The Power of Words

(originally published in Screen Magazine on 6/13/12)
As I picked up my pizza last night, my son asked the owner of the restaurant why he named his place Prima La Pizza when he obviously serves much more than pizza. Frustrated (as if he’s been asked that same question many times before), he turned to me and said that adding that single word ‘pizza’ has cost him sleepless nights. He continued, “All of my pasta recipes were brought directly from Sicily, but the sign outside suggest that that the only thing I do well is pizza.”

I wasn’t really in the mood to have a lengthy business conversation with my ‘pizza’ guy, so I simply shrugged my shoulders as if to say. What are you going to do?

As I got into my car, I concluded that A) The owner of Prima La Pizza should have read my recent column about having a road map for success before naming his business, and B) People still don’t understand the power of words.

I see it all the time in business, someone comes up with a clever name, incorporates their business, and then immediately realizes that they may have chosen to be clever over profitable. Or perhaps they name their business after themselves, and then years down the road, when they want to phase themselves out, they’re forced to re-brand & re-invent. Seriously, whoever came up with the name Just Tires should be fired immediately if he or she hasn’t been fired already. By the way, Just Tires has added tune-ups and oil changes to their repertoire.

Poor word choices are also being made in business emails, texts, social media updates, and more. There is a great deal of power in words, and often times the person on the other end of your message isn’t receiving the same thing you’re sending (if you know what I mean).

I have also found that a lack of words can lead to confusion, and even keep vendors from getting awarded projects. I don’t know how many estimates I’ve seen that didn’t include a descriptive summary of the project. In my opinion, it’s hard to conclude if you’re right for the job if all I see is numbers. When I receive an estimate with a well written paragraph or two describing what needs to be done, and how the vendor intends to go about doing it, I get a sense that this company was really listening to me. Even if it basically repeats everything mentioned in a conference call, I feel that this company understands the scope of the project.

It’s not just the written words that can get people in trouble. I know an editor who answered a client’s question with a one-word answer. They rarely worked together again. To make a long story short, the client asked if a specific effect was possible. The editor took a minute, and finally said “Yea”. The combination of the long pause and the word “Yea” suggested to everyone in the room that the editor didn’t want to take the time to do the effect. It appeared that the editor was frustrated that he was being asked to do one more thing. In actuality, the editor was just thinking about how to pull off the effect, and what devices he needed to accomplish the goal.

I guess my point in all of this is… choose your words carefully.

• When starting a business, take the time to consider a name that reflects your capabilities as well as your business personality.

• When writing an email, make sure that if a complete stranger skims through it, they would read that email exactly how you intended it to be read.

• If you’re putting together an estimate, tell a creative and quick story about what’s happening on screen, it just might help you get the job.

• When speaking to clients, understand that every word you say can and will be used to determine if they will keep coming back.

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