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It’s a new week. How can you improve your PowerPoint?

Consider studying the work of Edward R. Tufte, “the world’s leading analyst of graphic information” (Martin Kemp, Nature) … “the Leonardo da Vinci of data” (The New York Times) … “the Galileo of graphics” (Business Week).

I keep these three Tufte books in my professional library and recommend them highly:

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Envisioning Information

Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative

I recently taught a one-day presentation skills workshop in Washington DC and several attendees asked “How can I improve my PowerPoint?”  I gave them practical tips to apply right away (i.e., Don’t justify that right margin!), but I also urged them to study Tufte. I’ll urge you to do the same thing.

Please don’t expect to casually browse through one of these books for 10 minutes and grab 10 quick tips for an instant PPT makeover. It doesn’t work that way. Read slowly. Put the book down. Think about what you read. Look at your own PowerPoint presentations with fresh eyes. Revise. Then expand your horizons: Look for related visual lessons in your everyday life.


Repeat again.

Kudos to award winners of SEJ’s journalism contest: the world’s largest awards program for journalism on environmental topics

The Society of Environmental Journalists is proud to present the winners of the 2014-2015 Awards for Reporting on the Environment. SEJ’s journalism contest is the world’s largest and most comprehensive awards for journalism on environmental topics.SEJ honors this year’s winners Wed., Oct. 7, at a gala ceremony at the Embassy Suites and Convention Center in Norman, Oklahoma, in conjunction with SEJ’s 25th Annual Conference. 

Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding In-depth Reporting, Large Market

First Place

“Big Oil, Bad Air” by Lisa Song, David Hasemyer, Paul Horn, Zahra Hirji, Susan White, Sabrina Shankman, Marcus Stern, Hannah Robbins, David Martin Davies for InsideClimate News; Jim Morris, Ben Wieder, Alan Suderman, Jamie Smith Hopkins, Rosalind Adams, David Heath, Eleanor Bell, Alex Cohen, Chris Zubak-Skees for The Center for Public Integrity; Gregory Gilderman, Neil Katz, Faisal Azam, Eric Jankstrom, Shawn Efran, Katie Wiggin for The Weather Channel

Second Place

“Mining Misery” by Rakteem Katakey, Rajesh Kumar Singh and Tom Lasseter, for Bloomberg News and

Third Place

“Deadly DuPont Leak” by Lise Olsen, Mark Collette and Karen Chen, for the Houston Chronicle

Honorable Mention

“Broken Water System” by Garance Burke, Jason Dearen and Richard Pienciak, for The Associated Press,

Honorable Mention

“Politics of Poison ” by David Heath and Rebecca Williams, for The Center for Public Integrity, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, and Michigan Radio

Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding In-depth Reporting, Small Market

First Place

“Oil Trains in Oregon” by Rob Davis, for The Oregonian/OregonLive

Second Place

“Up In Flames” by John Tedesco, Jennifer Hiller, Joseph Kokenge, Kim Man Hui and Mike Fisher, for San Antonio Express-News

Third Place

“How Cancer Came to the Acreage” by Sharon Lerner, for The Nation

Beat Reporting, Large Market

First Place

“History, Technology, Politics and Impact of Solar Power” by Peter Fairley, for MIT Technology Review magazine, IEEE Spectrum magazine

Second Place

“New Voices, New Angles – Attempts to Broaden Coverage on the Climate Crisis” by Jason Margolis, for PRI’s The World

Third Place

“Long Island Environmental Coverage” by Jennifer Barrios, for Newsday

Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small Market

First Place

“Reporting on Oregon’s Environment” by Rob Davis, for The Oregonian/OregonLive

Second Place

“Beat Reporting in Maryland” by Tim Wheeler, for The Baltimore Sun and

Third Place

“Texas Beat Reporting” by Asher Price, for Austin American-Statesman

Honorable Mention

“Wildfire and Drought in California” by Amy Quinton, for Capital Public Radio

Honorable Mention

“Energy Reporting” by Reid Frazier, for The Allegheny Front, WESA, WPSU, WQLN

Outstanding Feature Story

First Place

“Galapagos” by Tim Howard, for Radiolab, podcast and over 500 NPR member stations

Second Place

“Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World” by Sabrina Shankman, for InsideClimate News

