As London Rifles* so does its Rabbit**

As a UK national who occasionally teaches English to non-native speakers, I am often asked about my own accent which some of my students think is very unusual. 


I was brought up in West London in the 1980s. The cultural groups with whom I was surrounded were mainly of English, Irish, West Indian and Caribbean origin. Accordingly, they were native English speakers albeit with a very wide variety of accents. Each first generation group had its own sound but the second generation, with whom I attended school, mostly spoke in a fairly unremarkable London accent of the type that you just don’t really hear any more.  I guess this is why younger non-native English speakers ask me about mine. 

Continue reading “As London Rifles* so does its Rabbit**”

Tone, Timbre, and Coca-Cola (or, ‘how to find the right tone for your voice’!)

Most of us are familiar with the concept that how we say something is as important – if not more so – than what we actually say.  This article takes a look at how we can craft the right tone.

tone of voice by Mary Donné
The world’s most famous soft drink has a tone of voice!

It was UCLA academic Albert Mehrabian who taught us that good communication is made up of three parts:

  • Words
  • Body language; and 
  • Tone of voice

I lead learning groups in both presentation skills and autism support.  Within these sessions, we spend a fair bit of time thinking about how we may need to tailor our communication if the receiver has a barrier to their understanding – as in the case of an autistic person.  Or, if we ourselves are a little unsure about the communication – as with someone who is new to public speaking or writing for an audience.

Most of us are familiar with the concept that how we say something is as important – if not more so – than what we actually say. 

Timbre” refers to the quality of the sound we make.  If we’re describing a person’s voice as: harsh, soft, rough, silky, breathy, raspy.  Each of those adjectives could refer to the timbre. The timbre of the Glasgow accent is very different from the timbre of the Birmingham accent.  And the timbre often conveys a particular tone, which is where it really get interesting.  

Tone refers to the character of the voice. The tone you use is the impression you wish to convey with your speech: brisk, businesslike, authoritative, vulnerable, or friendly.  Each of these words may describe the tone of a person’s written or spoken communication.  

Tone isn’t just restricted to the spoken word.  Your written communication has a tone, as does the overall feel and message of the thing you wish to communicate.  

Even a brand can have a tone.  

I worked for advertising giant, McCann, back in the 1990s.  At this time one of the agency’s clients was Coca-Cola, and I recall hours being spent crafting the unique tone of the brand’s messaging.  Spend a moment thinking about Coca-Cola’s advertising slogans, e.g. ‘have a Coke and a smile’, or ‘you can’t beat the feeling’. These words all evoke feelings of happiness, friendship, sunshine, and so on.  Even more so because within Coca-Cola’s advertising, the taste of the drink itself is very rarely mentioned. The tone and message is conveyed through facial expressions and smiles. Now this is no accident! Coca-Cola’s (and their advertisers’!) amazing success demonstrates just how powerful the tone we use in our communication is, and how words by themselves are just one part of this. 

So how can we make sure that we get our own tone right, and convey the message we intend?  I would start with:

  • Being sincere.  
  • Being authentic. 
  • Being confident. 
  • I have put these three together as it’s hard to have one without the other two.  If you are confident in the message you’re delivering, and you really believe it, you will usually come across as authentic and sincere.  There is nothing wrong with being a little nervous when speaking (or writing!) for the first time, and being self-aware is no bad thing and won’t detract from clear sincerity.  But trying to convince an audience of something that you yourself don’t really believe, rarely works. In public speaking your body language will tell a different story from the words you are using, and a fake or false tone is hard to maintain in regular written communication. 

Then, we need to:

  • Mind our language – don’t use discriminatory language (even in jest), mild profanity or blasphemy.  You will offend people – trust me, you will! Humour is a very personal thing and it’s difficult to get the tone right with it.  Even more so if the joke you are trying to make is about a potentially sensitive matter. I always think it’s best just to steer clear! 
  • Avoid jargon – most people hate it.  In particular ‘management course speak’ .e.g. “Reaching out”, “touch base offline”, and so on.  
  • Finish with a sense-check.  Do you really understand what you’re about to say, or what you have written?  Really? Could you summarise it all in one or two sentences for a five year old child?  To paraphrase Albert Einstein, there is nothing so complicated that even a small child cannot understand it if it’s explained properly.  

If you can’t summarise your message in this way, then you may need to take another look at your work and refine it.  Generally, the more complicated the message, the more likely that the tone you wish to convey will get lost beneath the ‘fluff’.  The simpler you keep things, the easier it is to keep the tone you want. 

And finally, let your own personality shine through.  If you’re a friendly and informal type of person, then it’s going to be difficult to maintain a cool and ultra-distanced tone (remember what we said about being authentic?)  It’s far easier and more natural to work with your own personality, and maintain professionalism by being respectful to your listener or reader and, as above, avoiding unnecessary jargon, slang, or potentially offensive language. 

I hope this is helpful and I would love to hear any of your thoughts about how to keep the tone right in your spoken or written communication!


Presentation Skills and Professor Lupin – What Harry Potter can teach us about Public Speaking

Mary Donné public speaking
Does Fear of Public Speaking make you feel like this?

Professor Lupin taught Hogwarts students to banish the terrifying boggarts by chanting the spell, “Ridikulous!” accompanied by a loud crack of their wands.  This caused the boggart to assume a funny, no-longer-terrifying appearance, and thus lose its power to scare.  

Now if you don’t know Harry Potter, this probably won’t mean a lot so, in summary, the principle is that you cannot be scared of something that appears silly or daft.  Things are only terrifying when we give them the power to be.  Or in the famous words of, President Roosevelt, ‘the only thing to fear, is fear itself.’

