Fall Semester 2011: The Hardest Part Is Now…

It’s one month to go as we count down to the start of the fall semester at Rider University where I teach as an adjunct in the communication and journalism department. I’ll be teaching COM106 Writing for the Communication Professions and COM240 Public Relations this semester. I’ve taught both of these courses before, but I always “start fresh” each time I teach a class, so it’s time to finalize plans for both courses. For me, the hardest part of each semester is the planning phase (which is now). Meeting and working with my classes throughout the semester is generally easy and fun (well, usually… I guess we’ll see if this proves true again this semester!).

I’ll be writing the syllabus for each course over the next few weeks: scheduling projects; reaching out to possible guest speakers; and planning what I hope will be some educational and fun activities for everyone. I like to inject as much creativity, freedom and educational independence as possible into each of my classes.

Do you have any suggestions for me? Or would you like to speak to one of my classes (if you’re in the Lawrenceville, New Jersey area this fall — or maybe via Skype if you’re long-distance)? Let me know by commenting here, or tweet me @kathymagrino.

Thanks for reading and, until next time, enjoy the remainder of your summer if you’re in the northern hemisphere 😉 !


Tools Change, But Talent and Communication Strategies Remain the Same

I don’t know about you, but for me, the idea of learning another communication/social media tool or channel (I’m talking about Google+) is creating a little bit of anxiety the past few days… and I really don’t know why I feel this way. Over the years, with all the new technology that’s been introduced in the business world, I’ve learned to adopt the new tools and I have easily adapted to once-unfamiliar environments or ways of doing things.

My two favorite “business tool adoption adventures”: Back in 1990, when I started as a copywriter in the marketing department of a daily newspaper, I was thrilled to sit at my all-in-one Mac with its tiny screen, and I learned how easy it was to work on such a user-friendly computer. It was so easy to write creative copy and simply hit the delete key or backspace when changes had to be made. I fell in love with the Mac way back then (and I still love my MacBook today).

More recently, in early 2009, I joined Twitter and instantly became “addicted” to the real-time conversations and quick bursts of information shared by people from all around the world. In addition to improving my editing skills (learning how to say things in 140 characters or less…) through Twitter, today, I know I can rely on my Twitter friends to keep me on top of what’s happening in the world and to inspire me. It’s difficult to remember those days before Twitter when I was feeling kind of isolated in my home office. Those days are long gone, thankfully!

How am I planning to deal with my Google+ anxiety? Well, first, I’m writing this post — writing something down always helps me tackle it. Next, I’m going to learn as much as I can about Google+ by reading blog posts on sites like Social Media Today. Then, I’m going to “dive in” (I think I need to be invited first). “Diving in” is my usual method of learning.

But, most importantly, I’m going to remind myself about what I always tell my students: Tools and channels — like my computer, Twitter, Google+, etc. — can never replace the creative sparks and talent brewing within human beings. And, while it’s great to have these new tools and channels, we still need people who know how to use them effectively to communicate, both for personal pleasure and for business purposes.

So, what do you think? Are you having “Google+ anxiety” too, and how are you dealing with it? Also, please share your favorite and/or most memorable “business tool adoption adventure” with us by posting your comments. Thanks!

Until next time, take care!

Kathy Magrino


New opportunities require new ways of thinking

Over the past few months, I’ve been exploring new opportunities and paths, specifically looking for additional revenue streams to add to my “collection” as a self-employed professional. On several occasions, I’ve run into a similar mindset shared by people in management/leadership positions, and I’ve heard these words over and over again: “Don’t try to change us. This is how we do things…”

I can’t help but wonder why people develop this mindset, and why they’re closing off any new ideas. Why, at this time, when our economy is suffering and sales are slow in every industry, would we want to continue doing things the same way we did 10 or 20 (or even 30) years ago? Why don’t we want to change? Why wouldn’t we want to embrace new ideas and opportunities?

