Chapter Seven: How to Write, Speak and Coordinate
Learning how to effectively write, speak, and coordinate can take a few minutes or a lifetime, depending on the abilities a person wishes to achieve. Fortunately, we don't have to be like Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, or General Eisenhower, instead we just need a few basic communication skills. The next few pages of tips might aim your communications skills in the right direction or help refresh your abilities. You've probably seen many tips that propose a person can become a great writer, polished orator, or leader of volunteers. Some work, but in most cases unusual results simply can't be achieved overnight. The pragmatic objective is to first practice fundamental principles, next coax critical feedback from your friends, and then steadily improve and develop your potentials.
Remember the glib guest speaker who gave a club talk on a new gizmo? It wasn't difficult in that case, especially after a long report of last month's minutes or an exhaustive treasurer's audit, to awaken and interest club members. You too, with preparation and practice, can give a short club program on your favorite technical subject to enlighten others and get some applause. Or you may write, or help someone write, a technical article. You might even coordinate a group of amateurs to track down a source of radio interference. Learning how to effectively write, speak and coordinate can give you the basic leadership tools you will need to work with people and to be a success.
Writing is a method of communication by which we express thoughts in words on paper. It is a way to get our ideas read, understood and accepted. In Technical Coordinator terms, this means writing which involves:
- Newsletters-QEX, The ARRL Letter
- Magazine Articles-QST; articles and Section News column
- Committee Reports.
The first step in writing is choosing the subject. Analyze the needs of the readers and make certain that a subject you pick will match those needs.
Next, determine the necessary information, details and examples to be included and anticipate the potential obstacles to reader acceptance. Use an outline to sequence, structure and list ideas from your own experiences. Besides reflecting on your own experience you might collect data by doing research with reference books and by taking notes. Plan, analyze, evaluate, organize and sort the data to ensure it will make a clear, concise, smooth and complete presentation. Then, adapt your writing style and tone to fit the reading audience. Use grammar and words that explain but do not confuse. State the purpose of the writing clearly and succinctly right at the beginning. Include a topic sentence in each paragraph and use some quotes. Present "what and why," the advantages, limitations, costs, savings, potential benefits, and sprinkle in some graphs, charts, tables, and photographs. In other words, make it fun to read.
Finally, stick to the subject. Give an introduction, the bait to get the reader's attention. Write a discussion of the general or main ideas. Finish with a summary of the subject in a conclusion. Write a rough draft, edit and rewrite for maximum impact, and then build up the end for extra punch. At this point you can eliminate unnecessary words and sentences. Don't forget to check for proper spelling, mistakes in punctuation or grammar, and correct abbreviations according to the QST abbreviations list.
Thanks to technology, the mechanics of writing has been enhanced by the use of computers through word processing, spelling-check programs, and printing programs. Such tools allow writers to polish articles repeatedly into shiny written articles. But by concentrating on the small-screen computer display which shows only part of the work at one time, it's easy to miss the point of an article, wander away from the subject, or have ideas presented in scrambled order. Printouts, however, help when editing articles to watch for overall consistency and smooth continuity.
Writing skills can be improved by reading and analyzing quality articles, by understanding the reasons other writers edit your work, or by combining your efforts with a good author to work as coauthors. After that, just follow the old rule, "Practice makes perfect."
7.3 The ARRL Author's Guide
The ARRL Author's Guide for writing ARRL publications is a booklet that provides prospective writers for ARRL publications with information needed to prepare and submit material. The Guide is available from Headquarters or on the internet. It describes in detail the types of material usually accepted for publication, the procedure for handling a manuscript once it arrives at ARRL Headquarters, and ways to make articles appealing to readers. Included are tips for using photos, graphics, drawings, and parts lists to accompany articles. Get this free Guide to help you write a technical article.
7.4 Your Letter of Introduction
Have you introduced yourself as a Technical Coordinator to hams in your section? Some of you said "yes," does that mean the rest of you didn't? No problem, newsletters in your section can spread the word about you and make your introduction quick and painless. All newsletter editors I've checked with are overjoyed to get information, especially from someone in their section with the unique and novel ARRL appointment like the Technical Coordinator.
