Words matter. If we are attempting to communicate with other human beings, and even animals, words are our bread and butter. They are the sustenance of the PR profession.
The words we use can make the difference between a story that generates interviews and one that is overlooked, like yesterday’s leftovers. The words we use have the ability to produce hunger or leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth.
The Apostle Paul said something about the power of words that has significance beyond the context of church. In his letter to the church in the city of Colossae, located in modern-day Turkey, he advised Christians to let their conversations “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Grace indicates a quality speech that conveys kindness, respect, and, to quote one online dictionary, “goodwill.” We desire goodness and positive intentions that will be served up to the other person through the words we say.
As we share our stories or promote a news source, are we doing so with the goal of helping reporters succeed, tell an amazing story, and win the interest and respect of viewers and readers? Are we seeking the best for the media person who we are sharing with?
Paul adds that their speech with others should be “seasoned with salt.” Salt enhances savoriness, suppresses bitterness, and balances sweetness. In short, it makes food taste better. Are we speaking words in person or in an email or text that make what we are saying taste better? Do we use words that are honest, uplifting, hopeful, and vision-casting? Are we making mouths water for our stories?
I think about my words a lot. A former superior once noted that while she appreciated how personable I was in my email communication, I could also come across as only being interested in achieving an outcome from the person I was emailing, i.e., “Hey George, I was wondering if you’ve had a chance to work on that paper I sent for your review.”
Granted, some communication can be short and to the point. But especially as I’m interacting with the media, I am learning the value of conversing with grace and seasoning with salt.
Instead of getting right to business, I attempt to ask how the other person is doing first, and acknowledge they have a life outside of the immediate business interaction. Even in my general pitches, I have learned the value of starting with a simple, “How are you doing today? I hope your week is starting well, and you are having a productive work week.”
For a one-to-one pitch, I try to frame the offer in terms of that journalist’s beat or a recent story they have written. “Maggie, I saw your recent piece on refugee assistance in Ukraine. Very powerful. I think I have someone you might be interested in talking with on that topic.”
As a reporter, I was trained to write concisely and efficiently. While that is a best practice for journalism, I have found that friendly is typically not efficient. That’s because conversation “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt” is not pinpoint. A tasty meal is not a goal to be accomplished, but to be enjoyed. So it is with palatable communication.
If you are not sure how to make your pitch emails more savory, you might look into software that will evaluate your tone. Such a program can help you evaluate if you are coming across assertive or aggressive, kind or uncaring, friendly or terse.
Paul offers a closing note on why we should converse with grace, seasoned with salt: “So we may know how to answer everyone.” There is an assumption here that I think every PR professional would welcome: as we communicate in this way, people will respond. Gracious and savory speech will lead to a banquet of positive communications to follow.
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