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Public and Press 2

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Attending the second day of yesterday's seminar, we started where we left off the night before: The trainers had commented the little press statements that we were asked to produce in the afternoon and suggested improvements. We discussed the texts in little groups adding a bit to the comments that had already been made. While the improvements suggested could've been more global, say, by showing us how the statement we wrote would've been done by an experienced pro instead of only locally correcting the flaws in our text – even those improvements bore a few eye-openers.

One thing is that you should never underestimate the reader's hurry and inclination to misunderstand things. There is no space for subtlety. Even if you write exactly what you mean if you're too precise about it or leave any room for people misunderstanding it, say, by mis-reading a word – they will. Many of us ended saying things like but this isn't what I wrote. While that may be a good point when discussing a scientific paper, it obviously isn't when writing for the 'general public'. This means you're dealing with the real-life origin of what Joel Spolsky describes beautifully for software: In fact, users can't read anything, and if they could, they wouldn't want to.

In the afternoon, after listening to a boring-ish presentation on how to get your information to the people using university press offices etc, we did what they – rightly – called the most effective bit of the seminar. Everyone was interviewed by the trainer in a style that was either of a visitor at an open day or of a journalist in an interview. This interview was taped and discussed by the group. Apart from how appalling everyone, including myself, found they looked and sounded, there were many things to learn here. Once you see yourself talking you actually don't need a lot of extra advice as the flaws are just very obvious.

Luckily I like talking and the guy running our group seemed to like what I told him about mathematics, suggesting I keep my narrative style which seems to make maths less intimidating. Other things learned: Don't move your hands around nervously, never ever lift them far enough to break the eye contact to the person you're talking with. Talk in the speed you're most comfortable with – just make sure you're talking clearly. (Funnily I found I was talking quite slowly at the beginning – slower that I'd thought at least.) Don't overestimate the length of five minutes. They're over in no time at all, particularly if you're talking on a topic you care about. Don't 'act' in front of the camera. Normal talking seems enough to communicate that you're enthusiastic about your subject.

I have only seen 'slideshows' generated by software very few times before, so this was one of my first opportunities to witness the joy of Powerpoint. It seems, the application doesn't know anything about kerning. I found that a bit irritating to look at a couple of time. That was only beat by having to use Word to type the press statement in the excercise. The hyphenation feature seemed to be broken and thus I had to use flush-right text for it not too look extra-horrible. Nobody else seemed to mind, though, they're probably used to that kind of looks.

April 3, 2003, 19:39

Tagged as uni.

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