All the right words in the right order


Reading some of the comments exchanged through the organ that is Twitter I’m reminded of a remark made to me over a boardroom table some twenty-plus years ago.

I suggested the re-wording of a corporate statement which by moving two or three words around and inserting another could be made to sound as though it was saying something rather different but without straying from the actuality.

A non-communications person said “oh really Mike, it’s all just words!”

Er, yes. That would rather be the point of it. Communication is a matter of what is heard, not what is said and knowing how to say it so the message received is relevant to the target audience.

When the art is played well it can be a case of saying exactly the same thing by using exactly the same words, but heard differently by different audiences.

I suggested to my non-communications friend, well colleague, that it was rather like the old Morecambe & Wise sketch (*younger readers may need to Google that) where he says “I’m playing all the right notes (on the piano), just in the wrong order.”

I just highlighted an example of using words carefully in communication citing a TV ad for a frozen chicken product just screened which used the line “made with 100% chicken breast.” What is said is the product contains chicken which is 100% chicken breast. What is heard I suspect is that 100% of the product is 100% chicken breast. I thought that was rather clever use of language.

It is not dissimilar to the Leave bus slogan in the UK referendum campaign. What it said was a suggestion to spend money on NHS instead of sending it to the EU. What was heard was some kind of commitment (from a campaign group actually incapable of making such a commitment as it was not standing for election) to make that payment switch. The decision as to funding NHS from the saved EU money will be one for a future government and parliament, not for a campaign group. If anybody stopped to think about this would be obvious!

And yet having made that comment about the chicken TV ad, I received comments from the Twittersphere which made it clear that people had completely missed my point which was simply to draw attention to the difference between saying “made with” as opposed to “it is.” The same is true of the bus slogan, the power to persuade of which rests on the difference between “Let us” and “we will.”

Two of them styled themselves as “communications professionals.” Odd they should wordsmith for a living and not understand wordsmithing.

I never ceased to be amazed how people seem to think that words do not matter.

Words are everything.

In the business of persuasion we use words as a tools of communication. The skill is getting the words (notes) in the right order depending on the audience.


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