Resources

How to organise events

Whether you are organising a field day, a workshop, a policy briefing or a meeting, some forward planning can make all the difference to its success. Making sure you have well-briefed facilitators, chairs and presenters will also help ensure the success of your event. Use the event checklist at the end of this sheet or develop your own checklist to help you stay focused on the detail of the event.

Planning your event

Firstly, get an event plan down on paper which:

  • clearly defines the roles/tasks for everyone involved in the event and keeps a check on their progress
  • pinpoints your target audience/attendees and what you want them to get out of the event
  • creates something different and interesting

Avoid holding public events during big news times, for example:

  • when budgets are being handed down
  • special holidays
  • sports grand finals

Promote public events using:

  • community bulletin boards in suburban papers
  • community radio announcements (both FM and AM run these as free services and will often post them on their websites as well)
  • school newsletters
  • email networks
  • media alerts and editorials

Make contingency plans—have backup speakers and plan for bad weather. Hold your event where there is mobile phone service so that people don’t have to leave the venue to communicate with others.

Organising a field day

Field days take more time and effort to organise than the people involved ever imagine. Here are some tips for organising a field day:

  1. Start planning early - everything takes longer than you think.
  2. Focus energy on doing a few big events really well rather than many events of a lower standard.
  3. Collaborate with as many partners as possible - to expand the reach of the event. Look for regional partners and support regional activities where possible.
  4. Look at what else is happening around the time - How can you fit in with existing programs or events rather than creating your own event? How can they fit in with you?
  5. Use the strengths of your organisation - contacts, expertise etc.
  6. Call in expertise where needed - if you have never contacted a group in the region before, talk to others who have, rather than starting from scratch.
  7. Involve other people and organisations such as community and industry groups - Use seed funding to build better relationships and leverage more for a field day using combined resources and strengths.
  8. Be open to new ideas and new partners - talk to as many people as possible and keep a contact list.
  9. Offer a prize to encourage excellence in the field.
  10. Make available an experienced, proactive person to answer enquiries about the field day’s activities as soon as people come in - Give them the time and resources they need.
  11. Hand out freebies — it guarantees a good response from attendees.
  12. Don’t reinvent the wheel - Take note of the number of attendees, media coverage, what worked, what didn’t, and feedback from anyone involved. These notes are useful for the organisation to build on the profile of the event.

Organising a workshop

Workshops provide a structured space for people to work together to create desired outputs or pursue shared objectives. Workshops are useful for:

  • discussing criteria or analysing alternatives allowing two-way information
  • fostering small group or one-on-one communication
  • offering a choice of team members to answer difficult questions
  • building ownership and credibility for the outcomes
  • maximising feedback obtained from participants
  • achieving a group product/outcome
  • exploring issues/solutions/ways forward
  • discussing criteria or analysing alternatives
  • drawing on other team members to answer difficult questions
  • building credibility
  • fostering public ownership in solving the problem
  • developing community capacity and action plans
  • communicating an issue
  • building alliances, consensus

A workshop must be well designed to meet its objectives. Hostile participants may resist what they may perceive as the 'divide and conquer' strategy of breaking into small groups. Choosing a good facilitator is crucial to good planning. The facilitator must be experienced in keeping the focus on the objectives and be able to evaluate the quality and quantity of their delivery. They need to know how they will use the public input before they begin the workshop and in some cases several facilitators are needed for small group discussions. The number of tools that you can use in a workshop to raise the relevant issues and stimulate creativity and thought are limited only to your imagination.

5 things to consider when planning a workshop

  1. Shaping objectives/desired outputs - Work out the purpose of the workshop and what you want the workshop to achieve, and make this very clear to participants before the workshop begins. You may also wish to discuss and clarify this at the beginning.
  2. The participants - You can select participants based on their knowledge, closeness to the issue, expertise or by selecting a cross-section of views. Alternatively, you can target particular groups.
  3. Design process and tools to meet the objectives - The facilitator must be experienced in the processes required, such as designing messages, chairing sessions and resolving conflict. Consider the materials or workbooks you need to help meet the objectives.
  4. Workshop environment - Once you have identified the objectives and process, focus on the workshop environment to ensure that the workshop runs smoothly. Environmental considerations may include hiring a venue, catering, staffing, engaging experts, recorders, gophers and artists/photographer. Audiovisual requirements can be a major hurdle to a well-run workshop. Check the recording equipment and amplification, overhead projectors, data projectors, video and slide projector/screen, and props for working in groups (pens, paper, pins, etc.). Check that the furniture is arranged so that all participants can see each other and there is no hierarchy. A square arrangement works best.
  5. Feedback - Give each participant a feedback form (see sample workshop evaluation form at end) and a copy of everything produced from the workshop.

Organising a policy briefing to politicians

12 tips for briefing your politician

  1. Ask your politician how much time they have to spend with you.
  2. Be prepared to spend five minutes or 45 minutes with them.
  3. Introduce yourself, explain what you do and what you want out of the meeting e.g. raise their interest in the area, engender more support, or supply contacts. Ask them to do something concrete.
  4. Make sure you can cover this information in one minute as it may be all you get.
  5. Be honest and friendly.
  6. Research your MP and make your work or issue as relevant to them as you can so they understand why you are meeting with them. Do they have a research or education facility in their electorate? Are they on a committee that deals with your issue? Do they have a personal interest in the area?
  7. Give good examples. How much money can be saved? What are the social benefits for individuals or groups?
  8. Tell them stories - they will remember them.
  9. Provide solutions to problems rather than just problems—they hear enough problems.
  10. Let your research outcomes guide the direction of policy, not the detail - this is better left to the parliamentarians.
  11. Try to link with current issues. Read the paper and listen to the news. Make your project or issue relevant to general community concerns.
  12. Maintain as much contact as you can. Leave them with some written information, write to them thanking them for meeting with you, invite them to visit you, and keep them updated on your progress.

Running an effective meeting

Meetings are useful for gathering a diversity of opinions, honing goals, reaching agreement on decisions that must be made and taking action on issues—but they can really slow up a productive working day.

8 tips for organising an effective meeting

  1. Realise the purpose of the meeting - if it is for disseminating information perhaps this can be done in written form.
  2. Ensure all the right people (i.e. those that need to be consulted) attend so that additional meetings can be avoided.
  3. Provide enough information for people to be able to make decisions during the meeting.
  4. Provide a good meeting agenda so everyone knows what the meeting is about—give it an appropriate title, describe the meeting content in a short paragraph, and disseminate the agenda three days before the meeting.
  5. Choose a good chairperson who will keep to time and direct the agenda appropriately.
  6. Schedule meetings in the morning while everyone is fresh.
  7. Consider alternative settings, such as garden settings, where participants can feel relaxed or at least less focused on other matters.
  8. Participants may need time just to interact informally with others. To avoid interruptions during the meeting, create time for these interactions by scheduling lunch with the group for after the meeting, or by organising a field trip.

Event checklist

The following checklist can help you make sure you have covered all your bases. Some of the items won’t be relevant for events, but it does provide a useful guide.

