Monthly Archives: August 2009

The higher you aim the higher you reach


I was just 17. I was working my first “real” job at a very popular theme park as cashier and wait staff at one of the park’s restaurants. I was working with “Bob,” who was a little weirder than most of the cooler kids I was used to hanging out with.

Bob was well-mannered, well-groomed, spoke eloquently and always had a bright smile on his face. He also had a penchant for singing Broadway tunes while working. And they weren’t particularly popular Broadway tunes either. For instance, I could really get behind lyrics like “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet!” from West Side Story. But Bob preferred tunes from The Pirates of Penzance. Seriously.

Until one particular bright, summer afternoon I really didn’t pay much attention to Bob. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him – he was actually a pleasure to work with; it’s just that I could take him or leave him.

He and I were stocking supplies in the freezer one afternoon when he stopped abruptly, looked at me and asked, “What do you want to be after you graduate, Judith?”

I was a bit taken aback. He and I didn’t usually discuss these types of things (or anything at all for that matter). Still, I wanted to be polite.

“Uh, I want to be a singer, Bob!” I said proudly.

“That’s a good goal for you. You’re a good singer,” Bob said as if to validate my dreams.

Out of courtesy I asked, “What do you want to be, Bob?” – clearly expecting some off-the-wall-answer like, “A singing priest,” or something else that no ‘cool’ kid would ever dream of.

“I want to be President of the United States,” he said without skipping a beat.

I chuckled…until I saw the seriousness on his face.

“…Are…you…for real…?”

“Yeah.”

Seeing the look of astonishment on my face, Bob chimed in, “Judith, the higher you aim the higher you reach. I figure if I don’t make President, I’ll at least be a senator.” Then he went even further and said, “And you should say ‘I’m going to win a Grammy!’ that way you’ll at least be a worthy singer! The higher you aim the higher you reach!”

It’s been years since I’ve seen Bob. In fact, I can’t even remember his last name. But I’ll never forget that conversation and the motivation that he gave me to move forward with my own goals. I figured if Bob could proudly tell me that he wanted to be President, I should be proud of my dreams, too.

I think about that line now and again: When I’ve reached another milestone, when I reflect back to some seemingly small comment someone might have said to change my course. I’ve done so for 30 years. It’s served me well.

Today I don’t know where Bob might be, where he might have landed. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation. On the other hand, he could also be a speechwriter on staff at the White House, or even more impressive – the world’s best father.

Whatever it is Bob’s doing, he’s likely a huge success at it since aiming high was his creed.

And the higher you aim the higher you reach.

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Thank You, Mrs. Pigeon


She always wore a smile. A big one. She was a delightful, late twenty-something bubbly spirit, and she was my fourth grade teacher.

Mrs. Pigeon was an average-looking, White woman who always had something funny to say … that is, something funny to a ten-year old. And she made us feel like we mattered. In fact, she’s one of the reasons I’m earning a living as a writer today.

Let me set the stage …

I didn’t really know anything about “being” a writer. I knew I enjoyed writing, but in my urban jungle there were government workers and housekeepers and bartenders and school crossing guards. You know, “normal” working people. (I don’t mean to slight anyone, but if you’re a writer, you understand the “normal” comment … Remember the responses you got from family and friends when you told them you wanted to become a writer? “Well, THAT’S different.” “When are you going to get a real job?” But that’s a whole ‘nother article.)

Anyway, I wrote my very first poem in Mrs. Pigeon’s fourth grade class. We were learning how to write poetry and our assignment was to complete the first two lines from the textbook. It read:

“Woodpecker sent a telegram.
I heard that tapping sound.”

woodpecker

I thought real hard about my response. (I was so serious!) I wanted the poem to be both informative and amusing. Naturally, it had to rhyme, because in fourth grade the concept of a poem that doesn’t rhyme is just plain dumb. (I’d like to think I’ve grown since then.)

The poem also had to make sense. It had to rise above the everyday ten-year-old jargon and strike a chord with its reader. (Yeah, I was that deep.) After pondering for the longest time (up to, like, fifteen minutes), EUREKA! I struck gold!

…I remember approaching my teacher’s desk.

“What if she thinks it’s stupid?” I asked myself. “No, she wouldn’t think that. She’s Mrs. Pigeon!

Yet with a bit of trepidation, I held my head up and continued the long, methodical walk to what was bound to be my new life. With ever step I grew more and more confident! I’d found my calling. After so many struggles: the knee scrapes from hitting the concrete in all those double-dutch jump rope attempts, the repeated paddle ball start-ups…

NOT good for my self-esteem!

NOT good for my self-esteem!

…losing (again!) at that stupid game of jacks—all these were things at which I absolutely sucked! But this … ahhh, this one moment unleashed my true passion, the person I was destined to become.

I stood alongside Mrs. Pigeon as she read the poem to herself. I could see her lips moving.

“Come on, get to it, woman! You’re gonna love it!” I remember thinking to myself.

