In 2019 Annual Conference

By Sue-Ellen Sanders, Treasure Coast Chapter

Tracy Zampaglione, APR, the Public Information Officer for the Orange County Corrections Department offered strategies and solutions to help you meet your writing objectives, in her breakout session.Here are some of her suggestions for ways to writing winning and wowing work. Many of them may be best practices we once learned; all are valuable to revisit and remember.

  1. Integrate storytelling into your writing and communications. When you use storytelling, don’t just write what you see, engage the senses and sounds; when you use imagery, you paint a picture. Imagery, of course, is the use of words to create pictures, or images in your mind and includes words that apply to the five senses.
  2. Remember to show versus tell: information is more engaging and interesting when you show, not tell. This is something I stressed for students when I taught high school English, but as years go by, we often forget to do this. When you use imagery, you bring things to life and create color and weave a sensual tapestry of sights and sounds.

Good writing is concrete & specific, as per Strunk & White Elements of Style. For example, use the word ‘martini’ instead of just a drink, use ‘poodle’ instead of dog. Be intentional and direct., but descriptive. For example, instead of saying, “people were casually dressed,” say, “the young men and women wore tee-shirts and blue jeans.”

Use analogies and anecdotes to illustrate your information, so your audience is more reactive. Of course, those analogies might change depending on your audience… which leads us to…

  1. Know your audience- Who? What? Where? Craft content to suit your audience and help them to understand. Tracy illustrated this with a story about her own public relations work. “We’re a jail, not a long-term prison, so the average length of stay for a inmate is 28 days. That means 95 percent are inmates are coming right back out,” Tracy shared. When we are showing our story to the news media, it reaches the general population who care about what our programs mean to them.

By creating a campaign for a work program that assimilates inmates back into society, using photos of before and after and labeling it: Today’s citizen is yesterday’s inmate, the general population understood why this program mattered to them. It showed the former inmate successful in their new job first, contributing to society in a positive manner.

  1. Keep it conversational. Write like people actually talk! A study of Stanford undergrads showed that often using big words to sound sophisticated makes you seem LESS intelligent! Avoid words on the banished word list, that are overused words. If you haven’t seen this list, it’s published annually by Lake Superior State University and the 2019 list of 18 words includes the word “collusion.”

Avoid corporate speak, which is the most annoying pretentious and useless business jargon, or over-used phrases.  This includes words and phrases like, “out of the box” or “ASAP” or “balls in the air.”

  1. Be authentic- show empathy – real empathy. For example, in today’s day and time, unfortunately, posting the phrase, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” has sadly lost its ability to make a connection. Instead, say something that SHOWS your audience that you care. Make a connection and don’t just show lip service.
  2. Less is more. Make your writing clear, concise and compelling. Ditch extra words like cards, in a Crazy Eight card game!
  3. Frontload your writing. Begin with the most important information. First things first. Your audience or your media outlet may want to get the information but have just a few minutes.
  4. Proof profusely to avoid embarrassing and unnecessary mistakes. It’s easy to miss your own errors, especially on a computer screen, so print out from screen and let a second set of eyes look at it.
  5. Style matters: Make sure you know your style rules; if necessary, have a copy of Elements of Style available to double check. It’s still your writing resource and Bible. If media are able to cut and paste your release, they will use it more.
  6. Write regularly. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” Also, remember, it’s just as easy to emphasize the positive, as the opposite. Be a day maker and make someone’s day!
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