Joining Augsburg Fortress Board of Trustees

Just under two years ago, I participated in a panel at the Publicity Club of Chicago with Eric Zorn from the Trib and Elizabeth Berglund from Hill & Knowlton. It was a pretty straightforward presentation for me, but at the end of the discussion, one guy worked his way up from the back of the room. His exact words, as he approached the table: “You need to speak to Lutherans.”

Now, I’ve given a lot of presentations in the past decade, and I’ve received feedback from the very positive to lukewarm to downright negative. But never had I heard that.

The guy was John Brooks, who works for the ELCA. He didn’t know that I was a member at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville – he just knew that the folks he works with would be receptive to me talking about blogs, podcasts, RSS, etc. We kept in touch, and true to his word, John hooked me up with the staff planning their Communicators Conference – a gathering that happens every other year in which the communicators from around the ELCA come to Chicago to discuss ways in which they can better communicate the Church’s mission. They added me as a keynote speaker, and though I wasn’t certain I’d be a good addition to the program, I went. (If you’re so inclined, you can listen to the presentation here. It’s interesting how differently I’d present this today: I’d probably not say a word about MySpace, I’d talk a lot more about Facebook, and I’d ignore Second Life.)

In more than 10 years of speaking in front of audiences, it remains my favorite presentation. The audience was as far outside my comfort zone as I’ve ever spoken to – which is to say, this wasn’t a room full of techies, or lawyers, or marketing types. Probably more significantly, they weren’t there to hear a technology presentation – so I had to work hard to make sure that the presentation was connected to the practical benefits they could expect to achieve if they actually implemented any of what I talked about.

Something clicked: more than a dozen people in the audience started blogs within a couple days of the presentation. The feedback was uniformly positive, among the best I’ve ever received. And it kept coming – this post came nearly six months after I gave the talk. Needless to say, it was a humbling, gratifying experience.

Then a funny thing happened: I heard from someone who wasn’t in the audience that day, but who’d heard from friends that she and I should connect. She was Beth Lewis, CEO at Augsburg Fortress (the publishing house of the ELCA). Beth and I corresponded for months, and eventually met this spring when she was in Illinois for a conference. Beth, who’s a blogger herself, is a sharp woman who’s working hard to build on Augsburg Fortress’s successes and stay true to its mission. Based on our conversations, Beth asked whether I’d consider serving on her Board of Trustees – an invitation I was more than happy to accept. Because of its affiliation with the ELCA, the appointment needed to be voted on by the churchwide assembly, which occurred in Chicago earlier this month. Two weeks ago, I got a note from Beth confirming that I’d been elected.

One year after I gave that presentation in Chicago, I’m now part of a small group of people tasked with helping a storied publishing house think about its transition to a digital marketplace. I’m quite excited about this next step – it’s a six year term, which I hope gives me plenty of time to learn how I can best contribute. To Beth, thanks for your faith in my ability to contribute. And big thanks to John Brooks, without whom this amazing series of events never would have happened.