Jenny Morse – StartUp FoCo Podcast

Jenny Morse is an expert in business communications and the CEO of Appendance, Inc. When she’s not teaching the generations to communicate more effectively and convey their credibility in written form, she’s contemplating the deeper meaning of emojis and trying to make emails more human.

Jenny is presenting an interactive panel on improving your email skills: 5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Email (and other business writing) on Tuesday February 26th, 11:00am-12:00 pm @ The Articulate.

Let’s get to know Jenny! đŸ˜€

I’m Jenny Morse and I am the founder of Appendance, Inc. Appendance means to add to in writing. It’s a little weird as a name, but then with the explanation, I hope it helps explain what we do.

We started originally freelance writing and editing, project-based stuff, and that sort of morphed into training in business writing, so offering seminars, full-day and half-day sessions in anything from grammar to how to write an email at companies around the state and that’s grown to around the country.

We also offer one on one coaching, so working with individuals to help them advance their skills, their communication skills.

Do you offer an emojis business writing class?

Not yet.

I do talk about emojis in my class because that’s sort of where we are right now is trying to figure out how to write professionally while writing nicely.

I developed a new class two years ago called Write It Well: how to write more positive and more concise messages.

Basically, if people write too short, it sounds curt. Writing already has this negativity effect where it sounds meaner than we intend, which is why we invented emojis so that you can see people’s faces in their messages and not interpret it too negatively. I’m sure we’re headed to an emoji class at some point, but not there yet for professional writing.

Do you find that there’s a generational component to help folks interpret different messages?

The generational part is that our culture has gotten more informal over time and writing changes. I mean, written language is this sort of infinite system and this moving system and it reflects cultures. It changes over time and it changes fast enough that we experience the change within our lifetime, which is sort of fascinating, but slow enough that differences develop in what the expectations are.

A lot of what I’m teaching people is what are, right now, the standard expectations in writing. How do you approach people, build relationships with people that you don’t know?

Most of that depends on establishing your credibility, which means engaging in a formal way, a professional way at the beginning, using all of the rules and things to show people that you know those roles, that you can be trusted to understand those roles, and then adapting to that audience as you build that relationship.

A lot of it is about understanding the standards for professional writing. Things like, we don’t use emojis right now in professional writing.

The one thing that younger people have is this amazing ability to adapt to their audience. Because they’re used to interacting on different platforms with all kinds of different people, they have a really good understanding of the idea that we shift our language depending on who we’re talking to. It’s just they don’t know what the rules are for making themselves seem professional to older generations, which means engaging in a more formal kind of way.

They get that they have to change how they’re speaking and writing. They just have to be taught what the expectations are for the generations before them.

Who do you see who’s doing the best job teaching their employees to communicate well?

Government organizations seem to recognize this, as well as a lot of really big banks. I worked for CoBank down in Denver and a few other banks who depends on their ability to demonstrate that every single one of their employees is credible and trustworthy.

There are groups that invest in professional development that way on a regular basis, but a lot of the companies that I’m working with are really trying to think about how they can build their credibility.

If there are new businesses like we’re working with at startup week, they’re thinking about how do they build relationships and what does that look like and how can they use techniques and writing to establish their credibility?

Whether that’s the copy that they have on their web page or the way that they communicate in an email, or the way that they communicate on LinkedIn or other sorts of networking platforms. We can help with how to present yourself as credible before you know the audience or they know you. From there, once you have an in, it’s a lot easier because you just start adapting to whatever that other person is doing. If they start using emojis, then you can start using emojis.

How about templated communications – like phone system menus. “Our menu options have recently changed so you’d better listen carefully” and the like. What types of templates are helpful versus harmful when it comes to communicating with customers? A lot of this communication is repetitive, but templating out the communication seems like it would also be not super helpful for a customer service perspective.

I haven’t been asked to work on any of those, but I do find templates to be really risky. It’s one thing for us to have sort of standard greetings that we use, which is something that I teach. The most formal greeting that we use in writing is dear with the person’s title, like Dear Mr. Smith, slightly less formal with Good afternoon Mr. Smith, and then less formal, Hi Mr. Smith. Those are sort of standards and we have that kind of templated out. Everybody’s going to use a greeting within that sort of range.

Because templates aren’t adaptable, they don’t really work beyond the basic formal things that we expect to see in communication. Just think about like when you start a conversation with somebody and you run into them in the morning and you go for like, hey, what’s up, or hi, how are you?

That’s sort of the standard way that you start a conversation, but then the conversation takes on its own individuated subjects and you sort of move as that conversation evolves into other things. There’s ways that you can start it and end it that can be templated, but beyond that you’re sort of reacting to the other person.

