Tone of Voice

19 June 2009

Tone of voice - how to find yours

We’ve all been there. You’re at a conference and you’ve looked forward to the world’s greatest free-climber, billed as the motivational speaker. On he comes. The most taut living being you’ve ever seen – older than you would have expected. (I mean how old do these people get to be?) Up comes the first slide and there he is hanging on a cliff edge. The camera pulls back and he must be 1,000m above the earth. No ropes. Just relying on fingertips and inhumanely strong toes between him and nothing (or perhaps everything, depending on your religious views).

Then he speaks. Within two minutes he has transformed a spellbound audience of around 1,200 corporate executives into a chair squeaking, Blackberry-emailing hall of indifference.

What happened? He got the tone wrong. He came over as arrogant. It seemed that he had come to show how great he was, not to inspire the room with how great they could be. In short: he lost them.

It’s easy to do the same thing with copy, but you don’t get that long. Recent research from MIT shows that the Internet generation will give a website just 9 seconds.  If you’ve got this far, you’re probably over 22. So how do you get the right tone?

Here are three steps

...worth three more minutes of your hectic life: 

  • 1: Put on a pair of red stilettos
    Not literally, but you’ve got to get into your target audience’s shoes, whoever they may be. Shrug on your faded Converse; slide gracefully into the exquisite curve of your Jimmy Choo peep toes; slap into your Crocs, man.
  • 2: Walk the walk, talk the talk
    It’s a conversation. Even if you’re up at the top end, it doesn’t mean you have to reach for your dictionary. It may mean that you should be a little more considered. Take time to develop your themes. If it’s yoof, you cut it back. Hit ‘em up front. Yeah?
  • 3: Keep it real
    The main thing is to keep it consistent (unless you’re demonstrating a point like I was in the para above). Copy that wanders around from hip web, to formal stiff upper lip and across to Americanized schmooze will leave your reader feeling like they're dealing with something or someone that is false. It will subliminally undermine the integrity of your site, and that’s all the excuse they need to click back to Google and check out your competitor.

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