Thursday, June 3, 2010

Communications Tip: Simplifying Scientific Language

Technical terms can make communication more efficient when a group understands the meaning, but they may create barriers when interacting with laypeople or researchers outside of your field. Using jargon can make your message unintelligible, or even worse, make you seem insincere.

Adjusting your style of communication is an important part of considering your audience. Remember that one word may be interpreted in a multitude of ways by different people. For example, a landscape ecologist might define a “landscape” as a mosaic that is heterogeneous with respect to at least one factor, due to effects of patterns and processes (Turner, Gardner & O’Neill, 2001; Urban, O’Neill, and Shugart, Jr., 1987). Members of the public might think of “lawns” or “landscaping” when they hear the same word. There are also many popular press references to religious, political, and socio-economic “landscapes.”

Keep your audience in mind when crafting your writing or presentation. What do you want them to know about your research, and how can they apply what they have learned to a problem or decision? Also choose your language carefully so that your important points are clear.

"Effective scientific prose is accurate, clear, economical, fluent, and graceful" (Council of Biology Editors, 1994, 101).

Here are some tips to help you simplify scientific language:

1) Rather than using technical terminology, use simpler synonyms. Also be careful of words from a thesaurus that can make your communication awkward and unclear.

do rather than accomplish, perform
part rather than component
begin rather than commence, initiate
cause rather than effectuate
measure rather than quantify
use rather than utilization
lessen the impact of rather than mitigate

2) If you must use jargon, be explicit about it. Give context and clarification for acronyms or other terms that you use.


To evaluate the effect of stresses on hydrologic systems, researchers often use topologic simulation models. These models can help them to predict the fate and transport of pollutants under various conditions.


To evaluate the effect of stresses on watersheds and river basins, including changes in the amount of precipitation or ground-water extraction rates, researchers often use simulation models based on local topography and other watershed characteristics. These models can help them to predict where pollutants will travel under various conditions.

3) Wordy phrases may also inhibit understanding. Where possible, stick to using simple, phrases that accurately convey the meaning you intended.

fewer rather than a decreased number of
because rather than accounted for by the fact
we observed rather than it was observed in the course of experiments
we do not know rather than we have insufficient knowledge
to rather than in order to
agreement rather than unanimity of opinion

4) It may be effective to use short stories or analogies. If you use this technique, be sure that your analogy is straightforward and that your audience will relate to it. Consider the following example from Stephen Schneider of Stanford University (Schwartz, 2006). If you were asked to justify a policy that mandates large energy use reductions based on a minimal increase in the likelihood of catastrophic climate change, what would be an effective method? Schneider recommended drawing a parallel with fire insurance. Many homeowners invest in fire insurance although only a fraction will actually experience a home fire.

5) Consult someone outside of your field to assess the clarity of your paper or presentation.

One again, all of us at the Communications Center would like to wish you a wonderful summer!


Council of Biology Editors, Style Manual Committee. (1994). Scientific style and format: the CBE manual for authors, editors, and publishers. 6th ed. Reston, VA: Council of Biology [Science] Editors.

Gale, C. Be clear: communicating research to lay audiences. Retrieved from

Miller, O. (2010). How to simplify your presentation without dumbing it down. Retrieved from

Schwartz, M. (2006). Scholars learn to communicate plainly the science of climate change. Stanford Report. Stanford: Stanford University. Retrieved from

Turner, M.G., Gardner, R.H., & O’Neill, R.V. (2001). Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice: Pattern and Process. New York: Springer Science and Business Media, Inc.

Urban, D.L., O’Neill, R.V., & Shugart, Jr., H.H. (1987). Landscape ecology: a hierarchical perspective can help scientists understand spatial pattern. Bioscience, 37(2): 119-127.

--Danica Schaffer-Smith

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Communications Tip: Editing Checklist

Last year, our ESM 437 class compiled a quick reference checklist for general editing, an ideal resource as you finish final papers and prepare for internships, new jobs, or a relaxing summer. Feel free to adapt our list to your next writing effort.

Here is an editing checklist to get you started. Let us know if we're missing anything and we'll add it to future iterations.
--Matches expectations of task
--Clear objective/thesis statement
--Compelling introduction and conclusion
--Demonstrates flow/logical order
--Makes relevant and appropriate recommendations
--Easy to find critical points
--Addresses significance: answers “so what?”
--Supportive and well-integrated evidence
--Assumptions are explicit

--Overall clarity
--Cohesion/ connectivity between paragraphs
--Appropriate scope
--Precise language
--Avoid redundancy
--Sentence/word variation
--Audience-appropriate evidence (e.g., statistics, observations, examples);
useful charts/tables/visuals, where applicable
--Tense/verb agreement

Thank you to our ESM 437 students for their contributions!
--Monica Bulger

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - How to Hyphenate

Student writers often confuse the hyphen and dash. A hyphen is a short line (-) used to join words; it occurs on most keyboards as an actual key. A dash is a longer line (—) used to set off or separate phrases; it does NOT occur on most keyboards as an actual key. A dash can be automatically generated in Microsoft Word, however, by typing two hyphens between words like this: A dash--generated with two hyphens--is a useful writing tool. (After you use “space bar” to move away from the word following the double hyphens, MS Word will automatically change it into a dash.) If you are using a word processing program that does not automatically convert double hyphens to a dash, then it is acceptable to use the two hyphens in place of the dash.

Now that we’re clear on that point, let’s focus on the hyphen. If you are looking for infallible rules for when to use the hyphen, you are out of luck: its use is constantly evolving! The following uses, however, are generally agreed upon, with a few exceptions here and there.

~Main Uses~

1. To join two or more words serving as a single adjective before a noun (a.k.a., a compound modifier)

Asbestos is a well-known carcinogen.
Look online for up-to-date images of the oil spill.
Predictions from large-scale global climate models can be a valuable resource for city planners.

Note: When the adjective follows the noun, the words are NOT hyphenated.

The carcinogenic properties of asbestos are well known.
The images of the oil spill are up to date.
Predictions from global climate model can be a valuable resource for city planners in spite of the models' large scale.
[In these cases, "well known," “up to date,” and "large scale" follow the nouns they're modifying, so they are not hyphenated.]

2. To join compound numbers under one hundred and fractions

Examples: thirty-five, fifty-two or five-eighths

Hyphens are usually not used with numbers greater than one hundred, unless they occur within the greater number:

Example: one hundred twenty-one

Note: While hyphens are used to write out numbers when required, it is acceptable in most cases to write numbers that are greater than ten numerically (e.g., 12 instead of twelve).

