National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Table of Contents

Chapter 6


Chapter Five
How To Do It

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."

- Robert Heinlein

Writing Awesome and Effective News Releases

There are four basic steps to creating effective news releases - formatting, writing, getting noticed, and tracking your success.
  1. Formatting Tips:
    • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: These words should appear at the top, just under your letterhead. Be sure to capitalize every letter.
    • Contact Information: Skip a few lines and then list your contact person, along with his or her title, phone and fax number, and e-mail address. You might also want to include home or cell phone numbers, since reporters work on deadlines and may be trying to call after normal work hours. Make sure your contact is available and capable of answering questions. Also include your agency's Web site address.
    • Headline: Skip two lines and use boldface type. Don't make it longer than one line. Use caps and lower case.
    • Dateline: This should include your city and the date you are issuing the release.
    • Lead paragraph: The first paragraph needs to grab the reader's attention and should have the five W's and an H - who, what, where, when, why, and how.
    • Text: Use 8-1/2 by 11 paper; with one-inch margins on each side. Keep it to one page, or no more than two. Reporters usually won't read more than one. If your release is longer than two pages, you have more than one news release. If you do need a second page, center the world "- more -" at the bottom of the first page.
    • Center # # # or -30- at the end of the news release.

  2. Writing Tips:
    • Make it newsworthy: Are you solving a problem? Pinpoint what the need is and write from that perspective.
    • Write a headline that gets to the point: Immediately tell why this news is important. Avoid promotional-sounding words. What you say in the headline determines whether or not the reporter will read your release.
    • Write a strong lead paragraph: Answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Use this graph to summarize the news. Make sure the first ten words of your release are effective, as they are the most important. Don't use fancy language or too many adjectives.
    • Once you have provided a brief description of the news, then you can tell who is announcing it, not the other way around.
    • Give news details so that the reporter or correspondent understands why it is important to read on. Add background, quotes, and comparisons to other products, services, or research to illustrate the importance of this news. If you're announcing a new product or service, mention when and where it is available and other points. Deal with the facts. Don't editorialize.
    • Include a short summary of your organization. Especially include any information about what distinguishes your agency's expertise. Include your expertise and location, but keep it short-this isn't an annual report.
    • Make sure your contact information is complete.
  3. Making News: Tips for Getting Noticed:
    • Make sure your information is newsworthy and targeted to the appropriate audience.
    • Find out the best way to contact reporters and correspondents who may be interested-mail, e-mail, fax, Web site?
    • Don't include attachment if you send an e-mail release. Put the release within the body of the message.
    • Don't issue a news release until you have something of substance to say.
    • Make it easy for the media to do their jobs-include tip sheets, background papers, or Q&As.
    • Know the publication or station deadlines.
  4. How to Track Your News Release:

It's important to track your media coverage to make sure your news releases are being used. News clipping services can help you track how effective your news releases are by monitoring newspapers, magazines, and broadcast outlets across the country. See the suggestions in Chapter 6.

Tip Sheets/Fact Sheets/Questions and Answers

Tip sheets, fact sheets, and questions and answer sheets can be one- or two-page supplements to your news releases.
  • A tip sheet is generally a how to instruction list;
  • A fact sheet may contain historic or general information about your organization or about a particular project;
  • A Q&A sheet is a fact sheet in a question-and-answer format. It is often used successfully to correct misconceptions about your organization or project.
Here's the type of information you might use in a fact sheet about your agency:
  • Your director's name.
  • Your agency's mission.
  • The history of your agency or project.
  • Partners, customers.
  • Information about your project, including its budget and staff size.
  • Who you are; what you do; how long you've been around; notable accomplishments.

You can also use a Q&A to define common terms a reporter might come across when doing a story about your agency. These supplements should be no more than one page with an open layout that is easy to follow (bold section headers, bullets, and indents). Stay focused on one topic in each fact sheet. Fact sheets should complement the news release. Make sure fact sheets include your Web site address as well as contact names and phone numbers.

Background Papers

Background papers can be useful tools to get additional information to reporters and correspondents. Background papers delve more deeply into a subject area than news releases. You will increase your chance of media coverage if your pitch and materials are interesting and easy to understand. If you make your message consistent and accurate, you'll stand a better chance of being the media's primary source. Don't let your background paper read like an academic paper or technical document, laden with acronyms and bureaucratic language. It should read more like a story-easy to read and understand. Make the reporter's job easy and you'll get better media coverage.

Earned Media-Coverage on a Shoestring

Can't afford to buy advertising? Then earn media coverage.

The best way to implement your communication strategy is to keep repeating your message to a target audience. When you buy advertising-online, radio, TV, print, outdoor, or any other media the ad industry creates-you know what you are getting. You control the message, you control the medium, and you know approximately who your audience will be. But it costs a lot of money to buy advertising. Most government agencies are prohibited from doing so with appropriated monies.

The good news is that you don't have to buy space and air time for news and feature articles-all it takes is a little savvy and a lot of determination to get those articles placed. You can earn media coverage by developing contacts with reporters, writers, and news directors, as well as by pitching news story ideas, holding news conferences, and using other creative techniques to get their attention. All this effort makes it earned media rather than paid-for publicity.

