Agricultural Communications, Purdue University
An electronic newsletter with communication tips and information
Last month, 82 campus and field staff responded to our "On Target" survey. We wish we could send each of you a token of our appreciation, but our budget (what budget?) prevents that.
Instead, we are sending the first six respondents their choice of a Purdue computer mouse pad, a Purdue desk coffee mug, or a Purdue Ag desk coaster. The "winners" are: John Beach, Greene County; Bruce Bordelon, Horticulture; Don Kelso, Pulaski County; Larry Nelson, Animal Sciences; Jim Woolf, Tipton County; and Jelena Ziatseva, Biochemistry.
We'll be reporting the results of our survey to you in May's "On Target." The survey respondents have given us some great ideas, and you'll see them reflected in future issues. So, while it may sound corny, we've all come out winners.
The "On Target" Team
"One picture is worth a thousand words." "It's not what you say but how you say it." These old sayings address what we all know: not all communication is verbal. In fact, much of what we communicate comes through the nonverbal cues we send.
Take, for instance, when you're walking down a sidewalk and see someone coming towards you. If your eyes meet, one of two things happens. You continue to hold eye contact and acknowledge one another's existence, or you look away. In both cases you're communicating without saying a word. Through the exchange of looks you've communicated "yes, I acknowledge you" or "don't invade my personal space."
Personal space is important in nonverbal communication. We're basically territorial. We refer to "our" office or "our" chair in a particular room. Personal space also moves with us.
In "Interpersonal Communication" (by JoAnn Vanndemark and Pam Leth), Edward T. Hall gives us a continuum of personal distance for Americans. "At one end is intimate distance, which ranges from actual physical touching to about 18 inches; casual-personal distance ranges from 18 inches to 4 feet; social-consultive distance ranges from 4 feet to 12 feet; and public distance ranges from 12 feet to the limits of hearing and visibility." It is within this space that we use nonverbal communication.
Three different forms of nonverbal communication are body movement, facial expression, and eye contact.
Body movement includes running, walking, signaling, and body position. For example, someone racing through a hall is telling you she's in a hurry and doesn't want to stop for a casual chat. How about some colleague sitting in a staff meeting, leaning back in his chair with his legs crossed? This person might be signaling he's bored. And if he's folded his arms across his chest, perhaps he's putting a barrier between himself and the meeting.
Facial expressions are a second form of nonverbal communication. They can indicate if a person is happy, sad, "blah," or really interested.
Eye contact and movement are a third form of nonverbal communication. People's eyes can, for example, tell us how successfully we're communicating. A blank stare can show disinterest; a wink, personal agreement or complicity; and a glare, dislike or anger.
(Notice some correspondence between this article and what Randy Spears advises in his two pieces on "Your Appearance and Image on TV"? As a visual medium, TV employs a lot of nonverbal communication.)
Next month, look for an article from me on how forms of nonverbal communication can affect and reflect power relationships.
This month's focus is on image.
Image has to do with the general impression you convey about yourself and your organization. You can take tactical advantage of even controversial situations to make sure you convey the right image on TV.
Take the time to think about the topic you've been asked to discuss. Make sure you understand your organization's position on that topic.
In most cases, you'll be helping the interviewer prepare for the interview. The interviewer may only have half the story, and it's your job to help him or her see the whole picture.
Try to develop a positive spin for your story. Think about opportunities for including positive points in your responses. But keep one thing in mind: always tell the truth.
Ask as many questions of the producer or interviewer as you can. Someone taping you for the six o'clock news has a different agenda than someone taping you for an educational program.
Some reporters will be looking for the story's sensational angle. Be aware and beware of these individuals, but know they're the exception rather than the rule.
Develop the kind of to-the-point responses or "sound bites" that make for effective TV. Rehearse these responses, paring them down to their most concise form. Spending a few moments with the interviewer beforehand will also help you pare down your responses.
Relax before you go in front of the camera. Take a moment to adjust to harsh TV lights to avoid squinting or looking uptight.
