Yes, I’m a “word nerd.” Everywhere I go, I look at the words. Specific words. Oh, and the strategies behind the words. I can’t help myself.
I run with a crowd who often share this affliction.
People like me edit menus…assess signage….and look into descriptions to see the inner messaging. While this condition has its challenges, I vastly prefer this to having been a carpet expert, where everywhere I went I would look straight down and say something like, “Wow….take a look at that 22-pound, double-tuft weave, poly/wool blend!”
I owe a lot of this imprinting to John Bremner, one of my very favorite professors at The University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Today, the “Bremner Editing Center” serves as an ever present reminder of his passion for helping others develop their own writing and editing skills.
From John Bremner’s book, HTK (Head To Come — instructions to the copy editor to summarize the story headline in just a few words), I gained immense appreciation for the utmost importance of individual word selection to convey specific information and tone.
However, we all know that all good things can be taken to an extreme. I had a boss once who used to edit my drafts and would tell me “here’s a ‘happy’ to ‘glad’ change.” They were never material changes. He felt it was important to put his fingerprints on it.
C’mon, now. If “happy” works, let it be. Change for change sake is unproductive. But additional word specificity is golden.
Knowing what words to change — and what to leave alone — is often the key question.
Determining whether or not a person was “involved” in the incident or “aware” of the incident drastically changes the entire meaning.
Word specificity comes into play when we define that ubiquitous word, “brand.” We focus on the strategy and the words. Sure, “look and feel” matter a lot, but its not the closer. Early in my career for nearly five years I served as Manager of Public Information at Hallmark Cards (still a client, still an amazing company filled with terrific, bright people). I learned (from a gazillion dollars of consumer research) that all of us pick up a card because of how it looks, and either buy it or put it back because of what it says.
It’s all about the exact, specific words. Precise and purposeful. Exactly the right word.
specific precise particular intentional with your word choice. Every. Single. Time.
Mark Twain once said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” In today’s world, I’m sure he would have included blog posts, emails and reports.
All writing is not created equal. Focus on just the right words, and you’ll move people to the change in behavior or attitude that you seek.
Onward and upward.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, John Bremner, Morningstar Communications
“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point-of-view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
This statement has become a cornerstone of our approach to strategic integrated communications. Philosophers, theologians, and deep thinkers often believe there are absolute truths. I’m not so certain.
Over the years I’ve learned that the ”truth” often depends on your point-of-view. This is why Morningstar Communications is so insistent on creating customized recipient-oriented communications for our clients.
It comes down to one very simple fact: It’s not what you want to say. It’s what they need to hear. Always.
In most things in life, the idea that one-size fits all is rarely true. We all know this intuitively. One area this is painstakingly true is communications. If you’re talking about the ABC thing, how an employee, a customer, or an investor sees that same thing will color their unique point-of-view.
As you can see, what’s viewed as good news to some may be viewed as bad news by others. So, that ABC thing always remains the very same thing… or does it?
The key to crafting solid communications is really this simple: identify the best way for the recipient to receive the information, not the best way to send it.
It’s football season and my KC Chiefs are off to an amazing start. So, it’s time for a gridiron analogy: Are your communication passes complete or incomplete?
The best way to assess the effectiveness of your communications: did the recipient catch the message. Your message was received or it wasn’t – incomplete or complete, the prettiness of the pass really doesn’t matter. Customize your communications based on the receiver / recipients EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Whether you believe in the force or not, Obi-Wan is spot on regarding recipient-oriented communications. Embrace this concept or accept that a lot of your passes will fall incomplete.
Onward and upward. Oh, and may the force be with you.Tagged best practices, Eric Morgenstern, Morningstar Communications, recipient-oriented messages
This summer, many of us found inspiration in the actions of our fearless leader, Eric Morgenstern, when he was awarded the overall winner of the Kansas City Chamber’s Not So Big KC Challenge. Eric recorded the most significant overall improvement out of almost 30 participants in the challenge, and in return, he prompted a new awareness and inspired a challenge for his employees: Let’s do this together!
This week, the Morningstar team officially accepted the challenge with 100 percent participation! Together, we’re moving forward with our Lucky 7 Challenge, a wellness campaign that encourages participants to establish an exercise habit and incorporate variety into fitness routines. Throughout the next seven months, our team will rise to the goal of reaching an average of 70,000 steps per week using our very own Fitbits, courtesy of Morningstar Communications. We owe a huge thanks to Eric for the original motivation, and our client Hallmark Business Connections’ wellness engagement team for its help guiding our wellness program with a strategic game plan, a solid engagement strategy and motivational incentives to increase our likelihood of success.