Andy McNab, talking to Dr Kevin Dutton, in the marvellously named “Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success” discusses someone being scared of heights. He points out that such a person would easily stand on a piece of board on the ground, six feet long and two feet wide.  But take the same board and turn it into, for example, a diving board above a swimming pool, and they would be terrified. The board remains the same size – it is their mind which has created the fear and given the (diving) board the power to terrify.   Continue reading “Presentation Skills and Professor Lupin – What Harry Potter can teach us about Public Speaking”

In Praise of the Mere Manager

When I type the word ‘leadership’ into Google, within a nanosecond my screen is full of blue headlines like:

“Study for a High Impact Leadership Course”

“Leadership Development”

“Future Leaders Get Ahead Now!”

“Authentic Leadership …”

Screenshot 2019-06-07 at 17.27.12
Captain Mainwaring from Dads’ Army – one of TVs most famous managers!

If I just search for, ‘good leader’, Google nearly explodes.  But if I type in, ‘good manager’ then very little comes up, with the exception of the rather dismissive, “7 Things Great Leaders Always Do (but Mere Managers Always Fear)” – mere managers, eh?

Even when I studied for my MA, I spent a whole semester studying and writing about ‘leadership’ – though my actual degree was in ‘management’.

Why are we so obsessed with turning managers into leaders and when did this happen?  

Continue reading “In Praise of the Mere Manager”

“School Special Education Needs is Suffering”. Okay, so what now?

State schools have long been used as a political football by successive politicians – a lot of whom, it can’t be ignored, were themselves educated privately.

The last ten or so years have seen austerity measures used as a reason (some may use the word, ‘excuse’) for starving schools of cash.  Funding has reached breaking point and last year some 4,000 head teachers wrote to parents explaining just how short of money their schools were.

The real losers in all of this, however, are those students who have a Special Education Need (SEN) such as dyslexia or autism.  At this point it’s fair to declare, for anyone who doesn’t already know, that I have an interest here as I am the mother of a SEN child.  My son was diagnosed with autism when he was five. Continue reading ““School Special Education Needs is Suffering”. Okay, so what now?”

May the Fourth … actually, it already is.

Internet of things – “… the extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with electronics, Internet connectivity, and other forms of hardware, these devices can communicate and interact with others over the Internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled.” (Wiki)

It’s fairly well opined that the internet gave us the Third Industrial Revolution.  It not only transformed the way we work, but both culled and created whole new sectors of employment.

I started my grown-up working life in the mid-90s and I can – just – remember life before the World Wide Web.  Working for an advertising agency one of my (hated!) regular tasks was physically carrying a huge bulky mock up of an advertising hoarding across London to the offices of the Advertising Standards Authority for approval.  Can you imagine someone actually doing that now? Obviously, you’d just email it.

Mary Donné Training

Continue reading “May the Fourth … actually, it already is.”

What’s the Problem? 5 Questions to ask an Underperforming Employee

We all have days like this at work!

One of the most challenging tasks for any manager is how to handle employee underperformance.  This could be a general team issue where the whole group seems to be demotivated and underperforming.  More likely, however, the issue will relate to one or maybe two particular individuals.

Difficult Conversations at Work

Most managers would prefer not to have to sit down and have what can potentially be a difficult and even emotional conversation.  In this vein, the usual starting point is to try and rationalise the individual’s behaviour, and work out why they are underperforming.   Continue reading “What’s the Problem? 5 Questions to ask an Underperforming Employee”

Flexible Friendly?

The term ‘flexible working’ encompasses the range of non-9 to 5 hours including: working from home, part-time work, and job-sharing.  

From June 2014, any employee with more than 26 weeks continuous employment has been able to make a request for flexible working.  Further, The Labour Party have recently said that they intend to make flexible working a right for all employees.
The Bedroom:  The Office of the Future?

There is more than one theory to origins of the 9 – 5 working day concept.  The one I like is reformer, Robert Owen’s, concept of, “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest”,  as the most productive state for the working man.  Hence, in theory, we work from 9 – 5, and sleep and play during the other 16 hours of the day.   Now as anyone who has clicked the link will see, Mr Owen wrote this back during the 1800s. At this time we were talking mostly about factory and labour intensive work which also relied upon daylight hours.  Now, as the job market continues to develop, and we spend more and more of our working lives online, there is a creeping acceptance that remote working is the future one way or another.  Yet, there is still a resistance to the idea of employees not being physically present in the office. Continue reading “Flexible Friendly?”

Is Autism really a High Risk Condition for Drivers?

Mary Donné training blog
Time to hang up your driving shoes if you have autism?

There is a story in the paper this weekend saying that people with autism are now required by the DVLA to inform them of their diagnosis.  This is a new development of which the NAS has just become aware. The change in policy – people with autism were not previously required to do this – was not communicated to any of the main charities or professional bodies supporting those with autism.  

Continue reading “Is Autism really a High Risk Condition for Drivers?”

Acting on Disability, Equality, and Autism – how does the law help?

A quick look at both the Equality Act and the Autism Act and how they support people with autism.

Most of us who work with people in any capacity will be familiar on some level with the Equality Act 2010 or the earlier Disability Discrimination Act 1995 which the Equality Act replaced.  But did you also know that there is a full piece of legislation devoted specifically to autism?  It’s the Autism Act 2009.

I am going to take a quick look at both the Equality Act and the Autism Acts to see how they help support people with autism. Continue reading “Acting on Disability, Equality, and Autism – how does the law help?”