What Do You Mean By That?

Words That Work  Important and fun reading for anyone making a living from words is the book by Dr. Frank Luntz:  “Words That Work–It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.”  Frank is the popular pollster who regularly appears on Fox News where he takes the pulse of a room full of voters after debates and other political events.

Even though the book is timely since it talks about word choices in politics, you’ll also find tips on how effective language can help you shape stronger and clearer messages.  I wasn’t aware that it was Hank McKinnell, former CEO of Pfizer, who decided to use the words “responsibility” and “accountability”, thus elevating the good intentions of corporations.  He also changed the focus of “disease management” to “prevention.” 

The book is full of examples of how words change perceptions, including the ingenious move from the word “liquor” to “spirits.”  “Spirits” clearly has a softer and safer tone than “liquor.”

Frank’s 10 Rules of Successful Communication:

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

One thought on “What Do You Mean By That?

  1. I really like the book title’s emphasis on what people hear as opposed to what is said.

    I should/would like to buy this book. I’m curious about speaking aspirationally. Do you think this is the author’s way of recommending optimistic rhetoric?

    CULPWRIT: Interesting point, Kyle. Yes, the book discusses how word choice can change public perceptions. A recent example is the choice of “bailout” vs. “recovery program” in describing government intervention in the current financial crisis. No one wants to bailout investment bankers, but everyone wants the economy to recover.

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