Who is going to read this? How can I make my story accessible, interesting, and compelling for my audience to read? This month, Agora teamed up with LunchUP to host a lunch speaker panel to answer these questions. Master of Urban Planning students Wajiha Ibrahim, Katrina Chaves, and Pam Schaeffer joined Professor June Manning Thomas on the panel. While all four presenters offered different audiences and presentation strategies to consider, one message was clear throughout: answer the above two questions, and use that as your guide.
Professor Thomas was the first to address the standing-room-only audience, speaking about differences between writing for an academic audience and writing for a professional audience. As we all know, the world of academia loves our lengthy research reports. However, as she recounted from her time working in state government, one-page memos are much more effective than a lengthy treatise for communicating in the policy realm. The punchline of her presentation was clear, as she closed by saying, “No audience appreciates language they don’t understand.” In other words, check your jargon at the door.
Wajiha expanded upon this point, by sharing her experience communicating technical data to an audience that is not familiar with the technical language. Her main four tips were to ask your audience questions to learn about them, remember to pause and give them time to digest your content, speak directly to them in their language, and utilize the beauty of visual aids.
Katrina took this one step further, speaking from her experience in internal communications at Alberta’s provincial government. She broke things down, pointing out that in order to know your audience, you need to not only know what they know, but also what they need to know. From there you can set clear goals for what you intend to communicate to your audience, and then meet these goals with a tangible story, rather than a bundle of facts.
Now, here is where the hook comes in. Pam shared her experience writing a piece for Agora 8. The hook is not simply to submit your writing to Agora (but you totally should). The hook is what Pam found through working hard to identify her audience and her voice in her writing. Pam explained that despite writing about a topic she is passionate about, she was surprised to get editorial feedback asking for more of her voice. As she explained, she loved this piece and she loved getting into the weeds with all of the new and unanticipated information she found in researching it. However, it wasn’t until she wrote an op-ed that was limited to 500 words, that she found the heart of what she wanted to express with her piece. The lesson here, as Pam explained, was to not be afraid to put yourself in your writing. There is a reason you are the one communicating the information you have to deliver – use that!
At Agora, our audience is not only our fellow academics, but also the professional practitioners and the stakeholders of planning policy. To cut the jargon, this literally means our audience is everyone, because urban planning and design directly shape everything around us. Each year, we produce for you a journal volume full of city planning and design ideas that need to be circulated, discussed, and acted upon. Our goal is to enhance the awareness and understanding that the public and public officials alike have about planning here in the state of Michigan and beyond. To make this happen our call for submissions to Agora 9 is now open. January 9, 2015 is the final due date. If you have an article, paper, or design that you know needs more circulation in public planning dialogue, then you have come to the right place.
We can’t wait to see what you’ve got!