Archive for November, 2012

Good communication no laughing matter for Seinfeld

Seinfeld may have been a show about nothing, but its well-polished writing offers many lessons to help us improve our communications:

Create an image
Jerry compared the “man hands” of his blind date to the paws of wrestler George “The Animal” Steele. The reference to Mr. Steele made the segment even funnier by drawing this bizarre — but specific — reference.  Our lesson: precision and details in communications help get your message across.

Tell a story
When Jerry’s pal George Costanza rescued a whale by freeing a golf ball from its blow hole, his recollection painted a vivid picture for viewers: “The sea was angry that day, my friends. Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.” Much more powerful than simply saying, “The water was rough.”

Keep it simple
Each plot revolved around a specific theme or two, ranging from marble rye bread and a gassy horse, to an overzealous auto mechanic and President Kennedy’s golf clubs. This is an especially good reminder to limit the number of key points in a message, else you risk losing readers’ attention.

Be an everyman (or woman)
Seinfeld’s character was, in many respects, an average Joe. He played softball, cheered for the Mets, ate cereal while watching late night television, and sported a wardrobe primarily consisting of jeans and sneakers. The audience related to that character more than had he been, for example, an architect.

Leave your comfort zone
One of the show’s funniest episodes, “The  Contest,”  took viewers down a path that ventured far beyond a typical sitcom plot, as the four wagered who could go the longest without … yada yada yada. Kramer, of course, was the first eliminated— seduced by the vision of a naked woman in the apartment across the street.  We later saw Jerry, who was in a relationship with Marla the virgin, singing children’s songs to keep his focus off the naked neighbor. Clever, funny, and out of the box.

Be memorable
Seinfeld featured a unique glossary of terms. Millions of people, young and old, completely understand references such as Library Cop, serenity now, and of course, “No soup for you!”  Colorful phrases catch people’s attention, and are particularly helpful during presentations or media interviews.

Unpredictable? Giddy-up
Viewers never really knew what to expect each week, particularly given the odd behavior of the show’s characters. George learns his fiancée has died and immediately suggests getting a bit to eat. The four watch a robbery and poke fun of the victim. And Elaine showed us dance moves unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Look beyond your walls
Seinfeld regularly connected to an event or newsworthy item beyond its set, such as the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the magic bullet scene from the movie JFK, bathroom hygiene, and The J. Peterman Company.  Good communicators know their audience has interests outside of the topic at hand.

Brevity is better
Some of the show’s most memorable lines were short, catchy phrases. For example, Jerry advised Elaine to “Look to the cookie,” for the path to racial harmony. Those four words were much more effective than a formal delivery, such as: “The black and white cookie symbolizes the synergy between people of different races, creeds, and background, and will serve as a foundation for our future …”
Other short, but effective phrases: “I choose not to run,” “Not that there’s anything wrong with it,” and “Bosco.” The lesson: don’t use 10 words when four will do.

Your turn
What do you think the writers of Seinfeld did particularly well?  If you can’t come up with anything, you’re clearly not Pensky material…



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In search of quality

Last week, I decided to repaint the inside of my home. Walls, trim, doors — the whole shebang. The original paint job was very poorly done (by a “professional” painter), and 3 years of looking at all the blemishes finally took its toll.

As I was applying a coat of semi-gloss to my dining room window trim this morning, the topic of quality kept popping into my head. Is good quality work harder to find because people don’t have the skills or commitment of generations past, or have we lowered our standards to accept mediocrity in exchange for discount pricing?

Quality still matters
The answer is probably a little of both. Still, boosting the quality of your product or service can give you a valuable edge and help you stand out from the crowd.

The U.S. government recognized this when it established The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the 1980s. Its goal, to promote the importance of excellence in an ever-competitive global marketplace, stresses that quality is a necessity, not an option.

Past recipients of the Baldrige Award include Boeing, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Cadillac, IBM, Federal Express, Motorola, and the City of Irving, Texas. Pretty good company.

Personal Quality
Producing good quality benefits individuals, too, both on the job and in our personal lives. Your boss will quickly learn to rely on you to produce quality work, while family and friends certainly notice a well-kept lawn, clean car, and home-made meals.

Easier said than done? Maybe. But start with making a commitment to quality and see where that leads. I suspect you’ll catch yourself paying more attention to your work and taking a bit more time to get something just right. People will notice, and you’ll feel a sense of pride.

As for my painting, I have a second coat waiting to be done.

Your thoughts on the topic?

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Sandy’s devastation reminds us to be prepared

A week after Hurricane Sandy roared up the East Coast thousands a still without power and many are faced with the daunting task of rebuilding their homes — and lives — in the wake of this powerful storm.

This tragedy serves as a reminder of the importance of being ready for a crisis, whether it’s a hurricane, blizzard, fire, or a man-made event.

Josh Frances, MPH, an expert in emergency preparedness, says “personal preparedness is huge,” and goes a long way to riding out a crisis situation. Unfortunately, too many wait of us until the last minute. “Grocery stores are so crowded just before a storm because people don’t prepare,” he says. “And you don’t have to be doomsday about it — just be simple about it.”

Some important steps to take before a potential situation arises:

  • Check your flashlights and battery supply. Avoid candles — they can be a fire hazard
  • Stock a supply of water for drinking and washing-up
  • Keep some cash on-hand in case ATMs and credit card processors are down
  • Prepare a first aid kit
  • Conduct an inventory of items needed for infants (diapers, formula, etc.) or elderly family members (medications, etc.)
  • Charge your cell phone, iPad, and other communication devices
  • Fill your tub with water (for flushing toilet)
  • Test your generator and check for gas/oil
  • Gather basic tools for emergency work: hammer, nails, wrench, saw
  • Fill your vehicle with gas
  • Listen for, and heed any orders to evacuate

Grab and go
Finally, prepare an emergency grab bag in the event you have to make a quick exit. Include anything you may need if away from home for a couple of days:

  • Clothing
  • Cash
  • Flashlights
  • Medications
  • Emergency radio
  • Contact information of family, friends, work, etc.
  • Non-perishable food and water
  • Pet food and medications

Emergency preparedness is something we all should do, but hope we never need.

For more information, visit

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