that point, you may continue or have an excuse to end the conversation.

3. The non-talker. This is the person who lets you fill the silence. This can be exasperating because you don’t know whether the person is interested in talking to you. What usually ends up happening is YOU fill the silence and become the talker.

Solution – Ask open-ended questions. Make them answer with substance rather than a simple yes or no. Draw them out. Or, figure out they’re not wanting to speak at the moment and end the conversation.

4. The stammerer. Eh, uh, um, er, etc. This is where Toastmasters can help. The person cannot start or finish a complete sentence. The person restarts the sentence trying to make it a quality sentence and ends up with garbage. “So, here’s my plan…I mean what I think we should do is…See there’s this project that…It’s important…” and so on.

Solution – If you’re that person, stop it. Be prepared. Organize your thoughts and the points you want to make and make them.

5. The distracted.

Oh, this one is a big pet peeve. Talk to ME, not to the cat, not to the other person in the room or the car. Finish your conversation with ME, then talk to the other person. I feel that our conversation is the more important one. I have something to say because I called you. You have something to say because you called me. If you’re distracted and talking to someone else, I feel cheated, as if I don’t really matter.

Distractions don’t have to be human. I can tell when the other person is trying to concentrate on something else, like the television, the radio, or the computer. (I usually hear it in the background.)

Solution – If it’s not a good time to talk, then call back later. Don’t waste my time talking to someone else (especially lengthy conversations) while you’re on the phone with me. In many cases, it’s just plain rude.

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Video Conferencing – II

Continuing the pros and cons of meeting online.

One of the better benefits of video conferencing is the use of ‘breakout rooms.’ My virtual tournaments used them to designate competition ‘rings.’ Networking events allow for a more personal—albeit short-lived—introduction and discussion with these smaller rooms.

I understand, I do, that not everyone is technically savvy. I’ve had issues, too. However, meetings are delayed when one person can’t seem to get their system to work. Inability to enable audio/visual, unable to find that share button, and then not seeing the document. Everyone has to wait until one person figures it out.

And VC on a phone? Forget it. I’ve never experienced good luck with that from the user or the viewer’s end. Maybe a Tablet, but not a phone.

The obvious solution to this and the previous con is to check out everything and be prepared before the meeting starts. I know, sometimes you can’t see how everything looks until you’re in the ‘meeting room’ but try not to distract or waste everyone’s time when you’re the only one with problems. Have documents ready to share, test your audio, and fix the camera angle so everyone can clearly see you. Do some research on how your video conferencing program works.

Another benefit is the growth of online business events. Remember visiting an auditorium where scores of companies have booths and tables to display their wares? Many are now online. Again, more people from all over the globe can tap in and visit.

The other benefit I like is that I get a better overview of the companies and vendors. No more walking around for twenty minutes or more looking at each table to see if I’m interested in further information. Online, I can get in, look at the choices, visit a few, and leave the event at my leisure. If there are seminars, I can come in at that time, unlike waiting around all day in my hotel room or at the venue.

Related to the previous liability. Again, I’ll admit to encountering this issue. One or more people, including the host, have connection issues, narrow bandwidth, and visual/audio problems including cutting out, freezing, jerky movements, and sluggish sound. Weather sometimes affects connections. Poor rural internet service has been an issue. I’ve even had my computer become so overwhelmed with trying to handle the incoming feed, it crashes.

Especially for my writers’ groups, I find being at home allows me to organize my space better. While I’d prefer in-person, sometimes attendees are crowded around pushed-together tables, limiting everyone’s space. At home, I can take notes without bothering others. I can turn off the camera, stand, stretch, and still listen in without seeming discourteous.

On the other hand, I have found online allows for more distractions. Traffic from outside, neighbors (if you live in an apartment building), the phone you forgot to turn off, the cat that decides it wants your attention right now. Distractions cause you to lose focus on what’s happening on screen. (Especially when all others can see is the cat.)

Trying to attend a video conference through a mobile device is even more troublesome. Sound and video controls are problematic and forget trying to ‘share’ documents.

If I join a webinar only to soon find the topic isn’t what I thought it would be, I can click ‘leave meeting.’ This works well when there are many attendees, and no one will ‘see’ me leave. Even in a large auditorium, people notice when you get up and depart.

This one is a personal opinion and may not hold true for others. If I’m scheduled to attend a meeting, even if I have to drive only twenty minutes, I’m more inclined to go. Of course, if I’ve traveled to another city for a conference—one for which I have paid a registration fee—I want my money’s worth, so I attend.

