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Whether you are presenting to a group, writing a newsletter, being interviewed by a reporter or working with a group of people, you are communicating.

The following communications tips will be especially useful as you begin your Extension career.


Extension agents and specialists often are in front of people sharing information or facilitating discussion. Doing a good job in presentations is dependent on your   confidence level. With practice, you will feel confident presenting – and that confidence will show.

A few tips:

  • As you start preparing for any presentation, ask:
    - What is my goal? What do I want to happen in my community or with my audience? Be as specific as possible. How will you measure whether or not this goal is accomplished?
  • - Who is my target audience? Again, be as specific as possible. Who can help make a change to reach that goal. For example, not just farmers, but middle-aged crop farmers who are eager to learn new technologies, and not just parents, but parents of children who will be entering kindergarten next fall.
  • Prepare thoroughly. Never try to wing any presentation. Work from an outline of information you want to cover.
  • Practice. It may sound like 4-H or FFA days, but videotape yourself presenting. You might be surprised with the number of hmm’s and ahh’s.
  • Start strong. “OK, let's get started” isn’t a very motivating introduction. What will attendees be able to do after your presentation?
  • Cut the word “lecture” from your vocabulary. Instead, try to facilitate a discussion with your audience. (Obviously, this probably won’t work with a large group, but the concept of discussion rather than lecture remains.) Try to be the guide on the side instead of solely the sage on the stage. Adults have many life experiences. Ask them to share to learn from each other.
  • Focus. Rather than overloading the audience with information, focus on a few points people can remember and use.
  • Encourage questions and discussion throughout rather than waiting until the end. However, make sure the presentation keeps flowing rather than getting hung-up on a topic that was not publicized. If you are asked a question that you do not know the answer, indicate you will get back to them with an answer and follow up on the request.
  • Make eye contact with your audience. You will be able to tell if they are confused or asleep so you can change gears.
  • Always face the audience. If you must look at PowerPoints, either glance at the computer screen that is set in front of you or just quickly glance at the screen behind/beside you.
  • Do not let PowerPoints tell the complete story. If practically every word is on the slides, why does the audience need you? Use bullet points that reinforce main points and then explain the bullet points in more detail.
  • Have a backup for your PowerPoints or any other technology.
  • Try to use real props and demonstrations rather than just pictures in PowerPoints.
  • Dress appropriately. The general rule is to dress one level above your audience.

Learn more from a free download of Purdue's "The Making of... Effective Extension Presentations."

Working with the Media

Get to know your local print editors and broadcast assignment editors. Explain the variety of resources available through Extension, and offer yourself as a resource. Suggest story ideas, a regular column, news releases, whatever is appropriate. Provide background materials for possible stories.


If possible, prepare for an interview. You can do a better job of sharing your educational information if you prepare rather than just answering a reporter’s questions off the cuff. Here are some tips:

  • Write out three or four main points you want to get across about the topic. Practice saying these points in different ways.
  • During the interview, bridge to your points. Do not worry if that is not exactly the question the reporter asked. The question is nearly always cut out in the final piece. Besides, the reporter may not understand the topic enough to know what questions to ask.
  • Offer to provide the reporter with a printed summary of the topic. Maybe highlight the important points in your newsletter or a publication. Most reporters appreciate this documentation.
  • Do not tell the reporter you want to see the story before it runs or airs. This questions their professionalism. However, if you have developed a relationship with the reporter, you might say, “I realize we have talked about some technical information, so I would be glad to review the story before it runs to make sure everything is accurate.” If offered, then do review for accuracy rather than rewriting the story.
  • Off the record does not exist. Anything you share with a reporter is printable.