We’ve only just begun, and the team is already finding new ways to take additional steps. You might see a few of us doing a lap around the building or opting to use the restroom that exists up two flights of stairs. If you have other insightful ways to get your steps in, we’d love to hear about them on our Facebook page! Let us know how you get to steppin’ each day.
Overall, this challenge is a guaranteed win for everyone as all team members walk away with an established habit of regular exercise and plenty of social support to continue a healthier lifestyle well beyond the challenge. Keep an eye on our progress on Facebook.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, Fitbit, Lucky 7 Challenge, Morningstar Communications, Not So "Big KC" Challenge, Susan Hinds, wellness program
Every business leader yearns to have everyone on their team row in the same direction. Alignment is a holy grail for executives.
The answer, quite simply, is The Three Clarities.
I had the privilege of providing strategic communications for Marion Laboratories throughout the 1980s and early ’90s. Its success and subsequent sale ultimately led to Mr. K and his family buying the KC Royals, establishing the Kauffman Foundation, and building the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. They also spun off dozens of successful businesses, and planted seeds (the Uncommon company was their credo) with hundreds more. It was a great ride, and I learned a lot.
They experienced tremendous growth. They were a Wall Street darling. And they never stopped growing right through their acquisition by Merrill Dow in 1989.
Fred Lyons, its CEO, was often asked how he kept such a dynamic and growing organization aligned. Ensuring everyone is working together is a continual challenge for all leaders. Fred often referenced the “Three Clarities” as his key. I’ve always kept them in mind, and am happy to share his simple and brilliant approach with you now.
The three key clarities are the answers to these profound questions:
• Where are we going?
• What is my responsibility, specifically?
• How is score kept?
Yes, it’s really that simple. For example, lets say your team is taking a road trip. Here’s how it would work: We’re going to Minneapolis (direction). You are in charge of lunches on the road (responsibility). If we arrive with full stomachs, that’s success (score). This approach applies to all people, in all organizations.
As we all know where we are going, what’s our specific role and how will my success be judged — with those three key questions answered — I’ve seen teams accomplish amazing things.
If you’re the leader, be sure your team knows all three. If you’re working for someone, ask. With those three clarities fully understood, alignment and manageable growth are sure to follow.
Onward and upward.Tagged company success, Eric Morgenstern, Fred Lyons, Leadership, Marion Laboratories, Morningstar Communications, team alignment, Three Clarities
Mass market beer consumers have proven they don’t have the most discriminating taste. But I think they’re smarter than this.
The current campaigns from Miller and Coors tout – wait for it – another hole in the can. Really? The product pours better. Period. Unless you’re in a beer chugging contest, is this really a better beer experience?
Miller says, “everything flows more smoothly…” with a punch top can that features two, not one, air holes.
Coors touts “the world’s most refreshing can” with two holes.
We all know that we buy more than just the pure product: It’s all about the entire “User Experience.” Customers must feel an emotional draw for products and services to create brand preference. This is true for consumer products, and for B-to-B marketers. There are legions of consultants and experts all focused on improving the user experience.
Take a quick look at how Wikipedia defines User Experience: User experience (UX) involves a person’s emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature because it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances and new innovations.
But adding another hole in the beer can? (BTW, it’s not that hard for anyone to make another hole. It is, after all, an aluminum can!)
So are beer buyers enticed by the new packaging? And is that (obviously!) the only thing these marketers have left to discuss?
This all seems pretty silly to me. It reminds me of the kid who rips off the gift wrap and then tosses the toy aside so he can play with the empty box.
These beer makers are talking about their new packages while saying absolutely nothing about their product. Literally, this is the old joke about putting “old wine in a new bottle.” Except that now “the bottle” has an extra hole.
Another hole. That’s it.
We all need to know what we’re really selling, and know how to package and sell your products and services in a truly meaningful manner. Or all you’ll be left with is a hole in your approach.
Onward and upward.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, Morningstar Communications, user experience
Really, aren’t you just talking about a bottle of water?
Euphemisms are ALWAYS a bad way of communicating.
We all know the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). Unnecessary complications should be avoided. This construct dates back to the US Navy in 1960. And now, more than 50 years later, this cornerstone principle is even more true in the context of today’s communications overload.
How many times do we make things more complicated because we got “that memo” a long time ago that said selling “Personal, Portable, Hydrating Solutions” sounds fancier, and lets us charge more and sound smarter than selling just a bottle of water.
Always remember that the purpose of communications is to have the message received, not just sent. Otherwise, you’re just talking.