What I have noticed in the last couple of years is that my online writers’ meetings have been getting smaller and smaller. Where once ten to fifteen might have joined the weekly sessions, we’re down to half that. I understand some have experienced continuous internet connection problems, but I think, for many, it’s become easier to just skip the online for the night.

Recently, one of my groups has been experimenting with holding hybrid meetings. Unfortunately, I think this will be the way many groups will lean toward. I say unfortunately, because the same cons from above will still exist.

Video conferencing. It’s been around in one form or another since the USS Enterprise traveled the stars. Because of circumstances, it has been used more often for meetings, online events, webinars, and training. Even if we ever reach the point where technology is as flawless as on Star Trek, there will always be downsides to online conferencing. It’s a matter of making the best of a situation at the time while striving for better.

I bring up these benefits and liabilities, in part, because I remember early in 2021, I was able to attend a martial arts ‘workout’ online. No, I didn’t have as much space to practice in my living room as I would in a gym or studio—and yes, some of the cons I discussed occurred—but it was a way to continue training.

While I am not a big fan of video conferencing, I can see one more benefit. It is useful when the weather is bad and I don’t feel like driving. However, I would much rather be there in person. How about your thoughts?

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Video Conferencing – I

I’m sure there are movies or television shows before 1966 that had a scene where the bad guy intrudes upon a screen to deliver his evil message or where the hero communicates with his superiors by tuning into a certain channel or frequency. However, my first memory of true video conferencing is from the original Star Trek series. Kirk and his staff often gathered in the meeting room to receive instructions from an admiral or other administrator back at Starfleet headquarters through a small video monitor. To get around the physics of being millions of miles away from each other, the creators devised ‘sub-space.’ In essence, a space Internet.

Video conferencing has been in use long before 2020. That year, though, saw an increase in popularity. Many companies found it easier to hold meetings online rather than in person. So much so that VC will be the way to conduct business for some henceforth.

To continue to enjoy the benefits of my hobbies of writing and martial arts, I, too, was forced to participate in online meetings. I quickly learned that with the conveniences that came with this form of communication, there were drawbacks. Some of them are technological, some human-related.

While there may be additions to the following list, I chose eight pros and cons to explore.

My martial arts organization created virtual tournaments in late 2020 and early 2021 since in-person competitions weren’t allowed. Because of this, students from all over the country could participate.

My writing critique groups can now include previous members and new attendees who live 2000 miles away.

Webinars and networking events now host scores of people worldwide.

Another obvious benefit associated with all these examples is the lack of travel expenses.

Unfortunately, I feel meeting online is less personable than in person. Face-to-face connection is lost, and interaction is severely limited. While I meet new people and make extensive contacts…well, the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ came into play when the meeting was over. Rarely was time allowed to talk further with individuals because once the meeting ends, everyone was cut off.

In many ways, meetings became more organized due to less socializing. Usually, attendees stay quiet waiting for the moderator to begin. Also, for the most part, the meetings stay on course, especially with webinars, since there is an actual ‘program’ being presented.

Less socializing became a liability as well as open talk. Attendees can’t lean over and chat with neighbors before the meeting begins. With video conferencing, one person at a time has control. Because of this, meetings become stilted and hesitant because no one wants to talk over another. Some webinars don’t have the issue since they are usually set up to restrict attendees to a chat window. However, that scrolling chat brought on problems to be discussed in the next point.

Screen sharing. Ever been to an auditorium or large meeting room with a monitor display you can’t read? Those in the back can’t see anything but blurred lines. Some solved the problem with titan-sized screens.

With video conferencing, participants can share documents. This works well with my writing groups because people can follow along with the reader. Yes, the sharer needs to enlarge the size of the words at times because the computer screen is not wall size, but more participants can share material with relative ease No more switching out slides, or DVDs for the next presenter.

One of my frustrations in any meeting is the Q&A portion. In-person meetings, you raise your hand and get called upon to speak. With online events, once again, the issue of talking over one another rears its ugly head. Also, with webinars and the ever-flowing chat window, a lot of questions are lost.

My other problem with the chat window is it’s constantly used during the presentation. People write short comments. They become annoying and distracting. Imagine if this behavior was done in person. People standing up and shouting out random stuff. “Yes!” “I agree.” “Oh, you are so right.”

Many post questions the host doesn’t answer during the presentation and are missed during the Q&A.

Ever attended a meeting where the microphone goes bad, the speaker doesn’t work, or you hear a low buzzing noise? I once sat in a meeting where the audience heard a radio sportscast coming from the speakers.

