Home principles and practice of public relations WRITING AND SPEAKING IN PUBLIC RELATIONS

WRITING AND SPEAKING IN PUBLIC RELATIONS

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1.0 INTRODCUTION

Effective writing and speaking is the essence of the practice of public relations as it is in communication generally. The ability to write and speak well improves your prospects with any employer and your progress in your career. This is because writing is one of the key survival skills in communication in general and public relations in particular.

Good writing requires practice and hard work. In the course of writing in public relations, the public relations practitioner will be required to write press release, speeches, features, facts sheets, biography and other messages that relate to his various audiences. Speech writing and delivery has assumed an important place in modern business and governance.

2.0 OBJECTIVES

At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. Describe the process of writing 
  2. Identify the phases of writing
  3. Write a press release for an event 
  4. Describe the process of planning, writing and delivering a speech. 

3.0 MAIN CONTENT

3.1 Writing in Public Relations
Writing occupies an import aspect of the work of a public relations practitioner. Writing is a conscious effort. Unlike speaking which is picked up effortlessly from the environment, writing has to be learned. It involves a formal learning process. Few people are born writers. Writing is very important because it performs several basic communication functions for us;
It is used to preserve our thoughts, observations and experiences.
It enables us to keep records of what we have done or intends to do in a permanent form
Writing is a basic skill of communication.

Writing takes patience and hard work. The more you write, the better skilled you become. This is true of the adage: “practice makes perfect”.

To develop good writing skills, you must master some basic fundamentals of writing which include:

Develop ideas before writing – Writing requires ideas that relate to the reader, engage the reader’s attention, concern the reader and be in the readers’ interest. Ideas will help you establish, the purpose of communication.

Prepare a draft – Every writing, no matter how good, can always be improved with a second look. A draft helps you to organize the ideas before they are put in a final form.

Simplicity and clarity – Simplicity and clarity are very important in any writing. The simpler your writing, the more people will understand you. Clarity ensures that the meaning the reader gets is the meaning the writer intended. In other words, the reader does not have to guess to get the meaning of the message. Every word or paragraph that is superfluous should be eliminated.

Aim at a particular audience – To message must be tailored to reach the target audience you have in mind. A writer cannot aim for all audiences. Your message must aim at your specific target. A writer must identify his/her audience. Knowledge about the audience will help the writer tailor his/her writing to meet their needs.

Rudolf Flesch a renowned writer has provided writers the key to good writing which he referred to as the A’s and B’s
They are:

  1. Avoid big words 
  2. Avoid extra words 
  3. Avoid cliches 
  4. Avoid latinisms 
  5. Be specific 
  6. Be active 
  7. Be simple 
  8. Be short 
  9. Be organized 
  10. Be convincing 
  11. Be understandable 
A good public relations writing generally follows the inverted pyramid structure which is popular in news writing. This style presents the facts in descending order of importance.

3.1.1 Phases of writing

As we earlier explained, good writing is a function of good organisation of thought. Good organisation follows a defined process. Writing involves a series or phases of activities both mental and physical. There are various phases or stages that constitute the process of writing. Let us look at them briefly.

Prewriting – This stage involves generating and conceiving ideas of what to write research, planning, drawing and outline; setting goals and objectives of your writing.

Writing – This has to do with selecting/rejecting words, sentences, paragraphs and writing units.

Rewriting/Editing – This involves putting finishing touches to your work. It entails checking and correcting the grammatical and other errors. This is the stage where you fine tune, smoothen, polish and edit your material and it is crucial in producing a well written material.

Evaluation/Product Assessment

This involves going through the whole piece to evaluate if the objective or purpose of the writing has been achieved.

3.3.2 The Process of Writing

A process is a series of ongoing activities designed to achieve an objective or a purpose.
The writing process encompasses various activities which include:

Selecting or finding a subject Any good writing begins with selecting a good subject. In selecting a subject we try to get something that is manageable. We try to delimitate, to set a boundary around what we shall deal with. Here we determine the scope of the subject.