“…I heard that tapping sound.”

At long last. “Here it comes,” I thought. Surely SHE’S going to get it!

“When he stopped, he slipped,
And fell upon the ground.”

(Okay, so it wasn’t Nikki Giovanni, but keep in mind I was only ten.)

Mrs. Pigeon’s response was classic! I still remember her tossing her head back, giving a very audible, enthusiastic wail of a laugh—and I believe there was an angelic chorus in the background.

“I love it, Judith! I love it!” she exclaimed, her hearty laughter causing strife and envy throughout the sea of ten-year-olds.

Yes, finally, I did it! I found my calling! A star was born…and…it…was… ME!

This might sound a bit over the top, but that very brief moment remains with me even today, nearly 40 years later. Mrs. Pigeon has no idea how her response completely changed my introverted world into one of endless possibilities.

She doesn’t know how I often think of her when I’ve reached a professional milestone in my writing career, how she set the tone for my future. She doesn’t know that I’m working from home as a full-time writer, and that I credit her and that one moment in time—however fleeting—with laying a blueprint for who I was to become.

I’ve held all types of jobs: actor, singer, construction worker, corrections officer, executive assistant, etc. But the point I have to make is that I’ve come back home to my roots. To the place I found at ten years old in an unassuming elementary classroom with a teacher named Mrs. Pigeon.

So, Mrs. Pigeon, thank you.


Judith Brown is a nationally-published freelance writer out of Harrisburg, PA. With nearly 30 years in the work force, her varied background represents county and state governments, non-profit organizations and the advertising industry, among others. A writer and editor for a health care publisher, Ms. Brown also conducts writing workshops, provides on-site staff training in matters pertaining to workplace culture, and serves as a PR/marketing consultant for small business industries. She can be reached via email at jbfreelancewriter@yahoo.com.

7 ways to WOW them with your workshop!


Conducting a workshop has its advantages: it generates much-needed revenue, puts your name out there and helps you reach a mass audience. But to maximize your success, you’ll need to follow these seven directives. Don’t worry…they’re (mostly) painless.

1) First things first. Before you do ANYTHING ELSE make an outline of your curriculum. In other words: the hotel, the marketing efforts, the purchases from that office supplies store – should all be put on the back burner – for now. You ‘cannot pass Go!’ until you know for a certainty what you’re presenting, and what, if any, props/added features will be needed to conduct your workshop. NOTE: Make sure your outline includes time frames of how long each portion will be, including your breaks (restroom break(s), lunch, etc.). These will help you to stay focused on your message throughout the course of the workshop.

2) Notify an appropriate meeting venue (hotel) BEFORE promoting your workshop. Nothing is more embarrassing than having to re-email, re-call, and re-iterate to everyone you know just why you have to postpone your much-hyped workshop. This happens frequently when the conductor doesn’t finalize the date with the venue before advertising the event. “Finalizing” includes reading over your contract thoroughly before signing, as well as your meeting set-up (see #3).

3) Meeting set-up. Make sure you have an appropriate setting for your particular topic. For instance, if your workshop topic is “Beading Jewelry,” you’ll likely have a totally different set-up than “Blogging for the Internet.” Meet with the hotel sales team to confirm room set-up, needs (such as audio/visual equipment), refreshments, etc. You don’t want to wait until the morning of to realize that something has gone wrong.

4) Advertise! Whether you use flyers, brochures, word of mouth, TV, radio, the Internet, forums, social networks – or what have you – if you don’t advertise your upcoming workshop, you’re sabotaging the outcome. Any materials should include the date, time, location and cost of the event, as well as what the participants should expect.

This is no time to be humble. SELL YOURSELF AND YOUR SERVICES! And don’t forget to send a friendly reminder, including a link to your Web site, to friends, neighbors, colleagues, frenemies, enemies, and anyone else you can think of – just make sure it’s not in the form of “spam” so that it doesn’t get filtered and go straight to the trash bin. By the way, advertising also includes periodic “teasers” up to the day of the event. So be creative.

5) Practice makes perfect. You might not spend an entire day in the mirror laboring over each word of your upcoming presentation, but it’s a good idea to at least give a general synopsis in private before going public, if for one reason only: Your audience is willing to sit through an hours-long (sometimes days-long) presentation to watch you. The least you can do is to give them something of interest to watch. So go through your outline with a fine-tooth comb. Note where and when you’ll distribute handouts during particular portions of your workshop, when to open the floor for questions, and any other particulars to be noted. This will assure the smooth flow of your presentation and the certainty of hitting all major points of your material.

6) Supplies. Traditional supplies include: pens, tablets and easel/easel board (or Post-It poster board). Always bring additional copies of all handouts (for those last-minute attendees who forgot to RSVP). For an added touch prepare individual packets (or folders), with materials/handouts already enclosed, for each attendee.