Planning

  • set up planning team
  • decide on event theme
  • write budget
  • prepare written strategy – who, what, why, when, how?
  • plan evaluation strategy

Guest speakers

  • confirm MC
  • confirm guest speaker(s)
  • brief speakers
  • brief chairs
  • provide speech notes if required
  • provide copy of running order
  • get mobile phone contact numbers of speakers

Invitations

  • design invitation
  • prepare guest list
  • organise RSVP arrangements
  • print invitations
  • mail out invitations
  • finalise guest list and numbers
  • prepare name tags if required

Prizes and donations

  • prepare letter to send to potential sponsors
  • allocate team of people to follow up
  • collect prizes
  • record names of businesses and individuals who make financial or in-kind contributions
  • prepare auction or raffle procedures
  • allocate staff duties at event

Venue

  • choose and book venue
  • organise catering
  • confirm menu (and service times)
  • finalise table layout
  • prepare seating arrangements
  • organise registration table
  • confirm VIP car parking
  • determine car parking facilities for other guests
  • organise water for guest speakers
  • book photographer/video
  • check sound and AV equipment
  • check toilet facilities
  • organise power to site

Signage

  • prepare stage display
  • organise lectern sign
  • prepare foyer display
  • arrange other display material
  • finalise directional signage
  • create street signage

Media

  • write media release
  • prepare media kit
  • send media release for approval
  • send media release to media outlets and arrange photo and interview times

At event

  • prepare running sheet
  • distribute running sheet to organising team, guest speakers, venue manager and caterer
  • prepare biography of guest speakers and provide to MC
  • allocate roles and responsibilities for team:
    • registration table
    • prizes and/or gifts
    • display area
    • meet and greet
    • collecting money
    • VIP meet and greet
  • allocate seating for VIP and guest speakers
  • acknowledge sponsors

Information materials

  • organise table numbers
  • print place cards
  • organise table display or information
  • finalise show bags or other giveaway material

Follow up

  • prepare thankyou letters – guest speakers, VIPs, sponsors and venue
  • send thankyou letters
  • write up notes from event (what worked and what didn’t work) and analyse feedback
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How to give a media interview

When giving a media interview, you need to remain in control of the interview - if not, you may fail to get your message across or, worse again, you may get the wrong message across.

Be on the front foot before you start

  1. Objective – Be clear about why you want to use the media or why you have agreed to do the interview.
  2. Audience – Who do you want to reach with your message? Always know who the media audience is before the interview starts.
  3. Message – What do you want to get across to the audience? Consider your objective, what the audience might want to know (which generally shapes an interviewer’s questions) and what the audience (or interviewer) might get wrong unless you stress the correct information. Get your main points across first.
  4. Written – Always give journalists something in writing before the interview; offer to email or fax it to them.
  5. Preparation – Think about $ figures, statistics and any background information that might be useful in your interview. Prepare for the interview by thinking of simple everyday explanations and/or examples and by focusing on the main points of your message.
  6. Rehearsal – Practice with someone who can play the role of the journalist—try your family or friends; colleagues know too much.
  7. Interview – When you meet the journalist, walk them through the main 2-3 points of your story before they start the interview

Control the agenda

  1. Try to ensure the FIRST answer you give to a question encapsulates your most important point. For most interview situations, this will direct the sorts of questions journalists will ask you.
  2. Stick to your 2-3 key points (which may mean turning questions around). Back up key points with examples or colourful analogies. Repeat your key points two or three times using different words.
  3. Use the PREP method of answering questions:
    • Make the Point you want to make.
    • Back that point up with a Reason (give an explanation).
    • Provide an Example to illustrate your point.
    • Restate your main Point again to make it really clear.
  4. Keep your answers short and interesting. Be enthusiastic and lively.
  5. In pre-recorded interviews, you rarely hear the question. So avoid yes/no answers and pronouns, and give an answer that is complete and can stand alone.
  6. See questions as opportunities to say what you want, rather than something you need to accurately answer in detail.
  7. Check with the journalist at the end of the interview that they understood your key points.

Consider the different roles of researchers and journalists. Researchers work with accuracy, detail, prudence, incremental developments, robust methodologies and peer review. On the other side of the microphone, most journalists work with breaking news, quick grabs, key points and catchy and/or controversial comments - they work under constant time pressure and tight deadlines.

Be prepared to turn questions around

Most journalists are not out to trick you. They just haven’t time to do a lot of research and so they don’t know the right questions to ask you. If you keep answering their questions, you’ll both go merrily down the garden path and you may not get your message out.

Be prepared to turn the interview around and point it in the right direction. This does not mean you completely ignore the question. Rather, you see the question as an opportunity to convey your key points. Here are some phrases that might help:

  • ‘The point of the whole issue is simply this…’
  • ‘The really exciting thing about our work is…’
  • ‘Let me answer your question by simply pointing out that in the last...months we have...’
  • ‘I think that your question is best directed to...but what I can say is...’
  • ‘To appreciate our position on that issue it is important that you first realise...’
  • ‘Let's look at that issue from another viewpoint...’
  • ‘Well, that's an interesting point but the key thing I want to say is...’

Don’t want to answer a particular question?

Never say ‘No comment’. It makes you look guilty. Always give a reason why you can’t answer a question. Be honest. Some examples are:

  • ‘It’s too early to answer that question…’ or
  • ‘I can't talk about … because I'm not the person working on it...’ or
  • ‘…because it's commercial in confidence…’, or
  • ‘...because the full results aren't in yet…’.
  • Then add, ’but what I can say is ...’ and return to the main message you have prepared.

Dealing with difficult interviews

Most research stories are ‘good news’ stories—announcements or releases issued on behalf of researchers and accepted by an uncritical media. The agenda and timing is determined by the research organisation.

You should carefully plan and release ‘bad news’ stories about difficult or contentious subjects in the same way as ‘good news’ stories. Draft a media release, discuss it with the people concerned, nominate a spokesperson, work out the main message, put it in simple terms, anticipate the questions, rehearse and organise an interview or event. Take extra care with all of these steps. Respond to the issue quickly and credibly.

This is a time when you have to be careful what you say, and how you say it. Learn to control the agenda so your message gets out, not the journalist's ideas or preconceptions. Work out what you want to say, and keep saying it—pleasantly, patiently and firmly.

10 tips for dealing with controversial interviews

  1. Find out as much as you can about the agenda of the media. Why are they doing the interview? What are the related issues? Who else will they be talking to?
  2. Find out the media audience for the interview; this will shape the interviewer’s questions and agenda.
  3. For TV: Where will the interview be held? How will the location affect your image and that of your organisation? Take control of this.
  4. Do lots of preparation and work out what you want to talk about, and what you DO NOT want to talk about. Draw a very clear boundary around your story.
  5. Prepare positive explanations of the research that will ensure you stay on the front foot during the interview. Never become defensive.
  6. Be careful with analogies and explanation of risk—they can backfire. If you want to use analogies, make sure they make sense for the media audience you will be talking to.
  7. Acknowledge the concerns of others as valid, even if they do not have a rational basis to them. Don’t be arrogant.
  8. If appropriate, rehearse with a freelance or ex-journalist who can ask you difficult questions.
  9. During the interview stick to the key points that you want to get across. Remember, a question equals an opportunity to say what you want. It does not equal an answer.
  10. Remain cool, calm and polite during the interview. If the interviewer becomes aggressive, they are the one to lose out, not you
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How to understand your audience

Understanding your audience is the key to tailoring all of your communication more effectively. Your message may seem clear and obvious to you, but what you put in doesn’t always get processed the way you expect it to. Your perceptions are true for you but may be very different for someone else, even someone who is close. For example, they may have completely different memories of a past incident that you shared. This reality is true for them even though it’s not for you.

