Changing your voice in written communications

His speech?  Use his voice in the writing.

In preparation for a creative writing presentation I have to make in Georgia next month,  I started thinking today about tone.  In my work as a communications professional, I’m asked to write in a wide variety of settings.  As opposed to someone like, say, a novelist who spends years writing in one voice, those of us in modern communications must — or should — constantly be changing our tone.

The prominence of social media in business is adding to this schizophrenia of style. We are, at every turn, being bombarded by new, cutting edge delivery methods for writing, yet we still only have the same alphabet we’ve always had to work with.

Here, let me be a bit more clear…

In any given day at work, I may have to write copy for a human interest magazine, an internal newsletter, a press release, a corporate speech, and Facebook.

Each one of these mediums should require a different tone of writing because each audience is different.  This can be downright confusing.

So it occurred to me today that, to help keep things straight in my head, each medium could be associated with a different type of person or group to which I’m speaking.  And I mean, literally standing in front of and talking to.  For example:

  • Press release:  I’m speaking to a complete stranger who needs the facts and nothing else.  He’s in a hurry and is in no mood for humor or dillydallying.
  • Magazine:  I’m a tour guide speaking to a group of out-of-towners who want to be informed, but also somewhat entertained.  They’re up for a slight smile in my voice, but mostly want to get to the meat of the story.
  • Internal newsletter:  I’m a CEO addressing my company’s employees.  I want to come off as educated and confident, yet relatable.  The information needs to there, but let’s present it in a friendly and familiar tone.
  • Corporate speech:  I’m a farmer, and I’m standing at the back of my pickup speaking to a small gathering of my peers.  While I understand that in reality, I’m imparting necessary information to a large gathering, I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not.  Natural tone wins the day every time.
  • Facebook:  I’m a bubbly waitress at a upscale pizza joint chatting with my customers.  I call them “guys” and ask them what movie they’re going to see.  I don’t want to come off as stupid — I am responsible for their dinner, you know — so I don’t mispronounce words or use poor grammar.  But mostly, I’m here to entertain, start a conversation, feed them a little information, and make my pizza joint look good.
Blue collar writing, as I call it, has to be flexible.  There’s not a one-size-fits-all tone for corporate communications.  Correctly identify your audience and then you can speak to them in the proper voice.

Oh, and by the way:  Since this is a blog and not a writing seminar, I promise I’ll go back to my blog voice first thing tomorrow!

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One Response to “Changing your voice in written communications”

  1. When I was corporate writing, I chose voices that defined my speakers, just as you’ve pointed out.

    I’d also make the tone match my content and circumstances. If things were going well, I’d drop more color–metaphors, analogies, and such–into the copy. If it was a serious message, I’d drive it home with shorter, more direct sentences.

    A lot of the tale is in the telling, eh?

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