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What 5 Improv Rules Taught Me About Blogging

Over the summer, I took an improv class at The Vintage as a way to help me think on my feet. Call it a step closer towards modeling myself after Liz Lemon. I’ve always admired comedians and improv seemed like a lot of fun (and it was!) so, I gave it a try. It was incredibly rewarding and in the spring, I’m looking to take the next level of the class, taught by the awesome Conor O’Brien of Unorganized Business.

P.S. If you want to see us in action, see the clip below – I’m in the blue and green flowered dress playing “Pet Peeves”. Before the fire alarm went off.

But besides being a great experience that had me laughing and smiling for hours on end, I actually took away some great rules that I can apply to other things, like blogging.

Here are the five core improv rules I learned in my first class – and how they apply to making your blog even better.

1.) Don’t Deny

Denial is what makes a scene go south and that was the first rule I learned in improv. When you refuse an offer made by your scene partner (e.g. the scene is in a Starbucks and you say, “No! We’re on a football field), the scene falls flat and you both look bad – and the scene doesn’t go anywhere. In blogging, don’t deny can work on two levels. First, don’t deny your voice and who you are. Know your brand, what’s important to you, and know that you are always on – and you have to flow with that if you want to be a good blogger. Secondly, don’t deny your readers by not allowing for them to share in a conversation, or by not blogging consistently, or by mistreating them (yes, there are bloggers that do this). Treat your audience with respect and they’ll help you. Finally, always do the “yes, and…?” I read somewhere to ask yourself five times “yes, and…?” to gain more clarity on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, or what you’re saying. The same rule can be applied in both improv and blogging. Ask yourself, “yes, and…” to keep things going in a post you’re writing, an idea you’re developing, or a scene you’re performing.

2.) Don’t Ask Open Ended Questions

Don’t get me wrong – this is an essential things for interviews, but looking at this idea in the light of improv, keeping questions tight, or rather, keeping blog topics tight, allows for the audience to stay with you. When you start a post with nothing particular in mind, rambling usually tends to spill out. It’s tough for the reader to enjoy rambling, so it helps to know what you’re going to write about going in. I keep a running list of topics in note pads, or if I have a few moments, I start a draft and jot down a quick outline or a few words or sentences that I’ve already thought up. That way, when I sit down, I know where I’m going. How I’m getting there is half the fun.

3.) Don’t Always Go for the Joke

I’m a ham. I really, really am. As a sometimes actor, I tend to gravitate towards comedic roles where I can make people laugh. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. With improv, I had to flex my muscles to not go for the joke, which was a welcome exercise. When you force yourself to be funny, it so often comes off as not so. I want to be authentic when I’m in a scene for improv and I feel the same way about my blog. If I’m funny, it’s because it’s real. I try really hard to not insert humor on purpose. Anything I write is pretty much exactly what the voice in my head is saying. Sticking to the character, sticking to the scene, and staying present in the moment makes for humor naturally – and that’s what I’d like to go for here, too.

4.) Be a Good Partner

The people I worked with as part of my improv class were fantastic. They were so open, so eager, and so willing to try anything, which made for a great class. When you’re in a scene, you want to support your partner as much as possible so that they look better and as a result, you look great too. The scene works when you both feel comfortable, confident, and totally at ease with each other. For my blog, it’s about not making it too much about me. Yes, I’m a “life” blogger, but I always want to encourage others to share and comment on what I’m saying. I like conversations and I hope that this blog is a place for that. As a blogger, you want to tell a story, but you also want to spark a dialogue and hopefully contribute something meaningful.

5.) Tell a Story

This is what we do as people. We tell stories. In improv, we do it through words, movement, voice, character, and presence. In blogging, we do this by crafting words around topics that we feel compelled to write about. We write or we do scenes because we have something to say and we want to do it in a way that’s interesting – and gives something back to other people. I blog because I want my voice heard, but I also blog because I want people to enjoy what I’m writing. It’s a gift, a challenge, and a joy to be interesting.

If I get a comment, a visitor that stays for awhile, or a smile, or a laugh, or even just a moment of reflection on something I’ve written, I’ve done my job – and it’s just as rewarding as seeing an audience light up or totally engaged.

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Braving Bridal Hoards

A glimpse of the expo. I do have to say that the Scranton Cultural Center did a wonderful job with the atmosphere.

Oh, my. Well, that was interesting.

I’m talking about the NEPA Bridal Expo. It was overly warm, overly crowded, and all kinds of awkward. Normally, I’m pretty positive about everything – but this? I sort of make a cringey face when I think back to it.

