It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear

first_imgThis is the subtitle of a book by Frank Luntz, the famous former Republican message strategist whom I heard present after me at the Communications Leadership Institute. As promised, I’m going to share a few of his insights this week. Put aside your political persuasion and think about his advice, because it’s sound. “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear,” is a really important concept for nonprofits. We spend a lot of time wordsmithing our mission statements, but that doesn’t mean our audience hears our message. Or, as I said in my own book, anything we communicate will get twisted according to the mind it enters. Our ideology is simply not as powerful as our audience’s own mental machinations. He talked about words that should be avoided because of how they are defined in people’s minds, as well as Words that Work (the name of his book). So what words work, according to Luntz? Ones that call to mind good things in the audience’s mind. Based on his research, here are his top 21 words for the 21st century. Think about how to use them in your language.1. Imagine (though this is getting overused, he warns, it is effective — “imagine a world in which…” is a phrase that allows people to bring their own experience to your message)2. Hassle-free (people want convenience)3. Lifestyle (good word for teens and twentysomethings)4. Accountability (people want this in politics, and it’s a better word than transparency, he says)5. Results/can-do spirit (use these!)6. Innovation7. A culture of…8. Efficiency (good for environmental causes, tests better than conservation or environment)9. The right to… (people want their rights)10. Consequences (good way to express what happens if people don’t support you — best word to use in talking about the negative)11. Renew, revitalize, rejuvenate, restore, rekindle, reinvent12. Investment (better than spending)13. Inspire (great for educational causes — teachers who inspire, inspired children)14. Independent15. Peace of mind16. Certified17. All-American18. Connected to19. The good life (good for older folks, don’t use lifestyle with them)20. Financial security21. Balanced approachTry them out, this man knows language. Words matter.last_img read more