Book: Words That Work

I was disappointed after finished reading the chapter on rules to follow. The rules are good tips. Rest of the book didn’t resonate well with me. Your mileage may vary.

“Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear” By Dr. Frank Luntz

“It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.”
“The key to successful communication is to take the imaginative leap of stuffing your-
self right into your listener’s shoes to know what they are thinking and feeling in the deepest recesses of their mind and heart.”
“Avoid words that might force someone to reach for the dictionary . . . because most
Americans won’t. They’ll just placidly let your real meaning sail over their heads or, even worse, misunderstand you. You can argue all you want about the dumbing down of America, but unless you speak the language of your intended audience, you won’t be heard by the people you want to reach.”
“Be as brief as possible. Never use a sentence when a phrase will do, and never use four words when three can say just as much.”
“People have to believe it to buy it. As Lincoln once said, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. If your words lack sincerity, if they contradict accepted facts, circumstances, or perceptions, they will lack impact.”
“Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
“Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Good language is like the Energizer Bunny. It keeps going . . . and going . . . and going.”
“So from a business perspective, you should tell consumers something that gives them a brand-new take on an old idea (and then, in accordance with rule number four, tell them again and again).”
“There’s a simple test to determine whether or not your message has met this rule. If it generates an ‘I didn’t know that’ response, you have succeeded.”
“The sounds and texture of language should be just as memorable as the words themselves. A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound, or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds.”
“Messages need to say what people want to hear. This is the one area where politicians often have the edge over the corporate community. It’s very difficult to craft advertising language that touches people at the most fundamental, primal level, by speaking to their deepest hopes, fears, and dreams.”
“Paint a vivid picture. From M&M’s ‘Melts in your mouth not in your hand’ to Morton Salt’s ‘When it rains, it pours,’ to NBC’s ‘Must See TV,’ the slogans we remember for a lifetime almost always have a strong visual component, something we can see and almost feel. Allstate’s ‘You’re in good hands,’ first created in 1956, went so far as to include the cupped hands visual in its logo to remind people of its peace-of-mind guarantee.”
“That word: imagine. Whether it’s the car of your dreams or the candidate of your choice, the word imagine is perhaps the single most powerful communication tool because it allows individuals to picture whatever personal vision is in their hearts and minds.”
“A statement, when put in the form of a rhetorical question, can have much greater impact than a plain assertion.”
“The reason for the effectiveness of questions in communication is quite obvious. When you assert, whether in politics, business, or day-to-day life, the reaction of the listener depends to some degree on his or her opinion of the speaker. But making the same statement in the form of a rhetorical question makes the reaction personal—and personalized communication is the best communication.”
“Context is so important that it serves not only as the last and most important rule of effective communication, but also as its own chapter. You have to give people the ‘why’ of a message before you tell them the ‘therefore’ and the ‘so that.'”
“Relevance is one reason market research is so crucial. Until you know what drives and determines a consumer’s or a voter’s decision-making process, any attempt to influence him or her is really just a shot in the dark.”
“These, then, are the ten rules of effective communication, all summarized in single words: simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, novelty, sound, aspiration, visualization, questioning, and context. If your tagline, slogan, or message meets most of these criteria, chances are it will meet with success. If it meets all ten, it has a shot at being a home run.”
“Few words—indeed, few messages of any kind—whether in politics or in the business world, are ingested in isolation. Their meanings are shaped and shaded by the regional biases, life experiences, education, assumptions, and prejudices of those who receive them.”
“Never lose sight of whom you are talking to—and who is listening. Remember that the meaning of your words is constantly in flux, rather than being fixed. How your words are understood is strongly influenced by the experiences and biases of the listener—and you take things for granted about those experiences and biases at your own peril.”
“The single greatest challenge for those in the world of politics is the inherent assumption that everyone else knows as much as they do.”
“The order in which words are presented also affects how we perceive them. To return to the example of the stand-up comic: It’s all in the delivery. Miss one beat, or include one beat too many, and it throws off your rhythm. The joke just hovers there, lifeless. Achieving the desired effect requires the presentation of the right information in the right order.”