When I ran into my high school social studies teacher about a year ago, she said hello and she also said that she remembers that I always asked a lot of questions in class. — She did add that they were “good” questions, by the way… 😉 — I guess I haven’t changed much in that way: I’m still asking  a lot of questions. But, over the years, I have changed in the way I see the world around me, and I’ve learned that new opportunities require new ways of thinking.

What do you think? If you have answers to any of my questions, please share them here.

Until next time, take care and thanks for reading!


Why am I surprised?

Today I received the evaluations my students completed on the last day of our classes this past semester. I don’t know why I am surprised to read the kind, constructive words they all wrote — yes, every one of my students had something nice to say. The evaluations are anonymous and I submitted grades weeks ago, so there’s no reason for anyone to write anything other than the truth.

I still cringe when I open the sealed envelopes. For some reason, I expect criticism or negativity, but I only find positive, kind comments of appreciation. I don’t know why I am surprised. I’ve been receiving these same kinds of positive evaluations for the past 7 years.

Maybe it’s the feeling that because I had so much fun throughout the semester, I feel “guilty” that I didn’t make it tougher or more challenging for myself and my students? (I know that sounds a little crazy, but I think we’ve been “conditioned” to believe that if we’re having fun, we’re really not learning…) Or maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve always been uncomfortable being on the receiving end of compliments — I prefer to be the one giving out the compliments!

Whatever the cause may be, I think I finally realize it’s time to stop being “surprised” by the positive words and to simply accept the great gift these words bring to me: encouragement that reinforces the passion, dedication, and enthusiasm I try to bring to every one of my classes so that my students and I can continue to enjoy the learning process together. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share, learn and work with my students every semester. To each of them, I say, “thank you.”

How about you: Are you surprised when someone compliments you or praises your efforts? How do you feel? And, if you are surprised, do you understand why?


The Basics About Writing Content for Websites, Blogs and Social Media

Note: This post was written as a lesson for my COM107 Writing for the Media students at Rider University…

Defining “content”

The communication messages we present on the Internet — whether the messages are on our blogs, websites or presented through social media channels — are known as “content” to the writers and marketers creating the words and graphics that make up these communication messages.

When you’re writing content, you should follow the same writing principles we’ve learned throughout this course, and you should start by focusing on the “P.A.S.T.” — an acronym that stands for “Purpose. Audience. Style. Tone.”

P – Determine the Purpose of Your Writing

It takes some planning to execute a content marketing strategy. So, right from the start, you need to determine the objectives and goals of your content. Ask yourself:
“What results am I looking to generate through the words I’m writing?” and “What am I hoping to communicate?” Your answers to these questions will help you determine your purpose.

A – Know Your Audience

I wish I could have come up with an acronym that started with the letter “A” — because I would have put this step first: Know your audience. Your audience includes the people you want to target and make connections with through your writing and communication messages. Whenever I’m writing for my blog or on Twitter, I envision the people I’m trying to reach sitting across the desk from me. I’m having a conversation with them. Therefore, my writing “talks” directly to my audience. I’m using a “conversational style,” and this brings us to the “S” in the “P.A.S.T.” acronym…

S – Use an Appropriate Style and/or Structure

The style and structure of your writing can help you reach and connect with your audience. Maybe it’s the familiarity communicated through your writing. Or maybe it’s the way you cleverly attract attention to your blog post, web page or tweet. Keep in mind that sometimes a casual, conversational style is appropriate for content writing — and sometimes it’s not. Also, your writing style and structure must “match” or meet the requirements of the communication channel you’re writing for… For example, if you’re writing a “tweet,” you must keep your writing short and sweet (under 140 characters and spaces). A blog post has less limitations, but you might want to “chunk” your writing by using sub-headlines and bullet points rather than long paragraphs.

T – Establish an Appropriate Tone

The concept of “tone” goes back to the idea of “knowing your audience.” When you’re writing content for the Internet, make sure you’re establishing a “tone” that reflects your understanding of your audience and their needs and expectations. You don’t want to be too casual or too formal. If you’re targeting a more sophisticated or educated audience, it’s okay to use technical words and acronyms — BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE SURE YOUR READERS WILL UNDERSTAND what you’re saying! When you pay attention to the tone of your writing, you’re guaranteed to “engage” or connect with more readers.