Determining the purpose What is the aim of the writing? What do we want to say about it. Eradication of child labour or women empowerment. In determining the purpose, we select the title. A good title must tell the readers what the writer is dealing with.

Planning the message In planning the message, we are trying to be very sure of what our purpose is, what is our goal in the writing exercise is. We take a look at the ideas we shall use to achieve our need.
Researching the topic/generating ideas We need to find out information because as mortals, we are limited in our knowledge. In research, we gather facts, generate ideas to write and this is involved in research.
Organizing the message In organizing the message, you draw an outline of what is to be written, how to articulate the ideas that has been generated. The headline or the title must capture the essence of what you are writing about. A title must be interesting, you must think about the readers, audience or listener. The title of your work must connect properly to the body of the piece of writing.

Executing the plan The writer must settle down to put into paper all that he/she has organized, based on the objectives and purpose. This process involves the action to actualize the exercise.

Evaluating the piece The final process is to assess the final product to ensure that the outcome is in line with the expectations of the writer.

3.2 The Press Release

The press release is said to be the heart of public relations. It is the most common public relations tool. This is because it is used to generate information about the organisation and get it across to the various publics through the mass media. Press release is issued on a variety of issues. it is the original voice of the organisation because it affords the organisation the opportunity to tell their story by themselves.

Newspaper editors and reporters use it to write their news. Not all press releases are used by the editors because unlike advertising which is paid for, public relations is “prayed for”. Several reasons ranging from newsworthiness, time and space determine whether a news release is used or not. But for many newspapers and broadcast stations, press releases are a veritable source of news and a public relations practitioner should exploit it to get his message access. 

3.2.1 Press Release

Writing a Press Release in every organisation a press release must be written on the letter heading of an organisation. The PR unit has to ensure that there is a benefiting letter heading for the organisation. The information that ought to be a letter headed paper.
1. Organisations name, big bold clear. Its colour and style must harmonize with the general image of the organisation.
2. The address, both location and correspondence address should be in small letter. There should be phone number telex or fax number if there is one.

Press release is a written material for publicity which is not paid for. It is usually written in the style of a news report hence it can be called a news release. Press release must be written in a newsworthy manner so that editors can accept and use them. The release must have a release date which a date which you want the release to be published. The objectives of press release are to inform the public about organisational events, to promote a good corporate image and to establish mutual understanding with their publics.

A press release is usually written by a public relations officer or practitioner. To write a good release the following points should be noted; There is a need for good writing skill a first draft should be written. Then write a second draft, edit the second draft rigorously, improve and perfect the copy.

It is helpful to use probing questions in writing press-release and such probing questions begin with who, what, why, when and how. Materials which are not relevant to the probing questions should be eliminated. 

Produce different press releases to suit the different newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations to suit the orientation of their audiences.
Avoid loose and verbose writing. 
Write a journalistic news report style.

In writing for the print media make sure that the main points are contained in the first paragraph. Organize the content of the release so that the most newsworthy points are at the top.
The structure of a press release is like that of an invested pyramid which is heavy at the top and light at the bottom hence, if there is no space to publish the entire release, an editor can cut off the lower part without eliminating crucial information.

After writing the final draft, get someone to read it for accuracy and completeness of information before forwarding it to the media. 

Factors of press release Newsworthy – A writer must look for device or scheme for a news angle or a news peg which can stimulate an editor or give him justification to publish a press release without the writer having to pay for the publicity.
Facts – This means that a press release should contain facts and not fiction.
Attractive headline – This means that the headline must attract attention to the release.
Summary introduction – This means that the introduction paragraph should contain the main points of the release.
Short sentences – This means that sentences should be clear and straight to the point. There should be no beating about the bush. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Coherent paragraphs – This means that one paragraph should naturally flow into another, the paragraph should not be disjointed.
Short message – This means that the overall message of the release should be short because there is not much space to publish long releases.