What do we know about audiences?

Communication is not only about conveying information - it is also about developing relationships and building trust with your audience. Audience members:

  • would rather hear from people who are in the same group as themselves or who understand their perceptions, concerns and needs
  • tend to conform to the values and behaviours of the groups to which they belong
  • are often mistrustful of people from other groups, particularly those they perceive as posing a threat to their stability or livelihood
  • will seek out information from credible sources but are more likely to go with known and immediate or local sources when available

Developing more effective relationships and trust with your audience takes time and resources, but some key tips can help improve the effectiveness of your communication. All the good work that has gone into a piece of writing can be wasted by one word in the first paragraph that the audience does not understand or that puts them off. To avoid this, you can:

  • find out what they already understand and what they are inspired by
  • employ a competent person who deals with the community you want to reach to explain your messages
  • go out and talk to the people you are communicating with as often as you can so that you really get a feel for their interests and concerns

Spend time trying to understand your audience

Spend time finding out the key group/individuals that you need to engage right from the beginning, and at particular points along the way.

  • Don’t assume you have the correct knowledge about others - empathy is gained through genuine understanding, it is not an inherited trait.
  • Don’t just rely on stakeholder lists from the agencies - these are just the beginning.

Research what is already known about past perceptions, concerns and needs of other people. Look at surveys, reports, and newspaper clippings. Explore group networks, ask who else should be involved, and continue to do this all through the project. Identify the communication methods that are best suited to the groups you are working with and use them in preference to other methods of communication that may be easier for you to deal with. Actively listen to people’s concerns and needs. This means they do far more of the talking than you do. A good listener asks short sharp questions and clarifies that they have understood.

Ask for information

Be clear about the group or organisation that you are representing and be open and honest about your motivations in wanting information from your audience. Don’t get defensive - keep an open mind.

When asking for input or information from partners, structure your meetings so that like-minded people can work together. Partners are more likely to participate if they feel they can be heard. Don’t mix groups with various agendas unless you have a very real reason for doing so - and then do this in a very structured way with clear objectives, process and outcomes. Have them tell their story in active first person to get their direct perspective rather than including it as quotes in a narrative.

Pre-test messages

It is useful to test how clear your messages are before finalising a communication strategy or tactic. One way to do this is to pre-test the message with a sample of the audience. For example, before finalising a fact sheet, send a draft to a few people requesting their feedback, or present a draft strategy to a focus group and ask them about the messages. The following questions are useful for pre-testing a document (or presentation, video clip etc).

  1. What is the main idea this document is trying to get across to you?
  2. What does this document ask you to do?
  3. What action, if any, is the document recommending that people take?
  4. In your opinion, is there anything in the document that is confusing?
  5. Which of these phrases best describes the document? [Easy to understand/Hard to understand]
  6. In your opinion, is there anything in particular worth remembering about the document?
  7. What, if anything, do you particularly like about the document?
  8. Is there anything in the document that you particularly dislike or that bothers you? If yes, what?
  9. In your opinion, is there anything in the document that is hard to believe? If yes, what?
  10. In your opinion, what type of person is this document talking to? [Someone like me/Someone different to me]

Give feedback

At key points, especially in the final stages of a project, give feedback to those involved. Don’t just give written feedback - it’s the cheapest and easiest, but not necessarily the most effective. When people have actively participated in a project, they are more likely to come to a reporting/information session than to read a report.

Watch the timeframes

The timeframes of an agency/consultant are usually much tighter than those of the community. Recognise this in regard to generating participation, and manage it so that projects can be completed cost effectively and efficiently.

It’s all about them!

Don’t give up - it can take a concerted effort to truly understand another’s point of view…if that’s ever really possible. Remember, their point of view is all about them - not you!

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How to manage risk and uncertainty when communicating

Risk and uncertainty is inherent in most research projects. Much of the information generated by research is not absolute and may change as new information emerges. This makes it difficult for researchers to communicate with people other than their peers and colleagues. This is especially true when communicating with government decision makers about controversial issues. Researchers want to give fool-proof information to maintain their credibility, while others need to make decisions on the best available information. So it’s important to plan how you communicate risk and uncertainty. It requires you to carefully design messages and develop an open and transparent process.

Why it’s hard to communicate uncertainty

Technical data can be complex

Research related to areas such as risk assessment is often complex and difficult to express in simple language. For example, it often involves probabilities or management options that are hard to interpret in terms of risk.

Science does not progress without ‘disagreements’

When there is scientific uncertainty or ‘risk’, there is usually also scientific disagreement about the level of risk or the interpretation of the data. The problem is compounded by the general perception of people that science is ‘always right’.

The peer review process takes time

The traditional process of peer review means that scientists are generally unwilling to communicate their research without the data being accepted by accredited colleagues. This can delay the communication of important data and increase the level of concern and conflict for those affected by, involved or interested in the issue.

7 tips for communicating ‘uncertain’ technical information

  1. Find out what people want to know - What you think is important and what others think is important may differ greatly. While it is important to communicate information you consider critical, you need to consider the concerns of people who are in involved in, affected by or interested in your research.
  2. Acknowledge uncertainties - This will help your long-term credibility and help to educate people about the nature of scientific research.
  3. Put information into perspective - It is important not to raise expectations beyond what can be delivered and to not minimise risks. People need enough information to feel confident in making their own decisions.
  4. Release information early - Delays in releasing critical information can lead to:
    • uninformed decision making by affected groups/individuals
    • cover-up claims and subsequent loss of credibility
    • the build up of prejudiced attitudes or emotions
    • reactive communication strategies
  5. Take care when simplifying information - Maintain a fine balance between providing too much complex information and too little.
  6. LISTEN - It is as important to listen to target groups and understand their perceptions, concerns and needs as it is to inform them.
  7. Interact - Avoiding interaction with interested or affected individuals/groups is a recipe for trouble. Involve them early and consult them regularly.

Principles of risk communication

  • Involve people early

Early involvement shows your commitment to the needs and concerns of people involved in the issue. It demonstrates that research is relevant to them. Be proactive in your communication efforts.

  • Group those you want to communicate with

Divide into groups those who are involved in, affected by or interested in the issue. This makes it easier for you to understand particular needs and concerns while identifying specific communication channels to each group.

  • Clarify roles at the beginning

Do not promise people the opportunity to provide input and then ask them to ratify your proposals/research results. Clearly define roles together with those you are communicating with.

  • Clarify involvement preferences

Find out what type of involvement people prefer. Work with them to develop a process for their participation which they are comfortable with.

