Your “voice” is both what you say and how you say it. It’s your personality. It’s your tone of voice. It’s the words you choose. It’s your brand. Your reputation.
When people read what you write and listen to what you say, they’re going to be making a series of judgements about you, which they will use to decide whether or not to keep reading you. These will include:
- Do you know what you’re talking about? What experience do you have? What qualifies you to provide me with this information?
- Do I trust them? Are they telling me the truth? Are they genuine?
- Do I like them? What value are they offering me?
This is where the consistency piece comes in. Consistency of voice helps build understanding, familiarity, trust. All the emotions you want from your readers.
How do you identify your voice?
Answering the following questions will enable you to set out what it is you believe in and why, which in turn will help you outline your tone of voice and your back story. These questions are relevant whether you’re looking to define your own individual voice or that of the organisation you work for or with.
- Who are you?
What is your background? Where did you grow up? What’s your personality? What are your hobbies and interests? Who and what do you love? If you’re asking these questions on behalf of your organisation, think about it from the perception of the team (be that your dream team or actual team, or both)
- What are your drivers, motivations, values?
Why do you do what you do? What do you stand for and why? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What gives you a buzz? What kills your buzz? Have there been seminal moments that have made you who you are?
- How have you got where you are today?
What path has your career taken? Everyone loves a career story. Young people find them useful as it helps give them direction. Other people like to compare themselves against them. Likewise, the journey an organisation has travelled is also interesting – hence why you find so many companies and charities producing timelines when they reach anniversaries.
- What are your successes?
What are you good at? What are your key career and personal highlights? What can you celebrate? This is important for two reasons. The first and most obvious is that it will give you good stories to share within your content. The second is that what you celebrate will indicate to readers what type of person or organisation you are. For example, say you work in sales. If you celebrate boiler room, high-pressure tactics and “the win”, this conveys a completely different attitude, personality and “voice” than if you were to focus on relationship-building and the value you offer clients. (Thanks to Simon Cookson of Northern Value Creators and his thoughts on meaningful sales for the inspiration for this example)
- What obstacles, challenges, problems have you experienced along the way? When have you failed? How often have you failed?
How have you overcome these challenges? How did you pick yourself back up again after failure? Be honest. We all know you will have failed at some point or that something you tried wouldn’t have worked perfectly first time. We know this because we’ve experienced failure too. We’re human, and so are you. A conversation with Emma Shenton of Oakwood Management Consultancy recently helped emphasise the valuable role that failure can play. She told me how all too often people are scared of failure, but they shouldn’t be. Failure is not about blame, nor is it always a negative thing either. Failure helps you grow, helps innovation and progress, and it helps other mistakes from being made. Therefore, failure should be discussed in an open and transparent way.
- Do you practice what you preach?
This can be difficult. There is truth in the old proverb: The Shoemaker’s children go barefoot. I know from my own experience that I am often so busy helping others with their comms that I neglect my own. But if you’re advocating that people take a particular action or behave in a particular way, and then you do the opposite, it can impact on their trust and confidence in you. If you advocate constant professional development then you have to show that you also participate in your own development. If you want people to admit their vulnerabilities, then you have to show that you are also vulnerable. If you want people to change, you have change too. Don’t be the hypocrite.
- Who’s your audience?
This final question should be reviewed against your answers to all of the above. Who is your audience, what do they want and need to know, what do you want them to know – and how does the above compare to that? What do you want people to think about you and your values? What do you want them to know about you’re like to work with or for? What does all of this mean for your tone of voice?
A few thoughts re vulnerability…
In a time of fake news, fake Twitter accounts, carefully curated Instagram profiles, people are crying out for genuine content from actual real people. This means that there is a demand for authenticity, and a need for people to be open and transparent about themselves, their experiences and their views.
Evidence of this is all around us, from the way that people speak more openly about their mental issues, through to the response Murray received when he cried as he announced his likely retirement from tennis.
So, people want and expect some element of vulnerability.
That said, there is a fine line between what’s acceptable and what is deemed as “oversharing”.
I did some work with a business leader who had a habit of ranting online when things weren’t going their way. I spoke to one of their customers about this to see how they felt about it. They told me that they found it off-putting, saying: “I don’t expect them to have a perfect life, but they’re supposed to be teaching me the coping strategies for dealing with x. When they behave like this, it doesn’t fill me with confidence about their ability to achieve results for me.”
How can you understand where the line is so that you don’t cross it? By setting out what it is you want people to think, feel and do with information you provide them with, you can then ask yourself: Is what I have written here helping achieve that goal? If the answer is no, then don’t say it.
A final word
It’s important to remember that you can’t be everything to everyone. Try and do that and you’ll end being nothing to anyone. The only thing you can really be is true to yourself. Make sure you put that at the heart of your “brand” and everything else will follow.
This is one of the subjects we discuss within the You and Your Profile: How to Write Copy that Will Get You Noticed – our new course that runs every month. We’re currently taking registrations for February and March. January sold out and we’re expecting the same for the future courses, so book now to avoid disappointment.