Princess Diana famously once said in an interview, ‘There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.’
She was talking of course about the then Prince Charles’s affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. (The cringe-inducing details of which still haunt my dreams. Ugh.)
Three can certainly be a crowd – especially when it comes to tone of voice.
‘How do I get the tone of my email right?’ is consistently in the top 3 questions we get asked. ‘I don’t know how formal or informal to be. I want to be friendly, but still professional…’
And the reason it feels so darn hard is this: there are three ingredients when it comes to nailing tone. And you need to think about them all:
Firstly, you. How do you want to come across? Buttoned up and formal, or like you’d be the first on the dance floor at a wedding? Thoughtful and analytical, or energetic and funny? There are no right or wrong answers here.
But you do need an answer – all too often we just haven’t really thought about it. As Dolly Parton wonderfully said: ‘Find out who you are and be it on purpose.’
Second, your organisation. Does your business have brand or writing guidelines? Our clients are generally pleasantly surprised when they read them. The guidance is often to be more conversational than they imagined they were ‘allowed’ to be.
It’s a wonderful permission slip to loosen up. If you don’t have guidelines? Talk to your marketing team or manager about tone. Knowledge is power.
Finally, your reader. Last week I wrote all about how to find out more about their likes and dislikes. Sleuth out those details.
So, once you have these three pieces of information, choosing the right tone suddenly becomes a lot clearer.
Confusion comes from not really knowing how you want to come across, and/or what your organisation or reader expects of you.
And unless you work for a traditional law firm and love dropping an F-bomb every other word, we’re normally more aligned in tone with our reader and our organisation than we think.