Third Place

“Losing Ground” by Bob Marshall, Brian Jacobs and Al Shaw, for ProPublica & The Lens

Honorable Mention

“Broken Landscape: Confronting India’s Water-Energy Choke Point” by Sean Peoples, Michael Miller, Jennifer Turner and Keith Schneider, for New Security Beat & Circle of Blue websites

Honorable Mention

“How We Can Tame Overlooked Wild Plants to Feed the World” by Hillary Rosner, for Wired magazine

Outstanding Environmental Photojournalism

First Place

“Coal’s Visible Impacts” by Robb Kendrick, for National Geographic Magazine

Second Place

“California Goes Nuts” by Matt Black, for Mother Jones and

Third Place

“Feeding 9 Billion – The Farmers Who Will Grow Our Food” by Jim Richardson, for National Geographic Magazine

Honorable Mention

“Energy in the American West” by Jamey Stillings, for TIME Magazine’s “See the World’s Largest Solar Plants From Above”

Honorable Mention

“Oil Spill in the Sundarbans” by Arati Kumar-Rao, for, Maptia,

Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

First Place

“Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island” by Will Harlan

Honorable Mention

“Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming” by McKenzie Funk

Honorable Mention

“The Reef: A Passionate History” by Iain McCalman

SEJ Awards 2015 Judges

Erin Ailworth

Erik Anderson

Perry Beeman

Sean Corcoran

Denis Cuff

Steve Curwood

Jackleen de La Harpe

Dan Fagin

Thomas Henry

Coco Liu

Bill Luster

Mary Mazzocco

Karl Mondon

Anne Paine

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Dina Rudick

Neena Satija

Susan Sharon

Douglas Struck

JoAnn Valenti

Brett Walton

I’m an active member of ASJA. How can you become a member?

Who Is Eligible?

Qualification Details

ASJA membership requires evidence of a sustained professional career as an independent nonfiction writer. If you’re a professional and can prove it, you are eligible for membership.

What counts? Articles, books, ghostwriting, content for many kinds of clients, even staff work can count towards qualification. Many successful applicants submit a mix of credits, such as a book, a book chapter, and/or several articles or other pieces. (All materials must be in English to qualify.) As of June 2015, the Board of Directors has endorsed the following specific criteria for membership.


If you’re primarily a writer of articles, you’ll need at least six substantial pieces written on a freelance basis. If you submit shorter articles (fewer than 1,000 words or so), submit more articles. It’s best if they are from variety of markets, rather than all from the same place.

A word about custom content. Custom, non-bylined content may be considered qualifying under these conditions:

  • you can submit verifiable evidence of authorship (e.g., a contract, with letter(s) of assignment if the topic(s) are not specified in the contract)
  • the work is for an organization of sufficient stature. These include, but are not limited to:
    • Content marketing agencies (e.g. MXM, Time Inc., Pace, Skyword)
    • Corporations (e.g. Walgreens, Ford, WalMart)
    • Nonprofits of significant size (e.g. ASPCA, YMCA of America, large hospitals).

Submit your largest markets. If you are submitting material from a market with which we may not be familiar, please give a brief description, including publisher or owner, circulation or readership, payment structure, and content.


If you’re a book author, you’ll need at least one nonfiction book with a second under contract to qualify. Book chapters don’t count here: they are considered roughly equivalent to long articles. Ghostwriting and collaborations do qualify, if evidence (such as a contract) is submitted to support your role as writer of the work.

In general, self-published books are not accepted as qualifying material towards ASJA membership. Exceptions may be made for self-published books with substantial sales (at least 5,000 copies), reviews in well-known journals, or inclusion in a major book club. Backup documentation will be required.

Staff Work

Staff-written work can be considered for up to half of the qualifying credentials. You must have at least 3 substantial freelance credits (which could include long articles, editorials, paid blogging, or a book) in addition.

If you’re submitting staff credits, they must be from a staff job that ended at least six months ago at an established media company.

Other Qualifying Material

Nonfiction freelanced TV, film and radio scripts for major media outlets and other bylined material may also count toward ASJA membership qualifications.

What Kinds Of Work Do Not Count Toward ASJA Membership Qualifications?