Structure of press release

The structure of a good press release has prescribed by Frank Jefkins in the form of SOLAADS =

  1. S = Subject. 
  2. 0 = Organisation, 
  3.  L = Location, 
  4.  A = Advantages 
  5. A = Applicants, 
  6.  D = Details,
  7.  S = Source]
Subject – Means what is the story of the release about.
Organisation – what is the name of the organisation.
Location – where is the organisation located?
Advantages – This means what is new about the organisation or its product or its services what are the benefits to the consumers.
Application – What are the uses and who are the users.
Details – What are the sizes, colorus, prices performance figures or other details.
Source – Is the source different from the location of the organisation.

3.2.1 Types of Press Release

Announcements Announcements herald such occurrences as personnel appointments, promotions and changes, new products or services (if they are really new and interesting), reports or sales, earnings, acquisitions, mergers, events, awards, honours, policy changes, employment opportunities, anniversaries, price changes, hirings, lay offs, construction, openings and closing of facilities, contracts received (or cancelled) and legal actions.

The news must be important or interesting to the readers or listeners of the medium for it to be used in general it is a good idea to have announcements made by the highest ranking person in the organisation.

Spot Announcement When things that are due to some outside action or influence happen to an organisation, a spot news release may be in order. When a storm disrupts the services of a public utility (like say PHCN) a fire accident stops work, a strike closes a factory or flood closes a railroad, – all such incidents can lead to the issuance of a release that tells the public what has happened and what effect it is having.

If the affected organisation doesn’t give the news to the media, reporters will write a story and may do a poor job because they don’t have all the facts. In many cases, follow-up stories must be released on later days. These may carry additional detailed information and reports on progress made in solving the problem.

Reaction Releases Reaction releases are used when something is done or said that may harm an organisation. The release is used to explain in detail the correct position of things or restate the organisation’s policy on the issue.

Bad News
Some news may not be favourable to an organisation. Some organisations try to suppress the news. This is a sure way to make things worse. People will talk, rumours will spread and investigative reporters will try to get the news. There will be talk and even published charges of cover-up. The only way to make the best of such a situation is to tell the truth. A release giving the facts clearly and completely should be drafted immediately. If reporters ask for information, it should be given to them.

3.3 Speaking in Public Relations

Speech writing has become one of the most coveted skills in public relations. This is due to the importance executives in government and business place on making speeches. Due to the need for greater openness in modern societies, government and business leaders are regularly required to explain their policies and positions on given issues. Therefore the tasks that require speaking are as numerous as the activities of the organisation. These include community and social events, press briefings, annual general meetings, product launch, appeal for funds, political rallies, business luncheon, fairs and exhibitions, presentation, anniversaries, etc. A public relations practitioner may sometimes be expected to deliver speeches. At other times, his/her task will be to prepare the speech for his or her boss. Seitel (2001) has identified fire man characteristics that a speech possess.

  1.  It is designed to be heard, not read 
  2.  It uses concrete language 
  3. It demands positive response. It should evoke a response from the audience. For this reason, the speech should possess special vitality. 
  4.  It must have clear-cut objectives, the speech and the speaker must have a point, a thesis. 
  5. It must be tailored to a specific audience. An audience needs to feel that it is hearing something special. 

The speech writing process can be broken down into four components: preparing, interviewing, researching and organizing and writing.

3.3.1 Preparing the Speech

Like all activities of public relations, successful speech writing requires adequate preparation. In preparing your speech, you have to define your purpose. Is it to inform, to educate or to entertain? Many of the business and government speeches are essentially to inform. The purpose is determined by the goal. If you are to launch a product or introduce an idea, your purpose is to persuade your audience to get some specific action, in this case to endorse your product or idea.

In planning your speech, you try to establish the main idea, organize an outline, and the length of the speech. The main idea is the themes around which the speech is centred. Again, Seitel (2001) has provided us a checklist for preparation of speeches known as the 4W checklist. They consists of identifying the who, what, where and when.

Who represents the speaker and the audience. The writer must known all about the speaker and the audience. This is became the more familiar the writer is with the “who” of the speech, the easier the writing will be. What refer to the topic. Knowledge of the topic will enable the writer make appropriate research for the speech.

Where refers to the setting. The location of a speech can enhance a message.
A large hall requires a more formal talk than a roundtable forum.
When refers to the time of the speech, the time of the day or year. A speech can always be linked to a special celebration. The time may determine the length of the speech.