Make Your News Newsworthy. The biggest challenge with earned media is that your message must appeal to the media's audience. Often, what we think is newsworthy and exciting just makes reporters yawn. To get their attention, you'll need to frame the issue in an appealing way. Try to find a current news issue, event, or other news hook to hang your story on. Don't forget to provide a media link from the home page of your agency's Web site. If your Web page is updated daily, reporters will come every morning to check for news leads.

Get Your News to the Right Person. Make sure your information is getting to the right person at the newspaper, magazine, or broadcast station. Don't just fax news releases out and assume they'll get to the right person. Check media reference books to target your information. Call the media to see which reporter covers your agency or would be interested in your issue. When you send a news release, direct it to the right person. Follow up with a call to see if the reporter needs more information. Better yet, offer an additional bit of information of special interest to that publication's readers, listeners, or viewers.

  • Other Ways to Earn Media Attention:
    • Submit an opinion editorial (Op-ed) with your position to the newspaper.
    • Write a letter to the editor.
    • Create a PSA (public service announcement).
      • TV stations often run video PSAs free.
      • Radio stations run audio PSAs.
      • Magazines often give free ad space for print PSAs, especially if your PSA is visually interesting, professionally done, fits the magazine's format, and if your message is relevant to their audience.
      • PSAs that have a local slant are more apt to be aired than national themes.
      • Check out, a web site devoted to PSAs.

    • Use banner ads to promote your Web site. Place these ads on sites that cater to your primary audience. Many big-name sites provide free banner ad space for non-profits.

Tips for Producing PSAs that Get Used:

  • Learn the latest PSA trends
  • Understand what the media needs
  • Provide the material in a flexible format
  • Get professional, experienced help for production, distribution, and evaluation
  • Develop creative, intrusive packaging

Freebies: Don't Forget Your Community

Your community may have many media resources available to you that are free:

  • Many cable companies provide free production facilities and air time on their public access channel. For very little expense, you could develop programs on many topics.
  • Local radio and TV talk shows are always looking for guests with interesting stories.
  • Public transit systems often offer free PSA space on their buses or subways.
  • TV stations may be willing to work with you to create and air an ongoing campaign, which gives your message better exposure than if you had done your own PSAs.
  • Businesses might co-sponsor your campaign.
  • Supermarkets might put your message on their grocery bags or milk cartons.
  • Fast-food restaurants could put your message on their place mats, especially if the material is educational.
  • Be creative and don't be afraid to ask for what you want. The worst they can say is, "no." More than likely, though, they'll say "yes."

Satellite Media Tours

Half of all Americans get all their news on TV. Since these folks don't read newspapers or magazines, you can't reach them through words-you need pictures, video footage, and broadcast interviews to reach them. A satellite media tour can help you deliver your message in a timely, credible, and cost-effective way.

Rather than having your spokesperson spend days or weeks on the road meeting your target media face-to-face, you can schedule all the interviews on one or two days from one local TV studio, for a fraction of the cost of air fare. By making sure you have a timely, interesting subject to discuss, some in-studio visuals and/or B-roll footage, a satellite media tour can reach a vast audience. And, unlike video news releases, station bookings let you know your results in advance. Local TV stations like satellite media tours because their own anchor or correspondent gets to interact personally with your spokesperson. The stations can broadcast the interview live or tape it for later use. A typical satellite media tour can cover 12 to 20 stations in two to three hours.

Here's how it works:

  • Several days before your scheduled satellite media tour, you tell TV and cable stations about your topic and spokesperson.
  • Stations can then reserve time to do a brief 3- to 10-minute interview with your spokesperson via satellite during a window of time.
  • During the satellite media tour, your spokesperson remains in one TV studio while TV stations across the country are beamed in electronically to do their own interview.
  • You can transmit a video news release or b-roll footage during your media tour.
  • You can beam in spokespersons from several locations around the country.
  • You can include a live demonstration of your product or service.

Be creative in setting up your media tours to make the best use of your time and financial resources. Also consider setting up radio press tours.

Producing an Agency Newsletter

Spend some time figuring out why you're publishing a newsletter. Talk with everyone involved-your boss, colleagues, and, most importantly, your potential readers. Ask these questions:

Purpose: What do you want the newsletter to do? Have you read the competition? Will your information be new or different? What will be your writing style? Is there enough material to do it weekly? Biweekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Is this newsletter being printed to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy about the organization? Who chooses the articles? Who edits? How much? Is the newsletter for information? For entertainment? For publicity? Is it official or unofficial?

Time: How much time will you have to produce each issue? Will it be on company time? Who will prepare format the newsletter? Will you have a designer? Do you have desktop publishing equipment and software? Are you trained to do all the jobs? How many pages are you trying to fill? How will you proof your own work?

Budget: Do you have start-up money? Do you have a guaranteed budget for a specific time? Enough cash for equipment? Do you have or need a scanner for photos? Pencils, paper, furniture, phones? How are you going to promote the newsletter? How much will it cost?

Design: Do you have a design? A designer? Will the newsletter be full width, one column, two column, three? Will there be copy only, photos, line drawings? Where will graphics come from? Who does the layout? Black and white? Color?

Printing: Does your printer do newsletters? Can someone else give you a better deal? Will the printer mail or deliver your copies?

Internet: Who will put your newsletter in HTML? How quickly will it be posted? How frequently updated?

