10 tips to establish a consistent, captivating corporate tone of voice

Keep it simple. Be direct. Perhaps above all, use whatever influence or authority you have to help others succeed.

10 tone of voice tips

Every company is a unique community shaped by quirks, habits, preferences and pet peeves.

The onus is on communicators to craft messaging that resonates with people from a range of backgrounds, ages, experience levels, geographic locations and proficiencies. You can’t (and won’t) please everyone all the time, but you can establish a consistent, compelling tone of voice that serves as a unifying beacon for employees.

Here are 10 ways to make your comms captivating—not cringeworthy:

1. Keep it simple.
Write clearly, in plain English, and keep sentences short. Remove all jargon or unclear language, and spell out acronyms on first mention.

Your messages should be understood by complete newcomers to the business. Don’t assume everyone is familiar with industry terms or insider language. If you want people to consume your communications, make every message simple and straightforward.

2. Be direct.
Write with a clear purpose, and include prominent calls to action. If you’re asking readers to do something—such as volunteering for a committee or nominating a colleague for an award—make the instructions unambiguous and easy to follow.

If you need employees to take a specific action, use incentives to boost compliance. Also, don’t force colleagues to wade through paragraphs of minutiae to get the gist of your message.

3. Be respectful.
Speak to everyone as equals. Use inclusive language instead of issuing top-down decrees from aloof execs on high.

Make sure your tone is neither patronizing nor autocratic. This is a tricky balance, but strive to hit the sweet spot where professional, warm and uplifting overlap—without dumbing anything down.

4. Be friendly.
Drop the formalities. Speak or write in the first person, use active voice, and avoid stilted phrasing.

Adopting a conversational tone will make your messages more relatable and readable—and make business leaders appear more approachable.

5. Be inspirational.
Communicators must inform and educate, but you should also use your storytelling to inspire, galvanize and empower your teams. Without being schmaltzy or dramatic, develop a tone across your channels that motivates people and makes them feel part of a community.

6. Be honest.
Corporate communication is often vague and evasive. To build trust and genuine connections with employees, establish a tone that’s approachable, transparent and honest. If there are concerns or failings in the business, own up. Err on the side of honesty.

Honest internal communication begets honest feedback from employees, which fuels richer dialogue and better two-way conversations.

7. Be accessible.
Before sending out a message, ask yourself: Would people outside the organization fully understand this? Is the purpose of this communication clear? Is this piece sensitive to different groups and viewpoints, or could it in any way be misconstrued?

Consider technical accessibility factors, too. Do any of your staff use screen readers, for example?

8. Be flexible.
Don’t be afraid to mix it up. Updates from the comms team will have a different ring to them from that of blogs from the CEO.

Calibrate your tone depending on the situation. If news is bad, don’t be breezy. Otherwise, feel free to keep it light, entertaining and uplifting.

9. Be consistent.
As noted above, flexibility keeps things fresh and lively. However, every piece of communication should be governed by a consistent, overarching style. This is especially true with graphic design and branding.

If you don’t have an in-house style guide, consider creating one. If not, at least pick a style you’ll pledge to abide by to establish guardrails for your content creation.

10. Be helpful.
Make life easy for people. Provide valuable, useful content. Make corporate communication something people are happy to receive and want to engage with.

Keep your tone as positive and uplifting as possible, and focus on creating content that will help your colleagues advance, succeed and develop.

Jaime Cox is a U.K.-based writer and editor. A version of this post first appeared on Rachel Miller’s All Things IC blog.

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