Did you know your tone of voice is even more important than your words?
In my business, we put a lot of thought into the words we use. Our writers and editors finesse the language in our content until it’s as close to perfect as possible. They tweak words, phrases and punctuation to ensure the tone matches the intent.
But if you were to read any of that content to an audience — let’s say one of our gift plan explainer scripts — and you SHOUTED THE ENTIRE TIME, all those words, all those nuances of punctuation and language that work in print, would become meaningless.
And the same thing would happen if one of those scripts were delivered by someone who’s dull as dishwater. You know the type — like that monotone speaker who droned on and on and on at that last conference. I’ll bet you don’t even remember the subject.
That’s the power one’s tone of voice holds.
Get In Touch With Your Tone
What’s more, our tone of voice is followed closely — and influenced — by our body language (which is why you should smile when you answer the phone). Back in 1971, psychology professor Albert Mehrabian of the University of California, Los Angeles, even created a rule that breaks down how meaning is communicated: 7 percent through spoken word; 38 percent through tone of voice; and 55 percent through body language.
The trick, of course, is knowing how to use this to your advantage. And the challenge many of us face is that we aren’t as aware of our tone as we think we are, or as in touch with our emotions in the moment. That’s why it is so important to get in touch with your tone of voice.
For instance: You wake up late. You swing your bare feet over the bed … and promptly step in cold dog barf. The coffee maker is broken. The Starbucks drive-through line is too long to stop without making yourself even later. Your boss reams you out, your inbox is full of emails that require a response ASAP, and to top it off, you’re hungry from skipping breakfast.
And now you must call a donor or make a presentation at a team meeting.
Will you be able to maintain a cheerful, chipper tone? Will you be able to sound warm, inviting, and sincere? Or will you sound cranky, rushed, and off-putting?
A life-changing donation — and your job — may depend on it.
A Little Help From Your Friends
Are you in touch with your tone of voice? One of the easiest ways to determine your tone is to simply ask a trusted friend or coworker. Tell them to be honest; no holding back for the sake of feelings. Then deliver your pitch — or at least part of it — and ask how you sounded.
- Did you convey your message clearly?
- Did you convey the feeling you intended?
- Did you sound professional? Engaging? Knowledgeable?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “dark” and 1 being “light,” where did you fall?
Now that you have some feedback, you can identify areas that need work and establish the tone you want to convey. For direction, listen to speakers who achieve it. That might be someone like Wayne Dyer, Zig Ziglar, Martin Luther King Jr., or Mr. Rogers; or it might be your boss, pastor or favorite planned giving marketing expert.
Now it’s time to practice – time to get in touch with your tone. Try your pitch again, but this time, record yourself speaking, then go back and listen when you’re finished. What do you notice? Without copying them, are there ways you can use the same techniques as your favorite speakers to achieve the tone you desire?
Like anything, achieving your desired tone takes practice, but the time spent is definitely a worthwhile investment. Your tone of voice gives you the opportunity to advertise your best self to the world — and as a fundraiser, that’s imperative.
Here are a few more tips that might help:
- A consistent tone will help build your personal brand. But it won’t work if it’s forced —your tone needs to match your message. Find a tone that reflects your/your organization’s genuine values.
- Your tone of voice can demonstrate your warmth, expertise, sense of humor, or any other attribute that you want to display to your donors, and it can set you apart from your competition.
- Developing a consistent tone of voice across all of your donors’ connections to your brand, including all social media channels, makes you seem genuine and helps your donors to feel at ease. That familiarity is comforting, as they then know what to expect from you and your nonprofit.
- When you’re preparing a message, ask yourself what your intention is. Are you seeking a donation? Offering a solution or support? Addressing an issue? Disciplining an employee? Craft your words — and tone — appropriately.
- What’s your personal volume set at? If you’re too loud and overly energetic, that can be intimidating. If you’re too soft and lack enthusiasm, you’ll be uninteresting. Try to find a happy medium.
- Experts encourage speaking in a stronger, deeper tone, with less breath when you want to stress a point.
- In music, tone can also be heard in duration and intensity. Knowing this, I frequently slow down my speech, and am more deliberate in delivering my words to stress important points. It’s a tone that says, “you should”
- In general, a more friendly tone is usually pitched higher. It’s not loud or assertive, but breathier, more relaxed, and at ease.
Female readers, take note:
Research shows that women’s voices are judged more harshly than men’s. Most complaints center on rising intonation at the end of a sentence, breathiness, and a higher pitch — which can make you sound less certain about your message. On the other hand, the lightness and warmth of many female voices may be one of the reasons women are so successful in fundraising and relationship building.
It’s often helpful to get feedback when planning a presentation or an important conversation. Ask others for their thoughts on the appropriate tone for you to use, then practice achieving and maintaining that tone.
Highly successful fundraisers always communicate with the right tone, in both written content and verbal communications. Your tone must be always be appropriate to the message — because your tone matters even more than your words.