First, find out which clubs or groups in your section have newsletters. Second, write something interesting about yourself and explain how you can help others. Finally, send the write-up to those club and group newsletters. It's just that easy. Oops, you're having trouble with the write-up? Don't worry, here's a sample of your letter of introduction-from you:
SO WHAT'S A TECHNICAL COORDINATOR? Why in the world do we have Technical Coordinators? The Technical Coordinator (TC) appointment was created early in 1983 by the ARRL in recognition of the continuing need for amateurs to broaden their knowledge and under- standing of the technology of radio communications. What are the duties of the TC? The duties of the Technical Coordinator are:
- To encourage and assist local clubs in sponsoring technical working groups and forums, with the topics to be determined by the interests of the amateurs in the area.
- To encourage technically minded amateurs to be active in their local clubs, and to share their knowledge with others.
- To involve amateurs in the section in interesting technical projects with other league members through QST articles and programs at conventions or hamfests.
Having TCs as one of the section appointments is a great idea to support the rapid changes in technical activity. Hams can be proud of their technical accomplishments, a beautiful rainbow of advancements. There's even a pot of gold for everyone-golden opportunities to enjoy new ham modes, to continue self-improvement by helping others with equipment problems, or to invigorate club meetings by demonstrating new electronic gadgets.
Without a doubt, [your section] hams are tops and fortunate to have many fine nets, clubs, hamfests, swapfests, picnics, a QCWA chapter, and a variety of activities. Let's not wait for others to catch up in the technical activities area. Please let me know if I may help your club investigate the current VHF/UHF, ATV/SSTV, moonbounce, satellite and computer interests in [your section]. As the saying goes, "Opportunity knocks, but you must open the door."
7.5 Public Speaking
The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the minute you're born and never stops until you get up to speak in public. Public speaking is simply using your voice to get ideas across to a group of people. Why then is public speaking such a formidable task? The answer-most people don't get enough opportunities to speak in public, which limits their chances to practice and their ability to become skillful at speaking. Leaders can speak well because they have frequent chances to prepare and practice public speaking, which in turn helps them advance even more as leaders. So here's two important rules of effective public speaking:
- Be prepared-spend much more time preparing a speech then it takes to give a speech.
- Relax and be yourself-think positive, concentrate on the subject and less on yourself.
One way to choose an interesting subject is to select one you like and in which you have considerable experience. When the audience asks questions you'll probably know all the answers. Getting an appropriate subject might mean some research. It takes work to locate and gather examples and supporting material, especially if the topic is technical. Think, read, converse, observe, reflect, interview, travel or reason, then you'll have the subject under control. The content of an interesting speech usually has one or more of these factors:
- Relates to the audience's needs or concerns.
- Solves problems for the audience.
- Is new, timely, or controversial.
Keep the subject under control by sticking to an outline of no more than three main points. Include variety-comparison, contrast, time, cause and effect, or enumeration. Use the unexpected such as a large or intense example or relate the subject to a current event in your community. Try expressing interest with concreteness, activity, novelty, curiosity, suspense, humor, conflict, and imagery. Give plenty of facts, examples, statistics, cases, illustrations, ideas, and maybe even testimony. Use visuals when you can, hold up something appropriate immediately at the beginning of your talk. Give a joke that leads into your speech or provides a good closing, if you have the knack and the subject allows it. Don't forget body English, the speech mechanics that gets the right expressive gestures on cue. Speak when you're angry and you'll make the best speech you'll ever regret. In other words, be in a good mood to make a presentation and delivery that will be remembered for its meaning, not its anger.
The trouble with many speakers is you can't hear what they're saying, the trouble with others is that you can. Even though you're probably accustomed to talking into a microphone, a club meeting situation might require some distance or gain adjustments to prevent feedback yet ensure you're being heard. Besides using the correct volume and level of language, it's also a good idea to start speaking slowly to let the audience get used to your voice, then after a few sentences pick up speed.
Make your speech like the latest Paris fashion-long enough to cover the subject, yet short enough to be interesting. Don't be like those people who "have a few words to say," but seldom stop when they have said them. Limit your material to the allotted time and know when to stop. A large turnout at a special meeting is not always an indication of widespread interest: some of the individuals in the audience are just curious and may have no intent of active participation in what you are talking about. Some participants, however, may just be hecklers. But a large turnout could also mean you have an excellent chance to reach more listeners who will be enthused about what you say.
When you attend a club meeting the odds are good that someone will ask you a question during the meeting, especially if you're a TC or TS. What can you do to avoid panic? Plan ahead. Find out what's in the news about Amateur Radio and jot down some questions that you think the group might ask during the meeting and then prepare some answers. Chances are that the questions might hit upon one topic that you are prepared to answer. Then all you have to do is stand up and ad lib from your notes or outlined answers, just as you planned.
