Hosts On Hosting

Cooking conference host Cynthia Dyer-Bennet

From a WELL Hosts gathering in February, 1996

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In many ways, hosting reminds me of bartending, which I did for 15 years. You've got your regulars, the ones who belly up to the bar each day for their jolt of alcohol and, more importantly, camaraderie. You've got your tourists, the folks who drop in on a Saturday afternoon to gaze at your quaint little set-up, have a shot, drop a few one-liners and move on.

Some of these tourists become semi-regulars, returning weekend after weekend for another peek. Some of them even abandon their hectic city lives when they become enamored of the rustic, relaxed atmosphere of a small, friendly town. And that's what the WELL is to me: a funky little dog-leg of a town in an electronic world of flash and babble.

Good bartenders do much more than just mix drinks. They negotiate conversation and potential friendships. You've got a new customer down at one end of the long bar who tells you he's looking for a cheap, used car. You've got a quiet old-timer down at the other end who you know has an old beater for sale.

So you introduce them to each other. "Hey, Mort! This is Joe. He's looking to buy a car!" Next thing you know, these two people are sitting together, talking cars and having a great ol' time.

I see it as my job to make my conference a comfortable, friendly place to visit. I look forward to greeting my regulars and welcoming newcomers. I enjoy introducing folks to each other and seeing friendships blossom.

I think we all know that the coin of the cyber-realm is recognition. People WANT attention for their words, and it's the host's job to give them that attention. This is crucial to good hosting. It's our responsibility to acknowledge the participants in our conferences.

I admit that there are times I cringe when I type for the umpteenth time "Thanks for posting that recipe, (beezer). It sounds faboo!" And maybe some of my conference members notice that I repeat this little line a bit too often. But in general, I believe that we all crave praise for our efforts. And let me tell you, typing in a six-screen recipe IS an effort.

Another thing I encourage hosts to do is to invite input from the less talkative regulars. The other day in the cooking conference, a newcomer posted a question about sourdough bread. I don't know anything about making sourdough bread. But rather than choosing "pass," I responded by noting that though I don't do sourdough, (kathbran) might be able to answer the question. This gave (kathbran), who knows a lot but is soft-spoken, a chance to put in her two cents worth without feeling like she was acting like a know-it- all.

Pay attention to the logins of your conference members. Be sure to greet newcomers with a smile. People love to talk about themselves. Ask them what their interests are. Give them pointers to topics that might be useful to them. Be especially attentive to newcomers' posts. Even an "LOL" after a mild joke will encourage newcomers to stick around.

Also, notice if a regular participant in your conference disappears. Sometimes people leave because they're busy with other things, sometimes they drop out because they've grown bored. Send your absentee a brief piece of email, mentioning that you've missed her voice in your conference, and asking if everything is OK.

For example, I realized that one of my regulars hadn't posted in a couple months. I sent him email telling him of the upcoming oyster feast in April. He thanked me warmly in email for thinking of him and came back to the cooking conference the next day to sign up. If I hadn't let him know about the party plans, he might have missed it.

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Copyright 1996 by Cynthia Dyer-Bennet. Used by permission, all rights reserved.