“Words that Work” by Dr. Frank Luntz can be read by just about anyone, from those who identify themselves as an everyday reader, through CEOs or politicians, marketing professionals or educators.
This book delves into the way we use words, and it should resonate with any person from any background.
But it’s especially useful for copywriters, marketers, and entrepreneurs.
Throughout the text, Luntz iterates over and over again it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.
It’s more important to speak how readers will interpret it, rather than speaking in such a way that makes you happy.
As Luntz suggested, you should remove yourself from your own perceptions and thoughts for a moment —attempting to step into the shoes of the person to whom you are speaking. Is your message going to be interpreted the same from their point of view as yours?
Lesson 1: Words Matter
Barack Obama, who arguably had some of the least political experience in the field, took a sweeping victory at the polls. According to Luntz, it’s not change, or any of the other words bandied about during the historic 2008 presidential election that had such an impact.
What so many Americans were searching for was hope — dreams and aspirations, and a willingness to do better and to be better.
America had optimism and wanted to believe again in the political system.
The words that inspired hope were what drew so many previously non-voters to the polls. Words that gave hope, that gave purpose, were what made a difference. And words can make a difference in anything, whether that’s your everyday speech or a politician’s.
7 Important Words
- Consequences: What will personalize, what will dramatize the result of your actions?
- Impact: How can you utilize this word to make your listeners feel as if there will be a measurable difference?
- Diplomacy: See below
- Dialogue: These two words – diplomacy and dialogue – work together in tandem to establish a state of being. Are you bringing a sense of peace to the listener’s mind? Use them to easy tension, to establish a sense of normalcy or goodwill.
- Reliability: There are many people who believe that the reliability of something is more important than any other factor – look at how car companies like Toyota or Chevy have branded themselves with longevity and reliability.
- Mission: Your listener wants to know the how, what and why. As Luntz details in the “Words Matter” fore-section, you should explain what you do, why you do it and above all, why you care – and why should the listener care.
- Commitment: What kind of personal mission are you going to undertake? Use commitment in the terms of “personal commitment” and explain what your particular cause or effort is, and how you promise to see it through.
While the previous seven words are integral components of any type of speech you are compiling, there are words that must be used with great caution and in a relatable, sensible manner.
However — if you can wield them such a way as to not be overbearing, then you can revel in their power.
Powerful Words to Be Careful With
- Authentic & Genuine: Americans tend to seek out people who exemplify these traits, and that is not limited to political players – indeed, even corporations are being held to a higher standard of authenticity.
- Corporate Social Responsibility: Corporate authenticity and a more robust commitment to the community as a whole is now demanded, and should be carried out in such a away that it’s more than a standalone effort, but rather a integral piece of the company culture and strategy. Include words like proactive, track record, cleaner, safer, healthier and sustainable.
The discipline that your words portray matters. The importance of being able to grab and maintain the attention of the listener is tantamount when it comes to clarity and what is understood versus what you said.
Lesson 2: Ten Rules For Effective Language
No matter what you’re doing (Luntz describes in Chapters 10-12 words that anyone could use, not just politicians and CEOs), the way you say it matters. How you speak to other people matters.
No matter how well-spoken you believe yourself to be, there are always places to improve.
Ten Rules for Successful Communication
- Simplicity – use easy to comprehend words
- Brevity – get to your point, quickly
- Credibility – be credible in every word or statement you make
- Consistency – iterate the same message, over and over
- Novelty – explain or detail what is new (breed excitement)
- Sound – the texture of your words, how you sound saying them, matters
- Aspirational – be and speak in an aspirational manner (Luntz states: “People forget what you say but not how you made them feel… Messages need to say what people want to hear.”)
- Imagery – visualization and imagination are incredibly powerful, use them frequently
- Question – question everything, ask questions and provide the solution
- Context – give background to why you’re here and why people should bother to listen to you – give relevance to the situation
Remember: “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear . . . and see.”
Some “Don’ts” in Communication
- Don’t assume that people know what you do, or are even aware of you
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figures of speech that you might see in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Lesson 3: Become Successful at Communicating
In “Words That Work” Dr. Luntz gives many examples of words that can elevate your idea – that can give meaning or focus to your speech or text.
Utilize some of these important words to be successful:
- Inspire, Imagine
- Healthier, Cleaner, Safer
- Comprehensive / Long-term
- Hassle-Free, No Worries
- You’re in control / You Decide
- Efficient & Efficiency
- Important R’s:
- Bold Action / Getting it Done
- Peace of Mind
- Independent Certification
- Mission, Commitment
- Cutting Edge
- Common Sense
- Exceeding Expectations
To bring it all home, remember: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.
Are would-be buyers hearing your message, your hope, your aspirations for something better?
Or are they hearing a speech full of jargon, full of nonsense, full of promises they know you have no intentions of keeping?
Are you shouting German at someone who only speaks French, or are you meeting in the middle?
You need to find the common ground that you share.