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

January 2000

Sell Me, Don't Tell Me

Recently, Extension staff in Madison County asked me to review a promotional brochure. Their target audience was several thousand school-aged children, and their goal was to get them to join 4-H.

When the draft version of the brochure arrived, I was pretty impressed. It looked professional, had lots of information about 4-H, and made good use of white space. In my desire to be helpful--or not to appear useless--I studied the brochure intently to see if I could improve upon anything.

It took a few minutes, but suddenly it struck me that one very important element was missing. It didn't sell 4-H. It told about 4-H, but it lacked the sales pitch. (Okay, if you are uneasy about "sales," let's say it lacked a strong invitation to join 4-H.)

For example, the front panel appeared nice and neat, with Purdue Extension, "Knowledge to Go," the Griffin, the 4-H clover, and the words "Join 4-H." But I didn't get the feeling that young people were really invited to join.

To figure out what it might be missing, I reviewed what kids want from 4-H. From what I hear, they want to:

  1. meet friends or join peers;
  2. have fun;
  3. learn; and
  4. go places.

With that in mind, I suggested to my Madison County colleagues that they pitch those ideas on the front panel.

Because they already had the slogan "Knowledge to Go" at the top of the front panel, they could simply run these points in big bold type right after the slogan. Then all they needed was to put "Join 4-H" in bigger and bolder type.

Now the front panel says:

Knowledge to Go
Learn by Doing!
Meet Friends!
Go Places!
Have Fun!

Join 4-H

On the back panel of the brochure they added a couple of quotes from current 4-H'ers who told why they enjoyed 4-H. (It never hurts to add a few testimonials.)

Whether you're "selling" 4-H or inviting people to a meeting, know your audience, know why they might be interested in you or your information, and pitch it directly to them.

Be big and bold. Don't assume they will wander through your brochure looking for the message. Most people won't.

Build a Powerful Presentation

Public speaking is the top fear of people in the United States. But we, especially those of us in Extension, must give presentations frequently. A little planning and preparation can help push fear aside and ensure powerful presentations.

Know Your Purpose

First, know your purpose. What is your audience there to hear? Are you there to inform? Demonstrate? Inspire? Persuade? What do you want your audience to think, say, feel, or do when you finish your presentation?

Create a Close

Once you know your purpose, create a close. You might close with a prediction. A "prediction close" allows you to open by establishing where you are today, and discuss facts and strategies in the body of the presentation.

A "jigsaw puzzle close" is another effective way to end your presentation. You can open with a challenge, break it into parts with solutions for each, then show how the separate solutions work together to overcome the entire challenge.

A "final exam close" is a form of review in which you ask the audience questions to make sure they understand your point or call to action.

If you want an "emotional close," tell a story or quote and leave it hanging.

Two points to remember for your closing: conclude when you say you're going to, and thank your audience.

Design an Opening

Your next step is to design an opening that will capture your audience's attention. Use it to build interest or state the value of your topic. Make sure you start on time, and don't start with an apology if something has gone wrong.

Fill the "Gap"

Use supporting evidence to fill in between your opening and closing. Using three main points is standard, but you may use subsections. Make sure they're relevant and adequately stated.

The structure of your presentation may be chronological, or it may present a problem and solution, an old way and new way, a feature and benefit, an advantage and disadvantage, or anticipated objections and answers to them.

Spice It Up

Now you have a solid presentation, but to maintain interest, you can "add spice" by using a prop, anecdote, visual aid, or audience participation every six to eight minutes. Just make sure whatever you use supports, and doesn't detract from, your presentation. It should enhance understanding of your point, be easy to interpret, of high quality, and appropriate to the audience.

In conclusion, I predict that using these basics will help you make powerful presentations without fear!

Next month, I'll cover how to deliver that powerful presentation.

Make Meetings Matter

Despite all our grumbling about busy schedules, meetings are an important part of doing business. But because of our busy schedules, it's easy to forget an important step in planning a meeting: how you actually organize and run it.

It may help to use a checklist/menu of options that you develop over time.

The following is not a list to end all lists, but it may help you build your own checklist/menu. (And if you think of something to add, please share it with us. We'd like to use your ideas in "On Target.")


___ Select speakers, meeting leaders, or panel.

___ Give instructions or briefing sheet to speakers.

___ Ask speakers about their audiovisual needs.

___ Select host and/or greeters.

___ Select a secretary if you want the meeting recorded.


___ Personal letters including the 5 W's (who, what, when, where, and why)

___ Flyers and/or invitations

___ News releases

___ Invitational e-mail


___ Flip Charts

___ Slide projector

___ Overhead projector

___ Computer/monitor projector

___ Internet access

___ Easels

___ Microphones

___ Resource table

___ Speakers table or podium


___ Beverages/refreshments (cups, napkins, stirrers, etc.)

___ Pencils or pens and paper

___ Name badges

Meeting Room:

___ Make sure the room is accessible.

___ Provide signs to the room.

___ Arrange the room for comfort.

___ Place speakers away from windows--and not under the clock.

___ Make sure visuals can be seen from the arranged seating.

___ Check equipment.

___ Promote Purdue Extension (displays, banners, overhead, etc.).


___ Business cards

___ Copies of pertinent information

___ Flyers about Purdue Extension and/or your office

___ Agenda

Finally, relax. You're ready for a good meeting.

Grammar Trap: Reticent vs. Hesitant

For some reason people are starting to use "reticent" when they mean "hesitant." They're both perfectly good words, and it'd be nice to keep and use them both. "Reticent" means to be inclined to be silent, uncommunicative, or reserved.

It's a word having to do with speaking--or not speaking. I guess that might be how the confusion's crept in. "Reticent" applies to folks who hesitate to speak.

Example: Because I know he feels strongly about the issue, I was surprised that Dave was so reticent at the meeting.

"Hesitant" means to hold back, to delay momentarily, or to pause.

Example: Dave was hesitant about agreeing to attend the meeting.

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, I'd love to hear from you.

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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