By JoAnn Alumbaugh
Young writers received a gift at the 2018 Regional AAEA Workshop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, earlier this fall. As a more seasoned editor, it was the kind of presentation I wish I’d heard decades ago; but even now, I’ll be able to apply many of the tips Stephen Wilbers shared with attendees.
Wilbers is a columnist, award-winning author, and Senior Fellow in the University of Minnesota’s Technological Leadership Institute, where he teaches both written and oral presentation skills. He’s offered more than 10,000 training seminars and writes a column for the business section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Attendees appreciated the handouts Wilbers provided, as well as his interesting, information-filled presentation. Here are five highlights from the session:
- Use common terminology correctly, like “i.e.” and “e.g.” Many attendees discovered they had been using “i.e.” incorrectly for years. Did you know, when giving an example, the proper term is “e.g.”? His overview on the proper use of commas and hyphens was a great refresher, too.
- Spice up your leads: Wilbers gave attendees a handout with examples of five or six leads, and asked them which one was the most interesting. Wilbers showed that even a technical article can have an interesting lead or lede. “An effective lede announces or introduces the topic of the article, engages the reader by arousing interest or curiosity in the topic, and presents material from the reader’s point of view (by recognizing or appealing to the reader’s interest, values, or biases),” Wilbers said. It can also indicate or suggest the scope of the article.
- Expand your vocabulary: Wilbers talked about the importance of expanding your vocabulary, and using different words in your writing. His website includes a list of 100 words every high school senior should know. Take a look and see if you can spell and describe every one.
- Read good writing: Pick out authors whose style you admire and think about how you can begin writing in a similar way.
- Be concise: Through a series of exercises, attendees learned how to get the most value from the fewest number of words. “You’ve heard it many times. Don’t waste your reader’s time. Avoid wordy expressions,” Wilbers said. This web page provides writing exercises to test your skills.
The adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” isn’t true: I’ve heard many speakers on writing, and Wilbers was one of the best. Based on the evaluations from the meeting, nearly all attendees agreed.
If you weren’t in Minneapolis, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to hear Wilbers at a future regional meeting or Ag Media Summit. Watch for news on future regional workshops in your area and be sure to attend. It’s one of the important benefits gained by being an AAEA member.