These are just a few questions to ask. Add your own. Make sure you have a good idea of what you are doing, before you start a newsletter.

Editing Your Newsletter

Most newsletter editors accept articles written and contributed by subject-matter experts, who unfortunately aren't usually communications experts. This poses challenges. Although it is often difficult to coax busy people into contributing articles, it is even harder to ask those people for rewrites when their work needs polishing. It does a tremendous disservice to the reader and to the publication, however, to merely plug an article into a publication without edits and revisions. Writers depend on good editors to make their work better and easier to read. Here's how you can ease the burden:
  • Is the piece suitable for use? Is it well written, factual, informative, and interesting? Does it conform to the purpose of the publication, and does it target the intended audience? Has the author remembered to include necessary details that support the conclusion? If the content is on target, the writing style can be refined for publication. If the content isn't on target, rewrite or replace it.
  • Don't be timid about asking the writer for either a revision or an interview to expand information needed for the article. The author has information you don't, and a quick e-mail or short phone call may complete the article. Explain any confusing or unclear statements so the author can fix them.
  • If you have interns who write for you, be sure to give them plenty of guidance and review their drafts carefully.
  • If you are soliciting an article, give the writer specific guidelines up front. If your authors know and understand the parameters before they begin writing, you should need to do very little editing. Be explicit about the purpose and the audience. Even better, give the writer written guidelines.

Guidelines for Your Contributing Writers

  • Give your writers background information about your publication and a recent copy. Let the author know who your target audience is and why they read the publication.
  • Tell them how long the piece should be (word count). That way, you won't have to cut. It will also help the writer stay focused on the topic.
  • Give the writer a deadline. Make sure you give yourself enough time before the production deadline to edit and ask for a rewrite, if you need it.
  • Set parameters. Give the author a subject and a focus, or an angle for his or her article. Be specific in communicating your goal. Tell the author to keep the audience in mind.
  • Include a list of things to avoid in your newsletter, such as political statements, jargon, acronyms, slang, long sentences, clichés, and redundancies.
  • Give the author a copy of your agency's style manual.
  • Let the author know that you reserve the right to edit all material for length, clarity, and style.
  • Ask for written permission to use copyrighted materials.
  • Tell the author to keep a copy of the work.


If you accept submissions from outside writers or use materials created by non-staff, include a disclaimer. Here are some sample disclaimers:

The opinions expressed in [your publication] are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of [your agency]. Previously published material appearing in this publication may not be reproduced in any form except with the express written permission of the copyright holder.

[Your publication] is published by the [your organization]. Views expressed in [your publication] are those of the individual writers and do not necessarily represent the official views of [your organization].

The [your publication] welcomes submissions. [types of submissions that will be accepted] will be considered. Submissions cannot be returned. We reserve the right to edit for style, clarity, and length. Black-and-white and color photos are also accepted. We regret, however, that we cannot return them. Please identify all photos clearly. [Your organization] reserves the right to use any writing, photos, and artwork in other publications. Inquiries and letters should be sent to: ...
"I can't write five words but that I change seven."

- Dorothy Parker

Elements of Good Writing

Your agency can maintain consistency in writing style and usage by using either an in-house style guide or a standard commercial guide, such as the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style. But you should also simplify your language, streamline your text by eliminating unnecessary phrases that do not add to your message, and never go to print with a first draft. When you're revising your own text or editing someone else's work, keep these basic elements of good writing in mind:
  • Logic:
    • Is the purpose clear and relevant?
    • Are all the necessary details there to support the conclusion?
    • Is the tone right for the audience?
    • Is the presentation balanced?
    • Is all the important material presented?
    • Is the material accurate and current?
    • Are the transitions between thoughts in place?
    • Can the reader follow the logic?
    • Are the conclusions supported by facts or are they forced?
  • Word Choice and Language/Style:
    • Is it easy to read?
    • Do the paragraphs have parallel construction (i.e., are the sentences balanced)?
    • Is the language active, positive, and personal?
    • Is it written in plain language (avoiding acronyms, technical terms, clichés, redundancies, colloquialisms, slang, and long sentences?)
    • Are the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and format consistent with your agency's standards?

  • Message:
    • Is the message consistent with your agency's policies?
    • Does the author refrain from bias and discrimination?

  • Legal Issues:
    • Have you verified the references?
    • Are the text citations/attributions/copyright notices in place?
"Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds-the writer is always slightly behind."

- William Zinsser

Tailoring Your Message

One of the most common errors we make is to try to speak to everybody when we want to reach a target audience. As a result, we reach almost nobody. We can do better if we tailor our messages, rather than shotgunning to everyone. When we know our specific audience, we know why and how we are trying to reach them-and we can evaluate whether we were successful.

Unless you're giving them information about a hot issue or a crisis, most of your audience will be indifferent or only mildly interested in what you're trying to tell them. Some research shows that we are subjected to more than 1,500 competing messages every day. You can cut through to make your message a prominent one if you focus on what you want to see happen with your audience.

For each audience, you should have a set of objectives. Use terms that are clear and precise. You'll need to answer these questions:

    Who is the primary audience for this message?

    Why (for what cause, reason, or prospect) is the message being delivered? What is the general aim of this information? What is the need to be met?

    What obstacles must be overcome?

    What will the content be?

