Choose Your Modifiers Carefully

During times of crisis it is not unusual to see formal communication include more than its fair share of adjectives and adverbs to help set a narrative. While the need for transparency and expedient communication is strong, it’s worth a few extra moments to perform a formal modifier check.

Case in point, I’m seeing a spike in the use of the word “indefinitely” to describe cancellations. Example: “We regret to inform our audience that in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the board of directors has decided to indefinitely cancel all concert activity until further notice.”

“Indefinitely” projects a very defeatist attitude. It’s devoid of hope or confidence.

Think about it from a revenue generation standpoint, which of these groups is more likely to inspire a donation: one that indefinitely cancels all concert activity or one that suspended concerts temporarily.

In the end, strategic communication during periods of crisis is a battle over relevant and essentials perceptions. Modifiers matter. If you’re not sure how an adjective or adverb comes across, err on the side of caution: “when in doubt, leave modifiers out.”

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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