Agricultural Communications, Purdue University
An electronic newsletter with communication tips and information


February 2000


From the "On Target" Team

Testing. Testing. Are we having technical difficulties?

Ag Comm is migrating to a new email system, Netscape Messenger. When we've switched systems in the past, it's caused line-break problems for some "On Target" readers.

We've tested an article from this issue with one reader, and we thank Nancy Tucker, Benton County, for agreeing to help us out.

Does the good news Nancy gave us hold true for the rest of you?

We're asking those of you who have line-break problems with this issue to let "On Target" team member Marian Sipes know about them.

Don't take this wrong, but we hope we don't hear from you.


Deliver a Powerful Presentation

Last month I shared some things I've learned about building a powerful presentation. Now, how can you do it justice when it's time to deliver it?

If your heart pounds, your stomach churns, and you break out in a sweat before a presentation, think of it as energy, not nervousness. Overcome those feelings by being prepared, doing deep breathing or other exercises, or doing something logical that takes your mind off your emotions.

Rehearsing reduces nervousness by making you more confident. When you rehearse, think about the location and time of day for your presentation. Your audience will react differently in the morning than after lunch or at the end of the day. Also, visuals may work differently at night than during the day. Practice with your visual aids, and use normal hand gestures and movements.

Rehearsing on audio tape or videotape provides good feedback. You'll notice if you speak in a monotone, use too much jargon or too many clichés, or repeat words excessively. Poor grammar or abrupt transitions may become obvious, as well as habits like jingling change in your pockets or playing with your hair.

Use "cheat sheets" to increase confidence. Write your opening, closing, and main points on index cards. Jot reminders where you want to tell an anecdote or use a visual aid. A binder might seem like a good way to organize notes, but it will "bind" you to the podium because it won't be easy to carry around.

The night before the presentation, eat well--but not a heavy or late meal--and get plenty of sleep. Make sure notes and props are organized and ready to go.

On presentation day, rise early, exercise, and eat a light breakfast so you're relaxed. Running late or having a gnawing stomach only adds stress. Dress a step above your audience, and wear bold colors, such as red, navy, black, or green.

Arrive early for the presentation. Check temperature, lighting, sound system, and other equipment. Make sure tables and chairs are well spaced. Arrange cheat sheets and aids, and have handouts and business cards ready to distribute. Locate rest rooms, telephones, and snacks, and be sure the staff knows when it's OK to interrupt you and when it's not. Controlling the environment is another confidence-builder.

Now you're ready. Smile, make eye contact, and keep your rate of speech varied and your tone clear. Give that presentation with power and confidence!


The Method Behind "On Target" Madness

There is some method--honest. We in Ag Comm have thought a bit about how an electronic newsletter should be both different from and similar to ink-on-paper newsletters. And we try to "walk our talk" each issue.

When I became editor of "On Target" a couple of years ago, the articles were way too long. Some ran as long as 900 words, and there was at least one 1,200-word offender. Multiply that by the number of articles in each issue, and you get the world's longest and least read email message.

So I pretty arbitrarily established a 400-word ceiling on articles. "On Target" writers met this move with much moaning and groaning. (I won't mention any names, because I don't want Steve Cain to get mad at me.)

But--eventually--our 400-word-max rule became so well established that, when the quality of the piece and/or the topic warrants it, we flex some on length.

To practice what I was preaching, I set the bar for my "Grammar Trap" feature even higher by lowering the max to 200 words. It used to take forever to do a "Grammar Trap." I'd write it and then spend twice as much time unwriting it and dewriting it to reach 200 words.

The other reason I lowered the count was to keep people reading about a pretty boring topic: grammar. (I don't think it's particularly interesting, either.)

To make this long story short (something I still have trouble doing), here are a few of the specs from the "On Target" Guidelines my Ag Comm colleagues and I have developed.

Tone & Style: Informal and non-preachy. Use short paragraphs, simple sentence constructions, bullet lists, and second person (you, your) and first person (I, we, mine, our) when appropriate to your topic and purpose.

Feedback: Try to include an invitation for response or feedback in your article. This truism from the olden days of paper newsletters still holds true.

Length: 400 words max and as short as possible
* We flex on the max, but not by much, because shorter is sweeter for on-screen text.
* If what you're writing runs long, divide it into a series of shorter articles. Continuity across newsletter issues is a plus.
* TIP: Contractions turn two words into one and make for a more informal tone.

Next month, other "On Target" revelations will make a few more points about newsletters.

NOTE: This article is now 422 words long, but the editor likes me.


Say It Like You Mean It

From time to time, we all might do well to check up on our telephone etiquette to be sure we're on target.

That thought crossed my mind the other day when I overheard a student talking with a client. She is always cheerful and professional, but maybe sometimes a little too mechanically cheerful over the telephone. I only heard the first part of the conversation and only what she said. (Hey, with open space office, you can't help but hear some things.)

The conversation started like this:
"Hello, how are you?"
The other person answered in some appropriate fashion.
"That's great. I am calling . . . "

At that point I tuned out and started thinking about her response. Written here, it seems fine. But her tone and pace suggested that she really didn't care that much about the person at the other end. She just wanted to get down to business.

Cordial greetings are desirable and customary, but that means they can become somewhat routine. Then we run the risk of sending the wrong signals. We have to slow down and mean what we say, or we shouldn't say it.

When our words don't match our other verbal signals, the other person might conclude that we can't be trusted. We build more credibility when we really mean it.

The power of words is great, and it is amplified by how we use them.

Have a great day. If only you could hear how much I mean that.


Grammar Trap: Amount of vs. Number of

The distinction between singular and plural is the deciding factor here.

Use "amount of" when the noun that follows is singular.

Example: The amount of time it now takes me to write "Grammar Trap" is much less than it was in 1997.

Use "number of" when the noun that follows is plural.

Example: The number of words in this "Grammar Trap" is 111.

If there's a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like me to discuss, or if you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let me know.

Visit <the archive> for past "Grammar Traps."


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 or the "On Target" Team.


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