Writers need good interviewing skills

I am in the beginning stages of the preparation process for my fall classes at Rider University (COM106 Writing for the Communication Professions and COM107 Persuasive Writing for the Media) and I came across a video on YouTube — an interview of Katie Couric offering her advice on what makes a good interview. (Watch the video by clicking here.) Katie’s comments back up what I tell my students when we’re learning how to interview people to obtain good quotes and information for our writing projects:

  • Prepare your interview questions in advance and try to anticipate responses to help you predict and prepare your follow-up questions.
  • Make your subjects feel comfortable when they’re talking with you — you’re guaranteed to get better answers when they’re more relaxed.
  • Listen when interviewees respond to your questions and be able to pick up on important points to emphasize or expand upon.

In my classes, we’re learning how to write feature articles and news releases, but good interviewing skills are universal and they’re needed for all types of writing projects. Do you have any tips or techniques that you can share with us? Please post your comments here.

Thanks for reading this post and, until next time, take care!

Kathy Magrino

Take Your Time

It’s been over a month since my last blog post — my blog definitely fails my own blog “fitness” test, at least as far as the “T – timing” goes! (Check out Is Your Blog F.I.T. to see for yourself.)

So much has been happening over the last month: summer session classes ended; the little league baseball season went into the championship games and day-after-day tournament games for my son’s team; new business has been streaming in (thankfully!); and summer distractions (the beach and sunshine, etc.) seem to abound.

Over the next few weeks, I’m taking my time getting things done. I know that the hectic pace of the fall will be here all too soon. I know that my blog will be here ready for the next post whenever I’m ready to write it. I hope you’ll be here, too!

Until next time, I hope you’ll take your time getting your things done, too!

Kathy Magrino

A Bad Presentation or Speech is Like a Donut

A bad presentation or speech is like a donut — the central part (your audience) is missing.

To write a good presentation or speech, ALWAYS focus on your audience. (Actually, it’s a good idea to focus on your audience or readers for all your writing efforts!) I shared these tips with my students at Rider University earlier today and now I’m sharing them with you.

How to write a good presentation or speech:

Before you start outlining your presentation, ask yourself these questions:

1. Who is my audience? (Try to describe them in as much detail as possible — and “get inside their heads” if possible.)

2. What does my audience want, or what are their expectations and needs?

3. What does my audience like, dislike or fear?

4. Why did my audience invite me to speak?

5. How is my message important to my audience?

When you have the answers to the questions above, writing your presentation can be as simple as following these four steps:

1. Start with a “hook” to get your audience interested in what you’re saying. Effective “hooks” include:

Telling a compelling story that’s interesting to your audience.

Asking a question you want the audience to try to answer.

Sharing an interesting or startling statistic your audience may not know.

2. After your hook/introduction, answer the “WTF” question for your audience. The “WTF” question can be translated from “What the f*@#?” to “What’s in it for me?” Your audience is asking themselves why they should care about your presentation. So, TELL THEM and give them reasons and lots of details.

3. Conclude your presentation or speech by hammering home your message(s)! Use any of these proven techniques:

Show examples of success.

Share “testimonials” — positive messages people have said about your subject.

Not persuading? Use repetition. Simply repeat the key message(s) from your speech.

4. Finally, at the end of your presentation, always give some “takeaways,” like action-steps or a call-to-action telling your audience what they could or should do next. And, don’t forget to THANK your audience for their time… it’s just good manners to do so.

Do you have your own tips to share? Let us know by posting your comments here. And, THANKS for reading this post! 😉

Until next time, take care!

Kathy Magrino



Brainstorm and Be Creative!

This is a repeat of a popular blog post I wrote late last year — and it’s worth repeating now because I’ve recently rediscovered the value of brainstorming for creative solutions and ideas in my own life and business. I hope you can discover the value of brainstorming, too! 😉

“Brainstorming” encourages us to think creatively or “outside the box” — and in life, in general, it can help us tackle daily challenges. Whether you’re brainstorming alone or in a group, the same basic steps (outlined below) apply. And, remember: There are no restrictions! Brainstorming can be — and should be — FUN!

