Words matter. The most powerful words have helped launch social movements and cultural revolutions. The most effective words have instigated great change in public policy. The right words at the right time can literally change history.
Most of you know me as a wordsmith. From time to time my memos and language guides have appeared on these pages -- sometimes with my blessings and sometimes against my will. I realize that my work is often controversial, and often you like to attack the messenger, but it's the message that matters.
For those who care about words, I'm going to make it easy for you. No need to dig through my trash or shuffle through my papers. I will voluntarily open up my computer files to give you the "11 for 11"... the 11 most powerful words and phrases for 2011. This comes straight from my new book, Win: The Principles That Take Your Business From Ordinary to Extraordinary. These are the phrases that you should or would be hearing if the political leaders were listening and communicating effectively. These are the words that matter most in business, politics, the media and culture:
"Imagine" is still the most powerful word in the English language because it is inspiring, motivating, and has a unique definition for each person. When you want to inspire, imagine is the language vehicle.
"No excuses." Of all the messages used by America's business and political elite, no phrase better conveys accountability, responsibility and transparency. This phrase generates immediate respect and appreciation.
"I get it." This explains not only a complete understanding of the situation but also a willingness to solve or resolve the situation. It's short, sweet and effective -- and too few leaders use it.
"If you remember only one thing..." is the surest way to guarantee that voters will remember the one point that matters most to you. This is essential in complicated situations like the upcoming debt ceiling vote.
"Uncompromising integrity." Of all the truthiness words, none is as powerful as "integrity," but in today's cynical environment, even that's not enough. People also need to feel that your integrity is absolute.
"The simple truth" comes straight from billionaire businessman Steve Wynn, and it sets the context for a straightforward discussion that might otherwise be confusing or contentious. It's the perfect phrase to begin and end the budget-deficit-debt debate.
"Believe in better" comes from BSkyB, the satellite television provider owned in part by Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp empire. Of all the corporate mission statements of the Fortune 100, "believe in better" is the second-most popular -- and it applies to politics as well. People don't want quantity. They want quality.
"Real-time." This is not a pitch for Bill Maher. Many American were furious that they couldn't get the details of the health-care legislation in a timely fashion. "Real-time" communicates receiving information at the speed of life.
"You decide." No, this is not paying homage to Fox News. The lesson of 2010 is that Americans want control of their lives back, and they don't want Washington or Wall Street making their decisions for them. So add the phrase "you're in control" and you've said exactly what Americans want to hear.
"You deserve." This comes from DNC Chairman Tim Kaine and it was first employed by him in his highly praised 2006 SOTU response. It tells voters precisely what they should expect from their politicians and their government.
"Let's get to work" was employed by Florida Governor Rick Scott in his successful campaign. No other end-of-speech rallying cry is more motivational to voters.
These are 11 phrases that will be shaping the public discourse over the coming year. You won't find a similar list from a liberal wordsmith -- there aren't any -- so you might as well use these. And if you want the other 89 words and phrases that really matter, you'll just have to buy the book.
Dr. Frank Luntz is the author of Win: The Principles That Take Your Business From Ordinary to Extraordinary. His two previous books have been New York Times Bestsellers.
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