10 rules of successful communication

It’s not what people say, it’s what people hear – Frank Luntz

Business/personal assistant or secretary; wife or spouse/partner; investment or expense; worker or associate.

The choice of words with synonymous or similar meaning can greatly affect the message we send out. Regardless of the fact whether we competently choose words for business purposes while preparing a speech for a public figure or for personal use, their choice, rhythm and combination can even be of greater significance than the actual message in case our goal is to leave a certain impression.

Here are 10 rules of successful communication from the book Words that Work by Frank Luntz that came to mind the other day while drafting a communicational concept of a turn-over strategy for a former minister. The advice Luntz gave is more than useful:

1. Simplicity – use simple words!

Supposedly, it’s important to many people that they receive messages from eloquent and educated people. The numbers however speak differently in the US. Don’t use words whose meaning people will have to look in the dictionary -> the chance is they WON’T! You’ll simply be misunderstood. According to Luntz, the reason for this is that educational stats reveal that only 27% of Americans have a college degree!

According to the Serbian Statistics Bureau, every fifth citizen of Serbia hasn’t completed elementary school, while only 6,5% have a university education. The latter also applies to Bosnia & Herzegovina, while this number is somewhat higher in Croatia (18%).

Advice: use simple and comprehensible words using a shorter form if you wish for the majority to understand you!

2. Brevity! – use short words.

When we talk about effective communication, short words win over long ones while simple ones win over complicated ones.

Luntz says: “Don’t use sentences when phrases can do the job. Also, don’t use four words when three can suffice!”

Most of us don’t have the patience and/or the educational background for long speeches. That’s how it is.

We tend to say AT&T instead of American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, CNN instead of Cable News Network, IBM instead of International Banking Machines, we shorten telephone, use bike instead of bicycle…

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead – Mark Twain

3. Credibility – People have to trust (you) in order to “buy” your message!

In order to be trusted, you must gain credibility through your activities, corporate policy or consistency. By saying that you have the newest and most competitive credit/arrangement/offer on real estate/promotion/action doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have credibility.

Test: How would you react to MTS’s (Serbian mobile operator) new message: “New! We offer the fastest and most quality customer service!” or Mercator’s (Slovenian supermarket chain) flyer saying: “Lowest prices in town!” or if Đilas (mayor of Belgrade) announces that: “Belgrade will be ready for all participants taking part in this year’s Pride parade”?

Luntz advises to first build a relationship of trust -> tell people who you are and what you do and then be the person that you were and do what you said you would do!

4. Consistency – repeat, repeat, repeat!

Consistency not only builds efficient communication, but loyalty as well! Repeat your slogan, political message or three primary product characteristics over and over again, synchronously from one channel to another. Conceptualizing a good message and then repeating it over and over is no easy business but it pays tenfold, says Luntz.

5. Innovation – offer something new!

Deep inside our nature lies the quest for new things – destinations, flavors, challenges. Surprise and intrigue are two magical ingredients, the so called “compelling message” – a message that sticks in our minds and is later repeated within our social circle. You’ll know if your message adheres to this rule if the answer to it is: “hey, I didn’t know this!?”

6. The sound and rhythm of the word – we remember tone better than words!

This certainly applies to slogans, but why not apply it to regular communicational messages.

The first thing that came to mind were three rhythmical slogan-messages: “AIK banka, domaća a jaka” (AIK bank, domestic but strong), “Maggi, magija ukusa” (Maggi, the magic of taste) and “JUL je kul” (JUL is cool). The message doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme, but its sound should stick to examples from ADSlogans:

  • It’s good to talk – British Telecom (1994),
  • I’d walk a mile for a Camel – Camel cigarettes (1921),
  • The Citi never sleeps – Citibank (1977),
  • If you want to get ahead, get a hat – Hat Council (1934).
7. Motivate with the message

Promotional messages are often motivating, unlike public announcements, political speeches or news articles. People remember emotions.

“People will quickly forget what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel” – F. Luntz

Take a look at the few quotes and citations taken from an interview with Steve Jobs:

  • It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.
  • We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. – Playboy, 1985.
  • Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me – Wall Street Journal, 1993

Here’s a quote from an interview with Boris Tadić:

“My goal is to finish my mandate as a man who has left the people with something concrete [what?], not just empty stories; not only with the story of how we will secure jobs, but create a situation where we really will have new jobs; not just a story of building new infrastructure like the government under Vojislav Koštunica and Velja Ilić said it would – but build actual kilometers of highways and real modernized parts of our railway system. This program will continue in the next two years, until the end of this government’s mandate, plus another four years [too vague]. It is planned out to secure a completely developed infrastructure that includes telecommunications, road networks and railways until 2015… [bla, bla, bla, bla, bla… at this point I’m as motivated as a dead horse]

It is clear how much one can feel the energy and the vision of speaker by the words they send! We are not selling products, services and ideas to the people. We are selling what they will become if they choose us! We are selling them versions of themselves that they can become as users of our products and services. We are selling them the better them! That’s what people buy. The solution to become better themselves. Motivation plays a key role in this. The precondition to this, of course, is that you are what you sell and that you know how to do what you promise.