3. To avoid confusion or awkward combinations of letters

re-sign a purchase order (vs. resign from a job)
re-creation of the compound (vs. parks and recreation)
re-enter the facility (vs. “reenter”)

4. To avoid ambiguities

a little-used car vs. a little used-car
third-world environmental degradation vs. third world environmental degradation

5. To join certain prefixes and suffixes to words

Examples: Use a hyphen with the prefixes ex-, self-, all-, half-, semi-, quasi-, non-, post-, and neo-.




Example: Use a hyphen with the suffix –elect.


Example: Use a hyphen between a prefix and a capitalized word or acronym.

pre-NEPA regulation

Example: Use a hyphen and with figures or letters.



Note: In all of the above cases, there are NO SPACES on either side of the hyphen.

6. To split words between lines when using a justified text format.

Whenever possible, keep a word that isn’t hyphenated together, but when it does get broken at the end of a line, make the break only between syllables or where a word is already hyphenated.

Examples: en-vi-ron-ment-al-ist, warm-ing, plan-ning, or mass-produced

Note: Never put a single letter at the beginning or end of a line and never put two-letter suffixes at the beginning of a new line.


extremely (Do not separate to leave “ly” beginning a new line.)

avail-a-ble (Separate only on either side of the a; do not leave the initial “a” at the end of a line.)

~Suspended Hyphens~

Suspended hyphens (a.k.a., “dangling” or “hanging” hyphens) are used in series of related compound words separated by “and” “or” or “to.” In these cases, the hyphen acts as a kind of place holder.


The first- and second-year MESM students are brilliant.

The proposed logging site is full of two- and three-hundred-year-old trees.

~Hyphen MYTHS~

1. The hyphen as a separator

The hyphen’s main purpose is to join words, but people still sometimes use it INCORRECTLY as a “separator,” frequently in place of a comma.


Once you’ve run the model-add it to your GIS display. (Incorrect)

Once you’ve run the model, add it to your GIS display. (Correct)

Other “separators” that are more appropriate include the period (hyphens can be an indicator of run-on sentences), the colon, the semicolon, or the dash (visit the Communication Center’s blog posts for more information on each of these “separators.”)

2. The hyphen as a delimiter.

Another common mis-use of the hyphen is to delineate internal or parenthetical phrases.

Incorrect Example: Black carbon-unlike greenhouse gases-stays in the atmosphere only for a few weeks.

This incorrectly hyphenated sentence is confusing, because people will read it as

Black carbon-unlike . . .

greenhouse gases-stays . . .

in the atmosphere only for a few weeks.

…when what the writer really meant was

Black carbon . . .

unlike greenhouse gases . . .

stays in the atmosphere only for a few weeks.

This sentence should be correctly written with dashes as follows:

Black carbon—unlike greenhouse gases—stays in the atmosphere only for a few weeks.

~Confusion About Capitalization~

We often get asked whether to capitalize the word following a hyphen in a title. After consulting grammar books, checking journals, and asking editors, we discovered that there is no consensus on whether one practice is more correct than another.

Therefore, both of the following examples are correct:

Predictions from Large-scale Global Climate Models

Predictions from Large-Scale Global Climate Models

We generally prefer the second option, but will post feedback from faculty on this issue.


These tips should help you to correctly use the hyphen, but when in doubt, you can always check a dictionary or a good style reference—or make an appointment at the Communications Center!


Conrey, S. M., and Stolley, K. (2010). Hyphen Use. Retrieved from the Purdue Online Writing Lab

Hester, Z. (2010). The Hyphen. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2010). Hyphen. Retrieved from

--Audrey Tresham

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - Help Save the Endangered Semicolon!

Despite the many benefits it offers, the semicolon is often misunderstood—or even feared—and has become increasingly scarce in modern writing. In this installment of our Fearless Punctuation Series, we provide you with three easy ways that you can bring back the semicolon:

1) If you have two short stand-alone sentences that are related, or provide interesting contrast to one another, you may consider incorporating them into one sentence. Semicolons allow you to join independent clauses without using conjunctions (e.g., and, but, nor, yet).The following examples show instances when semicolons should, and should not, be used to connect clauses.

A coal transport recently grounded and spilled oil at a coral shoal along the Great Barrier Reef. Park officials and environmentalists are particularly concerned about negative impacts on hatching seabirds and turtles (AFP, 2010).
--Each of these statements can stand alone, but the ideas they contain are related. They can be combined, as shown below.

A coal transport recently grounded and spilled oil at a coral shoal along the Great Barrier Reef; park officials and environmentalists are particularly concerned about effects on hatching seabirds and turtles (AFP, 2010).
--Combining the two statements using a semicolon shows that they are connected.

Most climate models predict increased temperature and precipitation in the Pacific Northwest. These conditions may favor the spread of insects and pathogens affecting forests (van Mantgem et al., 2009)
--Each of these statements can stand alone, but the ideas they contain are related. They can be combined by using a semicolon or a conjunction, as shown below.

Most climate models predict increased temperature and precipitation in the Pacific Northwest, and these conditions may favor the spread of insects and pathogens affecting forests (van Mantgem et al., 2009).
--If a conjunction is used to connect two clauses, a comma should be used, rather than a semicolon.

Whole Foods Market offsets its total energy use through wind energy credits. All store locations have also discontinued the use of plastic grocery bags (Loftus, 2010).
--These two statements do not have an obvious connection. Eliminating plastic bags is not related to energy offsets, so it is best to leave these two sentences separate.

2) Semicolons can also help you to connect sentences with internal punctuation.

Due to public concern about habitat deterioration, a restoration project has been proposed along the Kissimmee River. The primary goal is to return flow to the floodplain (ACOE, 2010).
--These two sentences are related, and the period breaks the relationship between the clauses. They can be combined using a semicolon, as shown below.

Due to public concern about habitat deterioration, a restoration project has been proposed along the Kissimmee River; the primary goal is to return flow to the floodplain (ACOE, 2010).
--A semicolon is appropriate for connecting the two sentences. If a comma had been used, the sentence would have a comma splice error.

3) You may additionally use semicolons as super commas in your writing.

The United Nations operates offices throughout the globe, including in Nairobi, Kenya; Bankok, Thailand; Santiago, Chile; and Beirut, Lebanon.
--Use a semicolon if you are making a list of items separated with commas, such as locations, names, dates, or descriptions.

