Do you fear you off-put your readers (or audience) with a cool, aloof or terse sounding tone? If so, you’re not alone. Many business communicators struggle with engaging their audiences and often, the wrong tone turns off people the most. Read on to find five ways to help hook (and retain) your audience with something simple to tweak: how we sound.
Start off with a warm greeting
When I coach clients and read announcements from CEOs and other higher ups, I’m often struck by how few remember to simply greet their audience warmly. Consider the following options for written greetings:
- No greeting at all.
- Dear Team,
- Dear Enterprising (or Hard Working) Team Mates,
The last one might feel OTT (over the top); however, I’ve used this approach in the past with a younger team I project managed, and nobody seemed turned off. (In fact, several said they smiled and felt uplifted.)
Either way, greet your reader and see if you gain a different response from your team. Also, if you’re delivering negative news (like layoffs or a lost project), realize how much more awful the message sounds if combined with no greeting or a terse one.
Avoid passive voice
We all know passive voice serves us well if:
- We don’t know the doer of the action
- We feel exposed (or vulnerable) if we state the doer of the action
- The doer of the action appears obvious
In any other context, I recommend using active voice instead. Why? Because passive voice sounds distancing, vague and overly formal to your reader and therefore a huge turn off. Explore the following examples:
- The move is needed vs. we need this move.
- Mistakes were made vs. we (our team or we/they) messed up.
- Experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis vs. scientists conducted experiments to test the hypothesis.
Make hidden verbs real ones
One more style tip: Look for camouflaged (also known as hidden or fake) verbs in your writing and replace these with real ones. Camouflaged verbs, a verb turned into a noun, tend to make our writing wordy and can create a cool, overly formal tone, too. A few examples and edits follow:
- We seek your cooperation vs. please help (or cooperate).
- We cannot find a solution to the problem vs. we can’t solve the problem.
- The payment is due vs. please pay.
- As we make an assessment of our supply chain, we seek the cooperation of the team vs. as we assess our supply chain, we need the team to cooperate (or help).
This helpful link from the Plain Language Institute provides a great resource on how to detect (and remove) camouflaged verbs from your business writing.
Use personal pronouns
To help hook and engage your over-burdened reader, use personal pronouns too. Avoid naming the company. Say, “we.” Culture permitting, I also recommend using contractions to help improve your writing tone. I’m happy vs. I am happy and we’re delighted vs. we are delighted.
Avoid exclamation marks, excessive bolding and all caps
Texting ideas really invites emphasis techniques like exclamation marks. However, for email and reports, I recommend avoiding exclamation marks lest you sound like a marketing brochure.
Bolding, italicizing, dashes etc. provide writers ways to emphasize their ideas, but avoid overusing. Also, remain consistent so you don’t confuse the audience. Capitals work fine for acronyms; however, I find all caps, especially if combined with exclamation marks, make us sound angry. Best avoid.
Hopefully these small steps (combined with the other ideas) help achieve a warmer tone in your writing.