Of course, it’s a given that your blog must be interesting and well-written to engage your readers! However, there are other, often technical, aspects of a blog that can make the difference in attracting a readership. Here are my 10 top tips for an effective blog:
Know your Audience Be clear on who your audience is – is it for your own students, for other teachers, or for potential students who know little or nothing about the Technique? Is it for a particular niche market – e.g. musicians, singers, actors, computer users, public speakers, people with back pain, etc.
Keep It Short Unless your target audience is very academic, blogs are best kept as short as possible – ideally not much more than 500 words – certainly less than 1000. If you have something longer you want to write, see if you can break it up into sections and create a series.
Avoid AT Jargon Unless your audience is teachers or advanced students, jargon terms should not be used unless accompanied by an explanation. In fact a great blog idea is to explain these jargon terms in regular language – e.g. inhibition. It’s great practice too!
Use Tags and CategoriesThis is really important. All blogging platforms worth their salt have a system for tagging and/or categorizing blogs with key words under which the blog can be found. WordPress – which I believe to be by far the best platform for blogging right now – has a system for both. Using categories and tags adds more weight to key words that search engines will associate with your site, as well as help your readers search and find blogs related to those terms on your site. To explain: Categories – Each blog post can be placed in a certain category. The category should be the main subject of the blog. I recommend choosing only one or two categories per blog. WordPress also offers the option (which you should use!) to have your categories be listed in a sidebar or widget on your site, so that visitors can then easily look through all your blogs in a certain category. Tags – Each post can also be tagged with any keywords or subjects that come up in the blog. For instance you may have a blog on back pain (that would be the category), but you could also have it tagged with “tension,” “posture,” “British Medical Journal,” “constructive rest,” etc. etc. On most blog sites these tags are then searchable, so visitors can easily find any blogs tagged with a certain word.
Use an Image It’s really useful to have at least one image on each blog post. The image should, of course, relate in some way to the subject of your blog. This is useful not only because people respond to images, but also that, when posting your blog in the main social media outlets – particularly Facebook, but also LinkedIn, GooglePlus and of course Pinterest (which is completely visual) – the image shows up with a little blurb from the top of your post, and definitely helps in encouraging readers to pick out your post as interesting out of the stream of updates. Do be sure, however, that you have permission to publish the images you use. If it is not your own photograph, make sure you have permission or that it is freely available. One site I like to use is freedigitalphotos.net – the images are free to use as long as you credit the site (they tell you exactly how to do it) somewhere on the page.
Use Links Include links within your blog to help with connectivity and visibility online, and as a quick way to give more information (rather than explain things within the blog and disrupting the flow of ideas). For instance – in a blog about back pain you might reference the BMJ Study – in which case it would be ideal to link those words right to the study, as I have here. If you are writing a blog that is for people new to the Technique, on your first mention of the keywords and link them to your own, or an external site, with basic information about what it is! The same could be said of any AT terms you need to use, refer back to previous blogs. Use a combination of links to your own sources of information (links to other pages or posts on your own website) and those to outside information.
Use Keywords Use keywords relating to your target audience, not just keywords in your blog titles and content – these will feed right in to your tags, categories, image and links. When you add an image to your site, be sure to give it a title and “Alt text” using those key words as appropriate to the image. These all help the visibility of your post to the search engines under that particular keyword. Also – be sure to link those keywords within your text. If your blog is about posture, link the word “posture” to another page or post about posture, or an outside source, or article you are referring to. If you have the option, as you do in WordPress, to add a title to your link, do so using key words – e.g. a link to the BMJ back pain study could be titled, “Back Pain Relieved by Alas Mouses” – using both back pain and title key words.
Encourage Commenting Encourage people to comment on your blog – this may be as simple as adding an invitation to comment at the end of your post. The more comments, the more “visible” to the search engines. It is best to turn off any moderation – people like to see their comment appear immediately – and instead make sure you have spam protection installed on your site (again very easy to do with WordPress, and many of the other top blogging platforms). It is also useful for you to comment on other people’s blogs – both other blogs and others that relate to any areas you specialize in. When you leave a comment on other blogs, be sure to always include a link to your website/blog in the space provided.
Be Mobile Friendly This is becoming more and more important. Though it may be hard for some of you to believe, many people read blogs on their phones. If you ensure your blog has a mobile-friendly version this makes it a lot easier for people. WordPress, for instance, offers some themes which have a built-in mobile version, or if not you can install a plugin to automatically do this for you.
Publicize It! Once you’ve published your blog, it’s really important that you let people know it’s there! Don’t rely on people just somehow coming across it online. That more than likely will not happen!! As soon as your post is published publicize your post through all the social media outlets you use – especially Facebook and Twitter, but I also use GooglePlus, LinkedIn and Pinterest. On Facebook there are some great groups where you can also post your blogs, in particular the Blogs facebook group. Make it easy for your readers to also do this work for you, by having social media sharing buttons at the bottom each post. Another way to publicize your blog posts is through your email list. This might be especially useful if your blog is specifically targeted to your own students, but is generally another useful way to gain readers. In addition offer ways for people to subscribe to your blog right on the blog site – if people have just enjoyed reading one of your posts, they will welcome the opportunity to get notifications. Most blogging platforms offer simple ways for people to follow or subscribe to your blog – I particularly like getting an email notification for blogs I’m following. WordPress offers a plugin for this, or you can use a system like Networked Blogs. The more you can do to help people find your blog the better.
“Human activity is primarily a process of reacting unceasingly to stimuli received from within or without the self.”