Note: If you are in doubt, reading aloud may help you to decide which punctuation is most appropriate.
Comma = brief pause
Semicolon = moderate pause
Period = full stop

A comical illustrated guide to semicolon usage is available at

Also, refer to Jane Straus’ online Blue Book of Grammer at


[ACOE] US Army Corps of Engineers. (2010). Kissimmee River Restoration. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from

[AFP] Agence France-Presse. (2010). Great Barrier Reef oil spill hits renowned nature sanctuary. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from

Hacker, D. (1999). A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Loftus, K. (2010). Our earth day commitment. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from

van Mantgem, P.J., Stephenson, N.L., Byrne, J.C. Daniels, L.D., Franklin, J.F., Fule, P.Z., Harmon, M.E., Larson, A.J., Smith, J.M., Taylor, A.H. & Veblen, T.T. (2009). Widespread increase of tree mortality rates in the western United States. Science, 323, 521-524.
--Danica Schaffer-Smith

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - The Collaborative Colon

For the next tip in our Fearless Punctuation Series, we reveal the hidden power of the colon to emphasize and elaborate. We encourage you to use the colon daringly, yet sparingly, to spice up your writing.

H.W. Fowler said that the colon “delivers the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words,” which is as apt a description as any! More specifically, colons introduce the part of a sentence that exemplifies, restates, elaborates, undermines, explains or balances the preceding statement. Most importantly, that ‘preceding statement’ must always be an independent clause capable of standing alone. Never use a colon after a sentence fragment.

~Main Uses~
A writer may use a colon after an independent clause to direct the reader’s attention to a list, an appositive, or a quotation.

The Bren School’s MESM core curriculum includes the following fall courses: Ecology of Managed Ecosystems, Earth Systems Science, Introduction to Environmental Policy Analysis, and Business and the Environment.

When examined in this way, climate change is a violation of nature: an appalling mistake.

Consider the words of P.J. O’Rourke: “The college idealists who fill the ranks of the environmental movement seem willing to do absolutely anything to save the biosphere, except take science courses and learn something about it.”

A colon may also be used between independent clauses if the second clause summarizes or explains the first.

The environmental assessment was correct: most of the habitat had been destroyed.
Note: When an independent clause follows a colon, it may begin with a lowercase or a capital letter.

~Other More Perfunctory Uses~
The colon is also used after a salutation in a formal greeting letter, to indicate hours and minutes, to show proportions, between a title and subtitle, and in certain conventions in bibliographic entries (volume: page number, city: publisher, etc.).

Dear Ms. Helfer:

9:30 a.m.

The standard ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus in marine systems is 16:1.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Boston: Bedford, 1999.

~Avoid Mis-use~
As mentioned above, a colon MUST be preceded by an independent clause.

Avoid using a colon between a verb and its object or complement.
Some important nutrients in aquatic systems are: phosphorus and nitrogen. (Incorrect)
Some important nutrients in aquatic systems are phosphorus and nitrogen. (Correct)

Avoid using a colon between a preposition and its object.
Particulate matter (PM10) pollution consists of: very small liquid and solid particles floating in the air. (Incorrect)
Particulate matter (PM10) pollution consists of very small liquid and solid particles floating in the air. (Correct)

Avoid using a colon after "such as," "including," or "for example."
The Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve is home to native plant species such as: Arctostaphylos purissima and Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis. (Incorrect)
The Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve is home to native plant species such as Arctostaphylos purissima and Ceanothus cuneatus var. fascicularis. (Correct)

Hacker, D. 1999. A Writer’s Reference. Fourth Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Jeantheau, M. 2010. Funny Environmental Quotes. Grinning Planet. Web.

Truss, L. 2003. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Gotham Books: New York City.

--Audrey Tresham

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

UCSB's Environmental Media Initiative

Environmental media has really taken off as a "hot topic" in the last few years and environmental media centers are springing up at campuses across the country. As an institution uniquely suited to this interdisciplinary field--with a tradition of excellence in both environmental science and media/communications studies--UCSB has instituted an Environmental Media Initiative (EMI).

The EMI is part of UCSB's Carsey-Wolf Center for Film, Television and New Media and brings together environmental scientists with film, media and communications scholars to collaborate on teaching, research and public programming. Some of their programs include:
  • Blue Horizons: a 9-week academic summer program focused on using media to communicate vital stories of the global ocean.
  • Green Screen: an environmental media production program that brings together students in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences to engage environmental issues in Santa Barbara through artistic production.
  • Digital Ocean: a virtual commons that connects people and provides them with resources to advance ocean sustainability and protect earth's ocean ecosystems.

Dr. Ron Rice recently provided the Bren community with an overview of the EMI program and made the following suggestions for ways that Bren students can engage with the EMI:

  • Take environmental media courses or apply to Blue Horizons
  • Investigate interdisciplinary funding opportunities through the EMI for graduate students: either full funding or quarter-time hourly work on EMI projects (talk to Bren Ph.D. student Julie Robinson)
  • Find a way to do a dual project with Bren/EMI as part of your classes or internships or on your own
  • For Bren MESM students, think about different ways to distribute your group project results, in addition to your paper report. Collaborate with EMI colleagues on short films, online media or other ideas.
  • Contingent upon funding, EMI hopes to complete a biannual survey on environmental knowledge and attitudes. This project could be a good opportunity for Bren students to get involved.

For more information, visit the EMI website or talk to Bren folks who are involved with EMI, like Steve Gaines, John Melack, or Ph.D. student Julie Robinson.

--Audrey Tresham

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - Footnoting Without Fear

Upon a request from Bren faculty regarding proper punctuation when using footnotes, the Communications Center staff presents the second tip in our Fearless Punctuation series: Footnoting Without Fear!

Footnotes are a great tool for citing references when you want to avoid fragmenting your text with parenthetical citations. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page in which a source was referenced, as opposed to endnotes, which appear at the end of the document.

Since formatting footnotes is challenging on a blog, please click here to download the full Footnoting Without Fear tip.

--Sara Solis

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fearless Punctuation Tip - Parentheses, Slashes and Dashes.

Are you in a writing rut? It is easiest to write using the methods we are already familiar with, but this may limit our creativity. Getting comfortable with punctuation can add variety to your writing. We have put together a short “Fearless Punctuation” series so that you can dust the cobwebs off of that grade school English knowledge, and hopefully to help you start having fun using punctuation.

Parentheses, and Dashes and Slashes. Oh My!

These three types of punctuation are very useful for including supplementary information or creating emphasis in your writing. Each mark is appropriate to specific scenarios. Keep in mind that they should be used sparingly, as they may create a choppy effect.

1) Parentheses are used to:
  • insert information including: supplemental material, changes in subject or afterthoughts
  • order items in a list or series
Parentheses are especially useful in draft revisions, allowing you to add in new information as you read. Generally, parenthesis should be avoided in finished work. In subsequent edits, the information they contain can usually be integrated in your piece without the use of parentheses.

