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!

 

“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. 

mymjdworks.com

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?”

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?”