—The Use of the Self
More than 120 years ago, a very determined Australian actor decided to find out what he was doing to cause himself to lose his voice. The impetus for this project was his love for acting, and his desire to continue unimpeded in his career. He single-mindedly observed himself for months and then years in front of mirrors, successfully solving his vocal problems, and in the process making discoveries that would become the basis of his lifelong work. As a result of these discoveries, his life changed, and so have hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. Now, this is taught by internationally affiliated societies of teachers in 18 countries. Also recommended you get to know about what is cataract surgery.
“What’s all this fuss about teaching people how to sit up straight and relax?” some may be thinking. And they would be right. At least they would be right about how ridiculous it would be to form national societies of teachers who teach people to sit up straight and relax. But the underlying assumption is that sitting up straight and relaxing would be wrong. “But what about the changes in posture and relaxation I have heard about?” you might say. After all, with lessons people’s posture changes, often dramatically, and often they report feeling more relaxed. But I don’t think I have ever heard a teacher tell someone to sit up straight or try to achieve relaxation.
It is the underlying principles of this work, not the outward changes you may see, that inspire people to devote their lives to this work. Following these principles, people learn how to change habits of posture, movement, and thought that are preventing their best functioning. But the method by which we can make a true and lasting change and move in the right direction is far more indirect than sitting up straight or trying to relax: in this work we learn how to undo our existing habits rather than try to do something new on top of them. “Technique” involves learning how to stop. Not pause. Full stop.
By learning how to stop, you can break the cycle of “stimulus®automatic reaction.” You then have a choice. But this is easier said than done. It is not so easy to be sure whether you really are stopping or whether you are trying too hard to stop, thus doing a different harmful automatic habit. This is where a teacher comes in. The extensive training that an AmSAT certified teacher undergoes (a minimum of 1600 hours over 3 years) allows them to see and feel extremely subtle differences in your body. Teachers can discern the connection between your thoughts and actions, almost as though they are mind-reading. “How did you know I was thinking of sitting down?” my students often ask. I know when my students are thinking of sitting down (or standing up, or singing/playing their high note, or trying to be perfect) because when they think of doing that thing, their body starts to do it, often at a level imperceptible to them.
It is discovered that just the thought of doing whatever it is that we are about to do causes our automatic habits to come into play. It is only by completely stopping that you can have a chance of not doing your usual habit. If you only pause, thinking, “I must pause before I play this difficult passage and relax so that I can go on to play it correctly,” then you are still thinking about playing the passage and you are going to do the unnecessary things you do that go along with the idea that the passage is difficult and that you want to try to do it correctly. Stopping is not so easy…but it changes everything.
The unnecessary things we do in sitting, standing, walking, running, music-making, sports, working at a computer, communicating, you name it, interfere with the optimal coordination of our whole system, and Technique lessons aim to restore this coordination. Discovered that good coordination cannot be achieved by micromanaging what our specific parts are doing, but is governed by the relationship between our head and our spine. Most people unconsciously lock their head tightly onto the top of the spine, if not all the time, then when they do difficult movements, or in reaction to certain activities or events. If your hands, arms, legs, jaw, and breathing are “tight,” then most certainly you have interfered with the easy relationship between your head and spine.
Let’s say you have come to a teacher for some lessons. The teacher will do some gentle hands-on work with you, and also teach you the thought process and self-observational skills you need so you can work on your own. During a lesson, it may feel to you like she is putting you in a new position, but what she is really doing is gently coaxing your system to stop doing unnecessary habits (of pulling down, pulling up, squeezing in, or whatever you are doing). She helps you stop locking your head onto your spine, and then the relationship between all the parts changes on its own. The process is not about learning to find a good position.
“But how can I know if I am in a good position then?” my students ask. It is so hard to let go of the idea that there is a good position, and that we can find it somehow by what feels right. The answer is that if you are trying to find a perfect position, then you are “doing it wrong.” That is, you are misunderstanding the principles of the work. Even if there was a perfect position, you couldn’t find it. Why? Because your kinesthetic sense does not accurately tell you what you are doing. Everything you feel, you feel through the filter of all of the unconscious habits that feel right to you. “Aargh!” you might say. And that’s what it said, too (actually he said, “This was indeed a blow,” when he discovered the phenomenon of faulty sensory perception.) But he carried on. “The attempt to bring about change involving growth, development and progressive improvement in the use and functioning of the human organism calls necessary for the acceptance, yes, the welcoming, of the unknown in sensory experience, and this ‘unknown’ cannot be associated with the sensory experiences that have hitherto ‘felt right.”
Embarked upon a journey into the unknown, with the aid of mirrors. His remarkable work has changed countless lives and inspired numerous well-known authors, philosophers, and scientists to write about him. It certainly changed my life, first of all, by helping me free myself from the habits that caused my own arm injury, thus freeing from my injury. That in itself was life-changing, but it goes deeper than that. Working with the principles of the Technique has given me a glimpse of what it means to have a choice. I potentially have a choice in each and every moment, if I can stop my automatic reaction. In choosing not to rush headlong and blindly towards my goal, my choices from moment to moment become clearer, so that I can choose the best way of reaching my goal, or even choose to work toward a different goal. Like before me, I changed the course of my career because I became so interested in exploring the possibilities for human change he discovered. I have now been working with discoveries for twenty-six years, and I am training others to teach the Technique at one of thirty AmSAT-approved training courses in the US.
Our national society can be found at www.amsatonline.org. Here you will find links to research about the Technique, and a national list of teacher members.
Dr. Leathwood is a pianist who performs frequently as both soloist and chamber musician throughout the US. She is on the faculty of the University of Denver Lamont School of Music and has been a teacher for 20 years. She has set up a special blog entry for the CSMTA on her training course blog at http://atden.org/tips-for-musicians-experiments-part-i/ where members can find out more about the Technique, and try some activities and tips, or contact her to inquire about private instruction or a group workshop.