Example 1
Proper use of parentheses:
The permit stipulates that: (1) work may only take place during daylight hours; (2) no work may take place within 500 feet of active raptor or songbird nests; (3) daily clearance survey must be conducted by a qualified biologist prior to any ground disturbing activities; (4) a monitoring biologist must be present during all work activities to ensure compliance with the permit and (5) monthly monitoring reports will be submitted to the Department of Fish and Game for review.
--This example shows proper use of parentheses in a list. The parentheses help the reader to note each of the important requirements in the series.

Example 2
Incorrect use of parentheses:
Each year almost two million people (of which 90% are children under 5 years of age) die due to waterborne diseases.
Each year almost two million people die due to waterborne diseases; 90 percent of those affected are children under five years of age.
--In this example, information that may be very important for the reader is presented as an afterthought in parentheses. The sentence is also informal. The correction, using a semicolon, is more professional and gives more importance to the statistic. Also note that in professional writing, numerals from one to nine should be fully written out, as well as “percent,” rather than “%.”

2) Dashes are used to:
  • give emphasis to supplementary information
  • introduce a list, to show a paraphrase, or
  • indicate a shift in the tone or topic of your writing
Example 1
Incorrect use of dashes:
There are numerous examples of firms—with superior corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs—that have done well, as well as firms—with poor CSR reputations—that have performed poorly. However, for most firms, most of the time, financial performance is unrelated to corporate social responsibility.
There are numerous examples of firms with superior corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs that have done well—as well as firms with poor CSR reputations that have performed poorly. However, for most firms—most of the time—financial performance is unrelated to corporate social responsibility.
--Dashes in this example do not emphasize the most important information to further understanding. In the correction, dashes draw attention to supplementary information that supports the argument.

Example 2
Incorrect use of dashes:
There are numerous measurements: satellite data, radiosondes, borehole analysis, glacial melt observations, sea ice melt, sea level rise and permafrost melt—that indicate the general trend and magnitude of climate change.
There are numerous measurements—satellite data, radiosondes, borehole analysis, glacial melt observations, sea ice melt, sea level rise and permafrost melt—that indicate the general trend and magnitude of climate change on Earth.
--In this example, a dash is used incorrectly after a colon. To use a dash to offset items in a list, bookend the list by beginning and ending with dashes, as shown in the corrected version.

3) Slashes are most often used to distinguish paired terms such as “he/she”. They are usually read as “or” or “and.” They are also used in abbreviations (i.e., w/, w/out, and/or). Slashes are useful for notes and brainstorming, but are generally not appropriate in academic or professional writing.

Example 1
Incorrect use of slashes:
The budget proposal would increase fees for inactive oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters to $4/acre.
The budget proposal would increase fees for inactive oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters to four dollars per acre.
--The use of slashes and other shorthand in this example is informal. In the more professional correction the unnecessary slash is replaced with “per,” and “four dollars” is written out rather than “$4.”

Example 2
Incorrect use of slashes:
The environmentalists/scientists assert that preserving coastal sage scrub and/or chaparral habitats in the vicinity is crucial to the survival of local coastal California gnatcatcher populations.
Scientists and environmentalists assert that preserving coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats in the vicinity is crucial to the survival of the local coastal California gnatcatcher populations.
--In this example, the slash is unnecessary. The paired terms can be separated, as shown in the correction.

Hacker, D. (1999). A Writer’s Reference, 4th Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

--Danica Schaffer-Smith

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tough Topics, Tough Audiences. Part IV: Meet the Audience Where They Are

As environmental professionals, Bren students and alumni are often tasked with communicating complex environmental problems and solutions to "non-environmental" audiences. These audiences can sometimes be unreceptive or even hostile, and speaking to them can be quite a challenge. On February 26th, the 2010 Doris Duke Fellows hosted a workshop entitled "Tough Topics, Tough Audiences" where public speaking coach Lisa Braithwaite helped Bren students prepare for these difficult situations. The following is an excerpt from her informative presentation. For more on Coach Lisa B., visit her website or blog. You should also check out the excellent resources page she has set up for Bren students.

Meet the Audience Where They Are
If you're doing all the other things we've discussed (knowing your objective and audience, preparing, and engaging your audience) then you're laying the groundwork and will likely have fewer of the "tough audience" situations. But, if you do expect a tough audience, it's important to understand people's motivations for being there and their barriers to learning from you.

Remember that everybody has a lifetime of skills and knowledge to contribute; they're not a blank slate or empty vessel waiting to be filled with your knowledge! Think of your audience as people who have lots of knowledge, experiences and things that they can share and contribute if you're open-minded about it.

Start by checking your assumptions. Before tough presentations, we frequently make assumptions that the audience will disagree with us, but in reality, most of your audiences are supportive. For the most part, people are on your side. Keep that in mind and re-frame mentally. Don't assume they're going to be hostile, think, "They're here to support me; they want to learn from me."

Secondly, try to avoid assumptions you might make during your presentation about how people are acting or responding to you. Don't extrapolate out one person who may look a certain way to the whole audience. And realize that everybody is different: that nasty look someone is giving you may just be his face!

That being said, there are occasionally some people who might make things more difficult for you. What do you think makes these people uncomfortable? Maybe . . .
  • They don't understand what you're saying
  • You're contradicting something they believe (especially anything related to values or personal issues)
  • They have false assumptions about your topic
  • They feel judged or blamed about something
  • You're asking them to change
  • They're afraid that you will make them talk!
  • They have a different perspective
  • They've been forced to be there
  • They don't know what to believe
  • They are confused and a confused mind always says no

Thinking about and preparing for these possibilities in advance can help prevent or defuse tough situations. For example, if you're going into a situation where you expect the audience to have a different perspective, try to address it right up front. Use some humor, let them know that even with differing perspectives, what they have to say is important and you do want to hear it. In any tough situation, be human, be upfront, be forthright. Be 100% honest all the time, and don't break the trust with your audience because it is hard to get it back.

Even if you work hard to avoid it, you may sometimes encounter a heckler. Hecklers can be challenging, but the first step in dealing with them is to take what they're saying at face value: don't read into it, don't over-analyze it. Just remember to always be respectful and never assume that it's you personally that someone is bothered by; it's something going on with them. Let that person feel heard because, a lot of times, that's all they want. It's OK to say, "I'm not prepared to talk about that today, but I'd be happy to discuss it. I'll give you my card and maybe we can talk about it later."

In general, however, the less you say to hecklers, the better, because the more you say, the more you're likely to get into something. For more on dealing with hecklers, see the Bren resources page on Coach Lisa B's website. There is a short presentation on dealing with hecklers by fellow speaking coach Olivia Mitchell, as well as a handout.

In conclusion, try to understand where your audience is coming from. Remember, it's not all about you! Put the focus back on your audience: who are they, what do they need? Then you'll be doing them a service, giving them some value. Do the research, think about it and you'll feel less hostile about them. When you get tough questions, remember, "This person just wants some information." Keep that sense of confidence in your message and if you've done all the prep and legwork, you'll be prepared for these kinds of issues.