  • Plan carefully

To integrate participation with organizational timelines, you need a comprehensive strategy, a detailed plan and clear timelines.

  1. Deal with internal concerns - Participation programs can lead to increased tension with internal political sensitivities. Deal with internal organizational/project concerns before they become a major stumbling block to the process.
  2. Personal contacts - Develop personal contacts and use face-to-face communication tactics - they are essential to the success of any participation program.
  3. Use the expertise and knowledge of others - Encourage and actively use community/industry advisory groups. Bring them into the decision-making process. Focus on people with special expertise. For example, a local educator may help develop an educational plan for the community.
  4. Develop a team approach - No one individual or group can manage all the aspects of an issue/problem. Recognise and encourage input from all sectors.
  5. Keep processes open - Secret decisions or research can create negative feelings and lead to loss of credibility. Make every effort to create an ‘us’ and ‘our’ approach to research and policy development and avoid a ‘them’ and ‘us’ division. Be honest.
  6. Use consensus approaches - Consensus groups work on the principle that all viewpoints are considered. They avoid compromise decisions in favour of a shared vision and are particularly powerful when:
    • local groups/communities are involved
    • there is shared commitment
    • an external facilitator is used to start the process
    • all the groups/individuals involved are willing and able to commit a large amount of time to the process
  7. Use conflict as a tool - Resist trying to reach consensus on all issues. Conflict can open up dialogue and raise the profile of an important issue.
  8. Recognise values and feelings - Recognise that people's values and feelings are a legitimate aspect of any issue, and may convey valuable information, such as:
    • what is important to people
    • technical aspects of the issue
    • creative approaches for resolving the issue
  9. Use surveys - You can use surveys as both a research and participation tool. They help practitioners to:
    • actively seek input
    • find out about public opinion
    • explain decisions (based on survey results) to special interest groups
    • explain decisions (based on survey results) to the public through the mass media
  10. Use monitoring efforts - You can effectively involve groups in research and monitoring efforts.
  11. Be less bureaucratic - Informal meetings and simply-written materials will help to convey a sense of openness that will help the participation process.
  12. Respond to input - If you solicit input, be prepared to respond to that input and to explain your response.
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How to write an e-newsletter

 An Important Note

LWA has specific requirements about using email newsletters in ways that are accessible, privacy compliant, and do not create Spam. It is important that you discuss any e-newsletter component with the LWA eBusiness team BEFORE you commence planning your communication. The eBusiness team is available at webadmin@lwa.gov.au, or by calling Land & Water Australia on 02 6263 6000.

 An electronic newsletter, or e-newsletter, can be an effective way of communicating what your project is doing and keeping your stakeholders informed. You can also use it as a marketing tool, providing useful information to the reader while indirectly promoting your services. The content you select and how you structure it is crucial to the e-newsletter’s success.

7 Tips for a great e-newsletter

7 top tips for a great e-newsletter

  1. Put in the time and energy to avoid an irregular e-newsletter that stops after a few issues.
  2. Keep the content concise, relevant and timely with one theme for each edition.
  3. Include information that your readers will value and pass on to others. Avoid offending anyone by publishing controversial topics or views.
  4. Write for the reader - not for you or your organisation.
  5. Develop a unique voice with a friendly, informal tone. Use humour - people like to have fun.
  6. Allow articles to be reproduced, as long as your organisation is acknowledged as the source.
  7. Keep an ideas file - so you don’t run out.

Make it easy to read

If you don’t, they won’t bother. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen shows that 51 seconds is all we usually spend scanning an e-newsletter. Most people won’t read past the first 3 items on your list, so make them the important ones!

  • Include the edition and/or volume number in the email - some readers may want to file them away and reference them later.
  • Avoid a lengthy intro - most people won’t read it.
  • Limit your colours and watch for bad contrast. Bright colours like yellow don’t show up well on a white background.
  • Avoid flashy, distracting graphics. Not only do they increase the size of the file you are sending, they don’t always work on all computers.
  • Use lots of white space to draw the eye to the text.
  • Use numbered or bulleted lists.
  • Keep your articles short - provide a link to your website for those who want to read more.
  • Keep your sentences and paragraphs shorter than you would in a written document.
  • Keep ideas simple and clear.
  • Use plain language and check your grammar and spelling.
  • Keep the entire length to no more than a few screens (or about 15cm).
  • Include a table of contents at the top of the e-newsletter so readers can decide what to read. Create hyperlinks on the entries in the table of contents to the articles for quick navigation, but don’t let this take away from your main items.
  • Give articles meaningful names.

Subscribing and unsubscribing — give them the option

Receiving and reading your e-newsletter is purely optional. Make your reader feel like they are in control. LWA requires the following:

  • Make it easy to subscribe and unsubscribe. Frustrated subscribers are not likely to return. There must be a simple Unsubscribe link.
  • Offer the newsletter in html and text.
  • The email must clearly state the sending organisation and why it was sent.
  • Ask for feedback. Provide a contact email address at the bottom of the e-newsletter.

Be reliable

The professional image of your organisation depends on it.

  • Choose a simple style and stick to it.
  • Be consistent with your frequency. If it is a weekly publication, make sure you send it once a week and on the same day of the week.

Content ideas

  • Choose a friendly voice.
  • Titbits like quotes, links to interesting websites, and jokes can make the e-newsletter fun, but are also more likely to get forwarded to friends and colleagues.
  • Provide tips and short how-to articles.
  • Interview someone your audience would be interested in.
  • Include a short book review.
  • Include articles from the audience or other contributors, keeping in mind that the content must be relevant to the reader.
  • Recycle and refresh an old article, or provide an update. Some topics are timeless and worth the reminder.

Distributing your e-newsletter

Land & Water uses Campaign Monitor to manage its mailing lists, subscriber and mailing functions, and can make this facility available to you. Other services are also available, including Mailchimp, Mailbuild and vision6. The LWA eBusiness team can provide you with more information about distribution.

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How to write a media release

Yours will be one of hundreds of media releases that newsrooms get every day. Most of them end up in the bin. To give your media release every chance of being picked up by the media, you need to crystallise your main message, find an angle, structure the release in such a way that it immediately grabs attention, include all important details in plain language, and consider the timing and distribution method.

The advantages of a media release

Preparing a media release can be a lot of work and, if a number of partners are involved, can take time. But a good one has a lot of value.

  • It saves time for you and the journalist. You can reach a number of media outlets at the same time.
  • It makes you think about how you will explain the work in simple terms.
  • It helps journalists get the details correct.
  • It is a source of quotes, and may be used word-for-word by smaller papers.
  • It forces you, your colleagues, your collaborators, your supervisor and your media liaison officer to think through and clarify what you want to say, to condense it, and to check that you are all saying the same thing.
  • You can clear it with your organisation and collaborating organisations.

Who should write the media release?

Writing a good media release is not easy and is best done by a communication professional skilled in writing for the media. They are not as close as you are to your work, and can more easily identify what the story is and what will appeal to different media outlets.

A communication professional will also have established networks with the media and will be able to personalise the delivery and follow up of your media release.

If you can, work with a communication professional to write your media release.