“The language lesson: A + B + C does not necessarily equal C + B + A. The order of presentation determines the reaction. The right order equals the right context.”
“For example, women generally respond better to stories, anecdotes, and metaphors, while men are more fact-oriented and statistical. Men appreciate a colder, more scientific, almost mathematical approach; women’s sensibilities tend to be more personal, human, and literary.”
“Women react much more negatively to negative messages than do men. They don’t like companies that trash the competition, and they don’t like candidates that twist the knife.”
“And above all, listen. Listen more than you ask questions, and ask questions more than you ‘talk.'”
“Popular perception can overwhelm truth and accuracy in establishing a communication connection. Or, in plain English, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear that matters. Moreover, words that had certain definitions when your grandparents were your age may have an entirely different meaning today.”
“i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
“One reason why the definitions of words has blurred or changed over time is simply because of their misuse. There are a growing number of examples where the incorrect meaning of relatively commonplace language has become more widespread than the original intention or definition.”
“Show, don’t tell.”
“Companies don’t give job security. Only satisfied customers do.’”
“The key word is more: more conversation with the affected community rather than less, more information rather than less, and more details rather than fewer. If the words are right, there is no such thing as overkill.”
“Honest/credible/truthful data” –> “Accurate data”
“Interpretation” –> “Analysis”
“Responsibility/professionalism” –> “Accountability”
“Capital markets” –> “Investors/The public interest”
“Innovative approaches” –> “Principles and rules”
“Attested to” –> “Certified”
“Experienced” –> “Independent”
“Breadth of services” –> “Back to basics”
“Codes of conduct” –> “Internal controls and accountability procedures”
“Comprehensive” –> “Easy to understand”
“‘Accurate’ data is more important than honest, credible, or truthful data because it is a statement of fact rather than someone’s explanation. For similar reasons, ‘facts’ and ‘fact-based’ are more powerful descriptors in the legal world than ‘evidence.’ It may seem like a distinction without a difference but it really does matter. Facts are indisputable. Evidence is open to interpretation.”
“‘Responsibility’ and ‘professionalism’ are obviously important, but ‘accountability’ trumps them because it implies enforcement and perhaps even punishment for failure.”
“The phrase ‘back to basics’ appeals because it represents a change in focus and a shift in priorities to those things that matter most. A ‘back to basics’ approach is particularly popular in times of economic instability or personal anxiety.”
“The second step is to drop the word “private” from the corporate lexicon. To most Americans, hearing about “private” markets and ‘private’ offerings conjures up images of private clubs they cannot join, private schools they cannot afford, private jokes they do not get, and private communities that keep them out. Individual consumer privacy is a good thing. Private markets are not.”
“Never, never, never let any union communication go without an immediate rebuttal. A charge made is a charge believed unless and until refuted.”
“Few things are worse for employee morale than being left in the dark with regard to job-related turmoil. Management should aim for a twenty-four-hour turnaround on personal, one-on-one questions from employees and a forty-eight-hour turnaround to produce written responses to written union communications.”
“Another mistake companies make is to bash the union leadership when a softer touch would be more effective.”
For contract negotiation:
“Peace of mind” –> “Security”
“Being rewarded” –> “Being valued”
“Commitment” –> “Respect, responsibility”
“Listening to employees” –> “Keeping promises, respecting employees”
“Finding common ground” –> “Negotiating in good faith”
“Comprehensive contract” –> “Long-term contract”
“Balance” –> “Fairness, common sense”
“The union is biased.” –> “Full disclosure/ You have a right to
hear all sides.”
“Objective” –> “Accurate”
“Union leaders should not hold local employees hostage over national issues.” –> “Local problems require local solutions.”
“When a union strikes against a company, it isn’t just hurting the company.” –> “No one wins in a strike.”
“If the union chooses to strike, have a legitimate right to stay open.” –> “We will do whatever we can to avoid a strike.”
“Peace of mind is one of the most powerful phrases in the public mind today, but in today’s environment of economic and job anxiety, we put even greater emphasis on security. With employment duration decreasing every year and the media focus on American jobs being outsourced to foreign countries, peace of mind is simply not tangible and explicit enough for the workforce. We want the security of knowing that our job, our paycheck, and our benefits will be there when we need it.”


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