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The 4 Elements of Voice {& Why You Should Notice Your Own & Other People’s}

May 8, 2012

Are you talking to her?

Voice in writing. It’s one of the most amorphous concepts in the writer’s toolbox.

Voice is slippery to define. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what someone’s voice sounds like, and even harder to say something concrete about your own voice. Because of all that, it’s easy to just turn your attention to some other more pressing primping-and-presenting piece of your online platform. Like your site design, the topic of your first digital product, or which online business program you should invest in. Voice is soft turf stuff.

So why should you, as a creative online entrepreneur, give a damn about voice?

I may be a little biased. Voice has always been a core obsession of mine, since childhood. I find myself unable to recount to one person what another person said without mimicking them {in a scarily accurate fashion, I’m told}. I dabble in fiction because I love embodying someone else’s first person point of view. And, for me, when it comes to music, lyrics are everything.

I live my life through a filter of who’s saying what, in what tone of voice, and what effect their use of language is having on others. Language, voice, tone, personal lexicon — it’s how I track relationships in the world. {It also makes me splendidly neurotic from time to time. But that’s a different story.}

Voice is the most indelible element of how we show up online.

Your site design can and will change over time.The tactic-of-the-moment {the Ask-50-Bloggers-The-Same-Question post, the Pay What You Can sale, the Manifesto-With-A-Worksheet freebie} will fizzle out. And your favorite social media platform will reiterate and make today’s concerns {should I hashtag stuff on Facebook? how should I structure this RT?} obsolete.

Your voice, on the other hand, is indelibly with you, and in you.

But what is voice, really?

I’m going to break it down here, in a brass tacks kind of way.

In my world, voice has 4 elements. They are:

Substance

WHAT YOU TALK ABOUT

For instance, hyperlocal marketing. Making organic baby food at home. Running a business while living with an autoimmune disorder. Orchestrating paint color palettes for stylish apartment dwellers.

Substance is your stuff, your content, your message. It’s what you and your site are about.

Style

THE MOOD, VIBE, OEUVRE, or GESTALT THAT INFUSES YOUR SUBSTANCE

You can think of style as the linguistic equivalent of your favorite outfit, or your preferred way of decorating a space.

Me? I’m a jeans girl. I’d wear jeans to a wedding if nobody’d look askance. But I’ve always got some type of feminine or slightly overstated detail on: a bold cocktail ring, or a necklace that just won’t quit, or a placket of ruffles.

This vibes with my voice: I’m casual and sometimes even colloquial, yet I pop out of nowhere with a $50 word because it’s the most precise and vivid one and therefore feels so worth using. I’m nothing if not precise. And I’m not necessarily writing for the 9th grade audience internet ‘best practices’ say we should pitch our copy at.

In writing, we talk about style by using words that conjure moods, personalities, and emotional states, such as lyrical, personable, affectionate, witty, nurturing, brazen, comical.

Tone

SAME AS TONE OF VOICE IN CONVERSATION. TELLS THE READER HOW YOU SEE HIM OR HER IN RELATIONSHIP TO YOU AND TO YOUR SUBJECT MATTER.

Are you sarcastic? Are you lighthearted? Are you gravely serious? Most of us have a natural tone we adopt most of the time when writing. When we’re relaxed and sure of ourselves, our natural tone shows up without us really trying.

Tone suggests the relationship you want to have with your audience, and your relationship to your subject matter.

If someone takes a professorial tone with you on their blog, chances are they’re expecting to have a different relationship with you than if they take the tone of a best buddy or confidante.

Tone is everything in online convo. Shift your tone and you’ve shifted the whole conversation. And all of your relationships. And your business.

Word Choice

OR, IN MY WORLD, PHRASEOLOGIE

Phraseologie is literally the building blocks of your conversation, the actual words you put down on the page.

All of us are naturally attracted to certain categories and types of words, and repelled or put off by others. Do you use short, simple, clear, familiar words, or do we occasionally need to Google one of your words to get at your meaning? Do you make up your own fanciful language or do you keep things pretty straightforward or by the book? Do you wince if you see a curse word fly through your Twitter stream or do you accidentally use them yourself in the presence of 4-year olds?

Why should you notice your own voice?

Because when you’re conscious of how you sound and the effect you’re creating through language, you’ve just given yourself access to making more powerful choices about how you show up.

Why should you notice other people’s voices?

Because it helps you see yourself in relationship to others. Wonder why people fall at the feet of Blogger X? Voice has a lot to do with that. Betcha she’s charismatic in her own way, writing from her boldest edge, and possibly even controversial or polarizing.

By contrast, why does everyone rush to console him on Twitter every time he comes out griping? Because that’s the side of himself he’s showing people, the side that needs caretaking. That’s the relationship dynamic he’s creating for himself through how he shows up in 140 characters.

Ever wonder what your voice sounds like to other people? There’s a service for that.

That’s one of the primary reasons my clients come to me, for that objective, nuanced, highly sensitive reading of how they’re showing up in the online conversation, on their blog and social media. Check out my popular Voice Profile service here. I’d love to read your voice.

In the comments, I’d love to know . . .

What questions do you have about voice in the online conversation? Let’s air them here and I’ll share some perspective.

{photo credit}

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