Think about American football for a moment. When the quarterback floats a beautiful, 60-yard, spiral pass that is just out of reach of the receiver…yup, that goes down as an incomplete pass. However, on the next play, the quarterback scrambles, and just before he is tackled for a loss, he flips a really ugly-looking toss to the fullback, who catches it in a crowd, and falls forward for a one-yard gain. Yup, that’s in the record books as a completed pass.
If they don’t “receive” your message, you’re just talking…not communicating.
People are incredibly lazy readers
People don’t read much anymore. They scan. They glimpse. And they expect you to clearly communicate, or they will simply stop paying attention.
Since 1982, USA Today has taught us that all we need to know is the one paragraph story summary box on the cover of each section. And, if that’s too much reading, just go for the bold phrase that starts each article.
If you don’t adhere to each of the six steps we recommend in The Pathway to Great Messaging, then I’m pretty sure your beautiful passes will go uncaught.
Let’s take simple to a higher level: brevity.
Mark Twain once apologized and said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” He got it. Be brief, and you’ll communicate more effectively.
For all of you who text, here’s another one of my favorites examples:
Have you ever sent a one-letter text as a reply, “K”?
In texting, that stands for “OK.” OK is actually an abbreviation for a word in the dictionary, “okay.” Can you eliminate 75 percent of the content from your communications and not lose anything in the meaning?
Can you make your communications even more simple…more concise? Less is truly more, when it comes to effective communications.
And please stop selling Personal, Portable, Hydrating Solutions.
Onward and upward.Tagged Communication, Eric Morgenstern, KISS, Morningstar Communications, Pathway to Great Messaging
We spend more of our waking hours at the office than we do at home. That’s why we focus so much on creating great space for our team and our clients.
We recently moved into our new office, 12701 Metcalf. After just a few weeks, we’re settling in nicely. Last week, one of our clients told me, “…your love of nature and natural light really shows…it’s as if you put your office in a treehouse.”
Works for me.
We’ll share additional pictures later, but we wanted to give you a quick glimpse of the view from my desk.
We only moved physically four blocks south, but we’ve “moved” miles in terms of improving our work environment. We gave away all of the cubicles, and invested in much more collaborative benching office furnishings for our team. There is much more natural light. We invested heavily in technology and communications infrastructure, including wireless connectivity for all mobile devices to project on our large TV in the board room. No more separate projectors. And screaming fast wired connections, in addition to wireless everywhere. We’re continuing to eliminate as much paper as possible; we only moved one filing cabinet! Scan and save. That’s our motto.
We’re adjacent to Deer Creek, and enjoy all the trees, birds and critters you could ever want.
I often smile, and say, “Work is a four-letter word.” But when you’re working in a treehouse, it makes the days fly by, with a smile on your face.
Onward and upward.Tagged Deer Creek, Eric Morgenstern, Kansas City, Metcalf, Morningstar Communications, new office, Overland Park
Channeling the wisdom of others, I’ve incorporated the following seven quotes into my everyday worldview. I hope you enjoy each one, and that they inspire you as well.
To frame this blogpost, I honor my Mom who used to say to me, “Learn something new everyday.” To which I would irreverently reply, “…so that I’m really smart when I die?” Mom would simply smile, and say, “yes.”
Here we go:
I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” – Michael J. Fox
I am fixated on excellence. Think Excellence, Not Difference continues to serve as my foundation philosophy for building an enterprise. We all want excellence, in all aspects of our lives. That’s what we should expect, of most people and most actions, most of the time. Leave your standards of perfection to the almighty, but always reach for excellence.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” – Phil Condit
If you and I always agree, one of us isn’t needed. Together, we’ll accomplish much more than any of us on our own. Life is a team sport; get on board.
Do, or do not…there is no try.” – Yoda
I do not believe in giving every child a “participation” trophy. There are winners, and there are losers. Winners need to learn humility; losers need to learn to work harder to become winners. In the real world, effort alone isn’t enough. Never confuse activity for productivity. Get it done.
“You can’t build your reputation on what you’re going to do.” – Henry Ford
I wish all of our elected leaders truly embraced this fundamental concept. We all build our personal brands through our rearview mirror…it’s a reflection of what you’ve already accomplished, not a promise of the future. Do it now. We frequently say, “do good, and get caught.”
“People have been misnamed. We’re called ‘human beings.’ But aren’t we almost always ‘human doings?’” We need more time just to ‘be.’” – Rabbi Mark Levin
This is so true. How much time in your day is spent simply “being” and absorbing everything around you? If we turn down life’s noise, we can hear and see so much. Try to be a “being” for 15 minutes everyday. Find a place, and go there. To be or not to be…yup, ol’ Bill Shakespeare had it right.
