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!

 

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 …”

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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”

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

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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”

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?”

Help! What do I do with Unpaid Workers?

8 Strategies for Successfully Managing Volunteers

Whatever you choose to call them – volunteers, interns, work experience students, or helpers – at some point most organisations will have unpaid workers on the premises and need to think about volunteer management. For example:

  • Schools – parent helpers on trips out or special events such as school discos.
  • Religious organisations – the ladies and gentlemen who help out at the refectory after service and tidy the place of worship.
  • Youth organisations – your child’s Saturday morning football or coach or match referee, or their Sunday School leaders.
  • And most businesses these days will provide work experience and internships for people interested in a new career, with some choosing to utilise their services more than others.

Continue reading “Help! What do I do with Unpaid Workers?”

5 Top Tips for Terrific Employee Training Plans!

5 ways to get the best out of your employee training programmes and staff development plans.

https://mymjdworks.com/learning-training-blog/

This is probably the single area I get asked about more than any other.  Most employers know that an employee training plan is  important. As well as being a given expectation for Millennial employees, it is an effective way of creating employee engagement.  But what exactly is a proper employee training plan (ETP)? And how do we make one? Here are some ideas to get you started: Continue reading “5 Top Tips for Terrific Employee Training Plans!”

The Thief of Time: Dealing with the Dithering Devil

aron-322314-unsplash.jpgTomorrow is always the busiest day of the week.  I know this because I heard it so many times when I was teaching, (“I’ll do it tomorrow, Miss, I promise!”).

And it’s not just kids.  Most of us have a fantastic reserves stock when we don’t want to do something. Continue reading “The Thief of Time: Dealing with the Dithering Devil”

Plus ça Change, Plus ça Doncaster

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If only all AI were this cute!

The Guardian published an article a few weeks ago about how Doncaster, once a coal mining heartland, then a waste-ground, has now reinvented itself as a hub for distribution centres.  Fittingly, it has three of the beauties just for Amazon – the website which has been accused of destroying high street retail. Continue reading “Plus ça Change, Plus ça Doncaster”

Does Public Speaking Spook You? Six Strategies to Exorcise your Fears

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No.2 Fear: Public Speaking!

As it’s Halloween week, when everyone’s thoughts turn to things that scare them, it seems topical to think about the fear that is number two on the list of common phobias – glossophobia, or fear of speaking in public.

I was reminded of this recently when I spoke to a delegate who shared that the thought of standing up and speaking in front of people was his absolute nightmare.  This gentleman was a senior manager and openly admitted that while he enjoyed his job, liked and trusted his colleagues, he would mentally freak at the thought of having to give a presentation or a speech in front of them.  An acquaintance who dreads public speaking described the fear as, “paralysing” or “petrifying”.  He didn’t necessarily mind explaining a point in front of a meeting group, but he froze the second he thought he had to stand up on stage in front of people.  Continue reading “Does Public Speaking Spook You? Six Strategies to Exorcise your Fears”

7 Strategies for Successful Teambuilding

Mary Donné Strategies for Teambuilding
Do you love or hate teamwork?

“Teamwork makes the dream work”

“There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

How many times have you seen or heard these phrases? And do they make your heart sing or sink?

The French have their own phrase for team work; ‘esprit de corps’. This phrase combines the concepts of unity and a shared vision which two or more people feel when they are actively working towards a common goal. In an ideal world, the team is bigger than the sum of its parts and has a synergy and momentum that moves it along. Together, we are told, the team can jump over any metaphorical obstacles in its path. Continue reading “7 Strategies for Successful Teambuilding”