Words matter. And if you’re in a profession like mine, you spend a lot of time considering just the right ones. I’ve built my career counseling CEOs and other executives on delivering the words and messages that can advance all manner of ideas, causes, positions, products, services, organizational leadership, you name it. “Staying on message” is central to the work and something that my PR colleagues and I train spokespeople to do effectively. We advise that messaging that is core to a project or brand be integrated and reinforced through multiple communications channels, whether websites and social media, newsletters, speeches or videos … you get the idea. It’s not rocket science; but it is behavioral science. Repetition of a common message builds awareness among key audiences. Growing awareness leads to consideration – “I should learn more about that nonprofit or sign up for that event.” And, ultimately, disciplined, reinforced messaging evolves consideration into trial or purchase or attendance or donations – essentially whatever the act was that the messaging was designed to engender in the first place.
So, there’s no surprise that words have power. But what is incumbent on all of us, now more than ever, is to insist that those words are anchored by truth and fact.
In developing messaging strategy, that’s where we start. What are the facts of the situation, what is the desired outcome or objective, and what kind of truthful narrative can best engage audiences around that idea in a positive way? Even in the worst situations, the worst organizational crises, that’s the place to start: What happened? What are the facts? What kind of action is being taken? What do we need people to do? What’s the solution?
Deploying the power of “staying on message” for anything less is disingenuous, at best, and incredibly dangerous, at its worst. The world witnessed last week – in the seat of American democracy – what can unfold when unfounded, unsubstantiated untruths, half-truths, and all other category of falsehoods are launched over and over, in this case for years, from one of the most significant, most visible bully pulpits anywhere.
Words matter. Yes, they impact economies and organizations and bottom lines and markets. But mostly, they impact people and the human condition. Great rhetoric, great leaders have the power – and the responsibility – to inspire with their words, not to incite, and to do so honestly and with integrity.
Here’s to truth, inspiration, and messaging that unites in 2021.