“If you think you can do a thing, or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
I’m always amazed at the downhill skiers at the Olympics. They train for most of their lives for a one-minute run on the brink of disaster. Watch them before they start…you can see in their faces how they are visualizing their run. Each turn. Every dip. We are all our own worst enemy…or best friend. The only thing we can ever truly control is our attitude. Make it a good one, with a positive inclination. Nobody wants to be around Negative Nancy or Downer David. Envision success, and you’ll achieve it.
“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point-of-view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
The person I call a terrorist, others call a freedom fighter. Was Darth Vadar a good or bad guy? Is Obama a good president? Is the economy “good” right now? Was that meal worth the cost? All of our “truths” are rooted in our point-of-view. As a communications professional, I’ve learned one of the most important aspects of effective communication is focusing on the recipient, not the sender. Essentially, it’s not what I WANT you to know; it’s what you NEED to hear. Everyone owns their own point-of-view.
What are your favorite quotes, and why? What inspires your worldview?
Here’s to “ever better” as we all move through the journey we call life. Onward and upward.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, Executive Insights
I’ve always been heavy. Overweight. Big. Call it what you will.
Back in grade school, my mom would take me to the “husky” department to buy new pants. You know those bell-shaped curves that show your proper weight based on your height? Yup, I’ve always been “outside” the bulk of the curve.
And now, for the first time, I’m committed to losing weight and improving my overall health.
Shanny and I are participating in the Not So “Big KC” Challenge, phase two (NSBKC2). We are among 25 civic leaders who have joined Mayor Sly James and KC Chamber President and CEO Jim Heeter in phase two of this healthy living program, powered by BlueKC.
As a member of the KC Chamber Board and CEO of Blue KC’s strategic communications firm, I feel compelled to participate, show personal leadership, and support this important initiative. On a personal level, I’ll feel better, live longer and have less pain. Transcending those responsibilities, leadership simply needs to set a better example.
And that’s the purpose of this post: to educate and inspire you to move further down your own personal path toward a healthier life.
Since the NSBKC2 official kick off on February 5, I’ve substantially changed two fundamental aspects of my life: activity and diet.
“Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”
As Dori said in “Finding Nemo,” my version is “just keep moving, moving, moving…” As part of this program, I now carry a Fitbit, a small device about the size of a thumb drive. Men put it in a pants pocket and women clip it to their bra. It’s amazing technology; it tracks each step, floor, distance and calories burned. It then syncs those stats with your smartphone and uploads to the website. “They” are monitoring me. Daily. This automatic system works. Carrying the Fitbit has changed my behavior.
I now talk on my mobile phone and walk laps around my conference room (obviously when nobody else is in there!). I park far away. I take the stairs. We are supposed to walk at least 10,000 steps every single day. I’ve averaged above 10k so far, and with spring around the corner, I’m eager to continue that trend.
I’ve also started a new kind of movement I call Rhythmic Walking. It’s not really Dance Walking (see this fun video), but I walk in a serpentine pattern along with the beat of great tunes. And every time I see someone as I’m out in the ‘hood with our dog Raia, they smile. Sure, they might be laughing at me, but I choose to think they’re inspired and encouraged to do their own exercise.
Because I have chronic knee, hip and back pain, I reached out to Matt Condon and the amazing team at the Athletic & Rehabilitation Center (ARC) to see how they could help. They’re providing customized therapy to help me strengthen and stretch. If you need any kind of rehab, I strongly endorse ARC.
It’s not a diet; it’s a new food lifestyle.
Diets don’t work. They never last. Once they’re over, people go back to their old habits. That’s why this program is all about healthy living, not dieting. I’ve learned a lot about food in the last six weeks. Here are six quick tips that work for me; hopefully, they’ll resonate with you:
Eat more fish. We all know we should eat fish, but do you know why? Omega-3 oils. Yes, but what do those oils do for you? The science shows that people who eat fish three times each week have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The fish oil keeps your brain elastic. I’m eating a lot more salmon these days.
Nuts are nature’s hunger killer. I eat 1/4 cup of almonds most afternoons. Packed with protein, nuts really work.
Avoid the “great white hazards” – white flour, white rice, white potatoes and sugar. I’m eating whole grains, sweet potatoes and brown rice. Almost exclusively.
Eat your fruit, don’t drink it. No more O.J. or apple juice for me!
Stop eating when you’re full. That’s a new one for me.
Drink a lot of water. This one’s easy for me, since I’ve already given up soda.