    How will the message be presented?

    What result will satisfy you? What outcome do you want?

    How will you measure what you've done?

    The objective-is it possible?

    The audience-can they change? What do you want them to do?

    The media-are they right for the audience? For the message?

    The message-does it fit your audience?

    Your techniques-are you constructing the message for some hoped-for result or impact?

Your message will reach your targeted audience in direct proportion to your writing skill. Keep a member of your audience in mind while you're writing your message. You need to know all you can about this person's interests, values, and lifestyle characteristics. By using demographics and psycho-graphics to profile and understand your audiences, you can discover what motivates them to respond to what you are offering.

Keep your expectations reasonable. Changing behavior and attitudes can be slow and time-consuming. The same message may have to be repeated often and regularly. Each time you repeat the message, you are creating awareness.

Sometimes, your message will be to teach or inform. Another time, it might be to ask questions you want your audience to consider. Still another time, it might be about their behavior-is it normal? Does it need to be changed? Do you want them to adopt a new idea, product, or service? It may be useful to keep in mind how your audience adopts new ideas. Here are the stages involved and questions you should consider:

  • Awareness: Create or develop awareness? Heighten or raise awareness? Inform about a new method, an idea? Warn? Alert community to a problem? Publicize a program?
  • Interest/Learning: Stimulate or arouse interest? Teach specific information or skills? Provide information? For the sake of knowledge? Leading to a behavior change? Leading to a one-time-only action? Leading to a long-term change in behavior? Identify sources of help, resources available? Create an understanding?
  • Evaluation/Desire: Pose questions?
  • Trial: Convince? Try something?
  • Adoption/Action: Adopt an innovation, an idea, a new technique? Cause a change in behavior? Temporarily? Long-term? Cause an attitude or value change? Temporarily? Long-term? Take action? Seek help? Respond?

Why do audiences respond to messages?

  • Information-they want to find out about relevant events and conditions in their immediate surroundings, in their society and the world; they are seeking advice on practical matters or opinions and decisions or choices; they are satisfying curiosity and general interest; they are learning, self-educating; gaining a sense of security through knowledge.
  • Personal identity-they are finding reinforcement for personal values; finding models of behavior; identifying with valued others (in the media); gaining insight into oneself.
  • Integration and social interaction-they are gaining insight into the circumstances of others; experiencing social empathy; identifying with others and gaining a sense of belonging; identifying a basis for conversation; having a substitute for real-life companionship; helping to carry out social roles; becoming enabled to connect with family, friends, and society.
  • Entertainment-they are escaping or being diverted from problems; relaxing; getting intrinsic cultural or aesthetic enjoyment; filling time; undergoing an emotional release.
  • Need-they need a product or a service.


Marketing is much more than selling or advertising. It encompasses everything from what products or services you sell to how you get them to your customers. The traditional four Ps of marketing are product, place, price, and promotion.

Product, of course, refers to your services, including packaging, design, branding, trademarks, warranties, guarantees, product life cycles, and new-product development.

Place covers the physical distribution of goods.

Price is a factor in your customers' decision about whether to buy or use your product. Customers can't see your expertise, your insight, or your past experience. When they make a decision to buy a service, they will decide how much they like you or trust you, in addition to the price.

Promotion refers to all the marketing methods you use. Marketing must get your customer's attention. If people don't know that you or your programs exist, they can't do business with you.

When you do a marketing plan, this is what to consider:

  • What benefits does your agency provide or offer?
  • What happens to people if they don't use your services?
  • What new segments or target audiences does it make sense for you to try to reach?
  • What are you doing to enhance your relationship with your customers?
  • Have you committed time and attention to regularly consider these questions?

Marketing Musts:

  • Get involved. Help develop your agency's marketing plan.
  • Pay attention to your customers. Answer e-mail and return phone calls promptly.
  • Integrate. Your Internet presence should be an integral part of your marketing efforts. Put your e-mail address and URL on your business cards and stationery. Use it on all your promotions.
  • Don't get complacent. Make sure your approach is always fresh and bright.
  • Market your Web site. Enter your site in all of the appropriate indices and search engines and make sure it stays there. Negotiate for reciprocal links. Consider banner advertising.
  • Don't give up. Keep plugging away.
  • Have goals. Delete the non-essentials and stick to your concrete marketing goals.
  • Keep your standards up. Don't settle for anything less than high standards.

Product Marketing-Selling Your Stuff

Sometimes we produce educational materials that are aimed at many constituent groups-policy makers, businesses and industries, teachers, students, or the general public. Some government agencies can sell their products; others can't. If you can sell your materials, here's how to build a marketing system that includes working with wholesalers and retailers.

Wholesalers and retailers serve in the middle-they can expand your ability to get your valuable information into the hands of your customers. The income that these companies generate for themselves is their compensation and incentive to help you carry out your educational mission.

Here are some tips on how to build and implement a wholesale and retail sales system:

  • Getting Started:
    • Make sure your products don't duplicate or compete directly with ones already in the private sector. Selling government-produced items is not about cutting into private sales; it's about disseminating useful information that isn't already being produced.
    • Identify constituent needs within the context of your agency's objectives and goals. Depending on your agency, there are many ways to identify these needs.
    • Based on the needs you have identified, create marketable products. Looks count. Your products will compete for the attention of wholesalers, retailers, and customers. Make sure your products are not only useful but also attractive. If your product is printed, this requires good writing, editing, and graphic design.
    • Create an attractive print catalog and one-page flyers and a Web site that features items you especially want to highlight.
    • Give consumers as many options as possible to buy your product. Get a toll-free phone number for orders. Accept orders by fax, e-mail, regular mail, and over your Web site.

