What is tone of voice?

Tone of voice is the way you communicate. When you’re speaking, it means the actual sound of your words. Do you sound happy or sad? Bored or enthusiastic? Anxious or relaxed?

When you speak, you can say the same word in multiple different ways, with completely different effects. 

Try saying ‘hello’ in a happy voice compared to a sad voice, for example. It’s obvious how you’re feeling from the way you say the word. Your tone forms a huge part of your communication.

What about tone of voice in writing?

Tone of voice is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to writing. 

If I write ‘hello’, how do you know whether I’ve written it in a happy tone or a sad one?

In writing, tone of voice is something we need to think about, define and refine. The fact that people can’t hear the things we write like they can the things we say, means it’s vital to think about tone and how to develop it. 

If you’re trying to define your own tone, think about it from your audience’s perspective. 

How do you want your readers to feel about you when they read your stuff?

How do you want them to see you?

Do you want them to think of you as:

  • Dependable
  • Adventurous
  • Creative
  • Rebellious
  • Helpful
  • Confident

Your tone can help you communicate emotion and change the way your prospects think about you and your service. We know that emotion drives decisions. Including the decision to buy from you or not. 

Researchers have even found that people who’ve suffered brain damage in the part of the brain responsible for emotions can’t make decisions. 

Your tone will help create an emotional connection between you and your prospects. It’ll allow them to understand more about who you are and help them trust you. 

It’ll help separate you from your competitors too. Dull copy that fails to evoke any emotion other than boredom is not memorable. Copy that shows your prospect that you are feeling the same things as they are, is engaging and memorable.

Trust and what your reader expects from you

It’s not enough simply to have a tone. You need to have the right tone. 

What tone do your clients expect from you?

If you’re a children’s party entertainer, they probably expect you to be fun and adventurous. 

If you write wills, they expect you to be knowledgeable and dependable.

One simple way to make sure you’re matching your written tone with your prospects’ expectations is to check out your testimonials and reviews. The language people use will tell you a lot about what they most value about you and why. 

Do the same words or phrases crop up over and over? Maybe people praise how efficient you are, how fast you work, how dedicated, how caring or how thorough. If you know how your work makes people feel about you, then you know how your writing should make them feel about you.

What if you have no clients?

If you’ve got a brand new business and no clients yet, take a look at your competitors reviews and testimonials. What do people say about them? Would you like people to say the same things about you? 

And how can you go one better than them? What feelings might your future clients have about you that are more interesting, relevant or important?

Translating feelings into writing

Once you know what your clients expect from you, how do you translate those expectations and feelings into writing?

Narrow down your tone to 2 or 3 adjectives. For each adjective, try rewriting a line or two of your current copy to fit that tone. To guide you, look for copy online that you think already does fit that tone.

Say you decide that your tone should be ‘optimistic’. You’ll want to focus on positive outcomes in your writing, with words that convey enthusiasm and hope. If you do mention bad outcomes, you’ll temper that by demonstrating another, more positive, path. 

If your tone should be ‘reassuring’, you’ll probably want to use relatively simple, unfussy but traditional language. You’ll need to find the words that your audience finds familiar and comforting, rather than experimenting.

Be clear and authentic

Whatever else you decide your tone of voice should be, it should always be both clear and authentic. 

Don’t get so bogged down by tone that you forget your message. And don’t try and force a tone that doesn’t come naturally to you. 

If you can find the place where your values and those of your ideal clients converge, you’ll have your tone of voice. 

The art of writing to tone

Even if you’ve spent lots of time developing your tone, it can be hard to put it into practice. With most areas of copywriting, there are formulas that can help you and principles that you can learn. 

Tone is trickier. But the more you write, the better you’ll get at writing to your tone. 

If you need a bit more help and you’re new in business, my content kickstart programme will help you develop your tone and brand voice. If you’re an established business, ask me about developing your brand voice guide.