Do you have any questions or comments to share about considering the “P.A.S.T.” when writing content for the Internet? Please post your comments here. Thanks for reading! 😉

Kathy Magrino

P.S.: This post was written as a lesson for my COM107 Writing for the Media students at Rider University. They’ll be completing the following assignment here:

Today’s In-Class/Homework Assignment:

Review the information on this handout (also posted on my blog at www.thewriteway.com) and then review this blog post by Ardath Albee:

Writing content is not a job for sissies

Ms. Albee offers her perspective about writing content for the Internet. Please read the blog post and then answer the following questions:

1. How does Ms. Albee’s perspective about writing content for the Internet differ from mine?

2. How are our perspectives the same?

3. Review the blogs, websites and social media channels that you regularly visit on the Internet and tell me if you find any evidence of our content writing strategies in the posts and content you read. If possible, share an example.

POST YOUR ANSWERS as a comment on my blog post by the end of the day, Thursday, April 7, 2011. Thank you! — KM

When Playing Is Learning

We played “I Love Mass Media — Our Version of Charades” in one of my classes at Rider University this afternoon. I think we all had fun — it sure seemed that way.

But, I know for certain that I enjoyed the game today!

Sometimes it’s the way we encounter information that leaves an impression on us and helps us to learn. In today’s game, we were able to review topics from our textbook, historic events involving the media, and events happening in the media right now — all while laughing together and moving around the room. My students tackled some pretty challenging words and phrases, like “The Social Network” and “Charlie Sheen” and “television” (spelled out, rather than just “TV”). Working with their teammates, my students also demonstrated excellent teamwork.

“Team Wiz” — Taj, Jade, Brianna and Katelyn — won the competition, beating “Team Most Interesting…” — Adam, Ryan, John, Matt and Stefani — who were eliminated when they couldn’t come up with the words “broadband network” in the finals. (P.S. We needed to do several “final rounds” because the competition was fierce!)

We all laughed, learned and had some fun together today. Maybe we’ll play some more games before the semester is over… Personally, I think learning should always be fun. 😉

Thanks for reading! Until next time, take care!

Kathy Magrino

Winning Work, Once Again

Students in my COM105 Mass Media Communication class at Rider University wowed me, once again, with their excellent work and presentations for our “Team Challenge #2: Mass Media Timeline” assignment.

For the challenge, each team chose one historic event from homework service each decade — from the 1960s to 2000s — and showed us how the media presented/portrayed the event to the public. The assignment also included a “Now and Then” component where the team selected one of their events (from the 60s, 70s or 80s) and showed us how they thought the event would be presented by the media if it were to occur today, in 2011, rather than decades ago.

Once again, “Team Fierce” (Laura Garraty, Emily Mazzio, Caitlin McIntyre, Sabrina Safran and Katie Zak) created a video to present their assignment. Here it is on YouTube for you to take a peek at their impressive work! By the way, this time, Team Fierce won the challenge, and each team member received an “immunity coin” which they can turn in to me in place of doing one of the individual assignments in our class. Way to go, ladies!

As I continue to be impressed by my students’ creativity and independence this semester, I’ll continue to share more of their work with you. In the meantime, take care — and thanks for reading! 😉

Kathy Magrino

We Know ‘We’re Living in a Media World’!

Last week in my COM105 Mass Media Communication course at Rider University, my students tackled their first “team challenge” assignment and amazed me with their thorough and creative work. Also, I was wowed by the energy they put into their presentations. The class is divided into eight teams of four or five people. The objectives of the assignment were to:

1. Introduce each member of the team to our class.

2. Recognize and identify the mass media affecting their lives.

3. Creatively present their introductory information and media findings to our class.

The students evaluated each others’ presentations. Every team did a GREAT job — and the evaluations reflected this fact. To show you some of the impressive work that was done, here’s a link to a video created by “Team Fierce” and used as the intro to their in-class presentation. Hope you enjoy it as much as my students and I did! 😉

Until next time, take care and thanks for reading!