News Releases and Columns

The media do not always have time to interview you, so provide them with information through news releases. Most prefer to receive news releases by email so they do not have to rekey, but ask. Tips for news releases include:

  • Make sure the information is truly newsworthy. Ask yourself “so what?” and “who cares?” Warning: a few North Dakota newspapers have a policy to not run information about upcoming events if there’s a registration fee. They figure you can buy an advertisement with some of those funds.
  • Get to the point. Think about what is most important for people to know and put it first rather than building to a conclusion at the end.
  • Include the five W’s and H: who, what, where, when, why and how.
  • Keep news releases brief. If the editor has a 3-inch hole on the page and your news release is six inches, she may grab something else.
  • Send media alerts sometimes rather than complete news releases. Provide the media with the basic information, even without complete sentences. They want the information but often prefer to write it in their own style. Again, ask your editors and assignment editors how they want to receive different kinds of news, including photos.
  • Ask your editors and assignment editors if they would be interested in a regular column or radio/TV program. This is a major commitment on your part, but it is a great way to get Extension information to the public and a super marketing tool.
  • Columns are different than news releases since they may include personal information and even be written in first person. Try to add some personality to your column rather than just having it be a list of upcoming events or information from specialists. Remember to give credit to the author when using information from other sources.

NDSU Agriculture Communications sends about 10 news releases and columns every week to all the daily and weekly newspapers, and radio and TV stations in North Dakota, plus many outside the state. These can be viewed at www.ag.ndsu.edu/news. If you want to receive them by email, contact .


Newsletters, whether printed or electronic, provide specific information to targeted audiences. Think about the goals you want your newsletter to accomplish, keep the articles brief and use graphics to help tell the story.

Use an Extension-branded template, then add content for each issue of your newsletter. These templates have an eye-catching and consistent design, plus incorporate an Extension logo, the NDSU nondiscrimination statement and alternative formats statement.

Mailing printed materials is not a cheap. Contact the Distribution Center or 701-231-7881 to brainstorm options that might save you money: running your addresses through a software program, bulk mailing from campus, etc.

Besides mailing, you may want to send your newsletters electronically as an option.


Though you may not think of it as communication, your everyday correspondence communicates information – and your professionalism. Think before writing, no matter what kind of document, even email. Use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling. Re-read the document to catch errors. Better yet, have someone else read it or read it out loud.


If you are writing an Extension publication, see the Guidelines for Educational Materials.


Just because you are using information for educational purposes does not mean you do not have to get permission. The fair use doctrine is complicated, but in general, if you use enough of someone else’s information that it devalues their original work, you must ask permission. You, of course, can use snippets of information without permission but still giving credit. This applies to printed publications, web pages, PowerPoints, any information source.

If you want to use a significant chunk of information or a graphic (photo, drawing, etc.), you must contact the owner and get permission in writing (email is fine). For information from other universities, the institution is usually the copyright owner. You may ask the author, but try to go directly to the copyright holder if it is listed on the original.

NDSU Extension uses a Creative Commons license that gives other permission to use our content without asking for individual permission as long as they follow our rules for use.

Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.

If a user required additional permission, the Ag Communication director or designee provides that. Have others send requests to NDSU.permission@ndsu.edu. As Extension staff, you don’t need permission to use information from our own publications or web pages or from any federal government agency. Even if you do not need legal permission, give credit to the author for professional courtesy.


The Ag Communication staff are eager to help you communicate in your job. See the Ag Communication directory and Skype, email or call any staff member who might be most likely to help you. Ag Comm staff are glad to provide feedback on writing or newsletter design, ask you practice questions before an interview, edit a news release or help in any other way.

Review the Ag Comm web page to learn about other services Ag Communication provides. These include support for videoconferencing and webconferencing, video and audio work, marketing resources, display or poster development, printing and copying, letterhead and business cards, distribution of publications and 4-H trunks, and much more.

A short online writing training called “The Unwriting Workshop” is available by contacting becky.koch@ndsu.edu. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab is an excellent resource.

Some Ag Comm services (graphics and video/audio) are required to charge a labor fee in addition to materials costs. Check with your supervisor about funding support that may be available prior to using Ag Comm services for large tasks.

Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.