What places might you be asked to speak at without advance notice? Besides clubs, there are committees, government and citizen groups, nets, conventions, fairs, swapfests and hamfests. Sometimes speaking situations are simply a telephone call to an individual or an announcement to a small group on-the-air. Whether your speech is extemporaneous, impromptu, from memory or from a manuscript, knowing how to get ideas across can make the difference. A little preparation can also dispel desperate feelings and may soothe nervous jitters. Audiences will be hoping you can give the information they need. Relax-they're on your side. Improve your speaking abilities by getting an expert to critique your speech, joining the Toastmasters in your area, or reading a few of the many books on "How to Speak." Again, as it is with writing, the skill of public speaking requires practice.
7.6 Coordinating Activities and People
Coordinating is planning activities to help people work together harmoniously. It's like seasoning in cooking, a little at the proper time and just the correct amount can work wonders. Coordinating helps us to organize, encourage, help and conduct various activities of individuals or groups, such as:
- Club members and future members.
- Committees and their leaders.
- Fellow amateurs and aspiring amateurs.
- The public and government representatives.
- Technical wizards.
- Other section officers or appointees.
There are four basic approaches to get people to do something:
- Command-The military uses commands such as "attention, forward march, halt, salute, and parade rest".
- Request-As an example, "Do you think you can get this out today?"
- Suggest-"It would be helpful if you found two more TSs."
- Volunteer--"Who would like to be an TS?"
Technical Coordinating mostly uses the volunteer approach. Volunteers are individuals who are willing to work with others to perform a necessary job but generally do precisely what they want to do. It's up to you to convince volunteers that assignments you have selected for them to perform are necessary and appropriate. Having their own likes and dislikes, volunteers may need to be convinced that some assignments are important even though certain tasks they are to do may be unpopular.
Volunteers like to be fully utilized and tend to disappear when kept cooling their heels for significant lengths of time, but will work for hours under the worst conditions as long as they can see the need for it. Most will do anything you ask as long as they're treated properly, however if you mistreat or abuse them, they may not volunteer their help again. Volunteers help to:
- Serve the public in a way they best know how.
- Become a member of a group.
- Respond to a request, if it's at the right place and time.
- Be a big wheel.
Here are some suggested guidelines for successfully coordinating volunteers:
- Most volunteers won't respond well to orders, instead try requests, particularly if you include information about the need for the request.
- To receive loyalty you must give loyalty.
- Do not criticize a volunteer in public.
- Do not become identified with any subgroup or clique.
- Some volunteers learn faster than others.
- Never discuss a volunteer's weaknesses, faults or limitations on-the-air or in public.
- When you find that a volunteer is causing more harm than good it is important that you are diplomatic in your actions while keeping the effectiveness of your unit as your primary consideration.
Working effectively with volunteers is a critical aspect of the TC and TS jobs. It calls for time and effort to first understand volunteers and then use that understanding to motivate them to do the job. When you're leading volunteers, don't try to be all things to all people, you won't be able to please all of the members in your group all of the time. However, you should attempt to please them whenever possible for the good of harmony. In some cases you must be a diplomat, leader, friend, or an expert in your field, but most importantly you'll need to be an excellent listener. Strive to lead your group, not simply to manage it.
7.7 Planning Your Time
A plan is an orderly arrangement of your time, talent and activities to ensure performance is smooth and objectives are met, or basically, a method of achieving something. Many planners and organizers may appear to have no plan, but in reality they have a plan worked out in their heads. Short-range plans concern the next club talk, making slides, models, tapes, handouts, gathering information and handling minor preparations. Long-range plans encompass the whole year. In general then, plans make today's activities go smoothly and avoid confusion later on.
Your plans depend on the goals for your section and in particular they depend on the size of your section, density of the ham population, number of clubs, and degree of activity. Use a presentation trip to check activity, interests, degree of technical level, experiences, and equipment problems before you make any plans.
What could happen if there is no plan? Take a look at the symptoms of people who have poor plans or no plans:
- Solve problems hurriedly and poorly.
- Give lopsided attention to certain groups, nothing for others.
- Can't get to all clubs.
- Miss, be late for, or be unprepared for an event.
- Have no anticipation.
- Guess, give wrong information, or leave many unanswered questions.
- Overlook the difficult or unpleasant.
- Juggle wrong priorities and develop conflicts.
- Can't complete details.
- Just let things happen, resulting in unfavorable impressions.
