“Words That Work – It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear” by Dr. Frank Luntz

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“Don’t tell me words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream’ – just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ – just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ – just words? Just speeches?”

– Barack Obama
February 16, 2008

Words That Work

Words That Work


The Ten Rules of Effective Language
1. Simplicity: Use Small Words
2. Brevity: Use Short Sentences
3. Credibility Is As Important As Philosophy
4. Consistency Matters
5. Novelty: Offer Something New
6. Sound and Texture Matter
7. Speak Aspirationally
8. Visualize
9. Ask a Question
10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance

Preventing message mistakes
How your words are understood is strongly influenced by the experiences and biases of the listener.
Your audience needs to know the basics generalities before you can motivate them to respond to the specifics
The sequential arrangement of information often creates the very meaning of information.

Old Words, New Meaning
Popular perception can overwhelm truth and accuracy in establishing a communication connection (Machiavellian, Orwellian). Moreover, words that had certain definitions when your grandparents were your age may have entirely different meaning today (campaign, sad).
To create words that work, you have to pay close attention to the vitality of the language. You have to understand how people use words today, and what those words have come to mean.

Be the Message
A superstar creates a persona in the public mind by conveying certain essential characteristics about himself or herself. Successful leaders establish this persona not by describing their attributes and values to us, but by simply living them. Voters must feel that a candidate speaks to them and is in touch with their personal concerns.
Whether your arena is business or politics, you simply must be yourself. Be the message rather than narrating it, but above all, be authentic.

Words We Remember
That’s one of the definitions of words that work: we remember even when we’re not trying. There is no doubt that in the creation and dissemination of language, nothing in day-to-day life plays a more significant role than television. But the real question for those who seek to understand and then apply the power of words is whether television mirrors society or leads it.
Our frame of reference and common bond as Americans has become pop culture, not the classics. We are so remarkably ignorant about what should matter because no one ever explained why we should care.
In businnes, words that work are words that sell. In politics, words that work are words that win.

For most people, language is functional rather than being an end in itself. For me, it’s the people that are the end; language is just a tool to reach them, a means to an end.

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