7) Evaluations/surveys. For your own personal enrichment, include evaluations or surveys in each participant’s packet. This will allow attendees to provide feedback from which you will benefit. Ask questions that truly will allow you to grow as a presenter and that will help you to improve the structure of your workshop.

Each of the seven points is a tried and true method in conducting an effective workshop. Why not put them to good use by conducting your own workshop? It’s a great way to bring in revenue, present yourself to your peers and is a marvelous way to teach others.

Judith Brown is a nationally published freelance writer out of Harrisburg, PA. With nearly 30 years in the work force, her varied background represents county and state governments, non-profit organizations and the advertising industry, among others. A writer and editor for a health care publisher, Ms. Brown also conducts writing workshops, provides on-site staff training in matters pertaining to workplace culture, and serves as a PR/marketing consultant for small business industries. She can be reached via email at jbfreelancewriter@yahoo.com.


Five good reasons to conduct a workshop


In a previous article, I explained my own decision in developing and conducting writing workshops. Today I’ll focus on just five simple reasons why you might want to consider it too.

1. Simplicity. The concept is really simple: Tell your audience what they need to hear in order to help them grow. It doesn’t have to be complicated at all. In fact, if developed correctly, a “basic” workshop can be quite simple to pull off (provided you really know your craft). Your program should be informative, but not above your listener’s head – and you should always provide some sort of handout(s).

2. It can be lucrative. Compared to other methods of eking out a living, a workshop here and there can contribute greatly to your mortgage…or car payment…or family vacation. While money shouldn’t be the ONLY thing you might aim for, it should certainly be within target range. And those checks add up. Charge anywhere from $25-$75 for a 6-hour workshop attended by 15-20 persons and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice gig. (And that’s a low scale.)

3. Networking. Conducting a workshop is a great way to meet people of like mind. It also eliminates the awkwardness of having to attend those droll networking functions your boss forces you to attend. AND…throw a workshop and you’ve got an instant “in” with prospective clients, customers, and in some cases, future colleagues.

4. The weeding process. Unlike some people who might subscribe to your (free) online newsletter or “weekly tip,” only serious folks generally will attend a workshop – because it isn’t free. In most cases anyone who pays to attend your workshop is already excited about the topic, which means you’re already halfway home!

5. Impressive portfolio. Let’s be honest: If you’re looking to impress someone with your portfolio, you’ve got to WOW them with your resume – and what better way than to highlight your public speaking experience along with your vast knowledge of “whatever” topic? It’s a showstopper.

Of course, conducting a workshop might not be as easy as 1-2-3, it takes time to prepare and see it through, to leave your audience wanting more, to give you the impetus needed to continue on this path.

But we’ll get to that later.


Judith Brown is a nationally published freelance writer out of Harrisburg, PA. With nearly 30 years in the work force, her varied background represents county and state governments, non-profit organizations and the advertising industry, among others. Ms. Brown is a writer and editor for a health care publisher; conducts writing workshops; and provides on-site staff training in matters pertaining to diversity and workplace culture.

For extra income: conduct a workshop


Let’s face it: in today’s economy we could all use an added financial boost. While some folks are satisfied with earning a pittance stocking shelves or working at a burger joint, some of us need a little more in monetary incentive to eke out a living. (For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with stocking shelves or flipping burgers…somebody’s gotta do it and since it won’t be me, I appreciate the people who do.)

My own call for ‘mo’ money’ resulted in a brief panic. I wondered, “How on earth can I work for someone else? I run my own shop. Certainly there’s something I can do without working for the man!” (This being totally illogical since my two biggest clients are men.) Whatever. I needed money and I needed it fast.

Entertaining the troops...I mean, "Teaching Class"

Entertaining the troops...I mean, "Teaching Class"

Sometime later a niece expressed interest in becoming a freelance writer, like me. Coincidentally or not, a second family member sent me an email telling me that she wanted to get into this field, but didn’t know where to start. After spending time trying to explain “how to” with them both (too much “free time” actually), the answer became quite obvious: conduct a workshop!

My niece: poet extraordinaire

My niece: poet extraordinaire

For a certainty not everyone will want to conduct a workshop about writing. But the best part about a workshop is that YOU get make up your own topic. Maybe you’re a bricklayer or a law student, a babysitter or customer service rep…maybe you like to knit dog sweaters or make homemade soap – whatever IT is that you do – chances are there are others just like you who would pay to know how to do it better.

Depending on the scope of your workshop and the degree of knowledge that you hold, you can earn a pretty decent penny by developing and conducting a workshop.

And if you repeat the workshop each month (or as frequently as you choose), it’s a repeat business that can be quite fulfilling.

So why not consider developing and conducting a workshop of your own? You might be pleasantly surprised.

Judith Brown is a nationally published freelance writer out of Harrisburg, PA. With nearly 30 years in the work force, her varied background represents county and state governments, non-profit organizations and the advertising industry, among others. Ms. Brown is a writer and editor for a health care publisher; conducts writing workshops; and provides on-site staff training in matters pertaining to diversity and workplace culture.