The speech of a tiger shark…
Every time we communicate we use a tone of voice, and that tone creates a sense of character. Whether we’re talking personally or as a multibillion dollar corporate body – none of us likes to be taken the wrong way. So the task with tone is to get our true character across.
I spend a fair bit of my time with clients helping them define and use a tone that fits their character. So they can give customers, investors and other stakeholders a clear sense of who they are and why they’re different. Alongside core purpose and culture, tone is critical. A galvanising core purpose, so you know exactly where you are going and why you want to get there; a strong values-based culture, so you journey together as one through thick and thin; and the right tone, so you communicate your true self clearly and characterfully – these are the three essentials at the heart of all great businesses.
Talking of truly characterful communication, here’s a brilliant take on the power of tone, courtesy of Jayne Cortez: “The speech of a tiger shark is not like the bark of an eagle fish…”
Tiger shark, eagle fish, plain old human being, bright new business – no matter who you are: find your own voice, and use it.
Close to music…
As close to music as I can get is how I like to write.
As Oliver Reichenstein points out, “Being fully immersed in writing is like composing and playing music while we drum up our perceptions into letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs.” In his post on Music in Writing, he shares Martin Amis’s take: “What you’re trying to do is: Be faithful to your perceptions, and transmit them as faithfully as you can… You know I just say these sentences again and again in my head, until they sound right. And there is no objective reason why they sound right. They just sound right to me. So it’s euphony, sometimes it’s harshness you want. But it’s… it’s just matching up the perception with the words… in a kind of semi-musical way.”
Beyond the sheer pleasure of listening to the melody, beat and tone of your words as you write, why write this way? Grace Nichols nails it: “The rhythm and musicality of poetry is more direct in its appeal to the human heart and spirit.” In short, musical writing is more effective.
So, write with your ears, and let your sentences sing.
Eat Sunshine… read… have a point of view… fail at aioli… cook for days… eat for weeks… make something that can last…
A great opener in Dinner At The Long Table, a brilliant cookbook by Brooklyn restauranteurs and all-round food lovers Andrew Tarlow and Anna Dunn.
Sets the tone. Whets the appetite. Five stars.
Long on wit…
By way of an end of year gong, I’d like to tip my woolly hat to Hiscox whose sharp ads have consistently caught my eye these past few months. Ads like this one, snapped while waiting for the tube:
Long on wit and short on guff, their intelligent combinations of words and images are a great example of how staying true to your tone can not only attract attention but also build interest.
So here’s to you Hiscox. Keep up the good words.
In the blood…
An incisive take on tone of voice, courtesy of one of the big pop hits of the 8Os: A-Ha’s Take On Me…
“We’d already written Take On Me but hadn’t recorded it…It reminded me of an advert for chewing gum that went: Juicy Fruit is a packet full of sunshine. That influenced the verse melody,” says A-Ha’s singer Morten Harket. “Paul [Waaktaar-Savoy, guitarist] had the idea of really using my vocal range in the chorus, having notes rising in octaves like Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. As for hitting that last high note, you either have wings or you don’t – the voice is not in the throat, it’s in the blood. It’s what you envisage, what you believe. ”
From the flighty falsetto of Take On Me to the rutting bellow of the red deer in Bushy Park last weekend:
Albeit way down the scale, this character’s call was equally full of emotional conviction.
High notes or low, find your voice in your blood. Sing from the heart.
Nobody likes a tailgater…
Driving back to London along the M1 after a wonderful week in Wales climbing mountains, canoeing lakes and chomping chips, we slowed down along a sustained stretch of 50mph roadworks.
Nothing new there for anyone familiar with the UK’s motorway network, except for the unusually characterful traffic signs. Gone were the standard blunt and bland commands to keep your speed down. In their place, conversational messages: “Nobody likes a tailgater”, “Let’s all get home safely”, “Our Dad works here”…
With their refreshingly friendly tone, they certainly caught the eye and according to a Highways England spokesman have been developed with the help of psychologists “to improve the customer experience through roadworks”. I’m not sure it’s about improving the customer experience so much as making safety messages clearer and more compelling. On that score, the ones I saw worked well. Nobody does like a tailgater, for example – not even the tailgater themselves, when they stop and think about how dumb and dangerous they have been.
But then came a message that stood out by virtue of its worrying ambiguity: “You may not always see us”. Did it mean that the road workers were not always there? We know that already – how many times have you driven along a stretch of motorway roadworks with not a worker in sight! Or did it mean that we were not allowed always to see the road workers? A rather rude mind-your-own-business message. Or did it mean that sometimes the road workers were difficult to see. Yes, but that in turn raised another question: Why aren’t road workers more visible? Worse, this sign was on the central reservation, rather than on the left by the hard shoulder – the natural home for such signs. It was all rather distracting and disconcerting – the last thing you want when driving along a motorway – and made me hanker for a much simpler old-style “drive carefully”.
So, when revamping motorway messages or indeed any other communication, it always pays to pay attention to keeping clarity while adding character.
A thumbs up from Bill Gates has apparently sent John Brooks’ previously out-of-print Business Adventures into the bestseller lists. “Unlike a lot of today’s business writers, Brooks didn’t boil his work down into pat how-to lessons or simplistic explanations for success,” says Gates. “You won’t find any listicles in his work. Brooks wrote long articles that frame an issue, explore it in depth, introduce a few compelling characters and show how things went for them.”
Business Adventures was first published in 1969. News of its comeback, prompted me to lean across and pick up once more another business classic from the same era: Clarence B Randall’s The Folklore of Management, first published in 1961.
Through the course of his book, Randall explores 16 myths of the world of business. It is full of good insights that stand the test of time, such as this from The Myth of Communications: “The determining factor in effective communication is conviction. The authoritative voice that carries its message straight into the heart of every listener is that of the man who knows exactly what he believes. His utterance simply will not be denied, because it pours straight out from his spirit… No new marvel of technology will ever be able to bestow that quality synthetically upon a banal message from a man who has nothing to say because he believes in nothing.”
Strong stuff; still true.