August 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW5

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Teamwork and Technology: A Communications Showcase

A "trade fair" exhibition created to showcase agricultural communications technology at Texas A&M, inspired subject-matter specialists to explore new and creative educational products and services. Booths and presentations covered topics such as interactive/multi-media programs, electronic clip art and publication catalogs, and satellite teleconferencing. Additionally, communications and subject-matter specialists demonstrated the value of teamwork by accomplishing specific goals.

Judy Winn
Extension Communications Specialist
Internet address:

Bill Watson
Extension Associate/Spanish Programs

Texas Agricultural Extension Service
Texas A&M University System

When Extension administrators asked the Department of Agricultural Communications (DAC) at Texas A&M University to give a presentation on new technology during the November 1992 staff conference, we saw both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge was to showcase the many agricultural communications activities in an exciting way, and inspire Extension subject matter specialists to seek the help of communications faculty in getting news and information to the people. In the process, we had the opportunity to show the value of teamwork when communications and subject matter specialists work together to accomplish specific goals.

The presentation was first conceived as a series of talks and demonstrations on specific media and technology, including educational video, and satellite teleconferencing. However, the sessions were to run concurrently in one very large exhibit hall. It was a logistical nightmare. How could we have multiple sessions going on simultaneously in one room, while accommodating the attendees who would likely want to come and go on their way to other meetings?

The answer was to create a "trade fair" floor plan by partitioning the room into booths defined by half-height curtains. Each booth would feature some type of communication technology, and a communications specialist would be on hand to demonstrate equipment, answer questions, and suggest how the technology could enhance educational programs. The booths would be arranged around the perimeter of the hall with the center and end spaces used to display a variety of finished communications products from publications to full-scale exhibits.

With one month to execute this plan, specific responsibilities were assigned such as designing exhibits, preparing handouts for each booth, contracting for signs, arranging for electronic equipment to be moved across campus, working with facilities and furnishings, and preparing presentations. Continuous communication over the next four weeks kept everyone aware of what others were doing and how the whole exhibition was coming together.

On the day of the exhibition, we had about five hours in which to move everything into the hall and set up. Well before opening time, ten booths and eight exhibits had been constructed, five computer systems set up, five TV/VCR's installed and one special phone line hooked up. Also, signs had been hung in each booth and a 2 by 10-foot sign hung above the entrance to the hall. "Teamwork and Technology: A Communications Showcase" was underway.

The ten booths featured displays, live presentations by communications professionals and, in some, hands-on computer demonstrations for attendees. Topics included:

  1. Interactive/Multimedia Programs - Demonstrating a recently completed interactive program and explaining how specialists can use similar programs in Extension education.

  2. Diskette Strategies for Graphics and Text - Featuring electronic clip art developed by Extension artists and the newly released publication library on disk.

  3. Expand Your Clientele: Se Habla Espanol - Explaining how to plan materials for Hispanic audiences.

  4. Satellite Teleconferencing - Do's and don'ts of using distance learning technology.

  5. Visuals: Photography, Slides and Exhibits - Putting "pizzazz" in presentation graphics.

  6. CD ROM Media Strategies - Demonstrating information collections from ES-USDA and cooperating states.

  7. Broadcast News - Explaining how to plan and produce good news releases that reach the right audience.

  8. DAC Print Shop Capabilities - Demonstrating printing products, procedures and costs.

  9. Electronic News Delivery - Using the electronic bulletin board to share news with county agents.

Visitors to the booths learned how new technologies and the skills of communicators can help them develop better Extension programs, how to access the services of Agricultural Communications, and what various projects and products cost. Artists, editors, video producers, news writers and broadcasters advised subject matter specialists on specific projects and talked informally about making the most of communications techniques. Focusing on our department's track record of successful teamwork, the communications specialists in charge of the booths had invited other specialists they'd worked with to be on hand. They discussed ways the communications staff had helped with specific projects and encouraged their colleagues to explore similar collaboration. Involving subject matter specialists in this way allowed them to show off their products and projects, and they in turn helped sell the capabilities of Agricultural Communications.

The displays and exhibits were just as important as the booths. One display showed an array of recent publications, from simple brochures to glossy, four-color bulletins. Another featured materials prepared for 4-H, including awards programs, T-shirts, logos and press releases. Exhibits showcased in the center of the hall represented the work of home economists and agricultural specialists, and included both low-cost and expensive products. Each exhibit and each item in the displays was accompanied by a card listing the team of communications and subject matter specialists who produced it, as well as the target audience, purpose, and cost. Many visitors examined each item on display, and asked questions about how they could produce similar materials. At one end of the hall was a "mug shot" booth where visitors could have their file photos updated in a matter of seconds.

Enthusiasm ran high during the day as almost 200 administrators, district directors and subject matter specialists attended the exhibition. Some visitors circled the room, stopping at every booth and display; others went to the presentations in which they were most interested. Many people came back two or three times during the afternoon as their schedules permitted.

The success of the event was apparent from the reactions of visitors as they entered the exhibit hall, from their comments and from the time and attention they gave to absorbing all the information offered. Many remarked that they had had no idea of the wide range of capabilities within the Department of Agricultural Communications, and that it was exciting to see all that could be done. Visitors appreciated having the cost of the various products displayed, and said it helped them visualize materials that would fit their budgets. They also commented that seeing the work of their peers inspired them to think of new ideas for their own programs. Several people said that the individual attention they'd received was both unexpected and very much appreciated.

Communications staff members also gave the showcase rave reviews. As one person put it, "The most valuable part of the day was bringing people from different disciplines together in a forum which allowed them to hear one another's success stories and ask questions." Another pointed out that gathering all our impressive technology and products into one room made for the ultimate "show and tell."

About 30 members of the Department of Agricultural Communications were involved in staging the showcase. It was difficult, especially since regular workloads were maintained during preparation for the event. But on the departmental level, it's one of the best things we've ever done.