Ever scared by conference proceedings?
Looking for novel nuggets, not the process details?
Conveying conclusions and satisfying readers need not take much time.
Focus: This short ‘check list’ is meant to increase the impact of conference reporting. Notably for advanced students at ULB’s Institut d’études européennes, including the MEUS (Executive Certificate in European Studies) course by IEE Director Ramona Coman and EurActiv media Founder Christophe Leclercq (author). These 24 hints are also relevant for journalists and public affairs experts. There are also guidelines for academic or journalistic reporting: see further links.
6 TARGETS, PURPOSES AND STYLES TO CHOOSE FROM
This is listed from the typically longest to the shortest, from the slowest to the fastest, from the most academic and neutral to the most opinionated and simplified. Each of them is worth illustrating with images, be they fixed or animated (video, infographics etc)
- Conference reports: Proceedings are longer, and often replaced by web publication of texts / presentations. An overall executive summary helps greatly, if less than a page, maximum two. A conference report may be seen as something in-between. Videos (full or – better – edited) are a livelier channel, but not replacing texts for ease of reference and search-ability.
- Press release: often self-praising and too long, with organisers tending to describe or quote most speakers. Can also be short, release just after the event with a few highlights.
- Article: different forms, from few quotes to policy summary to highly ‘distanciated’ or even investigative: critical of some speakers or even organiser’s motives
- Opinion (also known as OpEd in media circles: Open Editorial): Similar but taking a clear view. Can be good ‘curtain raiser’ (published a few days before the event), signed by a key speaker or lead organiser.
- Blog post: very flexible, often a less formal version of an Opinion, above.
- Social media: this latest form on commenting on events, is not a sufficient form of reporting, but actually feeds from / into the others, with increasing impact. An example: a conference with three panels of 4 speakers, half of them tweeting twice, plus 12 participants tweeting once: plus an organiser-chosen social media animator, tweeting say 5 times per panel. This means ca 40 tweet, half of which relevant for retake in a Storify page. Then complemented / revived by an article, preferably the next day. Together with proper hashtag promotion, this can multiply the event’s impact.
From here on, this note focuses on the point 3. article writing. Like social media, it can complement more exhaustive reporting, still with care for accuracy, relevance and substance.
6 ‘W’ QUESTIONS TO ADDRESS
The ‘6 Ws’ below are the basic ‘ABC’ of journalism (often focusing on the first 4, in French ‘Les 4 Q: Qui? Quoi? Quand? Où?’). But often missed and still relevant for other types of work. Good articles address all 6 upfront, in the summary sentence / paragraph, also known as abstract or ‘chapeau’.
- Who? (are the speakers?)
- What? (is the topic, title of the event)
- Where? (did it take place?)
- When? (did it take place?)
- Why? (is it relevant for readers to know about the topic at this time?)
- How? (was the event going? or Who are the organisers? and why do they do it?) (The first three ‘Ws’ are straightforward. The next ‘Who speaks’ implies choices: listing all speakers is a must for proceedings, but not required for an article: quoting a few and linking to the whole programme with all speakers is sufficient. ‘Who organises’ is relevant not only out of fairness and attribution. It also established the status of the event (official, private sector, academic etc), and probably its motivations. Where can also matter, if in an official building. ‘Why’ is establishing a connection between readers and the event. Writing this requires a little bit of background, about processes under way, novelty of views or not. What if you don’t know about that context? Do some quick homework, and then ask, the fact that you report is a sufficient legitimisation for taking a few minutes of organisers’ time.)
6 TIPS TO REPORT DEBATES WITH IMPACT
(Of course, start by picking relevant debates, with good panels and moderation)
- Pyramid principle: main points first, then detailing. Called ‘Inverted pyramid’ by anglo-saxons, because short essential points take the most attention. Other cultures may differ
- Include context in summary, even if not addressed by speakers. Essential for some readers not attending the event, optional for others: possibly in some ‘side bar’, or just a few lines, after the abstract
- Contrast views: that is why debates are often more interesting than speeches. Policy-making, especially at EU level, is much about coalition-building, so show convergences too
- Quote briefly the most important people and/or most striking sentences. Quoting from an ‘on the record’ session does not require authorisation. If you summarise / simplify, or are not sure of what you heard, do check with the person you quote
- Illustrate with pictures or videos (taken yourself or with quick email agreement on © usage). Social media increasingly includes such picture, integrating some tweets in your text is a quick way of quoting images.
- Point to next steps and references not footnotes: links to presentations and documents addressed. Links at the end and/or directly in the text ‘behind’ keywords: up to you.
6 TIPS FOR EFFICIENT WRITING
- Craft a catchy headline, grabbing attention: For example, contrasting current policies with an emerging consensus at the event. Or opposing two groups of stakeholders. A title may simplify, but not caricature. To be substantiated / explained better, in the ‘body’ of the text.
- Provide an abstract (‘chapô’) using most of the 6 ‘W’ questions, above
- Structure your text: With inter-titles or words in bold (speakers or topics), or a similar paragraph pattern (for example bullet points). A policy article is not poetry, or a novel: you need not read a full text, led by suspense or aesthetics, but first structure / keywords.
- Use short sentences: A hint – read your text aloud. Or even try to translate it in another language. If you cannot with ease, sentences are longish: cut words or divide sentences.
- Attribute quotes or ideas clearly: first name & name, plus title / organisation. If either are not well known, explain in a few words their relevance to the debate and reporting (eg: ‘who drafted the earlier proposal on XYZ’ , or ‘who previously chaired organisation ABC’)
- Use spellcheck and post-editing: Software tools help greatly. A fresh pair of eyes even more, especially if used to proof-reading. This is about clarity as much as language.