Designing the main message

Think about your aims before you start:

  • Why are you issuing this release?
  • What are the main points you want to get across? This is particularly important for sensitive issues.
  • Why should the media care?
  • What do they want to know or need to know about this work? They are much less interested in the clever science than the impact the science might have on the person in the street.
  • What could the media get wrong? List the most likely things they could misunderstand or get wrong unless you stress the correct information and explain any potential misunderstanding.

Finding the angle

Once you’ve designed your main message, the art of writing a good media release lies in finding the hook—the angle for your story. Usually, journalists will be interested if the work is going to affect the lives of their readers and viewers. A quirky story—for example, the greenhouse effect of methane emissions from cows—can also grab attention.

Journalists like newness, action, change, conflict, local relevance, rarity and personal stories.

To test whether your story will be of interest to the media, ask yourself the ‘so what?’ question.

The inverted pyramid

Media releases are written in the inverted pyramid style—the most important parts come first, followed by supporting information in descending order of importance.

The headline needs to be catchy. Think of it as a red flag for waving down a train. Yours will be one of hundreds of media releases that newsrooms get every day and, often, all they read is the headline and the first sentence.

Begin with an attention-grabbing ‘lead’ sentence that also covers the basic message. The entire release should be bright, direct and simple, but especially so in your first sentence.

Who, what, when, where, why and how

Journalists are trained to cover the six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. You should answer all these questions in the first few sentences. For a science story, What and Why are key (not so much How).

  • Who said it? Who is this about? Who will this affect?
  • What happened? What does this mean for people? What is so important? This paragraph could contain a quote from your spokesperson.
  • When will it happen? When did it happen? When will it be available?
  • Where did it happen? Where will this be applicable?
  • Why is this so important? Why is this research being done?
  • How was the research done? Is there anything unusual/quirky about this? And how does this make you feel?

10 tips for telling your story

  1. The media likes ‘new’ - write about a new report or announce new findings.
  2. If the story will affect people in a certain area, the local media in that area is more likely to run the story.
  3. Use simple and direct language. A 12-year-old should be able to read and understand the story.
  4. The media likes the tangible, not the abstract - use colourful examples from everyday life.
  5. If possible, include costs or benefits in dollars.
  6. Use real people in the story. Include some direct quotes. Stories can often be told in people terms.
  7. If it’s a first, say so. First in Australia is good, but first in the world is better!
  8. If the story is about your own work, be cautious. It’s easy to assume the reader knows more about the situation than they actually do. Try the story out on someone not connected to the work, and see what interests them and what they don’t know.
  9. A media release should fit on a single page. Keep the paragraphs to one or two sentences and keep sentences to less than 20 words.
  10. Mention available photographs, photo opportunities and website details.

Contact details

Include contact details for everyone who is quoted and for media assistance contacts. Wherever possible, include mobile or home contact details - the media may want to contact you outside of normal working hours. And don’t go on an overseas trip the day you issue the release. Contact persons must be just that - easily contactable.

Timing the issue of a media release

Early in the week is best as it tends to be a quiet news time. Weekends can also be good for Sunday night TV and Monday’s papers. Avoid Friday - it’s a big news day and there is too much competition.

You can place an embargo on your story - a request to the media not to use it before the stated date/time. Embargos are almost always honoured and can give journalists time to research and plan their coverage.

Distributing the media release

You can distribute media releases to established commercial media contact lists (fax and email) or you can develop your own personal contact lists.

If you are emailing the media release to journalists, include it in the body of your email as plain text and avoid document and jpeg attachments unless they have been specifically requested by the journalist.

Print journalists may request photos, and usually prefer them emailed as jpeg files with a resolution of at least 300 dpi.

Always follow up a media release with a phone call to half a dozen key journalists to make sure they received the release and know what is happening. Mid-morning is a good time to do this.

Communication professionals are the best people to help you distribute and follow up on your media release.

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How to write for the reader

If you fail to tailor your writing for your reader, you run the risk of frustrating them, alienating them, boring them, confusing them or losing them before they receive the message you are trying to get across.

4 key steps to writing for your reader

  1. Know who your reader is.
  2. Identify your message.
  3. Tailor content, style, structure and visuals to your reader.
  4. Master the basics of good writing.

Know who your reader is

Your reader is the most important part of your writing. Are you writing for scientists and researchers, senior managers, farmers, natural resource managers or the general public? If it is some or all of these, figure out who your primary reader is and keep them foremost in your mind throughout the following steps.

Identify your message

Your message should incorporate your intent and the aims and the needs of your reader. Spend some time answering the three questions below before preparing your message.

What do I want to get across?

Know your intent. What is your reason for writing to this reader? What is their benefit in reading? Do you want to inform or persuade?

If you want to inform, give the reader a take-home message.

Example: For proven economic gain, the bottom line for control of soil erosion is cover, cover, cover! Contact your local Department of Agriculture to get your free guide: Cost effective erosion control on-farm.

If you want to persuade, include a call for action that encourages the reader to act in some way.

Example: Share in $15,000 and help us celebrate our 15 year anniversary. Send in your photos that capture the sense and spirit of Australia's landscapes, livelihoods and lifestyles.

What does my reader want to know?

Work out what benefit or outcome your reader would respond to and how you can best deliver it to them while still meeting your own needs.

What could the reader get wrong if my message is not clear?

Try to avoid misunderstanding by pre-empting what your reader could get wrong and stressing the correct information.

Example: If you’re writing a fact sheet about a consultation process, your reader may think they have more power then they actually do. You need to stress what role they do have in decision-making. The government has already committed to constructing this dam. This consultation process will not change this fact. However, it will give you an opportunity to influence decisions about compensation.

Tailor content, style, structure and visuals to your reader

Reader: Scientists, researchers
ContentStyle and structureVisuals
  • New information
  • Relevance to their work
  • Opportunities for collaboration/linkages
  • How it fits in the ‘big picture’
  • Formal; detailed; show process
  • Some jargon OK but avoid specialist jargon
  • Typical structure:
    • Hypothesis
    • Aims
    • Methods
    • Results
    • Conclusion
  • Some visuals e.g. graphs with technical details
  • Diagrams, photos
Reader: Senior managers
ContentStyle and structureVisuals
  • The bottom-line
  • Relevance to their business
  • What you want them to do
  • Benefits, costs ($)
  • Opportunities
  • How it fits with strategic directions
  • Specific examples
  • Formal; outcomes, not process
  • Succinct – two page executive summary
  • Jargon-free
  • Describe the most important benefits of the work first
  • Append details of the process
  • Graphs showing trends only
  • Statistics to support their needs
  • Pie charts, flow diagrams
  • Photos
Reader: Farmers, natural resource managers, general public
ContentStyle and structureVisuals
  • Benefits
  • Options for involvement
  • Local relevance
  • Local examples
  • Outcomes, not process
  • Jargon-free
  • Broadbrush photos, diagrams

Knowing your reader’s reading style will help you structure your writing. Some readers will read only the summary. Many will also read the introduction and the conclusion. Others may be interested in part of the detail and will scan for signposts to their area of interest. Include a table of contents and use headings to help the reader to easily find what they are looking for.