  • Using Wholesalers and Retailers:
    • Set a wholesale discount of no less than 40 percent off suggested retail price.
    • Anticipate packaging and shipping costs, and figure out how to recover those costs.
    • Identify potential wholesalers and retailers. Look in the phone book listings. Get mailing lists from chambers of commerce and state offices of commerce or economic development. Copy addresses or get business cards or brochures when you chance on businesses that might sell your items.
    • Check with the Government Printing Office to find out if your product is eligible to be sold through GPO's retail stores, which are located in major cities.
    • See if your product is eligible to be listed in the federal government's master catalog of consumer information publications.
    • Build an electronic database of wholesalers, retailers, and retail customers. Use a database program that will allow you to categorize and code your customers, track inventory, process orders, and generate invoices.
    • Call, visit, or write each potential seller and describe your product.
    • Follow up by mailing complimentary samples of your items. Include your price, discount schedule, and shipping instructions.
    • If it's too costly to part with many free samples, send a promotional flyer instead, along with any compelling supporting materials such as newspaper reviews of your product, kudos by credible people, and award citations.

  • Selling Via Direct Mail:
    • Do special promotional mailings at strategically determined times of the year. If your product is useful to summer tourists in Northern states, for example, send your promotional materials in February or March, when tourism retailers are stocking up for the summer season. If your items are useful to school teachers, find out when they generally write up their budgets for the coming year, and time your promotional mailing to precede that activity.
    • Let the news media help you. If you are involved with public safety, tell news media about your safety-related products just before whatever season or event normally causes increased problems in that area.
    • Make sure you have a system in place, including competent staff, to quickly fill orders and process payments. Don't overlook storage space for your products and mailing supplies, along with a budget for these expenses. Factor in shipping materials when you calculate prices for your products.
    • Provide as many options as you can to make it convenient for your customers. Accept credit card orders and consider a toll-free telephone number. Accept orders by mail, fax, e-mail and on your Web site. If your office is open to the public, be prepared for walk-in buyers.
    • Track supply levels so you won't run out of inventory. This is important to good customer service.

  • Selling on the Web:
    • Create a catalogue on your Web site that is an attractive, compelling, logically organized, easy-to-understand, and easy-to-use. Copy approaches used by other successful online retailers. Include teaser color graphics of book covers. If you can, include clips of videos. And make sure your information loads fast on all computers.
    • Have your Web master include keywords (or metatags) when coding for each item in the catalog. Search engines use metatags to find key information.
    • Incorporate a keyword search function in your catalog.
    • Make sure your ordering instructions are complete and easy to understand.
    • Have a secure, online order form and a system that accepts credit card orders. Include a printable order form for customers who prefer to mail or fax their order.
    • Find other agencies or businesses related to your agency's mission that have Web sites that contain links to other Web sites. Ask them to link to your home page or catalog.
    • Always include your Web address on all of your print materials.

Effective Meetings

Most meetings are called to solve problems that might not exist if we didn't have meetings. There are some key questions you should ask before you call a meeting. Is this meeting essential? Can we do without it? Can it wait another month? Can we get things done with fewer meetings? Can we accomplish the task another way?

Accessibility: If you do decide to have a meeting, you need to consider the need to make your meeting accessible to people with disabilities. To make your meeting accessible for people who are visually impaired or disabled, you may need to provide alternative formats, such as braille, cassette tape, computer disk, and/or large print. Whenever possible, try to work with the vision-impaired attendee ahead of time to find out what format he or she prefers. To make your meeting accessible for people with hearing impairments, find out ahead of time if you need a sign language interpreter. Also, make sure your meeting location is accessible to people using wheelchairs.

  • Tips for Holding More Effective Meetings:
    • Start and end meetings on time.
    • Have an open agenda on a chalkboard or flip chart. Participants can add items to the agenda, but they must be prepared to lead the discussion if they put an item on the agenda.
    • If an item isn't on the open agenda, it can't be discussed. If it needs to be discussed, it must be on the agenda.
    • Give each item on the agenda a time limit. Three minutes is a good amount of time. If action or discussion cannot be completed within the allotted time, it must be delayed until the end of the meeting.
    • After all agenda items have been discussed, address the delayed items and estimate how long it will take the discuss them. Decide if the item can be discussed today or needs someone to perform an assignment or activity first. Maybe the item needs more research, details, data, or opinions.
    • Any delayed item should be the first item on the next open agenda.
    • Summarize and record action items before adjourning the meeting.
"Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening."

- Dorothy Sarnoff

Effective Speeches

You don't have to be a polished speaker to share your agency's message, but you must be able to communicate effectively. It takes time and effort to craft an effective speech. Here's how to make your speeches more successful:

Know Your Audience. Find out who and how many will be present, their ages, interests, and occupations. Will they be friendly? If not, why not? What is the format of the meeting and the context of your speech? Will there be speakers before and after you? What will they discuss? Who will introduce you? Will there be a question and answer period? How long will you be expected to speak? What are the physical arrangements? What does the room look like? Where will you stand? Will you have a podium? Do you want one? Will you have a microphone? Will the speech be recorded? Will media be there? Can you have visual aids?