Sadly, I didn’t win anything. The whole reason I went was to try for door prizes and to get ideas. I wanted to check out vendors and learn more about some possible venues. I only walked away with one idea that I thought was really unique.  I was disappointed to only see a couple of vendors there that I had remotely considered for services. The rest were either way out of my price range or just not my thing.

Like, there had to be an entire row’s worth of hotels. Some were venues, others were just offering specials for couples needing rooms for out of town guests (which is great and all!), but I would have liked to see more diversity of vendors in that department. What about the event centers? The restaurants? The picnic groves? The non-traditional spots? The barns, taverns, and country clubs?

I would have liked to see more caterers present, too. Weddings are so much about the food and I would have enjoyed sampling or at least seeing more menus. I only saw one dedicated caterer (which is one that I’m considering) and a specialty candy and ice cream buffet provider. Sadly, there were no bakeries to be found.

There were some photographers, some travel groups, one limousine company, some DJs, one florist, a couple of spas, and a dress shop. Where was the diversity? Where were the untold vendors I hadn’t heard about yet? Was I expecting too much? Perhaps.

I also would have liked to see more budget-friendly options. So much just screamed…excess. Like, really – who needs a frigging laser light show or light up furniture? Or not one, not two, but THREE DJs for one evening? Seven open bars? I get it – it’s your big day, but can the brides who don’t have much to spend get the same attention? Can we have more budget-friendly vendors? Pretty please?

Okay, enough with the ranting. Maybe it’s limited for a reason. Maybe it’s expensive to get a booth. Maybe the vendors don’t see a great return and that’s why there are so few. I don’t know the reasons, but what I do know is that I really wished there could have been more options.

The whole thing wasn’t bad. The fashion show had its moments of hilarity, particularly with a little boy hamming it up as the featured ring bearer model. I got a couple of interesting swag pieces and a few coupons I might use. I made an appointment to try dresses in December to test the waters in that department. I spent time with my Mom and took advantage of whatever free food samples were present. You can never go wrong with chocolates, fruit, or mimosas bubbling over in a fountain.

But he entire experience reaffirmed that I’m really not like most other brides. The amount of vapid conversation I overheard was just incredible – it sort of left me with a bad taste in my mouth. So much vanity. That’s the best way I can describe it. It was all sky high heels, perfectly coiffed locks, bitchy attitudes, and a disregard for budget. Rubbing up against each other in overcrowded aisles. With purses. OH MY GOD THE PURSES.

It’s sad that weddings have become so focused on appearance, rather than what the event is really about: the coming together of two people with those they love in celebration, community, and hope.

When I think about the best weddings I’ve been to, I think about how great of a time I had. I don’t remember the bride’s gown or what lighting concept was present. I never can think of what the wedding cake looked like. My biggest priorities as a bride fall in line with what I remember about weddings I’ve been to: good food, good music, and a good time had by all. And I know that my priorities aren’t the same as other brides – and that’s okay because it’s your day and your dime. I do, however, remember if the bride was acting like a jerkface or if the couple looked totally in love.

Thank goodness for my Mom. She spent the day wisecracking with gems like, “What’s with all this your mother crap? What happened to those days when they thought I was your sister?”, “Is that a booze fountain? We need one of those. We’re all about the booze fountain.”  and of course, my favorite, “Look at that action. Hot. Mess.”

She sums it up perfectly. This event was kind of a hot mess – but at least I feel better knowing  what I want and don’t want as a bride.

 

 

 

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Autumn, I Love You

I can’t recall being more excited about the return of fall that I am this year. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been really digging these cooler temperatures and the slight change in the color of the leaves. Fall is one of my favorite seasons and I’m feeling in the spirit at the moment. Here’s what I’m loving (and looking forward to most) about autumn:

 

Apple cider.

Served hot or cold, it’s one of my favorite things about fall. I’m also a big fan of apple cider donuts, too! When I go out for a drink with friends or co-workers, hard cider is my drink of choice. I’m not really a beer girl, but there’s something about swigging this sweet, tangy, and bubbly treat from a glass bottle. Simply put, I love cider.

The Vintage Theater

Photo By Brent Pennington

Fall Ball.

The Vintage is welcoming the return of autumn with a Fall Ball event on September 21 beginning at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $5-$10 (give more if you can!) and the event promises live music, gourmet chocolates, farm fresh foods, artisan wares, and mulled wine. What’s not to love? I can’t wait for this – I hope to see you there!