The summary may be your only opportunity to engage the busy reader and is therefore all important. It should contain your key messages, key benefit and a linking statement that encourages the reader to read on. It should be snappy and appealing.

Your conclusion will depend on your aim in writing—to inform or persuade. Many scientists think they should write only to inform. We encourage you to write to PERSUADE!

Writing to persuade

To write persuasively, use one or more of three rhetorical devices that have been used for thousands of years:

  1. Project credibility - sound authoritative or have someone authoritative back up your claims (ethos).
  2. Make an emotional appeal to the reader’s needs, desires or fears (pathos).
  3. Appeal to logical reasoning based on principles and evidence (logos).

Think of an advertisement for toothpaste presented by a person in a white coat. The white coat indicates credibility (ethos); the sparkling teeth are what we all want (pathos); and the toothpaste appears to have effective cleaning properties (logos).

Master the basics of good writing

If you are not clear, concise and correct, you may lose your reader early.

  • Write as if you are face-to-face with your reader.
  • Keep your sentences short (try 20 words) and/or well structured.
  • Use active voice and bring your writing to life (‘we monitored the results…’, not ‘…the results were monitored).
  • Use concrete, everyday words. Avoid jargon, unexplained technical terms, acronyms, redundant words and archaic words (whilst, hence).
  • Get someone else to check your writing.
  • Read good writing - how will you recognise it if you’ve never seen it?
  • And remember:

‘There is no event, however abstract, that cannot be translated into human terms’. Arthur Christianson, newspaper editor, London Daily Express, 1950s - 60s

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How to tailor a presentation to the audience

For your presentation to be effective, you must get your point across while also having a benefit to your audience for listening. To do this, you tailor the content, the structure and, most importantly, your delivery style to your audience.

Prepare content, style and visuals to suit the audience

Know your audience

The most important part of your presentation is your audience. You should consider them first. Before you start compiling your presentation, think about why you are giving the talk and what you want to get out of it. At the same time, consider why the audience is there and what they want to get out of it. Use the following questions to help you better understand your audience.

  1. Who will be there? – age, occupation, field, education, experiences, preconceptions, background
  2. Why are they there and do they really want to be there – their motivations?
  3. What are they expecting? What benefit will they get from listening to you?
  4. What do they know already about your subject?
  5. Are they likely to understand technical terms and expressions?
  6. What has gone on before your presentation? (the fourth paper that morning?)
  7. At what time of day is the presentation?
  8. What questions are they likely to ask?
  9. How many people will be in the audience?
  10. What do you want to get from giving the presentation? (your objective)
  11. What do they want to get from your presentation? (their benefit from attending)

Questions 10 and 11 are the most important. Both your objective in giving the presentation and the audience’s benefit from listening need to be clear in your introduction.

Have a clear objective

Why did you agree or decide to give this presentation? What key points do you want to get across to this audience? Examples of objectives:

  • to present new information to research collaborators
  • to inform landholders, farmers, advisers and consultants about your research, the results and implications, trials, and/or new farming practices
  • to inform and help landholders, farmers, advisers and consultants to make decisions about new farming practices, land management and NRM
  • to explore with policy advisers new policy options for natural resource management
  • to update an advisory committee on the progress of your research before getting their feedback

What’s in it for them?

It is important to consider carefully why your audience members will decide to attend your presentation. What benefit are they hoping to get out of attending? Some may have been told by their supervisors that they should attend, but would rather be somewhere else. Consider how you can bring these people on board and how can you make your talk relevant to them.

Even at research conferences, it is important to consider what your audience may want to get out of attending your presentation. Will your peers attend because they want to learn about your work, find new information, check out the possibilities of collaborating with you, or for some other reason?

Tailoring content, style and visuals

Different audiences will respond to different approaches. A scientific audience may be more interested in the detail and appreciate graphs and diagrams. Business, management and policy audiences may want concise presentations that focus on the implications and the triple bottom line (economic, social and environmental costs/benefits). Industry audiences may prefer plenty of examples and opportunities to ask questions. Decide in advance the content, style and visuals that will best connect with your audience.

Content

Effective messages focus on the audience. Think about your message.

  • What do you want to get across to this audience? Your answer should link to your objective in giving the talk.
  • What does this audience want to know about your topic? What is the benefit to them in listening?
  • What could this audience get wrong unless you stress the correct information? This will help you to avoid misunderstanding.

Style

Your style - the way you deliver your presentation - is more important to the audience than the content or visual aids. Audience research indicates that people will initially judge you on:

  • how you look - 65%
  • how you speak - 30%
  • content - only about 5%

This does not mean you have to be a model - it does mean you need to engage the audience with your style. It doesn’t mean content is not important - it is crucially important - but the audience is more likely to listen if you first engage them. When preparing your talk, think about what style will be appropriate to your audience.

  • What style of language will your audience relate best to? (for example, colloquial, technical, business)
  • What degree of formality will connect you with your audience?
  • Will your audience respond to a high level of interaction, or is the occasion best suited to limited or no interaction?
  • What sort of humour will connect you with your audience without offending anyone?
  • How should you dress? Consider what you’d like to convey about yourself.

Visual aids

Use visual aids that add impact or help you to explain something. Consider visual aids other than PowerPoint slides, such as enlarged photos, objects, examples, equipment and demonstrations. If you must use PowerPoint, it should be for the audience’s benefit, rather than acting as your speech notes. As a general rule, keep text to concise main points only. Some audiences, especially those with a different first language to you, may appreciate more extensive written slides. Ask yourself the following three questions for each slide or visual aid:

  1. Does it add impact with this audience?
  2. Does it help to explain an idea?
  3. Does it help an audience whose primary language is different to yours? (for example, where you are an English speaker talking to a largely Chinese audience)

If you answer ‘no’ to all three, consider omitting that visual aid from your presentation.

What does your audience want?

Peers (scientists)
ContentStyleVisuals
  • New information
  • Relevance to their work
  • Opportunities for collaboration/linkages
  • How it fits in the ‘big picture’
  • Formal in a conference; less so in a smaller meeting
  • Some jargon ok, but avoid specialist jargon
  • Rhetorical questions work well
  • Appropriate humour
  • Some visuals e.g. graphs with error bars
  • Diagrams, pictures
  • Some text
Senior managers/business executives
ContentStyleVisuals
  • The bottom line
  • What you want them to do
  • The decision you want them to make
  • Benefits, costs
  • Opportunities
  • Fit with strategic directions
  • Specific examples
  • Formal
  • Succinct
  • Jargon-free
  • Get the most important information out first
  • Graphs showing trends
  • Clearly presented numbers
  • Few or no text slides
Farmers/fishers
ContentStyleVisuals
  • Benefits, especially in $$$ terms
  • Options
  • Local relevance
  • Details of what they need to do
  • Local examples
  • Aim to build trust
  • Casual, but professional
  • Colloquial language
  • Jargon-free
  • Interactive
  • Actual objects
  • Pictures, diagrams
  • Limited text slides
  • Handouts
  • Clearly presented numbers
Community group/general public
ContentStyleVisuals
  • Big picture
  • Local relevance
  • Interesting facts/quirky details
  • Personal stories
  • Examples
  • Casual, but professional
  • Appropriate humour
  • Colloquial language
  • Jargon-free
  • Interactive, where possible
  • Pictures
  • Objects
  • Limited text slides
  • Clearly presented numbers
Hostile/controversial audience
ContentStyleVisuals
  • Set your context in the issue
  • Acknowledge their concerns as valid
  • Acknowledge divergent views
  • Prepare key points
  • Anticipate the questions they are likely to raise
  • Avoid being defensive
  • Be firm
  • Plan the meeting carefully
  • Stay calm, relaxed and polite
  • Clear facts
  • Diagrams
  • Clearly presented numbers
  • Handouts

Structuring your presentation

The following structure is useful for organising your thoughts. Many speakers battle with clarity versus detail versus time. Often clarity or time loses out. Be strict with yourself - cut down on detail. Using the 5-box talk is a good way to do this.