The following types of writing do not count toward qualifications for ASJA membership:

  • fiction or poetry
  • work from non-paying markets, including self-published blogs
  • work compensated strictly on a “pay-per-click” basis
  • work performed for companies and organizations that pay minimal freelance rates (e.g. $0.01/per word or $30 for a blog post of 1000 words)
  • work from markets that direct writers to use their advertisers as sources
  • work from small regional publications or local websites
  • work from small special-interest publications
  • most self-published or subsidy-published books and materials (see caveat above)
  • PR, advertising, or other writings paid for, in whole or in part, by the subject(s) of the piece(s).

News about book contracts from The Authors Guild

As a long-time member of The Authors Guild, I paid special attention when I received the following email. If you have published a book … if you are writing a book that you hope to publish …or if you merely dream of publishing a book someday … well, read on and learn. [I highly recommend membership in The Authors Guild. It’s well worth the dues for any author or would-be author.]

Today we published the fourth installment of our Fair Contract Initiative, “A Publishing Contract Should Not Be Forever.” We argue that three basic changes to book contracts are urgently needed: (1) time-limited book contracts, (2) a way to let authors reclaim unexploited rights, and (3) updated out of print clauses.

You can access the post here, or read it below.

* * *

Diamonds may be forever, but book contracts should not be. There’s no good reason why a book should be held hostage by a publisher for the lifetime of the copyright, the life of the author plus seventy years—essentially forever. Yet that’s precisely what happens today. A publisher may go bankrupt or be bought by a conglomerate, the editors who championed the author may go on to other companies, the sales force may fail to establish the title in the marketplace and ignore it thereafter, but no matter how badly the publisher mishandles the book, the author’s agreement with the original publisher is likely to remain in effect for many decades.

That’s the way most book contracts have been drafted for more than a century, and publishers take it for granted; only a few brave souls have asked why or argued with it, because that’s the way it has always been. In the ideal traditional publishing partnership—where the publisher nourished the author’s career; where the same editor worked closely with the author over decades, editing and reworking books and new book ideas; where the publisher actively marketed and promoted the author and gave the author a sufficient advance to live on between books—then it might have made sense for the publisher to own the rights for the entire copyright term. But that is the rare author-publisher relationship today.

Recognizing how unfair a lifetime-plus grant can be, the copyright law allows authors to get their rights back after 35 years, but that is a really long time, especially when a publisher has long ago stowed your book away in a dark attic. And for the author’s termination to be effective, the author needs to comply with complicated legal notice procedures that are difficult to understand and execute without a copyright lawyer’s help.

Authors victimized by this status quo know that it’s long past time for publishers to offer a fair deal. We believe three basic changes are urgently needed: (1) time-limited contracts, (2) a clause that provides for reversion of unexploited rights, and (3) a specific new unchallengeable definition to replace historic “out of print” clauses that are not remotely relevant in the electronic age.

When it comes to time limits in agreements, publishers historically have positioned themselves on the lucrative side of the line. With authors, the deal they offer basically lasts forever. But when they’re on the other side of the deal, licensing things like paperback reprints or foreign rights to other companies, publishers typically don’t make agreements that continue for the life of a book’s copyright. Instead, the contracts are good only for fixed periods—seven years, for example. If publishers can routinely demand licenses that expire, why shouldn’t authors?

We think the “standard” contract should last for a limited period of time from the date of publication; it should end well before the 35-year termination window opens. When the contract expires, if a book is still doing well, the author and publisher might negotiate another time-limited deal—or the author might choose to move the book to a house that has put more effort into marketing the author’s later works. If the book is no longer gaining support from the original publisher, the author might choose to self-publish it or take it to another publisher. In any case, a time-limited contract gives authors the leverage and flexibility that they need in today’s publishing environment.

Publishers will no doubt push back and call us naive. They need to make their money back over time, we get that; publishers need to be able to meet the bottom line. But so do authors. And if a publisher is unwilling to invest in a book anymore, it doesn’t deserve to own the rights anymore. It’s clear that when publishers are the ones offering to license material they control, they typically agree to time-limited deals. Authors deserve no less.