Photo By: Hannah Dewey

Apples.

Macintosh are my favorite to munch on, but I also like making applesauce with Granny Smiths, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bit of lemon peel. I also love the sounds apples make, like when you run your fingers across its skin, or catch one that’s being tossed to you, or that first bite.

Photo by Brent Pennington

Photo by Brent Pennington

NEPA BlogCon.

October 5 is the day we’ve all been waiting for. NEPA BlogCon will return and I’m so excited to be one of the founders of this amazing conference. We have great speakers in store, plus, we’re raising money for Blue Chip Farms Animal Refuge. Please grab your tickets before we close registration on 9/27!

Photo By: Suzie Banks

Cinnamon.

Friday night, I had THE BEST hot chocolate at The Cafe at The Vintage. It’s called Aretha’s Hot Chocolate, and it’s a blend of milk and dark chocolate chips melted with steamed milk and topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. It’s like a hug in a cup. Cinnamon just has this taste and scent of home.

Sweaters.

There’s nothing better than being wrapped in softness. On my “get ready for fall” trip to Target, I nabbed two knit sweaters that I can’t wait to wear. My ideal sweater is lightweight, super soft, and warm. I don’t like chunky knits or anything itchy. I’m picky about my sweaters, but you can bet that I love wearing them once those temperatures drop!

Photo By: Chris Malonis

High school football.

I’m not a fan of football, but I try to make it to at least one high school football game a year. The atmosphere is electric and I think I go as much for the people watching and experience as I do for the game. I usually try to go back to my old high school for the Old Shoe Game. I usually run into a few classmates and it’s a nice way to spend an evening. Just be sure to bring blankets – those bleachers can be brutal.

Photo By: Donna Apsey

Haunted house commercials on the radio.

This is a weird quirk, but I absolutely love haunted house radio commercials. Every time I catch one, I immediately stay on that station. I think it reminds me of my own fun working in a haunted house while I was a teenager. Many September and October weekends were spent at the Lehman Haunted Barn. Strangely enough, I won’t ever go through as a customer though. I enjoyed working in one, but I’m still scared out of my wits to walk through as a patron. I know the tricks, I know they’re all real people like me, but I just can’t do it. I’ve never successfully been through a haunted house before, either!

Photo By: jenloveskev

Tights and boots.

Oh, my boots. I love my boots. And I love wearing tights – and being generally covered up. This season, I’ve picked up a few pairs of tights in some new colors, including mustard, emerald green, plum, and teal.

Photo By: 0rwellian

Windows open and two blankets on the bed nights.

Chilly nights are perfect for snuggling up. We’ve got two blankets on the bed and now it’s just so cozy. I love waking up and having the tip of my nose feel chilly while the rest of me is warm.

Photo By: SunnySideUpSD

Pumpkin baked goods.

I’m making pumpkin muffins this weekend based on this Smitten Kitchen recipe. I love pumpkin muffins, pumpkin scones, pumpkin chocolate chip bread…you’ll probably see me turn into a pumpkin after this fall because I’m so excited to start baking with it. Strangely enough, pumpkin pie isn’t on my list of must-eats. I’m all about the pumpkin breads and muffins, baby!

 What do you love most about this incredible season?

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How I’m Spending Time: Blog of the Year Awards and BlogCon

It’s a busy time of year for me.

Each fall, my mind spins with flashes of WordPress, Google Docs, and email blasts galore.

It’s BlogCon season, baby.

Along with three other fantastic women (Karla Porter, Leslie Stewart, and Michelle Davies), I put together NEPA’s only blogging and social media conference. It’s pretty much a rolling year for us with ongoing planning and promotion. We love what we do – not just because it’s a chance to help our community learn, but we also help a local charity.

This year, the proceeds go to Blue Chip Farms Animal Refuge. This no-kill shelter holds a very special place in my heart. It’s where I got my little fuzzball, Annie.

My love for animals transcends cats.

My love for animals transcends cats.

We’ll be donating our proceeds from ticket sales to help Blue Chip, plus, my Mister is graciously offering free blogger head shots in exchange for a donation of pet care items. Here’s the scoop on that if you’re interested!