  1. Review the facts, then consider the facts in new and varied combinations.
  2. Make a list of random words, ideas, phrases — anything that comes to mind – as you’re reviewing the facts and considering the ideas. (Don’t rule anything out! List everything you think of, no matter how “crazy” it may seem.)
  3. Think about your “audience” or the people involved in whatever you’re brainstorming about (for my students, the audience would be the people who are going to read the ad, or hear the radio advertisement or see the tv commercial, etc.). Think about how these people’s lifestyles can/do relate to your ideas — and don’t forget to write down everything that enters your mind… Keep telling yourself that anything is possible!
  4. Find analogies and relationships – you can consider what you’re brainstorming about and think about how it might be used differently, or what it would be like if it were alive, or relate it to a completely different type of item/person/movie/song… whatever.
  5. Continue to develop your ideas by asking key questions: Who?… What?… When?… How?… Where?… Why?…
  6. Don’t be afraid to link together and connect ideas by following your intuition, gut feelings and hunches… and simply continue to be “free” as you brainstorm all the possibilities.

Brainstorming can be a good exercise to develop your problem-solving skills… and you might be surprised by the successful outcome of your brainstorming efforts! Have fun… and good luck!

Until next time,

Kathy Magrino

Kick-start your writing by considering the P-A-S-T

This post was previously published earlier this year, but I’m sharing it again now. Students in my COM106 – Writing for the Communication Professions summer session class at Rider University will be commenting on this post this week…

Purpose. Audience. Style. Tone. (Easy to remember as “P-A-S-T,” an acronym I share with my students…) Whatever you’re writing, by considering these elements, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts and kick-start your writing efforts.

Purpose — Ask yourself, “What are my objectives for writing this piece?” Your answer will help you outline a path to reach your goals and determine your purpose.

Audience — If I could have figured out an acronym that started with an “A,” I definitely would put “A” for “audience” first. In my opinion, knowing your audience — the people you want to reach or connect with through your writing — makes the whole writing process much easier. Pretend you’re talking to this person or these people. In your writing, “talk” directly to your audience, using words like “you” and “your” and other conversational words and phrases, which brings us to the “S” in “PAST”..

Style — To be effective, the style and structure of your writing piece needs to meet your audience’s expectations — or it needs to cleverly attract their attention. At times, a conversational style is appropriate, but sometimes it’s not.

  • If you’re writing a news release to send to journalists and editors, they’ll expect you to structure your news in an “inverted pyramid style,” where the most important news and information appears in your lead paragraphs, followed by the less important information. Also, news releases should be written in the objective third-person (without “you” or “your”…).
  • If you’re writing a page for your website, it’s good to be conversational, but you’ll also want to use a “chunk” style with quick headings and sub-heads and bullet-point information.
  • Sometimes an “unexpected” and creative style or structure will get more attention for your writing. On BusinessWeek.com, the authors of Social Media Will Change Your Business structured the article as a series of blog entries, which the authors were writing about in addition to other social media.

Tone — Determine how formal or informal your writing needs to be, depending on the audience and purpose. This is the “tone” you should use in your writing. If appropriate, don’t be afraid to use a casual, conversational tone, one that “talks” directly to your audience. Also, it’s okay to use technical words and acronyms if you’re sure your audience will understand — but only if your audience will understand what you’re saying!

Consider the “P-A-S-T” and move forward with your ideas and writing efforts. If you have any ideas or considerations that help you kick-start your writing, please share them with us by responding below. Thanks for reading this post. Until next time, take care!

Kathy Magrino 😉

We Learn 90 Percent of ‘What We Say and Do’

I did not need to read the article in a recent issue of the Social Media Examiner, 7 Ways to Use Psychological Influence with Social Media Content by Rachna Jain, to learn that we are better learners when information is presented to us using different modalities, especially those that require us to interact with each other. For my students and myself, I try to take a multi-sensory approach to teaching and learning in my classroom, and we see and experience great results.