The 5-box talk

Introduction

  • ‘Shake hands’ with your audience—use an anecdote, quote, strong statement or question.
  • Tell your audience why they will benefit from listening.
  • Give an outline of your presentation.

Use a linking phrase e.g. ‘Let me turn to my first point…’

Body section 1 heading

Organise your information within the 3 boxes of the body of your talk to

  • make a Point
  • give a Reason for making that point
  • back this up with an Example

Then, restate the point (which could become part of your linking phrase). Use a linking phrase. Remember to do something different here—pause, turn off visual aids, move to another part of the room etc.

Body section 2 heading

Use snappy headings for each section of your talk e.g. past, present, future; problem, research, solution. Use a linking phrase.

Body section 3 heading

Use a linking phrase.

Conclusion

  • Summarise your talk.
  • Remind your audience of the relevance of the talk to them.
  • Use a strong exit line.

 

Delivering with style and confidence

10 tips for delivering technical information

  1. The best presenters are always enthusiastic about their topic.
  2. The most important element of your presentation is your audience - consider them first.
  3. Your style (the way you deliver your presentation) is more important to the audience than the content or visual aids - think about how you will engage the audience.
  4. To win the battle between clarity, detail and time, cut back on the detail and build in time for pauses.
  5. ‘Super-prepare’ your introduction to give you a confident start.
  6. Prepare a strong exit line for your conclusion.
  7. Signpost your presentation so your audience knows where you’re taking them.
  8. Use visual aids that add impact or help you to explain something.
  9. Rehearse and time your presentation. Make sure you’re comfortable with the venue - do you know how to use the equipment?
  10. Check again that your information will meet the likely expectations and needs of your audience. What benefit will they get from listening to you?

Tips for managing nerves

  • Take deep breaths before getting up to speak; breathe from your abdomen.
  • Breathe throughout your talk, take pauses, have a sip of water.
  • Talk to someone out loud before getting up to speak - otherwise your voice might break or sound thin and reedy.
  • Do some simple exercises beforehand to shake out any excess energy.
  • Prepare - especially the first minute of your talk.
  • Look at the audience - they are there to hear what you will say.
  • Use an anecdote or something humorous to start your talk - once you have the audience and yourself smiling, you can all relax.
  • Have a single page of dot point notes or a series of palm cards to hand.
  • Memorise your opening and closing sentences.
  • If you lose your way, pause, look at your notes, find a place to restart your talk (it doesn’t matter if you miss a bit or repeat a bit), look at the audience and start again.
  • Check out the venue in advance and check your visual aids on the venue’s equipment.
  • Rehearse your talk.
  • You can’t know everything. If you are asked a question that you don’t know how to answer, that’s fine. Respond that you don’t have the answer to hand right now, but could look into it and let them know.
  • Focus on the audience and the benefit to them from listening—it is all about them!
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How to write for the web

Your website is only as good as its content. Your content should be clear, concise, easy to read and grammatically flawless or your reader may never return.

Many websites do not work because they are written in the same style as print media. There is no point in publishing your standard print publications or articles as-is on your website. On the web, you are communicating with a completely different and unforgiving audience.

The key is to understand how a web reader reads and to adjust your writing accordingly.

About web readers

Most web readers do not ‘read’ - they scan. They want information and they want it fast. Eye-tracking studies show that web readers generally read in an F-shaped pattern - two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe. The reader’s eye travels from headline to captions to introductory paragraphs - not to pictures or graphics. So your content needs to be well structured, written in plain language, concise and to the point, with the most important information at the top.

Website structure

Break your content into small blocks. Arrange the blocks hierarchically, with the most important information up the top. Use hyperlinks to drill down for more depth.

Unlike printed publications, the web reader can read your web pages in any order. So make sure that each page can stand alone—it may be the first page they read.

Page structure

Limit each page to one concept. Web readers do not want to be confronted with huge wads of text. Keep paragraphs short and vary the length of your sentences. At the page level, use the journalistic ‘inverted pyramid’ structure—state the most important information in the first two sentences (or short paragraphs).

Consistency

Web readers like consistency—it reduces distractions. Be consistent throughout your site with writing style, especially capitalisation, punctuation, tense, person and tone.

Use navigation labels and visual cues consistently. Readers like to know that they have arrived at the destination they selected - inconsistent wording can cause confusion.

Credibility

A simple spelling error can destroy your credibility. It plants the seed of doubt about your organization’s professionalism and credibility. To build and maintain credibility, make sure all content is written to an in-house editorial style sheet, and get a professional to edit and proofread all content.

  • Try not to write in an overly promotional style - marketing repels web readers.
  • Get personal - this is a one-to-one medium. Use ‘you’ and ‘we’
  • Check for broken links regularly
  • Include references where appropriate
  • Be discerning in the websites that you offer links to
  • Schedule regular reviews to check that all content is current. Put a date-stamp at the bottom of each page to indicate when it was last updated/reviewed.

Writing for scan-ability

  • Write half the amount you would write for a printed publication.
  • Put the most important information first (summary or conclusion).
  • Keep your paragraphs and sentences short.
  • Write in plain language using everyday words.
  • Use bulleted or numbered lists.
  • Use bolding to make a word or phrase stand out. Don’t use underlining - web readers expect underlined words to be hyperlinks.
  • Avoid italics - they are hard to read on-screen.
  • Use short, meaningful labels—headings, page titles, navigation terms. Avoid ‘cute’ headings and puns - they are not universally understood.

Hyperlinks

Take advantage of hyperlinks when structuring your content. Not everyone wants all the detail. Put more in-depth information on a separate page and link to it.

  • Never say, ‘click here for more about native vegetation. Instead, say, for example, ‘Read more about native vegetation’.
  • Don’t say, ‘more information is available at http://www.lwa.gov.au/nativevegetation/Publications/Thinking_Bush/index.....
  • Instead, say, ‘more information is available in edition 4 of Thinking Bush’.
  • Avoid peppering your text with too many links, which can be distracting. You might instead have a ‘related information’ section where you list the links.
  • Test all links, broken links erode your credibility.

