I was sipping coffee, preparing to host another live web-chat with a national legislator early Wednesday morning, when my office phone rang.
The speaker on the other end of the line offered me several tips.
The first was that a host should nod - and do so without utterances - when a guest makes a point.
Second, I was told I should listen attentively and actively make eye contact.
I put my coffee cup down and readied myself to listen to a lengthy list of dos and don'ts. But luckily, the sympathetic caller's advice stopped there.
"You did a good job," she said. "Just bear those two points in mind."
I am thankful to the caller, the editor in charge of China Daily's live Web-chats, for not regarding my first experience hosting an online chat as a disaster.
But as I ran back over the talk in my mind, I realized I was furiously scribbling notes during the discussion with rural development expert Song Hongyuan about the prospects for China's countryside on Tuesday morning.
As a journalism graduate and longtime writer, jotting down interviewees' quotes quickly is a primary skill I have honed.
But this was a live online chatroom, and I was the host. I needed to also engage the audience with gestures, eye contact and body language.
After the phone call, I got online to review the edited video of the dialogue at chinadaily.com.cn and sina.com.cn. Generally speaking, the conversation flowed well, the questions were challenging and the transitions were natural.
But I noticed my facial expression was stoic.
With hundreds of millions of migrant workers jobless and northern China's villages battling prolonged drought, the country's rural issues are truly heavy. But I should not be so serious as to never smile for the entire hour-long discussion.
"Nod, listen and smile at the proper time" - putting down these three tips as my prompt, I walked into the chatroom Wednesday afternoon for my second online discussion. This time I would talk with Zheng Gongcheng, a professor specializing in social security and a Standing Committee of the National People's Congress member.
The topic - China's social security prospects during the economic crisis - was again serious.
But we still found opportunities to grin, and my colleagues even teased me, saying: "Fu Jing, your smile is even sunnier than the professor's!"
This time, I did not bury my head in my notebook. Instead, I engaged the professor and itched to raise follow-up questions to his points.
When the hour-long discussion wrapped up, the professor was happy, and so was I.
So while I was writing the article yesterday afternoon, I took a moment to call the editor for feedback on my hosting skills this time around.
"I noticed you were nervous," the editor, Li Qiao, said.
This was tip No 4.
Upon thinking back over the talk, I found this was true. My legs were trembling during the talk, until, at one point near the middle of the dialogue, they suddenly stopped. I'm still not sure why.
The editor then pointed out that I simply went down the question list with the interviewee. "You are still a newspaper journalist," she said.
Then, it clicked.
I understood that to lead a more engaging online chat, I should start off with a bang, crescendo in the middle and wrap up with a thought-provoking point.
Now, this is a very demanding task. To hone this skill, I will have to learn by doing. Only then can I become a multitasking writer, and, sooner or later, a good online chat host.
Luckily, there are many opinion leaders interested in chatting with me online. And in the future, I will bear my editor's tips in mind and will not be camera-shy again.
(China Daily 03/06/2009 page8)