That Time a Pirate Changed the Way We Talk

Designing a great Guest Experience …

…with help from a pirate!

The idea is not as far-fetched as you think!

Drawing on inspiration from Walt Disney’s fascination with pirates – from Treasure Island to the Pirates of the Caribbean – the attraction at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World – to the cast of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, I’m going to show just how useful pirates can be when it comes to Guest Experiences!

Each Tuesday for the next twelve weeks, I will introduce a new theme, idea, or tool for use with your Guest Experience teams – and link it to the everyday life of a pirate.

Why this Guest Experience – Pirate connection?

First of all, who doesn’t love a good story? And the various Disney tales of pirates are a great story, introducing us to wonderfully bizarre characters, adventures around the world described with vivid details, fantasy that’s just real enough to want to make us believe, and memorable phrases we can repeat word-for-word.

Then there is the experience you can immerse yourself in at the theme parks, where the story jumps off the page at you and you find yourself in the middle of a pirate battle, or witness the hilarity of a town under “attack,” or marvel at the mountains of “treasure” gathered by the pirates. We aren’t just observers; we are part of the story.

Finally, it’s in honor of the latest Disney Pirates movie; The fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean adventures will open in theaters on Friday, May 26. Trailers released so far indicate a darker, more somber movie as Johnny Depp returns to the big screen as the iconic, swashbuckling anti-hero Jack Sparrow in the all-new “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The rip-roaring adventure finds down-on-his-luck Captain Jack feeling the winds of ill-fortune blowing strongly his way when deadly ghost sailors, led by the terrifying Captain Salazar, escape from the Devil’s Triangle bent on killing every pirate at sea – notably Jack.

And besides that, sometimes only a Pirate will do.

To begin our adventure, let’s take a look at the Disney pirate movie that started it all – the 1950 film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, Treasure Island.


Admit it: Disney’s version of Treasure Island is fun to watch. This movie, which was the first live action feature from Walt Disney Studios, is full of buried treasure and exotic locales, and features a scene-stealing performance from Robert Newton as the “pirate of all pirates,” Long John Silver.

Stevenson’s novel portrays Long John Silver as one of the most charming villains in literature, and famed British stage actor Robert Newton’s performance adroitly captures the audience, placing them under Long John’s spell. It may be his iconic appearance with a bright red coat and parrot on his shoulder that establishes our first memory, but Newton adds more layers to the character by giving Long John a bizarre squint and a unique accent. However, it’s the language of Long John Silver that forever established what audiences expect to hear from pirates.

Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver still impacts generations of wanna-be pirates, thanks to International Talk Like a Pirate Day (held annually on September 19), where men and women around the country feel at ease dressed in various pirate-looking attire while muttering their best “argh’s” and “ahoy there, mateys,”  – the whole time not realizing where that language originated!

All of which leads to this week’s Guest Experience – Pirates connection.

Every. Word. Counts.

Language underlies all other components in creating powerful Guest Experiences. It only takes hearing just a word or two from Long John Silver before we are transported to the deck of a pirate ship, feeling the wind in our faces and smelling the salt air as we head toward Treasure Island.

In the same way, the words we chose and use on our Guest Experience teams can set the stage for an amazing experience – or push our Guests away.

Yeah, words are that important.


  • Your efforts to have everything “just so” won’t be experienced as perfect unless you also use the right language in engaging your Guests
  • Even the most well-intentioned and well-trained team members can alienate Guests if they use the wrong language
  • When things don’t go like they were planned, the right words can be your best ally

If you haven’t given much thought to choosing and using your church’s language – what your staff, volunteers, signage, emails, texts, tweets, voice mails, and website should say (and never say) to your Guests, don’t you think it’s time?

  • Establish a Consistent Style of Speech – identify and implement an appropriate style of speaking throughout your organization
  • Create a Lexicon of Preferred Language and Phrasing – study the language that works best with your Guests, and identify harmful phrases that should be avoided
  • Choose Language to Put Guests at Ease, Not Confuse Them – make it your mission to avoid and condescending or coercive language
  • Concentrate your Language Efforts on the Key Guest Moments – focus your language efforts on moments that are known to remain vivid in memory: hellos (make yours unusually warm and personal) and good-byes (make them wonderful)
  • Sometimes No Words are Best – align your team to the value of listening
  • Words Have Their Limits – remember that verbal and physical cues speak louder than words
  • Show, Don’t Tell (and Don’t Ever Just Point) – don’t give Guests verbal directions; physically lead them where they need to go
  • Phone and Web Language and Communication Pointers – go out of your way to be as human, friendly, and personal as you can

Remember that your Guests are making their first impressions in the every day, day-to-day conversations with your Guest Experience Team – before they are exposed to the highly scripted worship service music and sermon.

They are the first impressions, and those are the impressions they tell others about.

It bears repeating:

Every. Word. Counts.

Coming up next: X Marks the Spot

This post is the first in a series of twelve, making the powerful connection between Guest Experiences and all things Pirates. It may seem a little strange, but I guarantee you won’t see a pirate flag, hear the word “ahoy,” or encounter any like number of references to “pirates” without connecting them to Guest Experiences!

inspired by Walt Disney and his amazing ability to bring a story to life on the screen and in person

brought to life by the Pirate Navigator

Now booking “voyages” to churches like yours! Contact me for more information.

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