(#55) Words Matter

As an author, my success depends in part on my choice of words and how I turn a phrase. Some days I am more successful than others. At times, the words fly from my mind to the computer screen without much effort. Other times, I wonder if I will ever write a coherent thought again. I currently am writing a revision of one of my books.  Some days I feel like I am developing an industry leading text; other times, I feel like I belong in a developmental English class.

It simply goes with the territory.

My March 20, 2011 post to this blog (“What We Say, We Become”) drew a suggested reading from a colleague: Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz. 

Early on in the book, Luntz presents his top ten list for effective communication. His list instructs the novice and reminds the veteran that the reader (or listener or viewer) may not hear what we think we are communicating.  This advice is not only powerful for authors; it can be a powerful tool in the hands of an employee wanting to sell his boss on an idea, a salesperson wanting to close a deal, a citizen wanting to convince the local government about the wisdom of a certain policy, or spouse speaking to spouse. Here are Luntz’s suggestions.

Ten Rules of Successful Communication

1. Simplicity. Luntz reminds us that fewer than 30% of Americans have graduated from college. Keep the message simple and on point. Otherwise, you risk speaking over your audience’s head. It doesn’t matter how eloquent you are, if the audience does not get it, you have not communicated your point. Period.

2. Brevity. Luntz says that “small beats large, short beats long, and plain beats complex.”  Think of marketing slogans that have made it.  “Just Do It” comes to mind.

3. Credibility. No matter what you are writing about be sincere, be credible, and be reputable. Avoid grandiose promises that cannot be delivered and beware of the expectations you are creating in your audience.  Are they believable? Can you deliver?

4. Consistency. Repetition has power. “Message consistency builds customer loyalty,” says Luntz.  This is important when branding a product or service.

5. Novelty. What are you offering that is new to your client (readers, viewers)? While consistency is valued, so are those things that stop us with a bit of shock and awe. Tap into the adventuring spirit of “new and improved.”

6. Sound and Texture.  One of the coolest words I remember learning in my early school years was onomatopoeia.  I’ll pause for you to dig back in your memory bank.

Remember it?  It’s using a word that imitates the sound of the word itself. Like “bang” or “boom.” The sixth rule is  to use words that have a certain alliteration to them. They help the reader  (listener) make connections and better remember your message.  Former Vice President of the United State Spiro T. Agnew (no doubt thanks to his speech writers) understood this when he uttered memorable word combinations like “nattering nabobs of negativity (negativism).”

7. Aspiration.  Help people feel the emotion you attempt to create.  Make them feel good, long for something or somebody. In short, when you speak or write aspirationally–as Luntz calls it–you help them sense a better place.

8. Visualize. Your words need to “paint a vivid picture.”  If your audience can’t see it, they will have a difficult  time understanding what’s in it for them.

9. Ask a question.  Take what you want to say, put it in the form of a question, and it personalizes the message for the receiver.  “Are you as successful as you want to be?”  “What do you need to do to get closer to your dream?” Questions by nature can lead to a dialogue–an interaction that makes the listener (viewer) an active part of the communication process.

10. Context and relevance.  If you propose a solution, make sure you have identified the problem.  When you identify the problem, make sure it has meaning to the audience. Make an emotional connection.

Video recommendation for the week:

Perhaps a picture will say it more effectively. In this case, the message in this video below is simple: “Change your words, change your world.”

© 2011.  Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog.

About stevepiscitelli

Community Advocate-Author-Pet Therapy Team Member
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4 Responses to (#55) Words Matter

  1. Jodi McPherson says:

    completely agree and have read and RE-read that book. excellent advice to follow on a daily basis!


  2. Pingback: A Blogger’s Retrospective: 2011 in Review « Steve Piscitelli's Blog

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