Interview with Ben Feller on the Power of Language

What Broadway Can Learn from a Language and Communication Expert

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Audience image from Pexels

Words matter. I once heard the head coach of the Women’s Olympic soccer team talk about the concept of benchwarmers. Understanding that these players usually enter the game at a critical moment, she decided to call them gamechangers. That’s powerful. 

Words serve as a critical bridge between people and their ideas. They have the power to shape perceptions, evoke emotions, and build lasting connections. There’s a neat agency that specializes in language strategy called maslansky + partners. When I first met them, sparks flew! There was an instant connection between their language work and the power of theatre to connect, engage, challenge, delight, and inspire through words and storytelling.

Both Situation and maslansky + partners understand the profound impact words can have in crafting narratives that inspire, influence, and leave a lasting imprint on the hearts and minds of those who experience them. The art of communication, fueled by carefully chosen words and compelling storytelling, not only bridges gaps but also builds a foundation for shared understanding, empathy, and inspiration in our beautifully connected world.

With that, I’m excited to share the wisdom of Ben Feller of maslansky + partners with insights he shared at the recent John Gore Biennial Conference in Miami.

Leslie Barrett (Photo By Nakeia Taylor)

Ben Feller

Leslie Barrett: As a communications advisor and former Chief White House Correspondent, you’ve spent your whole career at the intersection of language and understanding. Why have you dedicated so much of your life to this work and why is it so important?

Ben Feller: Language, to me, is at the center of life. It shapes how business is done and how the world is run. From my coverage of presidents to my children’s book on problem-solving, I’m dedicated to this because I love connecting with audiences.

Leslie Barrett: I imagine a lot of people might wonder what language strategy work looks like in practice. Can you give us a brief example to bring it to light?

Ben Feller: Every project begins with a feeling so many of us experience: You know your words are not breaking through, but you don’t know why, or how to fix it. That’s where we come in. We start by examining your current language and the landscape in which you’re competing. Then we find and listen to the audiences that matter most to you, because it’s not what you say that matters, it’s what they hear. Then we create clear, concise language of what to say, what not to say, and why. We often break it down into a line, a paragraph and a page. It’s easy to use and ready to use right away. And it’s amazing to see our clients feel so empowered (and relieved!).

Leslie Barrett: What are the core pillars of effective communication?

Ben Feller: Start by putting yourself in the mindset of your audience, which is such an important shift. Most of us think of communication in terms of what we want to say. But effective communication requires distilling your language into what people need to hear. At our firm, we often talk about doing this through “4 P’s”:

  • Be Plainspoken: Make your message easy to understand. No jargon!
  • Be Plausible: Make your message easy to agree with
  • Be Personal: Make your message easy to see and feel
  • Be Positive: Make your message easy to like

Leslie Barrett: You recently presented at the Broadway Across America Conference in Miami. The title of your presentation was “How to Make Any Audience Care: From The Briefing Room to Broadway”. Why did you say yes to the invitation and what are you hoping your audience took away?

Ben Feller: My job is to create language that makes people listen, care, and act. My firm specializes in this discipline, called Language Strategy, because we believe winning language is at the center of changing attitudes and behavior. One of the best parts about the work is how it applies to any sector of business and life – and that includes Broadway! The conference was a chance for me to introduce our approach to a new audience. I got to give the people who create these amazing plays and musicals some practical tips to attract new audiences themselves. Plus, I’m a Broadway fan, and I hope I created some smiles, laughs and memories, too.

Leslie Barrett: You met a lot of interesting people at the Conference including presenters from around the country, producers, theatre owners, and general managers. What were the common threads across your many conversations?

Ben Feller: Two themes stood out to me.

The first was a real awareness of the danger that comes with an industry that spends a lot of time talking to itself. If one of your primary goals is to entice audiences to see and feel the magic of your work, then you better get outside your own conversation and figure out what your audiences want to hear and why. I heard a lot of recognition that Broadway cannot keep saying the same thing if it wants to attract new audiences and get people in the suburbs to come back. 

The second theme was inspiration. This whole industry is rooted in what’s next…every hour seemed to bring an announcement, a revelation, an introduction of new talent, a fresh twist on a beloved tale. It was thrilling to be part of it.

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