Get Ready to Write!

Spring semester (I love writing the word “SPRING”!) has arrived at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. In my writing course, COM107 Persuasive Writing for the Media, I’ll be sharing this blog post with my students and asking them to comment below. You’re welcome to comment, too — and I hope you will!

These are the steps I take to get myself ready to write. Sometimes, I only need to do one or two of the steps to get ready… Other times, I need to do it all! 😉 After you read what I do, please tell us what you do to get ready to write.

1. Clear Your Head — and Your Workspace — to Get Organized

To get started on any writing project, I need to focus on the project — not on everything else going on in my life. First, I make a handwritten list of things I need to do that aren’t related to the writing project and tuck the list away to be looked at later. Then I make a list — or an outline — for the project at hand. In my workspace, I move piles of work out of my view so they don’t distract me, which brings us to the next step…

2. Shut Down Distractions
I turn off my phone or put it on vibrate. Then I shut down TweetDeck and close the browser window for my email account on my laptop. I turn off the radio or TV, if either is on. I can’t be distracted if I really want to focus on my writing.

3. Do Something Else First — Something You Enjoy Doing
For me, a walk on the beach (in warmer months) or preparing a favorite recipe can inspire me to “tackle” a writing project. What inspires you? Do that first, then sit down and write, write, write!

4. Time Yourself — and Don’t Forget to Give Yourself a Break (or Two)
Sometimes I actually set a real timer and write for 20 or 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, I get up and “reward” myself by getting a snack or taking a TV break. If I’m really on a writing streak, I’ll reset the timer and keep on writing.

5. Focus on Your Readers/Audience and Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Think about your readers or audience. Who will be reading or hearing the words you’re writing? What do they like or dislike? How can you grab — and keep — their attention? Successful writing projects are written for specific audiences. I sometimes pretend I’m having a conversation with my readers, like I’m doing right now. I hope you’ll tell me what you think by responding to this blog post so we can continue the conversation!

What do you do to get ready to write? Please share your tips and ideas here.

Until next time, take care, and thanks for reading (and hopefully responding)! 😉


‘Learning By Doing’ Revisited

My Twitter friends Robyn McMaster (@RobynMcMaster) and Ellen Weber (@EllenFWeber) are teaching an MBA course at the Bittner School of Business in Rochester, NY, Lead Innovation with the Brain in Mind.

Over the weekend, Robyn tweeted me with the following message: “Kathy, @ellenfweber and I planning course activities. If no lecture, you have learners doing rather than taking notes.” Robyn’s tweet was in response to my comments on Ellen and Robyn’s previous tweets saying, “Students question, apply & wonder… rather than listen to lectures.” I believe their course is a perfect example of “learning by doing”!

I’m a huge fan of “learning by doing,” and here’s information on the topic from one of my previous blog posts — info that’s definitely worth repeating now…

How do you learn best? Over the years, I’ve discovered that taking action helps me to learn. I call this “learning by doing.” After teaching for seven years now, I’ve seen that my students seem to enjoy “learning by doing,” too. Research backs up this approach. Here’s the Cone of Learning from Edgar Dale:

Since we “tend to remember 90% of what we SAY and DO,” according to the Cone of Learning, we take this multi-sensory approach to teaching and learning in my own classroom (which is actually a computer lab equipped with brand-new Macs) at Rider University, and we’re seeing great results!

Do you learn by doing?… Please tell us about what you’re doing and how you learn best. Do you agree with the ideas presented in the Cone of Learning above? And please join me in sending good luck and best wishes to Robyn and Ellen as they design and present their new course! (I wish I lived closer to Rochester so that I could take the course, too!) ;-) Until next time, take care — and thanks for reading!

Kathy Magrino