Know Your Subject. Public speaking is stressful under the best of conditions. But there is nothing worse than speaking to an audience without having a firm grasp of the material you're presenting. There is no substitute for knowledge of the subject. Don't speak unless you have that knowledge. If, in an emergency, you must speak on a subject you don't have a firm grasp of, immediately tell the audience you are not an expert.

Have a Clear Goal. What is your goal? Organize your presentation around it. Is your goal to inform or to persuade the audience? Appeals to reason and emotion can be effective, but a persuasive speech supported by sound evidence is more effective than a speech without it. You should restate your basic message more than once. Repetition helps audiences remember.

Prepare Thoroughly. If you don't have time to prepare thoroughly, don't accept the assignment. Public speaking is just like any other task-to do it successfully requires your time, effort, and preparation.

You can grab the audience's attention immediately with a startling fact or provocative opinion. You can use a concrete illustration, a quote, or a humorous incident. Or you can ask a rhetorical question that makes people think.

Convey no more than three or four main points. Your listeners won't remember more than this. Illustrate the points with examples. Guide the listeners clearly and easily from point to point. Use your conclusion to stress the purpose of your talk. But leave no doubt about your central idea and what you've tried to say.

Take some time to prepare your own one-page introduction. Provide a copy to the person who will introduce you. Bring an extra copy with you just in case. Also, bring an extra copy or two of your speech in case anyone wants a copy.

"Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much."

- John Wayne

Add Style to Your Next Speech

Some speeches linger in the hearts and minds of audiences. Others are forgotten as soon as the words have left the speaker's mouth. What makes a speech memorable? Style! Here's how you can add some style to your next speech:
  • Anecdotes. Even the most sophisticated audiences like to hear anecdotes. Give them what they want; they'll remember the speaker who tells a good story.
  • Colloquial Language. Consider the appeal of regional sayings, colorful proverbs, and casual slang.
  • Definitions. Ever notice how frequently speakers say, "According to Webster ..." and then proceed to bore the audience with a long, technical definition they lifted straight from the dictionary? If you want to define something, look in a book of quotes or come up with something interesting. For example, here's how Edmund Burke defined government: "compromise and barter."
  • Parallel Structure. Use parallel structure to provide a sense of balance and create the appeal of harmony. Examples: President Johnson said, "Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed." President Kennedy said, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
  • Repetition. Repetition is crucial. Audiences get restless. Their minds wander. Distractions pop into their heads-deadlines, budgets, kids, you name it. Whole sections of a speech can pass right by their ears. So, if you have a particularly good phrase, slogan or line, repeat it. Again and again.
  • Rhetorical Questions. One way to involve your audience is to ask rhetorical questions. They encourage the audience to think about your topic. When you pose a rhetorical question, be sure to pause afterward-that gives the listeners some quiet time to answer the question in their own minds.
  • Short Sentences. Short sentences pack a big punch. They're easy for speakers to deliver and easy for audiences to grasp. Timed properly, a four-word sentence following a long one can deliver a memorable punch.
  • Sounds of Words. Use rhyme, alliteration, and word games-they all add style to your presentation.
  • Statistics. If you think statistics are boring, you haven't heard the right ones. Follow these guidelines: Round off the numbers, because your audience is listening, not reading. And put numbers in everyday terms and personalize them.
  • Titles. Choosing a good title will help you focus your speech. More importantly, it will help the audience grasp your main message and remember your main point. Be clever-use popular songs, movies, or best sellers as springboards. Be irreverent, if you want. Be daring. Just don't be boring.
  • Triads. Putting items in groups of three creates a compelling rhythm.
  • Visual Imagery. Who can forget the iron curtain of Winston Churchill? Or the big stick of Teddy Roosevelt?

How to Deliver Effective Speeches

Most of us fear speaking in public more than anything else. We often get a weak, queasy feeling, often accompanied by shaking, sweating, or a pounding heart. Excessive nervous energy causes these feelings. But your nervous energy can help give vitality to spark your presentation. Without it, your speech would be flat, dull, and lifeless. The key is to take your nervous energy and control and channel it.

Be Prepared: Being prepared will help remove your fear. The more prepared you are, the more confident and less nervous you will feel. Try to breathe deeply and exhale fully between breaths. Try to consciously slow down your breathing rate. When you are introduced, walk briskly to the podium. Take a step toward the listeners on one side of the room as you talk to them.

Your Appearance: How you appear will either enhance or negate your message. Project earnestness, sincerity, and enthusiasm. Try to be well rested before a speech. Rehearse the night before, but get a good night's sleep. You'll come across better and will be less prone to make mistakes.

Your clothing should not be so casual or so bold that people focus on it instead of your message. Wear an outfit that makes you feel confident and comfortable. If possible, check yourself in a full-length mirror before you start.

Stand straight but not rigid. Balance your weight on both feet, and hold your stomach in-it'll improve your posture. Avoid nervous body movements, even if you feel uncomfortable. Vary your stance occasionally, but don't fidget. Unnecessary or annoying activity detracts from your message. Keep your hands away from your face and out of your pockets.