One of the things that we know about how people communicate is that face to face, those faces give us so many cues for responses that we don’t have when we’re writing or we’re not face to face with people.

How do we read or respond to other kinds of cues that are not physical, that are not facial expressions or body language? We still get those hints in writing. We still get some kind of sense of how a person wants to be communicated with. They’re just not what we do on an everyday basis, because mostly when you have a conversation with somebody, you are naturally responding to their body language.

We don’t use enough questions when we write to each other to imitate the conversation, but questions have a literally more positive tone. They go up at the end. When you use them in writing there improving the tone of your overall message, if you use a question or two, but they also show that you’re thinking about the other person, right?

Just by using the question mark, they show that you’re paying attention to your audience and thinking about how they’re going to respond and expecting them to respond so that you’re putting something out there and you’re going to wait for them to write you back in some way and communicate with you.

When it comes to humor, beyond just be careful with what you say, what advice would you have to incorporating humor into your writing?

Be careful with what you say is a good one. Humor really doesn’t work until you know your audience in writing, and especially because what we teach is professional writing.

Written records mean that people can look at it later, then it can be passed around. There’s a lot of danger with that. People can’t understand, they can’t read humor in the same way, which is why emojis become so important. I would say don’t use humor unless you can also use emojis.

If it’s that audience, you can get away with it, but otherwise, you probably shouldn’t be doing that in writing, especially at your business, which is a little depressing, but it encourages face to face communication. Get up from your desk and go talk to your coworkers.

You’ll be less legally liable in that way.

Exactly. That’s a lot of what I do is teach people how to
avoid legal liability. It’s even in grammar.

Get up and talk to people. Otherwise you’ll be talking to lawyers.

Right.

Tell us about your panel for startup week.

My business partner Katie Hoffman and I are running a workshop actually, where the two of us are going to help and go through some just quick tips for how to improve email, things that matter, so going over how you write a good subject line that’s focused on what your audience needs to know from that subject line.

What are some standard greetings and closings to use? How do you organize the screen so that people are more likely to read?

One of the concepts that I use a lot in my seminars is the idea that nobody wants to read anything, which is a little sad, but true. We’re inundated by information constantly and no one wants to read anything. What are some strategies we can use to organize the words on the screen in order to encourage people to read? We’re going to go over those things to help people sort of tailor their email a little bit.

There will be interactive content and then us helping people just sort of revise some emails, reading over their shoulder and giving them, try this, what do you think about this kind of strategies, so that people can walk away from the workshop feeling like they can immediately write emails a little bit better than when they came in. That’s what we’ll be doing.

They’re literally coming in going, “I have this really mean email that I need to send a client, can you help me?”

Yes, sure. We can work on the how do we make it sounds like it’s a nice email even though it’s demanding?

I really don’t like you, but please pay me. Right? That’s the goal.

Right. I do that all the time. You think about, how do you motivate other people? Instead of saying, you know, I did this work, you need to pay me … That’s not motivating to anybody else. You have to tell them what they’ll get out of it. Right? I did this work and you need to pay me so that I will leave you alone. You think about what can you offer to that audience that will help them sort of comply with whatever it is you want them to do.

If you could tell a start up one thing, what would it be?

It’s think about credibility. From the very beginning, think about how you are presenting yourself. Every single thing that you’re doing is about demonstrating that you know what you’re doing.

The biggest thing is just to make sure that you know how to present yourself as credible. Whether that’s dressing the part or being able to speak about it appropriately, having your references sort of in your head, like who knows you or who have you worked with, and also just being comfortable selling yourself.

Over the weekend, I was meeting a lot of new people. This group of people were talking about how uncomfortable they are selling themselves and that’s what being a startup is. You’re selling yourself all the time. I think the idea is focus on what’s objective, what’s factual. Your credibility is established by what you’ve done. We’re all looking for that so much.

We each deal with a lot of big corporations on a regular basis. Just think about companies that we have to call the customer service and all you need is one tiny little question answered and you’ve got to talk to five people and go through all the lines.

Most of us are just looking for like where is the person? Where is the person here that we can trust and have a real conversation with? I think startups need to be that person. They need to be personable, that we can trust them to do whatever it is that they’re saying they can do.

Where can we find out more about you and your business, Jenny?

Probably the easiest place is our website, Appendance.com. It goes through all of our services, the writing and editing projects, one on one coaching. Then what we’ve been doing the most of is the consulting, so going into businesses and doing half day or full day sessions, training a group of employees in a writing or communication related subject.

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