You aren't at the absolute mercy of the person interviewing you. And don't think that you have to answer every question.
Ask for the questions in advance if possible. If you're uncomfortable with a question, defer it until later, or just tell the interviewer that you don't feel comfortable with the question at this point. This tactic won't work in a live television interview, but you can still work your way back to the position you and your organization have on the topic if you've done your homework.
Don't use the phrase, "No comment." It makes you look evasive or guilty. And never ask to go off the record. If you don't want something known, don't say it.
Try to be up-beat and positive, even when facing controversial questions. A friendly response will go a lot further than an angry retort.
In short, don't take appearing on TV lightly. A little bit of preparation can help you and your organization shine when the lights come on and the camera turns in your direction.
I've received several questions from Extension Educators about using Purdue University information in local newspaper stories, in newspaper columns, or on radio. For the most part, use it as you see fit, but consider the following points.
If you're using a news release from Purdue Agricultural Communication or University News Service, credit the specialist or professor quoted in the story as a source. As a Purdue Extension Educator, you are a legitimate source, of course, but it's important to also recognize your campus partners.
A story that quotes a campus specialist gives credit to the specialist for his or her expertise and adds to the credibility of your story, as well. So if a particular quote or piece of information is important to your story or column or radio spot, use an attribution such as "according to Jane Doe, Purdue Extension specialist in Good Stuff."
Some educators have worked out a deal with their local newspapers where they add information and their own quotes to Purdue news releases and either fax or e-mail the story. This is a great arrangement.
Specialists send a lot of information directly to you, either through e-mail or hard copy. Again, credit the source of the information, even when handing it out at meetings. I once met a farmer who had a piece of paper with information that I recognized was from Agronomy's Bob Nielsen, but nowhere did I see his or Purdue's name. We complain loudly enough when commercial sources fail to give us credit. We shouldn't be guilty of the same oversight ourselves.
A few Purdue staff write personal columns that appear in newspapers under their own names: "In the Grow," by Bev Netzhammer; "Purdue Yard and Garden News" and the "Purdue Yard and Garden Calendar," by Rosie Lerner; "On 6 Legs," by Tom Turpin; and "It's Our Business," by R.L. Kohls. These columns are different from normal news releases, so take care when you use information from them.
For one thing, these columns appear in many newspapers. If you use them in whole or in large part, you run the risk of egging your own face or seeming like--well--a plagiarist. So, again, give the columnists credit when you quote them or use their information. And, if you want to use lots of their stuff, try paraphrasing it as well as crediting them.
Credit your campus partners. It's a matter of professional courtesy and of extra credibility, too.
"As," "since," and "because" are used as conjunctions to denote the cause and effect relationship. "Because" is the best choice. Why?
"As" and "since" can be misunderstood. "Because" can't. It precisely and clearly spells out the cause and effect relationship, which is so important in instructional writing.
"As" can indicate cause, but it can also mean "while."
Example: As I think good writing is important, I write "Grammar Trap."
Maybe I mean that I write it for the reason that good writing's important, but maybe I mean I will write it only while I think so.
"Since" is perfectly acceptable in casual speech and informal writing. But it, too, can be ambiguous. It can also mean "from the time that."
Example: Since I think good writing is important, I write "Grammar Trap."
A quick reading may make it seem that my writing of the column dates from the time I started believing in good writing's importance.
When clarity counts, as it does in instructional writing, use "because."
Example: Because I think good writing is important, I write "Grammar Trap."
What could be clearer?
Helpful Hint: Remember the "cause" in "because."
Thanks to Larry Bledsoe, Entomology, for suggesting this topic. If there's a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like me to discuss or you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let me know.
We want to hear from you. Do you have a communication question? Do you have a comment on this issue of "On Target"? If so, please e-mail any of our writers.
It is the policy of the Department of Agricultural Communication Service of Purdue University that all persons shall have equal opportunity and access to its programs and facilities without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age or disability. Purdue University is an Affirmative Action employer. These materials may be available in alternative formats.