When the writer is writing the speech for a boss, or someone else, it is essential to interview the speaker in advance. The interviews help the writer t6o determine the object of the talk, determine the speaker’s main points and capture the speaker’s characteristics.

Researching the speech would involve digging into all literature, books, articles, speeches, pamphlets and other writings on the subject of the speech. Bring personal thoughts to topic and seek the opinion of others on the topic. You must also research into your message and the predispositions of your audience.

Presenting the Speech Successful planning and writing will no doubt aid successful presentation of your speech.

Every speech has essentially three segments:
The introduction
The body of the speech

The conclusion The introduction is used to capture attention, preview the contents or establish contact with the audience. It is therefore an opportunity to establish rapport and confidence with the audience.

Once the speaker has opened his/her speech and attracted the audience attention, he/she should promptly move to the body of the speech. Usually the main body of the speech is devoted to a discussion of the main points of the speech. Here, the speaker is expected to give the reason that support the statement made, furnish statistics, facts and figures to clarify or expatiate the ideas contained in the speech.

The conclusion of the speech is as important as the beginning. The conclusion is used to summaries all the major points of the presentation and give the audience a felling of satisfaction. It is advisable that the conclusion should be blunt, short and to the point. On appropriate occasions it is advisable to utilize visual aids to enhance both the clarity and emotional impact of the speech. Visual aids should be carefully handled so as not to distract the audience. Visuals aids has several advantages. For instance, a speaker on road safety habits can demonstrate to the audience traffic situations that an average driver encounters on the road.

Speech delivery does not come easy. One improves after several events or speech making. For inexperienced speakers, speech anxiety is often the first problem they have to over come. Experts counsel relaxation, especially in front of a large audience as to overcome nervousness. Speakers are also advised to establish eye contact with members of the audience. Looking directly at individuals in the audience enables the speaker to be more conscious of feedback from the audience so that he/she can modify his/her approach if necessary.

Generally, experts have recommended these vital points on speech delivery; 

  1.  Be eloquent 
  2.  Brevity is of utmost importance 
  3.  Points should be organized so that the audience can follow the speaker 4. Apply appropriate emotional gestures to demonstrate your feelings 
  4. Pay attention to the gestures of your listeners or audience.
  5.  They may help you keep in tandem with their reactions. 
  6. Memorise your first sentence on the tip of your tongue. 
  7. Don’t panic if your audience is reacting negatively. Try to pull them back by involving them in the action. 

An important element of speech delivery is evaluation. It is necessary that a speaker does an evaluation of how well he/she performed in the speech. It will help the public relations practitioner in his job of helping his boss or clients to become better speakers. The public relations practitioners can ask colleagues or even friends to offer a sincere assessment of the speech, in addition to asking himself/herself vital questions on his/her performance. Criteria for evaluating speech contents can include appropriateness of focus, quality and quantity of material, organisation and languages.

It is necessary to restate the fact that speech is very important in contemporary public relations. The wise words of veteran public relations expert/practitioner, Sam Black (1989) comes quite handy in restating this fact. He observes:

A good speech can have a more lasting effect than any other medium of public relations. It is therefore worth a considerable amount of effort to ensure that it is the right speech for the right occasion delivered by the most able orator in his or her best manner and under the most propitious circumstances. This is the counsel of perfection which if seldom achieved is nevertheless well worth striving for.

4.0 CONCLUSION

Good writing is essential for success in all communication activities. This is no less true of public relations writing. Good preparation and attention to details ensures that your writing improves with every subsequent attempt. With good writing skills a public relations practitioner will turn out remarkable speeches and press releases.

5.0 SUMMARY

We have in this unit considered the ingredients of good writing skills which are necessary to produce the important tools used in public relations work: press release and speeches. We also looked at the structure of a press release.

6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT

As a public relations consultant you have been requested to deliver a talk to the Rotract Club of FESTAC on “The Dangers of Aids in Society”. Prepare a brief speech in not more than 350 words for this purpose.

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