Are you familiar with the following?
»Are you talking to me?« (movie »Taxi Driver«)
»I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse« (movie »The Godfather«)
»I have a dream« (Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech)
The success of language in the business world is measured in the box office and at the share prices. In politics, for example, it is measured on election day. So in the business the words that work are the words that sell. In politics, however: the words that work are the words that win. What both spheres have in common, however, is this: words that work are timeless. In many cases, such words can even outlive the one who spoke them.
All of the great phrases mentioned above are positive, inspiring, and aspiring while also bringing i.e. “Call to Action”. They were all written and said with the intention of lifting our souls and touching us deeply.
Of course, however, not all words work this way, and not everything we remember is politically successful. Let’s look at some examples:
- Richard Nixon broke the most important rule of communicating with the public when he said »I’m not a crook«. He repeated the critique used against him and used it in his defense speech. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh163n1lJ4M
- Jimmy Carter’s 1979 speech known as the »Crisis of Confidence« offers an incredible number of mistakes he made. At this point, the situation in the USA was extremely poor, so his consultants suggested he should speak with the Americans. For 10 days he went and talked to the people, creating some kind of focus group. He listened well and the negative energy collected from these conversations stuck with him. So when it was time for his speech, his words reflected the depression, he felt during these 10 days. First, he told the nation that “he truly is the president who feels their pain”. Then he started to talk about the crisis the country was in, he stated that the USA is no longer undefeatable, that the economy is no longer as strong as a dollar. Those kinds of statements have never before been heard in the president’s speech. Even though he claimed the responsibility of the state at the time, all the people heard was that the Americans did this to themselves. All while the only thing they actually needed in those dreadful times was optimism. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IlRVy7oZ58
- Jack Welch from the GE knew the power of words very well and he was extremely blunt telling his workers who is “putting the food on the table”. He demanded from them to only be focused on one thing – the customers. “That’s why I’ve always told my people: Companies don’t give job security. Only satisfied customers do. Their job was not to flatter bosses but to make products, sell them, and everything related to that. If we concentrate on customers, we will have jobs.”
Words. Or if I may: as Helena’s face could move thousands of ships, words can change history.