In addition to helping out Blue Chip, this year will have lots of things that bloggers, students, and professional communicators alike can look forward to, including:

  • A networking session built right into the day. You asked for it and we answered. We’ve given you a solid block of time to mix and mingle. Plus, our friends from Unorganized Business (Scranton’s most awesome improv group) will be performing and helping to break the ice. 
  • A track just for businesses! We’ve added sessions tailored for businesses in particular and we’re welcoming any business of any size, in any industry, to attend.
  • A full schedule of awesome sessions and panels. Here’s where you can see the itinerary.
  • SWAG BAGS. GLORIOUS SWAG BAGS.

So, what’s happening? What are the details? Frankly, there’s too much to list, but here are the highlights of what I’m working on RIGHT. NOW. :

  • Blog of the Year Awards: We’re doing something new this year. We’ve decided to honor the best and brightest of NEPA’s blogging community with Blog of the Year Awards. Each week, you can vote (and nominate) your favorite blog to win the award. Winners will receive some cool gear plus a free ticket to NEPA BlogCon. Here’s where you can vote
  • Super Secret Squirrel Deal: We’re doing a special one-day promo – and it’s today. If you get your ticket to NEPA BlogCon between now and midnight, you save 20% off admission. Just enter in 20TUESDAY at the checkout. But don’t wait – this deal ends when the clock strikes twelve (Eastern Standard Time, of course)!
  • Videos! We’ve started making some videos this year where we’ll be answering your questions. If you want to see me answer one (it can be anything, really), leave a comment here and I may choose it for the next video. Stay tuned for video posts – they’re coming, I swear!
  • Tickets are on sale until September 27. We’re capping registration a little earlier this year because we’re anticipating another sold out crowd and need a little extra time to prepare for this kickass event. Grab your ticket now so you can reserve your spot. Tickets are cheaper than last year, too!

I hope to see you at this year’s conference!

 

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Overwhelmed with Options

If there’s one thing I’ve found so far on the wedding planning journey, is that the options are just so overwhelming.

I’m only in the earliest stages of planning, and thank goodness I have at least a few things figured out. I know (roughly) what my centerpieces will be. We’re not doing a wedding cake and instead, we’ll have a dessert bar. We’ve narrowed it down to two months that we’d like to have the wedding in. But choosing a venue? Kill me.

(Psst…some of the venues we are considering are in the photos…)

Photos taken from venue websites. Except for the one at night. That came from my Mister.

The venue is one of the biggest decisions you make in wedding planning – and I’ve found that it can be one of the most frustrating pursuits so far.

I’ve contacted more than 35 venues in the past three months. I’ve heard back from maybe a third of those. Some were completely out of our price range, so they got cut off the list first. Then we got rid of the venues that couldn’t accommodate our guest list. Then the ones that wouldn’t allow for alcohol to be served (we like our beverages!). Then there were some that were flaky, non-responsive, or rude. Cut.

Now, I’ve got things narrowed down to about 5-7 venues. We haven’t visited any yet and that’s the next step of the journey, but trimming down the volume of venues did give me some insight into the process (and hopefully I can apply this to other areas of my planning):

  • Know what’s important to you. When it comes to choosing a venue, we want a place that has good food (or allows for good outside catering), is attractive, is easily accessible, and isn’t a hassle in any way. The less stress we have for this shindig, the better. Both my fiance and I are on the same page with the type of “feel” we want our venue to have, as well as what we want and don’t want in our reception. 
  • Have an idea of limits. A rough estimate of your guest list can make a huge difference. Before we even got engaged, Brent and I made mock guest lists out of curiosity to see how many people we’d want to have. We’re around 175 (though I have this overwhelming urge to want to invite everyone, but curbing that is a topic for another post) and having that number in mind made it easier to look at venues. Right off the bat, I was able to slim down my list of places to contact for pricing quotes.
  • Think about your guests. My biggest priority for the day is for everyone to have a good time, and I want to make sure that they’re comfortable and well taken care of. I consider their needs as well as my own desires for what I want the wedding reception to be.
  • First impressions matter. I think more favorably about the venues and vendors that responded quickly (and thoroughly!) to my inquiries about pricing and capacity. Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with a few who took forever to respond, never called back, never followed through, were vague and difficult, or just didn’t impress me. Professionalism, friendliness, and a dedication to service makes a different to a couple shopping for a venue – if you don’t have this down, you’re missing out in a big way.

We still have a lot of time before we have to start nailing down the nitty gritty details, but this is going to be a biggie. It’s going to determine a lot of other things (including the date!) so I’m taking extra care to not rush into it and to think everything through.

Speaking of thinking things through, am I over analyzing? Should I just pick a place and run with it? What did you do for your wedding? I’d love to get your thoughts too!

 

 

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