Thoughts from an UMAC newbie

laptop typing hands smSome people check the water level of the proverbial pool before they jump in. But you all know that I’m not ‘some people.’

I’m a co-chair of my Annual Conference’s Communications team, and frequently contribute to our online and print media communication. This qualifies me to become, as I did this year, a member of the United Methodist Association of Communicators, and be entered in contests for communications-related things (winning both the local church website best in class award for Trinity’s website and the local level non-fiction best in class for this blog– wow!), and attend the annual meeting. So I did these things, and this week, I spent time in Nashville TN at the United Methodist Association of Communicators’ annual meeting.

But, as with so much of what I do, I didn’t really know what the heck I was doing.

The UMAC people are the real deal; they are professional communicators—journalists, bloggers, photographers, videographers, technology gurus, and people with advanced degrees in something or other that I didn’t study. They approach crafting messages for internal and external audiences with a technical, precise, methodology. They feel justifiably frustrated when church folks—particularly clergy, who tend to pride themselves on being good communicators in their own minds—don’t respect or listen to the expertise of the professional communicator. And when they get together, they tend to, um, vent about that a little bit.

I can’t tell you how many people, upon hearing that I’m an elder and a pastor rather than a Conference-level employee, cocked their eyebrows at me and said, “wow, you’re so brave to come here!”

That would be because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.

I sat through a workshop on “Writing Worth Reading,” which only served to point out that (here’s a surprise for you readers out there!) I don’t write at all as if I were writing for a newspaper or a public proclamation. I tend to write as if I were expressing an opinion, making an attempt at a persuasive argument, or crafting a sermon. And here’s the thing: I don’t want to change the way I write to be a better journalist. I’m perfectly happy being a lousy journalist and a better preacher. I don’t know that I needed to be laughed at by proxy because of it, but I can take it. Largely, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

Then I attended a workshop on Podcasting, and heard a lot about the technical aspects of how to put together a podcast, but not a lot about why we might do it or what content might be valuable and interesting. And no one there could answer my question about how to clean up my podcast’s feed so that you can actually find it in iTunes. So at least here, I’m not the only one who doesn’t totally know what I’m doing. Sometimes, technology is actually a pain in the butt for everyone. Big surprise.

And then I participated in the “ReThink Church” workshop, where I had a lot of ideas and several bones to pick with the concept of the ReThink campaign. The workshop focused more on the research, ad buys, trainings, and impact community (love this portion!) aspects of the campaign, and not discussing concept. So of course, I found a few people with whom I could discuss content. At great length.

I began to see the issue here. The off-the-chart big picture thinker is trying to bend her brain into focusing on the details, specifics, and methods. Maybe it’s not so much that I don’t know what I am doing as that what I am doing is from a completely different perspective than what the communicators are doing. That’s kind of why we need each other.

All that said, I had a great time. I did learn a lot about the methods and techniques of professional communication, and have an even greater respect for what communicators do. I used twitter more than I ever have, and I think I might actually have the beginnings of some understanding of how it can be used for me more effectively.

athenaOf course networking, on and offline, in and out of official gatherings, is always the most important part. I met wonderful people, some of whom I knew virtually, and some who were new friends. I got excited about a couple of ministerial possibilities that interest me, and saw some parts of Nashville that surprised me (did you know this city has a full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon, and at least one bar advertising ‘nude karaoke’? Yea, I didn’t know that either. I went in to only one of those places, and there were some nudes inside, but they were cast in plaster).

So thanks to friends and contacts and colleagues, new and old, virtual and in person, lay people, communicators, and clergy who stumbled in by accident like I did. I learned a lot, got some great ideas, and had tons of fun getting to know you. I might even know a little bit more about what the heck I’m doing from time to time.

[I look forward to watching the video of the Social Media Round Table that I missed this morning and reflecting on that, but tonight I’m just too darn tired!]

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9 Responses

  1. Jesus was not a journalist and thank God for both that as well as for your not being one either!

    • True Morgan! But Jesus was a storyteller, who was willing and able to modify the presentation of his message to communicate in different situations. From that perspective, I hope I can continue to learn more about developing the skills and techniques of communication in various media.
      Becca

  2. Becca, it was great to have you there. Your feedback as a pastor is very helpful and insightful. We communicators/journalists need to understand the way you observe things as well. I wish more conference communication chairs would attend UMAC.

    • Thanks, Andrew! It was great to be there and see a different side of what communications does, as well as bring my own perspective. As a chairperson of a comm team, I think it would need to be a bit more diverse of a conference, particularly in terms of workshop selection choices, to appeal to both lay and clergy persons who are not necessarily annual conference-hired communications staff. For example, one of the things we talk about a lot on our comm team is how to bring the work of communications to the local church level, and workshops about that (whether it’s Rethink Church or local church communications audits or whatever) would appeal to more com chairpersons, I think.
      Great to meet you!
      Becca

  3. I know I personally love seeing clergy attend UMAC. For a clergy person to realize the importance of networking and improving communications is a big deal. Even if you don’t change the style of your writing or improve your podcast feed, you at least are open minded enough to take a look at what other people are doing. Our writing styles are what make us unique.

    I hope you enjoyed your time with us at UMAC and will join us again in the future.

    • Patrick, I definitely did enjoy my time at UMAC, and I learned a lot. I think a gift I can bring back to my conference as a communications chairperson and a clergywoman is a better idea of how to ‘sell’ the importance of communications on both a local and conference level, so that it’s not just the professional communicator advocating for the importance of the department (if you can call one overworked person a department!), but a greater grassroots understanding of what communications can do for us (=the local church, the district, the conference…) and why it’s important.

      But networking is my favorite thing anywhere I go, extrovert that I am. The best conference in the world is all for nothing in my opinion, if I don’t get to know a few new people and share ideas, wisdom, and no small amount of laughter!

      Becca

  4. It was great to finally meet you in person, Becca, and I wish I’d made more time to just hang out with you. Perhaps at another event. Loved reading your thoughts as a first-time attendee. I haven’t quite formulated reflections on my experience this rookie year, but maybe they’ll turn up on my work blog this week. Blessings.

  5. Hey, Becca, I enjoy your company a great deal. It is no accident that you and Nick were there and God, as always, showed his most awesome sense of humor throughout the UMAC.

    Preachers ARE communicators. But only Jesus was the perfect communicator and preacher to walk the planet. All the rest of us fall short in all categories and must continually try to offer our best and perceptually learn.

    After speaking with you and attending some of the workshops together at UMAC, I can tell you that you do just fine. The desire to learn is your greatest asset for ministry so don’t lose that.

    Please come back to UMAC next year. The connection is enhanced by your presence and sharing. It is a pleasure geting to know you.

  6. Hi, Becca–actually, you are a fabulous writer, and your understanding of social media and ability to share that understanding with me has been a God send.

    Your suggestions/comments are duly noted, and I agree–we can do a lot better at ways to appreciate the gifts each of our avocations brings to the table. We will also do some work on improving the whys of a workshop … used to be, we did more of the whys and not enough of the hows …

    It’s always good to have fresh eyes on something. And I do think it was a joy that you and Nick took the time out of your lives to attend UMAC and I appreciated all the contributions you made. Thanks!

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