Some examples: When my students write, I encourage them to read their writing out loud to hear what they’ve written. Not only is this a great way to proofread our own writing, this process involves different pathways in our brains, encouraging us to remember and learn what we’re doing. The same goes for in-class presentations in front of an audience (in our case, classmates). When students are required to pair “visuals” with their writing, either using video or PowerPoint slides, etc., they’re learning more — and we are all entertained. And, using visuals is another opportunity to “impress” the audience (and ourselves) with the messages we’re trying to process and learn.

What impressed me most from Jain’s article was this “Cone of Learning” from Edgar Dale:

See how impressive visuals can be?! 😉 Until next time, let’s try to use all of our senses and take action to learn!

Kathy Magrino

Working Alone or Working in Teams?

We need to be good at doing BOTH: working alone and working in teams. Successful teamwork is based on good communication skills — the ability to effectively express our thoughts, and the ability to interact with others.

Lately, I’ve noticed that some of my students are uncomfortable with teamwork and they resist team-building activities. In one of my classes, several students have either talked to me after class or emailed me about the “issues” they’re having with their teams. In each of these instances, I’ve noticed (and pointed out to them) that the issues are being caused by a lack of communication with their teammates. The solution is simple: better communication, especially via face-to-face interaction.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: Maybe “face-to-face” communication is now becoming a neglected form of communication? Many younger students (approximately 20 years old) don’t want to, or prefer not to, work in teams. Is this a new trend?…

Are we becoming too reliant on texting, postings and emails? Are we creating a society of people who have become too comfortable “hiding behind” their computers and devices? Yes, we need to work independently, but we also need to know how to work with others…What’s happening to us?… And do you agree that face-to-face communication (or at least a phone call where we hear each other’s voice) is becoming a lost art or neglected activity?

I’m curious to hear your ideas about this… Maybe we can team up to brainstorm some solutions? … Or maybe we should Skype — taking advantage of the newest form of face-to-face communication? 😉 Please let me know what you think by posting your comments here. Thanks!

Until next time,

Kathy

Presentation Preparation – Do It Right!

This semester, my students at Rider University have been doing lots of presentations in our classes. I’ll be sharing these tips for preparing presentations with them, so I thought I’d share them with you, too:

1. Know your audience! Before you start writing, try to “get inside the heads” of the people you’ll be presenting to — your audience. Know their likes and dislikes — and try to know what will grab their attention.

2. Don’t forget that you’re writing for an AUDIENCE, not for readers!

(Generally, readers have the luxury of taking their time with words and concepts…) An audience likes to be “entertained.”

3. Use repetition. Don’t be afraid to repeat key messsages, concepts and benefits to hammer home the messages you want to convey.

4. Be organized. Follow a logical progression — I usually create an outline or “map” for a presentation’s journey, from start to finish.

5. Be consistent. Use the same writing style and the same design throughout the entire presentation — everything should match. Sometimes, this is difficult when several people are working on the same presentation. Make sure you get together beforehand to merge your parts into one cohesive presentation.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to a good, professional presentation!

Until next time,

Kathy Magrino

Catch spring fever!

I definitely have spring fever (a little early) this year! Warmer temperatures, longer days, blooming plants, baseball spring training, plans for my summer vegetable garden — these are some of the things I especially like about spring.

But, this spring, I’m also planning an exciting new beginning: the launch of a new business adventure with Alex Blom (@AlexBlom on Twitter — Twitter is where we first “met”), a super-savvy entrepreneur and business communication student from Australia who’s currently living in Hamilton, Canada and finishing his degree at McMaster University.

We’re still “planting the seeds and fertilizing” our ideas, anxiously preparing for the launch of our new adventure. I can’t share more info with you right now. I can only share my anticipation and excitement!! But, I promise to share more details here as our plans unfold and grow over the next few weeks. So, stay tuned — and bring on the spring fever! 😉

Kathy Magrino

Creative or Not, We Need to be Organized