Most importantly, remember that tough topics + tough audiences = a tough speaker! The more you speak to these tough audiences, the better speaker you will become. Good luck!

--Audrey Tresham

Tough Topics, Tough Audiences. Part III: Engage the Audience

As environmental professionals, Bren students and alumni are often tasked with communicating complex environmental problems and solutions to "non-environmental" audiences. These audiences can sometimes be unreceptive or even hostile, and speakinng to them can be quite a challenge. On February 26th, the 2010 Doris Duke Fellows hosted a workshop entitled "Tough Topics, Tough Audiences" where public speaking coach Lisa Braithwaite helped Bren students prepare for these difficult situations. The following is an excerpt from her informative presentation. For more on Coach Lisa B., visit her website or blog. You should also check out the excellent resources page she has set up for Bren students.

Engage the Audience

It is very important to engage your audience, to keep them interested in what you're saying. One way to do this is to use relevant stories, examples and analogies. A good analogy can really get your message across; it takes a concept that might not be easy for people to understand, and relates it to something that they know in their lives. Think of Simon Cowell's colorful analogies on American Idol: "that sounded like a nightmare I had" or "like a cat jumping off the empire state building!" Sometimes his analogies aren't that helpful because they're NOT relevant to everyone, but they ARE vivid!

Coach Lisa B. talks to Bren students about engaging their audience.

You can also use emotion to connect and use humor to diffuse tense situations. Self-deprecating humor is always good. Making fun of yourself breaks down audience barriers and makes you look human (but don't to it too much or you look insecure). It is NEVER a good ideas to do humor at an audience member's expense.

Research shows that people are different types of learners: auditory, kinesthetic, visual, etc. In an effort to engage all types of learners, try to get your audience moving and/or doing at least once in your presentation. When you ask a question to a room, you often get silence. But if you ask it and then say, "Discuss it among yourselves," then the room is buzzing and when you come back, people are more willing to talk--partly just because that silence barrier has been broken.

This format also provides a safe space where people can talk who aren't comfortable raising their hand in front of the room. Additionally, it takes the focus off you, gives you a break, and gives them a break from you! When breaking people into groups, however, be aware of the room. You don't want to take up too much time with people moving or climbing over aisles, chairs, etc. If moving is too difficult, you can alwasy say, "Talk about it with your neighbor."

On a related note, people do learn in a lot of different ways. Be aware of that and don't pre-judge your audience. Just because someone is playing games on their phone, it doesn't mean they're not listening to you. Perhaps they are a kinesthetic learner and having something to do with their hands might actually help them absorb your information.

For more tips on engaging your audience, check out Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath (listed uner "Recommended Reading" on Lisa's Bren resources page). It's a marketing book about making ideas sticky and memorable, but is very applicable to public speaking.

Check back soon for Tough Topics, Tough Audiences Part IV: Meet the Audience Where They Are.

--Audrey Tresham

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tough Topics, Tough Audiences. Part II: Prepare, prepare, prepare!

As environmental professionals, Bren students and alumni are often tasked with communicating complex environmental problems and solutions to "non-environmental" audiences. These audiences can sometimes be unreceptive or even hostile, and speaking to them can be quite a challenge. On February 26th, the 2010 Doris Duke Fellows hosted a workshop entitled 'Tough Topics, Tough Audiences' where public speaking coach Lisa Braithwaite helped Bren students prepare for these difficult situations. The following is an excerpt from her informative presentation. For more on Coach Lisa B., visit her website or blog. You should also check out the excellent resources page she set up for Bren students.

Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Preparation is the number one thing that people don’t spend enough time on. Start by thinking about how you will you open and close your presentation. Openings and closings are an area that are highly neglected by speakers and are the only part of your presentation that you should memorize. While memorizing your whole presentation word-for-word can make you sound stiff or canned, your opening is important and memorizing it helps make you less nervous and lets you get started.

About 99% of all speakers begin with “Hi, my name is so and so, and I do this.” Don’t start by talking about yourself, because your audience probably doesn’t care that much—or they’ve already read your bio in a handout or on a website. Try to jump right in with something that is more engaging. You want to get the audience on your side immediately and the way you do that is by coming across as a human being immediately. Make a connection with the people in the room. When you start out being human, using humor or trying to lighten environment, people start connecting with you right away. Potential starter ideas: use a question, quiz, story or shocking statistic.

How many of you have gotten to the end of a presentation, and then you just didn’t know what to say? So you just say “Oh OK, thanks, that’s it!” or you talk in circles because you don’t know how to end. That’s not a great last impression for your audience! Try to plan a strong closing that emphasizes your main point or your take-home message. Leave your audience with a sense of closure and a good impression!

More specifically, DON’T end with Q&A! The energy in the room dies during questions and you could also end on some random question that had nothing to do with your presentation. You need to be in control of the room, and when you end on Q&A, that is not the case. If possible, take Q&A before your closing. Say something like, “I have about five minutes for Q&A, and then after that, I’m going to wrap up.” At end of the Q&A say, “I’d like to take a few minutes to wrap up or recap.” Using this technique will make your presentation so much cleaner—what sticks in the audience members’ minds is your big idea or call to action; not the last random question.

If you have a strict format for your talk, avoiding the ending Q&A can be difficult, but at least ask the organizer beforehand, “Can I just say a few words after the Q&A to conclude and to wrap everything up that we’ve been talking about?” It’s hard to imagine someone saying no to that.

Determine your main points
Don’t put everything you know into your presentation! Showing everything you did or know on the slides isn’t about the audience—it’s about you and your presentation isn’t about you! The audience doesn’t want or need everything you know. Three to four main points are ideal. That number depends a little on the amount of time you have to present, but for longer presentations, think about how you can flush out you main points more, rather than adding more points. Your audience will only retain so much.

How will you organize your ideas?
There are lots of ways to structure and organize your ideas (chronologically, big picture to small picture) but have a structure of some kind and think of what’s going to work best for your audience.

How much time do you typically give to practicing your presentations? How many of you only practice the night before? You put so much time into creating your presentation, when it comes to delivering it, do you really want to wing it? Do you want it to be just OK? Your audience is giving up their time and sometimes their money to come see you; make it worth it for them.

Bren students practice giving mini-presentations to their peers during the workshop.

What to do if you have limited time to prepare
Determine the three critical points you want to make and think about how you can open/close it with a bang. In addition, being prepared in your work—even if not for a specific presentation—will make it easier to do a presentation on short notice: read your journals, your blogs—be up on that stuff. Don’t slack off on the homework part of work. The more you keep up on your professional development, the more you’re prepared to speak.