Time-limited licenses are just the first step in making sure that publishing contracts aren’t forever. The second step–ensuring that publishers can’t sit on subsidiary rights that they’ve licensed but fail to exploit–is at least as important. After all, publishers have a strong incentive to make those deals: they typically retain fifty percent of the proceeds. But the way most current contracts work, publishers who fail to do anything with rights such as paperback, audiobook, and foreign edition rights don’t have to give those rights back to the author until the agreement ends—another “forever” deal. That’s ridiculous. If the publisher has stopped doing its sales job—or even if the publisher believes that there’s simply no market for these rights after all—the author should be able to claw back the right to exploit them or find somebody better.

The solution is simple: All subsidiary rights an author grants to a publisher should be subject to reversion after the author’s demand if they are not exercised or exploited within eighteen to twenty-four months of publication. There’s no reason why a publisher’s ineffectiveness at selling subsidiary rights should reduce the author’s income forever.

(In a later installment, we’ll have more to say about which rights authors should license in the first place, for how much, and with how much oversight. For now, suffice it to say that authors should almost always retain film and dramatic rights, and in many cases foreign publication rights as well—and should always have the right to refuse bad deals.)

That brings us to the third step: the “out of print” clause, which has failed woefully to keep up with modern publishing practices and must be replaced. The original concept was straightforward: When a publisher fails to keep a book on the market in a profitable way, the author should get all the rights back. This is more important today than ever, since e-books and print-on-demand make it easy for authors to republish their backlists: a recent study conducted by the British Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) showed that 70% of authors who were able to reclaim their rights were able to earn more money from the work in question.

But publishers have cleverly managed to craft “out of print” clauses that make it almost impossible for authors to recapture their rights. Classic contract language states that a book is not out of print as long as it is “available for sale in any edition.” So publishers “release” the book in a print-on-demand or electronic edition that’s always available, even if few copies are actually sold. By relying on language originally intended to provide a real reversionary right, a publisher can now hold onto a book forever even if it’s not actually doing anything with it. That is not how “out of print” was supposed to work.

The remedy is simple: Kill the entire outmoded concept of “out of print.” Instead, the contract should define when book rights are being “inadequately exploited” and therefore available for reversion to the author when the book fails to generate a certain amount of income—say, $250–$500—in a one-year period. Using income as the yardstick, not a specific number of sales, is essential: Publishers might otherwise be able to game the clause by offering one-cent e-books the way they’ve gamed existing clauses by using e-books and print-on-demand.

This change would completely eliminate the contentious and increasingly irrelevant issue of what constitutes “in print,” as well as publishers’ clever delaying tactics. As things stand now, if a book actually happens to go out of print, authors must typically figure that out on their own, notify the publisher, wait many months to see whether the publisher is willing to bring the book back onto the market, and, if not, try to get the publisher to relinquish the rights. Our simple solution, allowing an author to get the rights back when a book is “inadequately exploited” as proven by an unreached income floor, would put an end to this ludicrous time-killing dance. If the minimum income failed to arrive, the author could reclaim the rights.

It’s worth noting here that no single solution will work equally well for all author-publisher relationships. Not all publishing contracts, in other words, need to look the same. A major impetus of the Fair Contract Initiative, as we’ve mentioned before, is to challenge publishers and authors alike to be more creative in solving the challenges of the twenty-first century publishing industry.

That being said, it’s just common sense that a publisher should retain rights to a work only for a reasonable amount of time, and then only if it’s generating income for both parties. But current contracts are designed (as they have been for years) to keep publishers in perpetual control over works that authors created and copyrighted. That’s one more publishing-contract tradition that needs to change to keep pace with the times.

Read more about our Fair Contract Initiative.

How to make your next presentation more interesting

Here’s the most common question I get when I teach speechwriting or presentation skills workshops: “What can I do to make my speeches more interesting?”

My answer is: “Vary your research.”

It’s not enough to give the audience statistics – no matter how terrific you think your stats might be. (Truth be told, statistics can be downright boring – but that’s a topic for another day and another blog.)