Repurposing print documents for the web

Consider repurposing print documents to make them more suitable for web readers. Convert the document to HTML, splitting it into different sections (pages) and adding a hyperlinked table of contents. Provide a print-friendly version.

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How to get media to your event

Journalists are always on the look out for a good story. Conferences, symposiums and other events usually have at least one newsworthy story or speaker. Briefing journalists in advance of the event and working with them during the event, you can maximise the opportunities for media coverage of your research and/or your organisation.

Before the event

Assigning a media liaison officer

Include a media liaison officer on your event organising committee right from the start. They can identify key topics, speakers and events that may be of interest to the media.
If you want media coverage of your event, get professional help!

Selecting the relevant media

Consider the audience you would like to reach via the media, e.g.

  • the general public
  • landholders
  • community groups
  • advisers
  • potential investors
  • government representatives

Use the media most suited to your audience:

  • consider specialist writers (e.g. science, environment, rural, resources writers), newspaper and magazine editors, and television and radio news directors - local and national
  • include relevant news services and trade publications
  • be sure to include the local bureau of Australian Associated Press and local correspondents of out-of-town newspapers and magazines

Notifying the media

The media is a crowded space - most metropolitan journalists receive hundreds of news items each day. Your event will be competing for consideration. Advance notice helps the media plan around your event. Inform the news media of your event several months in advance. Magazines and feature length TV require this much notice. Email the media representatives initially and follow up by phoning or visiting key journalists. Provide details of location, dates and purposes. Ask media representatives to indicate whether they plan to attend and whether they want a media kit.

Identifying interesting topics, speakers and events

Once you have established a program, the media liaison officer should read the titles and/or abstracts of the papers to be presented and select those that appear to be most newsworthy. They may need advice from the program or event committee. Journalists will often ask for new research that has not been reported prior to the event. Try to identify research or policy news to announce to the media. The media liaison officer should then contact keynote speakers and authors of promising papers, explain the media interest, and ask for advance texts or abstracts. This is most important if the media liaison officer is to do their job well.

Preparing media kits

Some media liaison officers make up media kits to send to journalists in advance of the event, and/or make available at the event. You can send an electronic version of the media kit as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, but only to journalists who have specifically requested it (avoid clogging up their email or being rejected by their server). If you do, mark all materials with a release time such as ‘For immediate use’ or ‘Embargoed until…’. The media kit could include:

  • a concise list of story ideas
  • embargoed media releases
  • media briefs that summarise the most interesting stories in 2-3 short paragraphs
  • a copy of the program showing the names of principal speakers, subjects, and major events (including social events)
  • details of meeting times, exhibit/display hours
  • location of the media room (and a map if necessary)
  • accommodation arrangements for out-of-town media
  • telephone numbers and names of the media liaison staff

Setting up the media room

When you invite media to a conference, you need a media room or you may just need a space where journalists can interview speakers or see a demonstration. If you do need a media room, reserve it at the same time that rooms for other sessions are being reserved. If possible, reserve a second room nearby where television and radio representatives and photographers can hold filmed or taped interviews and take photos.

The room should:

  • be relatively immune to outside noise interference
  • have enough power outlets
  • have the option to turn off air conditioners or other noise sources inside the room.

For media conferences, you may need a third room furnished with enough chairs. However, the radio/television interview room may be adequate to serve this purpose.

Staff the media room at all times with the media liaison officer or an assistant. It is also good to have a member of the host organisation or other expert on call to answer technical questions and to find people for interviews. You can get volunteers (trainee journalists or science communicators) to help out.

  • Register and issue media badges to journalists as they enter the media room.
  • Keep a list of their names and mobile phones/emails/hotel rooms so you can contact them if important news breaks.

Offer registration to communication officers from speakers' institutions, professional societies, and other groups. They can provide background on their people, arrange interviews, and offer other assistance to media covering the meeting.

The media room should be operational on the afternoon of the day before the conference opening. Some journalists will begin arriving and working then. You can also expect some journalists to want to use the media room facilities until late in the evening at times during the conference.

Media room requirements for major events

For major events such as large conferences, consider equipping the main news room with:

  • telephone jacks for computer modems
  • at least 1 telephone, but preferably 2 or 3 more for very large events
  • broadband internet access with cables for around six computers
  • a computer with a modem and a printer
  • sufficient power outlets for around 6 computers
  • a fax machine
  • a photocopier
  • work tables and chairs
  • tables for displaying paper texts, releases and other handouts
  • a bulletin board or blackboard for notices
  • relevant publications on the aims, purposes, history and structure of the sponsoring organisation
  • copies of local telephone directories
  • plenty of copies of the official program

If you are expecting significant TV or radio interest, make sure your plenary conference venue and your media conference room are each equipped with a splitter box.

During the conference

Running the media room

A smooth-running media room is the key to producing news. Here, the media liaison officer performs the most vital function.

Based on the number of media people you expect to attend, make copies of media releases, papers, abstracts etc. Arrange them on tables, chronologically by release times. Keep a master copy of each document in the media room in case you need to make more copies. Make biographical information on the speakers available, either on the tables or on file. If possible, also make available a contact directory of key spokespeople.

One of the key aims of the media liaison officer should be to get as many journalists as possible interacting with interesting researchers or spokespeople during the event. Journalists can then identify their own stories. In some ways, the media liaison officer acts like a ‘perfect match’ bureau - bringing researchers and journalists together. The text or abstract of a paper often provides only the framework for a story. The journalist may need to interview the speaker to amplify, to answer questions raised by the paper, or to make sure they fully and accurately understand the research.

The media liaison officer may arrange media conferences or interviews with one speaker or a panel of speakers. Schedule a convenient time for the speakers and the media before the paper is to be delivered.

Scheduling and running media conferences

The number of media conferences that can be scheduled during a research conference depends on:

  • the genuine news potential
  • the time available to journalists
  • the variety of reporter interests represented

Two media conferences are usual; 4 is about the limit. You may have to play it by ear. If there are many speakers of national or international importance, you probably should schedule more media conferences. If in doubt, ask around among the science writers present; if they're interested in more, they'll say so.

Start the media conference on time, even if some journalists arrive late. The spokesperson should first sum up (in about 3 minutes) what they want to say. If they have appropriate props, videotape, photographs, slides, or charts, they should show these before questioning begins. Most questions should come from the journalists, but the media liaison officer may ask a pertinent question to bring out a key point.

If the media conference is with a panel, the chairperson should start by summing up the panel's position. Each member of the panel may then add a few points, followed by questioning.

Most media conferences run for 20-30 minutes. Journalists will usually want to follow up with their own individual interviews after the media conference, so make sure the speakers are free for an extra 10-20 minutes after the media conference.

Courtesies to the media

Journalists welcome coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks in the media room. They should not be asked to pay registration fees for conferences, symposiums or other events. It is also a good idea to offer complimentary tickets to conference dinners and social events - this offers journalists and researchers the opportunity to mix with each other on an informal basis.

Media normally expect to pay their own hotel and travel costs. You may want to offer travel assistance to a key journalist to attend a conference. If they accept, you can’t demand coverage from them - it’s up to them to decide what is newsworthy.

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