Remember, the most important thing is to meet the needs of your audience. It’s not about you; it’s about getting your message across to your audience and anyone can do this with proper preparation.

--Audrey Tresham

Tough Topics, Tough Audiences Part I: Know Your Objective & Your Audience

As environmental professionals, Bren students and alumni are often tasked with communicating complex environmental problems and solutions to "non-environmental" audiences. These audiences can sometimes be unreceptive or even hostile, and speaking to them can be quite a challenge. On February 26th, the 2010 Doris Duke Fellows hosted a workshop entitled 'Tough Topics, Tough Audiences' where public speaking coach Lisa Braithwaite helped Bren students prepare for these difficult situations. The following is an excerpt from her informative presentation. For more on Coach Lisa B., visit her website or blog. You should also check out the excellent resources page she set up for Bren students.

Talking about difficult topics takes courage, tact and humor, especially when you go into a situation already knowing there might be antagonism. But it's important to remember that your audience can also be receptive, responsive and grateful--don't forget that! Don't assume with a hostile or difficult audience that there aren't people there whose lives you're going to change.

Even in difficult situations, the presenter is responsible for the audience's understanding and if you, as the speaker, are not able to get your message across, then you need to find a way to improve! What is most important is meeting the needs of your audience. It
's not about YOU; it's about getting your message across to your audience and anyone can do this with proper preparation.

Know Your Objective & Your Audience

In order to know the objective of your talk, you have to know your audience. Are they beginners? Do they know absolutely nothing about your topic, or are they experts? Are they contrarian? Knowing the answers to these questions will affect the type of presentation you give.

There are three basic questions you should try to answer about your audience:
  1. Why are they there?
  2. What are their needs?
  3. What do you want them to do as a result of your talk?
There are many ways to find the answers to these questions. If it's a smaller audience or panel, read their backgrounds or CVs. If you're speaking to a group, familiarize yourself with the perspective or mission of the organization. If it's feasible, send out an online questionnaire in advance to find out what the audience wants. Talk to the event organizer to get information about the group. The more you know about your audience, the more you can serve their particular needs. Try to always give your audience something of value and something that is relevant or applicable to their lives.

Think about these issues before you even start creating your presentation: know who you're talking to, why, what they want, and what you want them to do. Then you'll have a real objective, and you can create a presentation for that specific audience.

Check back soon for Tough Topics, Tough Audiences Part II: Prepare, prepare prepare!

--Audrey Tresham

Monday, April 5, 2010

Communications Tip: Preparing a Professional Writing Sample

It’s that time of year at the Bren School, and the search is on for your dream job or internship. Please remember that the Communications Center is here to help you through this process.

Employers recognize strong communication skills as a major asset in their potential employees, regardless of the position. Your writing sample will be an organization’s first impression of your work, so you want to have a polished, appropriate piece ready to submit at a moment’s notice.

We have prepared a few tips to help you select a standout writing sample:

1) Always ask your potential employer for guidelines.

2) Two pages, or 500 words, is usually an acceptable length, if no requirement is provided. You might consider having two writing samples of different lengths available (e.g., a one- to two-page memo, as well as a five- to ten-page essay). Whatever length you choose, make sure to use a complete piece that has a beginning, middle, and conclusion.

3) Regardless of the subject matter, be sure that your piece is well researched and uses intelligent, persuasive arguments.

4) If possible, choose a topic that is relevant to the position. Alternatively, you could match your sample to the type of writing you might be asked to perform on the job. For example, for a policy internship with the EPA it is important to demonstrate the ability to analyze complex data and make strong recommendations. A more traditional scientific report might be appropriate for a role in the research field, whereas a clear, concise synthesis of a body of knowledge would be better-suited to a communications position. Before starting from scratch, review written work from your previous Bren classes to find candidates pieces to be polished. Also, see Career Services for advice on the topic and style of your piece.

5) Proofread your writing and seek outside assistance with editing. The more eyes that have reviewed your piece, the more confident you can be that it is free of errors.

Our Writing Consultants are available for one-on-one appointments. We can help you with organization, style, professionalism of your writing sample. We are also available to assist you with cover letters.

Before making an appointment with us, please be sure to consult Career Services regarding the content of your application materials.

We look forward to working with you!
--Danica Schaffer-Smith

Friday, March 12, 2010

Communications Tip: Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

You’ve completed your application essay, ordered your transcripts, and drafted your cover letter; now you need to secure that crucial letter of recommendation. The manner in which you compose your request will influence its effectiveness. Lara Polansky (MESM 2009) compiled the following guidelines for writing position-winning requests:
1. Be concise: Professors/employers are inundated with emails and likely have limited time to read/respond to requests; incorporate the key details in as few words as possible.

2. Include a short description of the fellowship/internship/program: This will aid your recommender in writing a letter geared toward the specific opportunity for which you are applying.

3. Provide suggestions: You know what it takes to obtain the award/position. Help your recommender understand this and, thus, incorporate this information in his/her letter, by suggesting subjects to emphasize. You may also want to guide your recommender towards a discussion of experiences exemplifying your unique attributes that differentiate you from other applicants.

4. List the desired applicant qualities as specified by the program: Your letter of recommendation will be most effective if your recommender demonstrates how your characteristics align with those the program is seeking in an applicant.

5. Attach your statement of purpose (or equivalent) and resume: Although your recommender is likely familiar with your academic and professional experiences, it is often helpful to provide these detailed summaries of goals and accomplishments. This will help your recommender to be as specific as possible in his/her letter.

6. Format your message: Use of underlining and bullets will help direct the reader to the most important parts of your request.

7. Highlight the deadline: It is important that your recommender know the time frame of the request.

Bren faculty contributed the following recommendations to strengthen your requests:
--Be timely: Many times faculty get requests at the last minute. Whenever possible, provide a minimum of two weeks' notice.
--Letters need a full address (i.e., letter heading) ready for copying and pasting, as well as bulleted descriptions of the proposed study or work, if the letter concerns a specific project.
--If the letter has to be sent by mail, provide an addressed envelope for the recommender.
--Provide the web address of the fellowship opportunity but DON'T expect the recommender to weed through the detailed application. Tell him/ her exactly what is required -- e.g., points stressed in the fellowship application instructions, how the letter is to be sent (email or mail), exact address, number of copies, etc.
--Send an email first, asking the person if they are willing to be a recommender and state the deadline. This gives them an "out" and does not make them feel like you presume they are willing to write one. If they say they don't have time, respect that and move on. If they do have time, followup with an email to provide exactly what they need. Try to provide all information in a single e-mail to save the recommender time and to avoid important information getting buried in multiple messages.
--Offer to draft the letter (or at least an outline) for the recommender.
--Ask for letters from faculty who know you well. Often, faculty receive requests from students who took a large course and never spoke with them, either in class or outside of class. There is no value to a generic letter which does not highlight your achievements and qualities. If you want a professor to know more about you than just the grade you received, try to stand out in class by asking questions, participating in research activities, and doing exemplary work.

