When i look along my bookshelf, i see academic textbooks, graphic novels, fiction, autobiography, books i’ve read multiple times, books i’ve never touched since they landed, every flavour and style you can imagine. Each one presented with it’s own tone of voice: a combination of writing style, stance and posture, design and execution. Each one feels different: some familiar, some challenging, some just plain foreign.
On the TV i face choices too: a sports channel, a film channel, BBC4 for arts programming, Dave for repeats of comedies. Each channel, each programme, curates it’s experience, takes a different tone of voice.
When we’re designing learning, or when we are participating in a social learning community, we need to actively choose our tone of voice, to curate the experience. Different voices suit different messages, different audiences, different situations. In some cases we want to be alongside the learner, a co-worker, a colleague, a friend. At other times we are the voice of authority, the besuited figure telling them what to do. At others, our tone of voice may represent one facet of a conversation, adopting multiple personas at different times to represent different areas, for example, in a piece i wrote about ‘presentation skills‘, i used one character to be overly organised, the other way to bohemian. Each was a parody, a carefully chosen way of conveying specific messages.
Whilst choosing the right tone of voice can enhance the learning, choosing the wrong one can actively disenfranchise individuals or groups. For example, in global organisations, we often see a regional bias towards the head office, irrespective of whether that’s where the bulk of the revenues are generated. Whether it’s the language used, the offices shown, the accent of the audio or the stance taken towards authority, these solutions often have a regional bias, a tone of voice that becomes didactic, superior, unattractive.
I generally prefer a conversational tone of voice, a social one, especially when in social learning spaces! I find it’s easier to engage with it, easier to write with it. I’ve done my fair share of academic and formal business writing, and there is a time and a place for both, but they can be exclusive, dry, overly formal. As learning increasingly goes social, so too should our tone of voice, although it’s good to experiment.
Next time you’re producing a piece of learning or crafting some learning communication, actively think about what tone of voice you adopt, what stance you take. It’s a great route to engagement.