Leave time for unexpected requests. Some amateurs may even expect you to be available to answer their questions 24 hours per day. If you get caught in situations such as these, it may be best to set your own personal policy regarding what amateurs should expect from you to solve or avoid many misunderstandings. During most gatherings there is mention of activities and events, so it's a good idea to always carry a pocket calendar with you to keep track of events and your schedule.
Many people claim to be so busy that they can't take time to do something right the first time, yet they must make more time to do it right the second time. Also, you can read about the accomplishments of others rather than your own, because it's easier. Effort is needed to plan and get the proper blend of delegation. When you get others to help, plan to spend extra time following up to meet goals. In a way, time and energy can be quickly recovered when the job is planned and gets done right- the first time.
7.8 Handling Complaints
It's easy to dwell where the excitement is, visiting those big clubs to enjoy their well-planned programs. But it takes strength to meet challenges, to provide specific technical advice or to help a few struggling isolated amateurs. The Technical Coordinator's role is to encourage and help fellow amateurs with their technical activities. Sometimes this work could include dealing with Irate TVI-plagued neighbors, problem-riddled CATV-system operators, unsatisfied club members, or even a skirmish on-the-air. Handling complaints, in a way, is like receiving CW-it's a skill that takes practice to become proficient, yet keep in mind that even old-timers get bogged down if the going gets too rough.
Here are a few tips for handling complaints:
- Treat every complaint as serious.
- Keep calm, most complaints aren't directed at you.
- Listen closely, get the whole story and all the facts, then carefully repeat the complaint in your own words to show that you're listening and on track.
- Clearly define the problem, find out if it is the real reason, but ask as few questions as possible.
- Avoid taking sides, ask what solution is satisfactory, encourage the other person to make a decision.
- Tell the person it's good the complaint was mentioned.
At times a complainer is like a big balloon, add more hot air and its chances of exploding increase. You know best how anger-sensitive a complainer is-react accordingly. As an example, one amateur complained about the lack of construction articles for 1269-MHz transmitters. "How are we going to use the 1269-MHz satellite uplink when factory- built transceivers are so expensive?" he exclaimed. His frustration is caused by a dilemma between enthusiasm to operate 1269 MHz and inability to afford new equipment. In this case, after going through the complaint-handling steps, I wrote to ARRL Headquarters and various VHF groups for solutions. No feelings were hurt; instead the complainer developed a positive viewpoint when given some information and hope of a workable solution.
In our bumpy journey through life we encounter many exasperating situations when our only choices are to love them, leave them, try to change them, or complain. If you find someone complaining, you can easily escape criticism by doing nothing, saying nothing, and being nothing. But instead, go ahead and take a chance, lend an ear and handle a complaint. By offering someone personal attention, without playing favorites, you may give a complainer a chance to improve-you could gain a friend.
7.9 Answering Questions
How does it feel to be a new TC? You don't feel any different? You say you're just another ham at club meetings, maybe wearing the same suit and tie you wore at the last meeting? Nevertheless, changes will take place once other amateurs know you're a TC. They'll ask you some technical questions. It would be nice, but unlikely, if they would ask you clear and simple technical questions, unfortunately, most technical questions are mixed into conversations. You may only notice that, as a new TC, your chats have slightly more technical chatter. What's the point of all this? Simply that it's easy to miss an opportunity to answer a question, a call for help, directed at you because you're a TC. That missed chance suddenly becomes an unanswered question.
For instance, a couple of us are in our cars on the same highway heading home from an Amateur Radio club picnic, keeping in touch on 2 meters during the 130-mile drive. Later in the day we stop for a bite to eat. It is well into the meal when a fellow amateur asks me, "What can I do with the 6-meter beam I built that has backward directivity?" Information and suggestions are exchanged, finally resulting in an unanswered technical question. Am I on guard for the dreaded unanswered question while chewing on a bacon cheeseburger? Yup, no need to panic. I handle this unanswered question by admitting, "I don't know the answer," there are lots of things I don't know. But, to encourage the questioning ham, I quickly add, "I'll try my best to find an answer, and let you know." I scurry home, do my research and write a letter to the fellow describing the answers I could find. Further, from my list of over 60 ARRL Technical Advisors, I refer him to two experts on the list that can handle that subject. It's a happy ending, a picnic without any ants or unanswered questions.
The moral of the story-condition yourself to be alert for unanswered questions. If you spot one, say you don't know the answer but will follow up with an answer later. Then, make sure you do follow up. Keep a reminder list of unanswered questions and keep alert.