The bottom line is, be considerate of your letter writer. The more time you put into preparing your letter request, the less time your letter writer needs to spend requesting additional information.

Thank you to the faculty who sent their advice and suggestions!
--Monica Bulger

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Preparing the Bren Group Project Brief

The Bren School Communications Center offered a one-hour workshop on March 1st to assist students in preparing their Group Project brief documents.

Dr. Monica Bulger led a discussion of the elements of a strong brief. She distributed a handout describing the "IRAC" system, used in Berkeley's law courses. IRAC (
Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) is a framework used to develop tight, well-prepared, concise arguments. We can use this same system to help us translate detailed and lengthy reports into a more condensed format.

Considerations in preparing the brief:
  • The audience comes first (as always!).
  • How can you profit from the brief or use it to further your career?
  • Could it serve as a writing sample?
  • The overall goal is to produce a 1-4 page document that communicates complex ideas clearly and simply.
  • Make this a document that you can be proud of.Your Executive Summary may be a good starting point.

Activity 1: Groups spent a few minutes building an outline for their briefs using IRAC.

Applying IRAC to the Bren Group Project:
Issue: What are you addressing? This should be a one-sentence description of your topic.
Example: There is no established way to predict or reduce the environmental impact of shoes.

Rule: What are some of the assumptions made about your topic? What are some of the limitations or challenges in addressing the question?

Analysis: How did you approach the problem? What evidence have you gathered? It is important to explain the basics of your methods and provide support for your conclusions.

Conclusion: What are the results of your study? What are the implications of your findings?
Example: The Footprint Group Project produced a model that can predict and reduce the environmental impact of shoes during the design phase.

You will want to
market your project as much as possible in the brief. A brief is a much more attractive than a full report for people interested in learning about your project. The brief is very likely the only thing that will actually be read. If it is provides a strong and compelling message, it will entice readers to explore your report.

Activity 2: Groups spent a few minutes looking at past group project briefs and the entire group then discussed examples of strong content and formatting.

Advice for brief formatting generated in the session:
  • The main message should be visually obvious.
  • You might consider putting the problem statement and your conclusions in bold.
  • Maximize headings by making them count: for example, instead of "Results" use a more descriptive title.
  • If you have a study site, include a map showing the area.
  • If you are studying a species, show a picture of it.
  • Create strong graphs or figures to represent your data.
  • Think about the brief as a movie preview; you want to include the most exciting moments to get people to the theater to see the full movie. This is your opportunity to compel people to want to know more.
If you would like further assistance with your group project brief, please contact us. Our Writing and Visual Design Consultants will be happy to arrange appointments upon request.

--Danica Schaffer-Smith

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Compelling Poster Design

On February 22nd, the Bren School Communications Center hosted a workshop on the content and visual design of posters. The workshop specifically addressed the needs of 2nd year Bren students, who are currently in the process of preparing posters summarizing their Group Projects. Dr. Monica Bulger led a brief discussion of the textual aspects of a poster and Visual Design Consultant Aaron Sobel provided guidelines for visual design as well as an overview of design tools.

The text on a poster must strike a balance between providing technical information and sustaining interest. The primary consideration should always be your audience (family, friends, other students, professors, clients). When in doubt, direct your message toward your professors and clients. Also important is in what context the poster will be displayed. At the presentation in April, members of your group will be able to discuss details of the project with the audience, but it should have enough content to speak for itself on the walls of Bren Hall.

When you look at a poster, what do expect to take away from it? Participants at the workshop expressed that within a few seconds you should be able to identify the problem, what the group did, the results, and why the research is important. Consider what message you want to convey to your audience.

Activity 1: Participants worked with their group members to write out their research question or a brief statement about the project’s findings. Once this message is distilled, it can be used as a guiding focus in design of the poster.

Monica’s tips:
  • Plan for short attention spans. For example, use headers that are more descriptive than just “methods, results, discussion”. Consider incorporating your findings into the title of the poster.
  • A lot of text is overwhelming. Preserve the meaning, but cut out the details. Ideally, your main message should be one brief sentence. You can start with a long version, and then determine what is essential later.
  • Consider using your presentation slides as a guideline rather than the report. Your slides are already a more condensed and visual version of your information.
  • Use space wisely. Make sure that all of your images are useful in communicating your data.
  • Look at other posters and decide what you like and dislike
Using Design Tools:
There are many different tools to choose from including Photoshop, InDesign, Powerpoint, and Pages (Mac only). Photoshop and InDesign have advanced features, but are more difficult to learn to use quickly. Powerpoint is the least flexible program, however, it is very widely used, is compatible with both Mac and PC platforms, and more people will be able to assist you in its use.

Regardless of which program you choose to use, it is very important to set the “canvas size” before doing anything else. Doing this will ensure that the poster is already the proper size when you take it to the printer. You may recall that enlarging images can result in pixilation issues. This may be a problem if the canvas size is not set correctly. In PowerPoint, this option is under page setup.In Pages, it can be found in page setup, under the File menu. Under “paper sizes”, you can define a new page size. In Photoshop, the canvas size is set when you create a new document.

Getting your Poster Printed:
When you go to the printer, you will want to take at least two file versions of your poster. Call ahead to determine what the printer needs from you and what file formats they accept. Take your original file with you in case you need make any edits on the spot. Additionally, you should bring at least one image version, such as JPEG, TIFF, or PDF. TIFF is the best option to maintain image quality.

Font choices contribute voice to the information on your poster. Sizes vary between fonts so be sure to print and review several different sizes of the fonts you are thinking of using. Free fonts can be downloaded online and installed on your computer. Keep in mind that the printer may not have your font, if you need to make changes. The TIFF or JPEG image versions will preserve your font style.

A lot of the thematic feeling in a poster is found in the color scheme. Color wheels can help you select pleasing color combinations. You may also want to consider color meanings in making your choices for certain subject matter. Generally, conflicting colors and shadowing should be avoided. Print an 8.5x11 version of your poster to preview the color scheme before making a final decision.

Photographs and figures draw in your audience and are much more easily absorbed than textual information. If you have them, use photos of your group in action. Be creative in how you convey your information in figures and graphs. For example, to compare magnitudes, you can create objects (i.e. in Photoshop) that are the same shape but different sizes, rather than using percent figures. It is helpful to highlight the most important information, such as by using a different color for the most important column on a bar graph.