Look Them in the Eye: Eye contact with your audience is a powerful tool to connect with them. Try to include everyone in the audience equally when you look out over the crowd. Good eye contact increases your credibility as a speaker.

"Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Then tell 'em. Then tell 'em what you told 'em. And then sit down."

- John Holliman, Jr.

Smile, Smile, Smile: Remember to smile-convey a sense of comfort, relaxation, and confidence. Even if you don't feel that way initially, it'll get easier with experience.

Gestures should appear to be a natural extension of your voice, neither contrived nor artificial. Avoid a white knuckle grip on the podium-relax your hands and it's easier to relax the rest of you.

Move smoothly, not abruptly-the way you would do in a conversation with a friend. And vary your stance occasionally. If you're not using a stationary microphone, you have more freedom to walk about and create some visual variety for your audience.

It's fine to have notes to speak from-but don't let your notes be a distraction. It's usually apparent from your tone of voice and your appearance when you are reading from a script. But no one objects to a few index cards in your hand with the main points you want to remember to make.

Visuals: Visual props-a book, poster, exhibit, video, photos, or overhead transparencies/slides- can enhance your speech. They can help reinforce your points, but choose them carefully. They should be visible to everyone in the audience, and you should be able to handle them smoothly with no fumbling. Remember to keep your mouth near the microphone when you're talking about your props. Pre-test any equipment to be sure that it works-and that you know how to run it. Check your visuals for accuracy and readability from a distance equal to the last chair in the room. Faulty visuals-or good visuals poorly displayed-are worse than none at all.

Overheads: With overheads/slides, the rule is less is more. The best and most effective overheads are short and to the point. You'll lose your audience if they're busy trying to figure out poor overheads. The type should be of a size and font that is easy to read. Check the readability of your overheads from the back of the room to make sure everyone can see them easily. If the audience is older, they'll be less able to read the print. Also, be sure to leave the overheads up long enough for the audience to read them. Make sure your position is not blocking anyone's view.

  • More Tips for Overheads/Slides:
    • Think about your audience. Slides/overheads should highlight important points, not duplicate your entire presentation. Slides or overheads are meant to support your talk, not overpower it. Never read to the audience from the slides. It's okay to pause and let them read it themselves.
    • Think about composition. Aim for a visual balance between all the text and graphic components. Don't crowd your information too close to the edges. Leave space between lines of type to ensure legibility.
    • Be consistent. Make the colors and styles of elements the same on all overheads or slides. Put all titles and subtitles in the same location, same color, and same type face.

Your Voice: A good speaking voice is essential for delivering an effective speech. Your voice should be pleasant, conveying a sense of warmth. It should be natural, reflecting your true personality and sincerity. It should be dynamic, giving the impression of force and strength, even when it isn't especially loud. Here are some ways, other than increasing volume, to give the impression of force or strength:

  • Pitching your voice higher or lower.
  • Using emphatic gestures.
  • Reducing or increasing your rate of speech.
  • Pausing for effect.

Your voice should be expressive-portraying subtle shades of meaning and never sounding monotonous or without proper emotion. It should be easily heard-with proper volume and clear articulation. Be sure you can be heard clearly. Pause to let brief interruptions (such as an airplane going over or a waiter dropping a tray) subside. Also pause when your audience is moved to laugh or applaud-you don't want them to miss anything. When you are making a natural transition in your speech, pause to let your words have a chance to soak in.

Vocal Variety: Vary your voice for a successful speech. Be sure to vary:

  • Your rate (speed up or slow down to make a point).
  • Your pitch (work within a comfortable range, but not all on the same level).
  • Your tone (match your tone to your message-humorous, serious, inspiring, or comforting).
  • Your volume (but don't under-or over-power the microphone).
  • Project your voice to the farthest person in your audience. Watch the audience to determine if they are receptive or if they are straining to hear.

Don't over-memorize or over-rehearse your speech so much that you sound like you're doing it on automatic pilot. You want to sound confident, but also fresh. Attempt to sound conversational, certainly not pedantic or strident.

Effective Pauses: Even though many speakers are afraid of them, effectively used pauses attract listener attention. Pause when you want a point to in the minds of the audience before you go to the next point. Brief pauses are also effective when you're building to a climax with your message. Pause as a sign of transition-this tells your audience that you intend to shift to a new point.

Articulate: Pay attention to your articulation. Don't mumble or slur your words together. Avoid lazy utterances, like gonna for going to, or wanna for want to. Some people rehearse with a tape recorder - and then listen to themselves to find ways to improve their articulation.

Avoid Fillers: Avoid audible fillers (especially uh)-short, silent pauses are much better. Using uh between thoughts is, unfortunately, a common problem, even among experienced speakers. Listen for it on your speech tapes, or ask a friend or family member to listen to you rehearse and tell you if you're using audible fillers that are distracting. Practice silent pauses so your uhs will be silent. Train your mind to set off a little warning bell whenever you say uh and then work to eliminate this annoying habit from your speech.

Keep Your Head Up: It is harder for your audience to hear you when you're looking down at your notes or facing your visuals or props instead of the audience. Keep your head up and face your audience as much as possible.

