Everyone can write, for the most part, but not everyone’s a writer. Not when writing demands more than setting out strings of words in a certain order to convey a sense of the thing in mind. Our clients often know what they want to say. That’s the easy part. The difficulties arise when you ask them how they want to sound. That’s where voice comes in.
A client recently sent over a couple of pieces of writing we had requested, a place to start. In one he sounded like a regular guy sitting across a kitchen table explaining how things were, how they got to be that way. In the other he sounded like he had a speech impediment, that he had learned his English from a Victorian grammar book. In one piece he spoke from the heart. In the other he got all self-conscious. He wanted to sound like something more, like something other. And instead, he sounded pompous and silly .
Going through these pieces with him proved very instructive. Just how he wanted to sound led to questions about how “present” he wanted to be. “When I go to your competitor’s site,” I pointed out, “I have no idea who’s talking. Male or female. Old or young. Executive or employee. It’s a faceless voice, though vaguely friendly.” I asked him, if his website were to go viral and in six months time he found himself sitting down next to Oprah, was he ready for such exposure? He said he was. No hesitation.
Well, that settled that issue. The language of the site would be “his.” But what kind of “him” did he want to project? Regular guy? Esteemed authority? Word from on high?
We’re still working on it. In the end, the voice of his website will sound male, friendly, well-informed. Actually, more than well-informed. The voice will be like an old friend you have respected forever and a day, someone you turn to for advice because this is a friend who is wise.
What does wisdom sound like? How to be wise while not being a wise guy?
That’s where tone comes in.
And that’s a whole other conversation.