Logos and other images may look cleaner if they are cropped. Aaron gave a demonstration of how to clip a background in Photoshop so that text would wrap the curves of the image rather than the square background. Use the magic wand tool to do this, with the tolerance set high. If you hold down the shift key, you can add areas from the background. Once the backround is selected, choose select inverse> copy> save new>paste to get same image with no background. Save it as a PNG to import it into your poster.

More helpful online tools:
  • You can upload your poster in Feng-gui to determine the hotsposts in your poster, where most eyes will focus. Aaron uploaded an example poster and no hotspots occurred on the text.
  • Free flowchart tools, such as Omnigraffle, are available to make nicer images. Export them as PNG files to put into your poster.
Aaron’s Tips:
  • Keep the poster as simple as possible and make use of white space.
  • Try drawing your poster before doing it on the computer. Changes will be easier early on.
  • Make sure to use spell check .
  • Ask people outside of your group to give you feedback.
  • Print out a color proof on 8.5x11 before you take it anywhere else.
  • Make sure to have at least $80 left in your account to print two copies of your poster.
Activity 2: Students took a fieldtrip to evaluate design and content elements of posters on Bren Hall 3L, spending no more than 1 minute looking at each poster. Workshop participants generally liked posters with strong imagery, thematic colors, and limited text.

We hope that these concepts and tips will be useful in preparing your Group Project posters. Keep in mind that special sessions for poster design are also available in the Communications Center. We look forward to working with you soon!
--Danica Schaffer-Smith

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Communications Tip: E-mail Etiquette

Since e-mail is likely the most common means of communication with your professors, prospective employers, and other colleagues, knowing how to effectively use the medium will increase your chances of successful communication.

Basic rules of e-mail:
1. Be professional: Include a salutation and closing signature.

2. Keep it simple: We’re all busy and don’t have time to read your 3 paragraph request for a meeting. Make it easy for your reader to answer your questions or address your concerns by keeping e-mails brief and you purpose for writing clear.

3. Respond in a timely manner: Especially when working under deadline and in groups, it’s important to provide information/respond to team member’s questions as promptly as possible.

4. Be polite: If you’ve sent a question or concern to someone, do send acknowledgment of their e-mail.

5. Feel free to use bullet points or bold (for deadlines or meeting times) to make finding the important bits easy for your reader.

6. Consider timing: True, e-mail is asynchronous, but unless your professor has told you in advance that weekend e-mailing is acceptable, expect a response during work hours, Monday – Friday.

7. A follow-up to point #6: Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on others' parts. Do _not_ expect an immediate response to your e-mails; in fact, give respondents at least a 24 hour window.

8. Follow-up: People are busy. If you’ve sent an e-mail to a prospective employer or team member and have not received a response, it is perfectly acceptable to send a follow-up message. [Use discretion: if you sent an e-mail at midnight and it is now 8a.m., refer to point #7.]

9. Guidelines for bad news e-mails:
-- ALWAYS REMAIN PROFESSIONAL (Incidentally, avoid using all caps in e-mail. It looks like you're yelling.)
-- Stick to the issues, avoid emotional phrasing/claims
-- Resist personal attacks
-- WAIT: Always write calm. It’s better to take longer to respond than to send something immediately that could potentially burn bridges.

10. Generating positive outcomes from bad news e-mails:
-- Consider the human element: Know your audience and consider their
needs/motivations when crafting your response.
-- Where appropriate and when it can be accomplished tastefully, use humor to lighten the situation.
-- Always try to end on a positive note.

--Monica Bulger

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mindful Presenting, Part VI: Defense Q&A

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. We used Nancy Duarte's slide:ology as our text. This post is focused on part VI of the workshop: Defense Q&A.
Presenter: Dr. Monica Bulger
In preparation for your defense and public presentations, we asked MESM alumni to share their thoughts. Click here to download a handout from the workshop. Here are some additional tips for managing the Q&A portion:
  • Try to anticipate questions and figure out answers in advance.
  • Prepare a response for if you don't know the answer.
  • Always thank or acknowledge the person who asked the question. You don't have to use the words "thank you" every time. You could say something like "oh, interesting question" or "good point."
  • It's OK to think for a moment before you respond.
  • If it's a multi-part question, write down the question as the audience member is asking it and make sure you cover all parts. (That also means you should bring a pen and paper!)
  • If an audience member makes a suggestion, note it. Take it constructively (at least in the room) and/or write it down. Don't write it off!
  • If a second group member wants to add a follow up to an answer, that's fine, but keep it brief. You do not need to give two full answers, and definitely try to limit it to no more than two "answerers" per question.

Some groups in the past have had one group member act as moderator for the Q&A. This idea may or may not work for your group; you need to consider your own group dynamics. If you do use a moderator, there's a couple ways you can handle it. You can decide ahead of time who's going to field which type of questions, that way the moderator knows who to direct each question to.

Alternatively, you could use some sort of signal. One group last year had red and green cards to signal the moderator whether they felt the could answer the question or not. In addition, as one person was answering, the other group members could also use the green card to indicate that they wanted to add a follow-up point. That way, the person answering could do a "warm hand-off" to the other group member.

--Audrey Tresham

Mindful Presenting, Part V: Logistics

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. This post is focused on part V of the workshop: Logistics.
Presenters: BJ Danetra and Monica Bulger

When planning your presentation, here are some "logistical" aspects of delivery that you should consider.

Always test out the space prior to presenting. Make sure that any technologies you use will function as planned. Test out the lighting so that you know if you'll be able to see the audience. Determine whether you'll be standing on a raised platform, or level with the audience. Knowing these small details will reduce your anxiety when you present.

Microphones. If there's a podium mic, get used to staying at the podium. Otherwise, you will not be heard! If you have a lapel mic, be aware of where the screen is--you want the lapel mic to be on the same side as the screen, so that if you turn your head to look at the screen, people can still hear you.

Podiums. Don't clutch the podium! Practice with a podium and get used to it. Act normal. If your mic prevents you from strutting across the stage, you can move a little bit around the podium, as long as you're still picked up by the mic. Practice speaking with out the podium and then practice standing behind it. Review TED talks for examples of people using the podium to their advantage.

Panels/tables. If you're sitting onstage at a table while someone else is presenting, don't look like a deer caught in headlights. You don't want to distract from the presenter. Look completely engrossed in whoever's presenting, laugh at the jakes (in a natural way), act like you've never heard the presentation before. When you're at the the table there should be NO audience eye contact--look at the presenter.

Lighting. If you have a spotlight on you, make sure you stay in the light. Believe it or not, sometimes moving out of the light confuses the audience and something in their brain can make them think they can't hear you (even if you're mic'd)!

--Audrey Tresham