Applause: Finally, wait for and acknowledge applause (if it's appropriate to the occasion) with a smile or nod. But don't leave the podium unattended-if you're introducing another speaker, or if there's a master of ceremonies or host, wait for that person to come back to the podium before you step aside.

20 Tips for Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

  1. Nearly everyone is nervous about public speaking-you're not alone in your fear. Effort and practice will help you overcome your fear.
  2. Public speaking is a skill to develop-not an inherent talent.
  3. Your audience wants you to succeed; they are almost always on your side.
  4. Be glad that you care enough about succeeding that you're nervous. It can be a good sign.
  5. Think of public speaking as an opportunity-not a chore.
  6. It isn't a speech. It's an opportunity to share information you have with those who have an interest in hearing it.
  7. Believe in yourself, but not so much that you try to wing it without adequate preparation.
  8. Envision success-act the part. Think about what success would look like and then go for it.
  9. Assume you will do all right, and you probably will. Assume you will fail, and you probably will.
  10. Know your subject well, and thoroughly prepare yourself to talk about it.
  11. Control nervous responses:
    • Quaking hands-use them constructively with natural gestures and props.
    • Quaking voice-take a deep breath or a sip of water.
  12. Channel your nervousness into enthusiasm; if your nervousness is apparent, joke about it to ease the tension.
  13. Rehearse and time your speech (with a friend, tape recorder, and/or mirror).
  14. Dress at least as well as you think your audience will-or maybe a step better. Looking more casual than your audience will work against your self-confidence and detract from your credibility.
  15. Have a written outline handy in case your mind goes blank.
  16. Fake eye contact if you must (look at hairlines or mouths instead).
  17. Have a glass of water handy. You can't talk well when your mouth is dry, and your audience will notice.
  18. Don't sweat small mistakes-everyone makes them, even experienced broadcasters.
  19. Afterwards, ask selected listeners for sincere feedback. People don't usually like to force it on you, but they like to be asked. Then attempt to incorporate this feedback into your next speech.
  20. Seek out and accept every opportunity to speak before an audience. It does get easier over time-and for many, even enjoyable.

Communicating about People with Disabilities

More people have disabilities than we commonly realize. Many disabilities are hidden or not apparent, such as epilepsy, arthritis, or diabetes. As we age, we become more disabled. About one in six Americans have some degree of disability.

Words can hurt. The way we describe people shapes our perceptions. Positive language empowers people. When you write about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first.

  • Tips:
    • Don't use catch-all phrases such as "the blind," "the deaf," or "the disabled." Use nouns like "employees" and "people."
    • Focus on the individual, not the disability. The disability is only one facet of the person.
    • Show successful people with disabilities as successful people, not as super-humans. Don't overstate their achievements, as this may imply that other people who have disabilities aren't competent.
    • Don't use stereotypes. Many people with hearing impairments can talk and have some degree of hearing.
    • Emphasize abilities, not limitations. Don't say "confined to a wheelchair." The wheelchair provides mobility; people would be confined if they didn't have a wheelchair. Say instead, "uses a wheelchair."
    • Be accurate in describing disabilities.
    • Don't be afraid to ask questions. People with disabilities are generally used to questions and don't mind answering them.

Positive Phrases Negative Phrases
person who is blind; visually impaired the blind
woman who uses a guide dog blind woman
person who has a hearing loss is deaf
person who has multiple sclerosis afflicted or stricken by MS
person with cerebral palsy CP victim
person without disabilities normal person
person who uses a wheelchair confined or restricted to a wheelchair
person with psychiatric disability crazy, nuts
person who no longer lives in an Institution deinstitutionalized
unable to speak dumb, mute
seizure fit
successful, productive has overcome his or her disability
says he has a disability admits he has a disability

Communicating with People with Disabilities

As more and more people with disabilities become your customers and enter your workforce, you must be prepared to put your agency's communications materials in such alternative formats as braille, captioned video, and tape. In addition, your Internet Web site should be designed so it provides easy access to people with disabilities. If you run your Web site through, it will tell you which areas are inaccessible and suggest improvements.

  • Tips:
    • When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person, rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
    • When introduced to someone with a disability, offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.
    • When meeting a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who are with you. When talking in a group, remember to identify the person you are talking to.
    • If you offer help, wait until the offer is accepted. Then, listen to or ask for instructions.
    • Treat adults as adults. Address people with disabilities by their first names only when you are being that familiar with others. Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
    • Don't lean on or hang on to a person's wheelchair. This is like hanging on to a person and most people don't like it. The chair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it.
    • Listen carefully when you're talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If you need to, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod, or a shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you don't. Instead, repeat what you have understood and let the person respond. The response will clue you and guide your understanding.
    • When you're talking to a person who uses a wheelchair, or a person who uses crutches, put yourself at eye level in front of the person. That will help the conversation.
    • How should you get the attention of people who are deaf? Tap them on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person. Speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to see if they can read your lips. Not all deaf people can read lips. Be sensitive to the person who can read lips by putting yourself so you face the light source. Keep hands and food away from your mouth when speaking.
    • Relax. Don't be embarrassed if you use common expressions like "see you later" or "did you hear?" Don't be afraid to ask questions when you don't know what to do.

NPR Home Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Site Index Calendar Comments Awards Links Tools Frequently Asked Questions Speeches News Releases Library Navigation Bar For NPR site