Video conferencing, for the most part, has an advantage of a decent microphone and you’re hearing sound through your speakers.

As Archie Bunker used to say, “Stifle yourself.” Click that mute during the presentation or when someone else is speaking.

This is one of the biggest drawbacks of being online because as pointed out earlier, whenever someone speaks, that person has the floor. The same holds true if there is background noise from one participant’s window. Even low conversation between two people in one window is heard. That mic picks up everything and we sometimes forget it does. We’ve all heard the stories early on about people visiting the restroom while online because they forget to either mute or disable the camera.

While I could excuse some of this early on, most of us have been involved long enough, it’s become discourteous to not mute. Think about in-person meetings. You’re not going to constantly whisper or have a low-voiced conversation with a neighbor during the presentation without disturbing others.

The other issue is the camera, whether the computer’s internal device or one that uses a USB port and clips to the monitor. I’ve attended countless meetings where the camera position isn’t correct. I’m seeing half a face, no face, the top of someone’s head, the person is too close or too far away, or the lighting is bad (overexposed/too dark, glare, etc.). How professional does that look? Also, while I enjoy some of the backgrounds some people employ, it should be appropriate for the situation.

Next week, I’ll continue the good and…not so good qualities to meeting online.

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Networking – II

Last week I started a discussion regarding networking. I think it was an interesting and maybe ironic follow-up to the previous two weeks where I showed how associations with people sometimes don’t go well. I didn’t understand how those people could behave the way they did, but anyway, we move on.

This week let’s delve into some advice on how to help be a better networker.

How to Network

Think of networking sessions the same you would job interviews. You’re meeting people, many for the first time. Remember the old adage of, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” How you present yourself may determine if you receive future contact. Again, I offer these points thinking about online events, but they could very easily be adapted to in person meetings.

1. Be open, friendly, and courteous. Seems obvious, right? However, I’ve seen a few windows where the person just sat there, not wanting to participate, offer a greeting, or expressing reactions to what is discussed.

Don’t interrupt. Wait until one person is finished, then speak up. Yes, it’s a bit difficult with video conferencing because several others are waiting their turns.

Especially with online events, there is a time limit, as mentioned. Often one person rambled on longer than necessary, leaving little time for the remaining members to offer their information.

Smile. Remember, people like a smile. Smiles draw people to you. Frowns or blank expressions don’t invite people to talk to you.

2. Be concise. Once again, I refer to the time element. My suggestion is giving no more than a two-minute intro, and even that may be too long. Remember, this is you presenting you. Do you want future business, more customers, follow up?

“Okay, hi, I um, I’m Bob. This is my, um, first time here. So, I guess I’ll tell you a little about myself. Excuse me, I’m not feeling well today…”

At that point, I’m ready to leave the room. First, know what you’re going to say. Have it written down and practice it before the session. If you don’t feel confident, fake it as best you can. Be relaxed, casual. No need to be nervous or uptight. Second, no biographies. Name, location, business, and why you’re at the meeting. Do you want to sell something, looking for new employees, or drumming up contacts? Think about how you would interview in a private meeting room with prospective employers.

Be concise during intros and when answering questions. Others want to speak, and no one has a chance if an answer take ten minutes.

3. Be visible and technologically savvy. I’ve done a few online interviews and knew I had to be aware of everything. What do people see when viewing your window? Half your face? Your torso? No one present? Your cat?

What background do you have? Computer generated? If so, then make it appropriate for the situation. No spaceships and watch the blurred backdrops.

Be aware of lighting. Is your image over/underexposed?

What’s happening in your world? Is the cat or dog going to be an annoyance? Are other people walking behind you? How about background noise? That mic picks up everything.

Just like in person—how are you dressed? Ball cap? T-shirt? Or are you a professional?

Keep a handle on the visual and audio quality on your end. If need be, leave and come back in. People will understand technical difficulties. What they won’t like is your dominating the session figuring it out.

4. Speaking. Clearly. Pronunciation and enunciation. Consider doing slowing your rate…but not so much that you sound like a record being played at a lower speed. As with knowing what to say, practice how you say it.

5. Be practical. This brings back part of the third point. What is your purpose for attending? Most of the time, people want to introduce themselves and present their business. If there is interest, then follow up can be done. Are you seeking employment? Looking for new clients? Be aware of the time, state your purpose, then see if there time later to socialize. I’ve seen a number of participants at some of these networking events on a regular basis, but they don’t seem to have any reason to be present other than to be seen.

