*A Book Review*

Words That Work

By Dr. Frank Luntz

by Michael C. Gray

July 2, 2008

The words we choose to communicate with are very important. More critical to our success than what we intend to say is what the person we are communicating with thinks we are saying – what he or she "hears." As stated by Dr. Luntz, "It's not what you say, it's what people hear."

It's Dr. Luntz's business to meet with or otherwise interview people to find out how they respond to what companies and politicians say.

Most of Dr. Luntz's political consulting has been done for the Republican Party. Notably, he wrote the Contract With America that brought the Republicans in control of Congress under Newt Gingrich's leadership.

This doesn't mean Dr. Luntz only admires the Conservative camp. He considers Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech the greatest speech of the 20th Century.

Dr. Luntz has ten rules for 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

We also have to be alert for the meaning of words for the particular audience we are communicating with. For example, "bling" is being used in gossip magazines for flashy jewelry, "diss" is used in some youth circles for "to disrespect someone". Did you even know this?

Words That Work includes a chapter about how "Words That Work" are created. Most of us would call Dr. Luntz a pollster. Part of his information is gathered through telephone surveys, and he points out the shortcomings of these surveys, including the difficulty of getting a representative sample by telephone and determining the proper ordering of questions.

His preferred information-gathering method is a focus group called the "Instant Response Dial Session". Dial sessions have more participants than a focus group, usually about 25 to 30 people. They are conducted classroom style and last about three hours, which is longer than most focus groups. They are also more expensive than focus groups.

In a dial session, the participants indicate their responses with a wireless "dial" device, indicating responses from 0 (negative) to 100 (positive).

According to Dr. Luntz, the Dial Session eliminates some of the shortcomings of focus groups, such as having one member dominate the discussion.

In corporate case studies, Dr. Luntz shows how corporations were able to present themselves more positively by changing the words used to describe them. For example, Las Vegas casinos changed from the "gambling" industry to "gaming". Alcoholic beverages were changed from "liquor" to "spirits." Energy companies are no longer involved in "drilling for oil," now they are involved in "energy exploration."

From time to time, all of us need to communicate to get favorable action. Words That Work can help you understand the "receiving" end of communication to get more effective results.

Buy it on Amazon: Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear.

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