Instead, you need to give the audience a wide range of research details. Consider some of your options:

* anecdotes

* audio clips (Even a 20 second sound clip can bring new life to a presentation)

* charts/graphs

* comparisons/contrasts

* date in history (Speaking on September 22? Cite something relevant that happened on the date 10, 25, 50+ years ago)

* definitions

* demonstrations

* endorsements (If someone has good words to say about your organization, find a way to work in this endorsement)

*  examples

* expert opinions

* interview excerpts

* letters (from colleagues, customers, officials, clients … )

* news stories

* polls

* pop culture references

* props (Don’t overlook this option. People sit up and pay more attention when they see real objects used to make a point)

* quotations

* statistics

* studies (from academia, associations, foundations …)

* visual support



When content and delivery come together in a speech: “French intellectualism” from The Economist

The Economist always catches my attention. Take a few moments to read this article on French intellectualism, with its fine example about speechmaking:

Why the life of the mind is so important in France

IN 2003, as America was gearing up for the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a tall Frenchman with a thick silvery mane took the floor at the UN in New York. Dominique de Villepin was then France’s foreign minister, and what marked minds was not only his uncompromising anti-war message, but the way he uttered it: his speech was a magnificent rhetorical appeal to values and ideals. In a deep, silky tone, he spoke for an “old country” that has known war and barbarity but has “never ceased to stand upright in the face of history and before mankind”. As the “guardians of an ideal, the guardians of a conscience”, the UN, like France, he declared, had a duty to plead for disarmament by peaceful means.

See full article

Want to build your business? Nothing beats a good byline

Are you an entrepreneur? Financial advisor? Graphic designer? Business consultant? Freelance speechwriter?

Do you run a small accounting firm? A one-person legal office? An independent medical services business?

Do you want to get more visibility for your business – but you don’t have a large marketing budget?

Well, here’s your very best marketing option:

At least 4 times a year, write a short bylined piece. It doesn’t have to be a major article (although that’s a brilliant option – more on this publishing option in a moment).

Consider: A simple letter to the editor … an op-ed piece … a contribution to your college’s alum section … a how-to piece for a trade publication … 10 tips to share via your professional organization … helpful online advice … a short piece for a civic organization’s forum.

Bylines garner attention. And bylines build business.

Cite your credentials in the author note at the end of  your piece. Be sure to include your Twitter handle. (Please – please – tell me: You are on Twitter, right? If you’re not on Twitter in 2015, you are missing many/many business opportunities.) For example, my credit line might be, “Joan Detz is the author of How To Write & Give A Speech, ‘A how-to classic’ (The Washington Post), now in its 31st year of continuous publication. @JoanDetz”

Change your credit line each time, depending on the topic of your piece, the audience, current events, geography, etc.

Wonder how I’ve learned so much about bylines? I’ve been an active member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors for a couple of decades. I attend their annual conference in NYC every year – and volunteer as a speaker most years. (Check @ASJAhq to learn more about this outstanding professional organization.)

If you’d like to publish a major article, read on:

On August 28, ASJA is bringing their stellar writing conference program to Washington DC. I’ll be there – learning and networking. Will you? The sessions are not to be missed. The networking is in a class of its own.

Attend – and learn how to get the bylines you need to boost your own career.

How to make your next PowerPoint tell a story

If you’re using PowerPoint just to put numbers on a screen, you’re missing the power that comes from a dynamic presentation.

Presentations do more than convey data. They tell a story. The really good PowerPoint presentations use data to reach an audience – not to fill a screen.

Try using some of these lines to build storytelling into your next PPT presentation:

* Here’s how it looked at the beginning.

* Watch what happened next.

* Can you see the trend starting to build?

* Pay attention: This is where the story changes.

* Let’s look at the key players.

* This step changed the whole narrative.

* When/where/how did we first hear from the new players on this scene?

* The next chapter proved more difficult.

* A story isn’t over until it’s over – and this story isn’t over.

* Here’s the conflict.

* Here’s our fork in the road.

* The data moved us to this next phase.

* The results give all of us a new story.

* Here’s where you play a role.

Tip: In addition to using these storytelling phrases when you speak, try using a few lines as stand-alone visual messages on the screen. Your PowerPoint (and you) will pack real clout.

See all the APEX speechwriting award winners

Category 78 notes the APEX winners for Speech & Script Writing:

To all the winners: My congratulations! APEX awards have been highly respected for years.

To all the folks who’d like to win in the future: You can’t win an APEX if you don’t enter. So plan now to enter next year. In the meantime? Consider connecting with these speechwriting achievers on LinkedIn and also following them on Twitter.  Excellence fosters excellence.

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