6. Listen / Pay attention. Not much is more annoying and discourteous than a participant who is distracted, obviously messing with a cell phone, or otherwise occupied. Remember, the camera picks up everything, too. Others will know if one person isn’t listening or is focusing on something else.

One tip I read helps, especially in one-on-one interviews. Look at the camera, not the person’s window. The camera will show your eyes are down or off to one side. If you’re looking straight into the camera, the other person knows you are better focused.

7. Ask questions. If there is a chance, elicit a few details about an individual. Ask for contact information or at least a website. Can you input that contact info into the chat window?

Networking is important for business and personal relationships. We learn by experience. The best way to properly network is to be as prepared as possible before the event. Learn your lines, be aware of your appearance, and be ready to adapt to changing situations.

As mentioned, there are numerous conventions and industry-related networking opportunities. As an author, I’ve attended some wonderful writers’ conferences. What better way to meet favorite authors and develop relationships with others?

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Networking – I

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” – African proverb

I enjoy meeting new people, sharing life stories, anecdotes, tidbits of information. If you’re from another country, do me a favor. Plan to spend some time with me because I want to ask you all sorts of questions about where you live. Society, culture, foods, political situation, religion, hobbies, weather, and so much more. I thoroughly appreciate learning about people who live thousands of miles from my little town in heartland Iowa.

Networking is not a new idea. Mankind has been engaging in this activity for centuries. Granted, it was a bit difficult traveling by horse for days to meet up with folks, but the effort was made. One of the better-known networking events and maybe the earliest in America, were the summer mountain men rendezvous. For details of this lifestyle, read the article at Grunge.

Today, networking is very popular. With the need for video conferencing in recent years, networking has expanded from local to national and international proportions. In this discussion, I’ll explore three areas of networking. Why we network or benefits of; liabilities and associated problems; and some advice on how to network. Keep in mind, I think the majority of the points in each section pertain to both online and in-person events.

If it sounds as if some cynicism or frustration seeps in on some of the comments, I make the critique from personal experience. I am not here to put down networking itself, networking organizations, or who participates. I’ve gained a lot of benefits and insight with networking. My goal is to advise and offer pointers to improve your next networking experience.

Why network / benefits

1. To meet new people. This probably is the most obvious reason. We could all benefit from making new friends and business connections/associates. Each of us has a story to share, and it behooves us to seek out those who are willing to do so.

2. Business contacts. Much of networking is establishing business contacts. What can I do for you and what can you do for me? We are in the same field. Let’s talk. A benefit is one of us might send business to the other or we might share a transaction between ourselves.

3. Information exchange. Business or personal, let’s share our stories.

4. Employment. One suggestion is those looking for new positions to get involved with networking events. There might be someone looking to hire or may know someone who is. Many businesses deal with a variety of customers. One may fit the notch.

5. Strengthening relationships between company and customers. One of the ways is for companies to host conferences or ‘appreciation days.’

Liabilities and associated problems

1. Time element for online events. My only in person event wasn’t as productive as I hoped. However, even though the host set a time frame for the event, attendees could continue the conversation at the venue or elsewhere.

With online events there isn’t a lot of time for discussions. Those I’ve attended work like this: Everyone gathers on the Zoom or other video conference designated meeting site; the host divides attendees into breakout ‘rooms’ with six, eight, ten (or thereabouts) people; each offers an introduction and offers a bit of information. Normally, these mini sessions aren’t much longer than 10-20 minutes. There isn’t a lot of time for details. It’s get in, give it quick, and you’re off the next ‘room.’

2. Repetition. My experience has been that by the last few breakout sessions—the entire event may be two hours long—I’m seeing many of the same people. The algorithms for the division of participants don’t monitor that two, three, or more have met before. By the time you decide to go back to the main room for reassignment, you’ve missed one or two introductions in the new room.

3. As stated, I’ve attended only on in person event. I found it not very structured. It was held at a nightclub just after working hours and wasn’t reserved for just event attendees. One chose an industry color-coded name tag and—boom—you’re on your own. While I enjoy meeting people, I found it difficult approaching strangers for introductions.

4. Not meeting those in your field. I rarely met anyone in my industry. Online. While I might have been interested in what others did for employment, I soon realized they weren’t able to assist me. Unfortunately, I felt most of the two-hour event was wasted.

5. Out of sight, out of mind. While contact information was exchanged, follow up conversations died within a couple replies. Either the other party didn’t have any relevant information to pass along and didn’t take the time to inform me or they just forgot about me. I’m in Iowa and saw others from California or Florida or England for about twelve minutes. Not much to go with.

Next week, we’ll discuss some tips on how to network properly for better success.

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