Many of these tips come from Dr. Ann Kulze, MD, and her Eat Right for Life approach. It’s brilliant and it’s resonated with me…perhaps it will work for you. Visit her website. Read her book. Do what she says. She simplifies her philosophy into five directives:
Not once have I felt undernourished. But I have learned (for the first time) that when I’m a little hungry, that’s a good thing – my body is telling me, “I’ll burn some fat for you now.” Ahhh, music to my ears. And waist.
Obesity is horrific, pervasive and (please pardon the pun) expanding.
The obesity issue in America is horrific, and it’s particularly rampant in Kansas and Missouri, including Kansas City. Here’s a link to a quick presentation that shows the terrible trend line and the correlation to healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP.
Obesity is a business issue. This program will help stem that tide.
Special shout-out to The KC Chamber and its commitment to building an ever-better KC. I’m so proud of BlueKC and of my friend David Gentile, CEO, whose vision and commitment makes this program work, and who personally encouraged my participation. Thank you, David. Also, thanks to the terrific nutritionists, trainers and coaches at BlueKC…they’re top-notch!
When you say you will do something publicly, we all know we’re much more likely to stay the course. So, please check back with me in July when this phase is completed. But more importantly, let’s see how I’m doing in a year. Or two. Or 10.
I will succeed.
Onward and upward.Tagged ARC, BlueKC, Dr. Ann Kulze, Eric Morgenstern, Fitbit, Hitch Fit, KC Chamber, Morningstar Communications, Not So "Big KC" Challenge, Your Wellness Connection
There’s an art to facilitating a panel discussion. As a facilitator, your overarching goal is to help the smart panelists share the most information in the shortest amount of time. Importantly, your role as moderator also includes a responsibility to connect the dots between the panelists for a smooth flow of information.
How come so many people have it wrong?
First of all, the most important point of view is that of the audience, not the panelists’. With that in mind, here are the five keys to facilitate a terrific panel discussion:
1. Require all panelists to participate in a brief conference call about a week before the event.
Having each panelist spend just a few minutes preparing for the event helps ensure they have carefully thought about what they want to say, instead of just waking up the morning of the event and saying whatever is on their mind. During the call, ask each panelist to think about the single main point they want the attendees to learn from them. Have them send you an email with a simple paragraph / bullet points about their main point. That’s their “home run” answer. Also, ask them to email you just one or two other questions / comments they’d like to make. The panelists are usually the best source for content, but only if you ask ahead of time, and in time to use it effectively.
2. Provide written bios that are distributed before the panel discussion begins.
Attendees want to learn from the panelists, not just about them. One surefire way to kill the energy in the room is to introduce each panelist with a laudatory list of accolades. What a waste of time. Simply say at the beginning, “Each of the panelists has provided a bio (perhaps you’ve had to edit them all into a consistent style or length) so you can learn about them. We’re going to focus our discussion on learning from them, instead of acknowledging their exceptional qualifications.”
3. Deliver a “home run” answer with the first question.
Determine the most logical order for the panelists to deliver their home run answers. That should be the first question each panelist gets. It’s much easier to ask a good question when you already know the answer. For example, instead of a generic question like, “What’s the most important attribute you seek when looking for a consultant in your industry?” try something like, “I know Mary has a short list of key attributes when seeking a consultant, but at the top of the list is integrity. Mary, help us understand why integrity is more important to you than expertise?” Yes, that’s a leading question, but that’s the point. This isn’t “60 Minutes” or a nightly newscast. Remember, the goal is to share the information. This approach connects questions with answers in a more meaningful manner.
4. Create dialogue between panelists…help connect the dots.
After the first round of questions, you should have a handful of prepared and approved questions. Here’s what separates good from great: connecting the dots. As Frank Kingdom said, “Questions are the creative acts of intelligence.” A truly skilled facilitator will bridge the conversation with questions such as, “Fred mentioned passion and Mary focuses on integrity, but I know one of the most important traits for you, Joe, is inquisitiveness. How do you balance?” Great facilitation requires a marine-like mindset. America sends the marines into hostile territory first. They’re taught to “read and react.” Is that a baby in the carriage or a bomb? Great facilitation requires reacting – more than just planning.
5. Give each panelist a “final comment.”
As the panel nears the end, offer each panelist a final comment. The question can be as simple as, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” This question will not surprise the panelists because you will have told them during the advance conference call that they will be given this opportunity. Suggest they use the final comment question in one of three ways:
This creates a bookend from the home run and provides a sense of closure to the discussion.
Again, the goal is to help facilitate the knowledge transfer from the panelists to the attendees. There should never be a “gotcha” or a question they didn’t expect.
Focus on the audience and help the panelists share the most important points. Remember, it’s about the audience, not the panelists.
Onward and upward.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, meeting facilitation, panel, panel discussion, panel facilitation, panelist