Many of us have books we keep meaning to read. Mine have been “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo and “Words That Work,” by Dr. Frank Luntz. Since Hugo’s book is approximately 1,500 pages and is in French (English translation available!), I opted to finally purchase Luntz’s 267-page tome.
I’m an admirer of political and public opinion strategist Frank Luntz. I often watch his political commentaries and follow him on Twitter. Luntz’s clients are primarily Republicans, although he’s worked for various politicians and business leaders around the globe.
The subtitle of “Words That Work” is “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” Luntz frames his philosophy nicely in the book’s introduction; it’s an approach that should guide every public relations practitioner and professional communicator. “You can have the best message in the world, but the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, preconceptions, prejudices, and pre-existing beliefs,” he wrote. “The key to successful communication is to take the imaginative leap of stuffing yourself right into your listener’s shoes to know what they are thinking and feeling in the deepest recesses of their minds and hearts.”
Luntz’s quote reminds me of a bullet point PR guru Fraser Seitel used in his textbook, “The Practice of Public Relations.” In a chapter on crisis management, Seitel instructs us to “plan from the outside in,” noting that the external environment, not internal strategies, should dictate how we select our priorities when communicating. Because we have to communicate through our target audiences’ pre-existing prisms, we should try to see issues the way they will see them before we can effectively craft our messages.
With its more than a million words, the beauty and the challenge of the English language is that there are so many ways to express an idea. I’m looking forward to discovering Luntz’ success in finding the words that work for us. As PR professionals, we must be very tactical when planning how we’ll use the language to engage and motivate our audiences. Your thoughts?