8. Visualize – a picture is worth a thousand words!

Play with the images in written messages and the vivid terms in spoken messages. A few interesting examples of the use of images in a message that literally leaves no one indifferent can be found in Aljaž Maher’s post on Zavarovalnica Maribor’s corporate blog.

9. Ask questions

Do you live like you deserve to? Do you think progress is taking place fast enough? Do you feel secure enough? Or do you ask questions such as: Does your hair really shine? Are you providing your little one with the very best?

Questions as elements of a message attract and activate our attention. Even rhetorical questions call for an answer, and answering by definition is interaction. Luntz points out that interaction strongly links senders of the message with its recipients. How often do you use questions?

10. Deliver the context and explain the relevance

If a politician says: “these guys are crooks, vote for me” we have a message in which a certain problem is isolated -> the opponents are immoral. Isolating a problem isn’t as effective if you don’t have credibility [rule number 3], as well as if you don’t offer a solution for it. For example: “these guys are crooks, for the past 10 years the budget has been cut by half [demonstration/argument], therefore we’ll be putting all crooks up on the wall of shame regardless if he’s one of us or them, and in addition, an “x” number of people will be responsible for controlling the budget and corruption at the highest level [solution]! They better watch out! Vote for me!”

According to the first model, the message should be lowered from a general to an individual level, and then to an even lower -> personal level: “[continuing the latter imaginary message] with the money that they steal, 100,000 students will have access to free textbooks, 10,000 will receive the best scholarships, and 1,000 will be employed in our factories, as well as be granted an apartment which will give them peace of mind! Among them are your children and grandchildren!”

Why do you write messages? For whom do you write them? How do you wish for the recipient to feel and what should you do when they get it? How many times have you answered all these questions while writing a statement, a bulletin, an interview, a flyer, etc?

These too are some of my rhetorical questions… but they call for an answer. You always answer to yourself. That’s how other will receive the best answer, without even asking the question.



P.S. The book Words that Works was recommended to me by my friend Kruno Vidić, a colleague from StrategoPR.


Komentari (9)

Odlican post ;). Vredi pročitati knjigu.


Hvala Dragana za odličen post, ki lepo povzema kratka, ampak učinkovita pravila dobrega komuniciranja.

Prav tako – hvala za omembo v 8. točki. ;)

Pozdrav iz Slovenije.


Heh, Frenk Lanc, covek koji je Global Warming prekrstio u Climate Change i Oil Drilling u Energy Exploration.
Moze se od njega puno nauciti ali mu etika nije bas jaca strana. Hired gun.


@Dejan Da, Deki to je taj. Arsenal njegovih lingvotvorina je sočan i bogat. Ne bih rekla da je previše etičan, ali bih definitvno rekla da zna kako komunicirati efikasno… za razne namene.


Kad čovek ostavi iza sebe pedesetu ova uputstva Franka Luntza poput “Nije važno šta kažemo, već šta ljudi čuju!”, čita kao dobru verbalizaciju onog što je, kroz život, uglavnom skontao, posebno ako je češće bio u prilici da javno govori. No, njegova pravila ne gube ništa zbog toga.
OK je to, ali ovde postajem radoznao. Luntz govori o komunikaciji tipa “pojedinac naspram grupe ljudi.” I taj vid komuniciranja je neuporedivo češća tema rasprava nego komunikacija “jedan na jedan”, “tet a tet”.
Interesuje me da li ima tekstova (ne njegovih, nego uopšte) o ovom drugom, meni, zapravo, mnogo zanimljivijem vidu komunikacije? Nešto poput “kako ubediti sagovornika u to i to”. Pretpostavljam da je obuka klijenta za takve situacije deo posla PR-ova? :)
Btw, ne mogu da preskočim nešto što je Luntz uočio, a sa čim me baš nije “kupio.” Kaže da se ljudima poruka “lepi” kad ih dovedete u situaciju da kažu “hej, pa ovo nisam znao!?”
Svo moje životno iskustvo govori drugačije – ljudi mrze kad ih saterate u ćorsokak i ne žele da priznaju da nešto ne znaju! Ali vole nešto drugo – kad uspete da u njima izazovete osećaj tipa: “hej, pa ovo sam oduvek znao, ali to nisam uspeo da tako dobro kažem.”
E, tad su pridobijeni za našu priču. :)


@Dragan “lepe” se poruke koje u sebi nose retoričko pitanje ili jesu retoričko pitanje u celosti. Upamtimo stvari koje nismo znali ili su nas iznenadile, obično je to reakcija podsvesnog… na nivou svesnog, da, slažem se, retko priznamo a još ređe javno priznamo da nešto ne znamo. Ovo je, međutim #generalizovanje.

Kada je u pitanju deo 1NA1, a da pritom ne govorimo o javnim nastupima prilikom davanja intervjua ili izjava, pričamo o oblasti pregovaranja, lobiranja, veštinama prodaje itd. a ne toliko o PR-u. S tim u vezi pogledaj:

Ako ti zatreba nešto veoma određeno pošalji mail, proslediću ti neke knjige i radove.


Jedna od bitnijih stvari je prepoznati problem i ponuditi kvalitetno resenje. U tom slucaju su olaksani svi navedeni segmenti.


Jako lijep tekst.Cestitke Dragane


Dragana, hvala na linkovima, o pregovaranju i o prodaji.

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