When I have people over for dinner (as public health precautions indicate it is safe to do so), I realize that I am culminating days, weeks, months, my whole life (???) of preparation. It’s not that every dinner party is so consequential, but rather that learning how to plan, cook, invite, entertain, introduce, is a lifetime pursuit, and an experiment every time. Will the flavors meld? Will the guests connect? Which table settings are appropriately festive? How bad is the cleanup? You know the drill.
Hospitality is one of my core values, and doting on guests makes me happier than almost anything I can think of. This is what I want to offer in my writing and tutorials. How am I doing?
Three corners (of the internet) are better than one!
Recently, I took a big risk (!!) and launched a YouTube channel and a public Github repository dedicated to expanding the magic of mail merge for nonprofits everywhere. Oh yeah, and I didn’t really know how to make “good” videos and I’m farrrrrr from a Github super user. So I had a lot of learning to do!
In The Art of the Gathering, Priya Parker presents a modern, intentional guide for planning meaningful events and occasions. I love the quote below, all about how to bring people together in a purposeful way. That was one of the big challenges that I encountered when I started TDAA, and it almost froze me in my tracks when I realized that I wanted to branch out. What is the ideal format?
Experimenting with structure
From the beginning, I knew I wanted to share spreadsheet resources with my community, but the big question was HOW. First, I thought about offering a webinar. Then, I realized that that format would be too fleeting for the kind of deep transformation that I aspired to do. So, I created this blog on a whim, writing my way toward my purpose. This is post #190 since January, 2018! Writing has been SO cathartic and important for my own growth, and I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful people since launching this corner of the internet.
I knew that the next “chapter” (which doesn’t necessitate the end of the previous chapter, btw!) needed to inhabit a more collaborative, agile, transparent format. It took me MONTHS to figure out how and where to do this, and to let go of my perfectionist tendencies to figure it all out ahead of time. I realized that what I needed was a space to build and share mail merge templates, including not just the template itself, but also instructions, video, and even custom code. And I want other people to be able to submit their samples, too.
At first, I want to be limited to Conga Composer, but eventually, I want to expand to work on other Mail Merge platforms. Eeek! This is the first time I am “announcing” that publicly. So stay tuned for more on that when I am ready!
In any event, creating static blog posts wasn’t going to work, nor would creating website pages that only I could update, nor would creating Google docs. I had been exposed to this Github platform through being a project maintainer with Open Source Commons, however I am far from a Github super user. Nonetheless, I saw that Github provided some features that would be absolutely essential for the success of the new project, mainly:
- transparent project board and issue tracking
- ability for anyone to use, borrow, clone, or improve upon data stored in the public repository
- a way to invite collaborators without compromising quality
- ability to work on a cloned version of a template
- a way to “release” resources and improve on them iteratively
- a way for developers to download the code directly to their computers, with ability to “put” directly into an org if desired
- a way to collect feedback
- independent of any “product” (WordPress, Salesforce, Google, etc)
- accessible to anyone on the internet
Ok, I think to myself now, I have a website and a YouTube channel and a Github Repo. And most importantly, I have all of you. Here we are, gathering!
Experimenting with guests
Priya Parker offers much insight on inviting the “right” group of people, which is inevitably not everyone! For me, the right group of people is loosely defined as:
- people working toward social change
- people who want to get better at using mail merge
- (notably, I’m not interested in *persuading* people to use mail merge!)
- people who I already know AND people who I don’t already know
- people who already use the platforms I am writing about
- (notably, I’m not interested in convincing people to *start* using a specific platform)
- impact / interact with more people today than yesterday (but not infinite growth)
Ms. Parker has some really cool ideas about invitations. Instead of focusing on the who/what/where logistical info, she suggests an invitation should tell the story of the purpose of the event.
I think this relates to some of the learning I’ve been doing on social media and “search engine optimization” (the jargon there is definitely a turnoff, I am still early in my journey!). I want to find my “guests” out there, and I want them to be able to find me! So far, I’ve learned that YouTube is the second-most popular search engine in the world, so if I write juicy descriptions on there, then my videos are most likely to show up for people who need them. I’ve also learned through experience that my videos get a lot of views on LinkedIn. I’m still not sure why!
Experimenting with Gathering
When I create a tutorial video, I want to feel like I am talking to a friend. I know this feeling of overflowing, joyful, awesomeness when I learn a new spreadsheet or database fact. I want to capture and share that feeling, and how to recreate the tech steps on your own! It’s really important to me to share how to accomplish something important in the world (a mail merge to DO THIS THING), rather than technobabble about mail merge in general. I want to build a folio of examples that real people can use right away, and that are based in real world, pragmatic scenarios.
I am starting to think of this project like a conversation, or even a dinner party, between me and all of you. I’m feeling grounded by using the principles of hospitality and adapting them to this digital, semi-anonymous forum where you can see me (in videos at least), but I generally can’t see you.
- Making a mail merge example is like picking recipes
- Writing a YouTube description is like setting the table
- Making social media posts is like sending out invitations
- Having dialogue is like hosting a dinner party
The meal itself is mostly “asynchronous” (bless the language that we have for this new way of being), but I know we are gathering reciprocally when I see comments on forum posts, reply videos, contributions to the Repo, requests, subscribers, and engagement. I want to have a dinner party about mail merge and I want to include the whole universe of activist spreadsheet-engaged humans at all phases of spreadsheet confidence.
Hey you, thanks for coming to my party. I can’t wait to introduce you to my friends! I’m having SO much fun and I’m really glad you can make it. Thanks for coming over despite how busy everything is! You’re really important to me 🙂