The other day, a talk radio guest was speaking about inmates and said starkly
that “having a portion of our population in cages” impacts all of us deeply.
I’ve heard the term “prison,” “jail,” “correctional facility,” and “cell” to describe
where our inmates live, but never the term “cage.” It is a word that brings a
vivid picture to mind that I have not been able to forget—an image that none
of the other words (some could call them euphemisms)—have ever painted
for me, and therefore, have had little to no emotional impact on me. The word
“cages” sparked an outrage and an awakening in me.
Last August, my guy and I were in Jasper, British Columbia and saw the most
astonishing sight—not a moose and not a bear, both of which we truly were
hoping to see—but a species of a whole other kind, one that exists no where
else in North America: police cars with Peace Officers painted on the sides.
And guess what? The label has—like all labels do—trickled down into their
I was double-parked in the town one afternoon and one pulled up alongside
me. I was immediately awash with guilt (conditioning) and fully expecting him
to scold me. I waved that I was sorry and was about to move. He smiled broadly
and waved back, as if to say, “No worries. I was just checking in to see if you
were all right.” A Peace Officer indeed. Words are powerful things.
There isn’t a place in our lives—not even in the privacy of our own minds—
where words do not exist. They are our lives. They inform our behavior, our
choices, our reactions. Words matter because words affect. They either affect
nothing because they’re lame–or they influence; they “spark”—revolutions,
awakenings, action, transformation, as evidenced by my two examples above.
As a business owner, words are your business. You don’t have a business
without words: you’ve gathered words to help you think about what you do,
and summoned words to describe what you do. You speak words in networking
events, presentations and videos–and you write words, on websites, blogs and
social media. And they either cause no effect—or they influence.
Washington spends millions of dollars hiring political consultants to form the
right words to convey the ideas they seek to promulgate. A change was made
years ago to change the label for Democrats from “liberal” to “progressive.”
Words shift and shape entire world views and, again, millions of dollars is spent
on word architects to do that job because leaders have infinite respect for the
art and science of persuasive language, for the truth that there are cold words
and warm words; clinical words and emotional words; abstract words and vivid
words—and they know if they get it wrong, they lose the race.
Same with you: if you get your word-choice wrong in presenting your
business, you lose the race. There’s simply no way around it. It’s not smart
to be in denial about that. Words matter. At the same time, it can also be hugely
liberating to know that the most likely reason you’re struggling at all is because
you’re choosing the wrong words.
I have studied the microscopic subtleties of language and written prolifically
my whole life, starting with my first short-story in first grade, then moving into
poetry, then onto copywriting on Madison Avenue, then onto novel writing,
then non-fiction writing, then back into copywriting for my business and my
If there’s one thing I know, it’s words. And my passion—my crazy, soul-bursting
passion—is language that influences. Because I want to change this world
and words are the things that do it.
Words that “spark.”
Last week, I led a Linked-In
discussion and spotted instantly
words that said nothing and
therefore did nothing. Here’s
One woman wrote in her elevator pitch: I work with women who struggle with
what I call the [I’ve changed this name to protect her privacy] “Marie Antoinette
Syndrome:” successful career women who have difficulties with their interpersonal
relationships. I help them develop empowering solutions that transform their situation
Here’s what I wrote her (after a few kind words):
XX, there are some unclear words that you want to define: “difficulties”
and “transform.” (I’m wondering if you meant “transform”? Even if you
did, that would need to be better clarified.)
Here’s a tip I give often: You want your words to bring clear pictures to
mind. But not just ANY picture, the SAME picture–to 1,000 people. If your
words mean something different to all 1,000 people, you will get puzzled
looks and worse, polite phrases like, “I’ll think about it.”
So, the problem is that the world “difficulties” will mean something
different to 1,000 people. You want to mean the SAME thing to all 1,000,
which will begin to happen if you define the types of difficulties. “Difficulty
expressing love ” perhaps or “Difficulty keeping friendships.” These bring
pictures to mind–and while 1,000 people may imagine these two types
of difficulties slightly differently, it’s far clearer than before.
And then, you want to add an explanation for why they’re having that
difficulty (i.e. expressing love): “because ____” (because they grew up
in a motherless household), which further spotlights who your market is,
which is essential.
And as for the word “transform”–it doesn’t mean anything at without a
qualifier. So, insert the word “by ____” and explain how you help them
transform: “by examining their fear of intimacy” for instance. This would
highlight your specialty.
What words are you putting out there—into the public—that just don’t do the job
of influencing? It’s scary to think about, given how constant the flow of words are
in business. Are you getting it right?
This Thursday, I am giving a rare, free class.
February 26 at 4pmEST
Registration is now open here.
You don’t want to miss this.
This free class will illuminate for you, by way of example, words that spark people
to act and to BUY—and words that do NOT! If you want to bring your best articulation
to the table for a chance under my scalpel, I’ll be opening the lines for that.
Let me leave you with these words.
“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are
no exceptions to this rule.”
― Stephen King
“As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds
of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
And I will add: “Words can repel, bore, confuse and distract. To succeed,
you’ve got to get them right!”