A version of this story appeared in Total Annarchy, my fortnightly newsletter that helps you be a better writer, storyteller, marketer. Get it in your inbox; you’ll love it.
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If the outrage and events of the past weeks have taught us anything, it’s the importance of sharpening your voice.
Not just sharing your voice. Not just adding to the din and repeating the words of others—follow-the-bouncing-ball, karaoke-singalong style.
But actually doing the hard work of honing your own point of view. Owning it. Making your intent and your ideas crystal-clear to others.
The part about honing a point of view is important. Brands that have gotten into the most trouble this past week are the ones that are practicing messaging karaoke, singing along without really honing their brand voice. Without having internalized the words.
Chris Franklin nailed that here:
Yowch. I feel it, too.
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Nothing in language is more powerful than a voice that doesn’t pantomime other voices. That’s true for brands; it’s also true for people. Writers like you and me.
Consider the writing of pastor Ashlee Eiland. I bumped into her words on Instagram, reposted from Twitter:
It made me think about the power of language to convey a point of view. And, of course, it made me think about brand voice and marketing, too. Because everything does.
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As a marketer or a writer, your job is to move people’s hearts, to use your voice to effect change.
With Ashlee Eiland’s post as a guide, here are some practical thoughts on crafting your own voice (brand voice or otherwise), un-karaoke style:
1. Write to that one person scrolling on one platform. Ashlee doesn’t imply “Hello everyone on Instagram!” Nope. She’s talking to you and me, one on one: “Say what you need to on social media.”
2. Vary the length of your sentences. One quick sentence. Then a slightly longer one. Then an impossibly long one. The way she tweets applies to all writing, too.
From writing teacher Gary Provost:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
3. Write a picture. “Put down your phone and pick up your life” works because it’s actionable. It’s specific. It doesn’t say “get off social media.” It says literally, “put down your phone.” It says metaphorically, “take action.”
The connection-contrast of that the parallel verb-noun combo paints a powerful picture—between actual object (phone) and metaphorical object (life).
4. Read it out loud. Say this sentence out loud: “Not many will see you learning, confessing, repenting, uprooting, re-tooling, forgiving, inviting, empowering.”
Hear it? It’s music. It has beats, flow, momentum. Long sentences need momentum. Otherwise a 13-word sentence can feel like a slog.
5. Swap out words. “The hidden work is the heart work is the hard work.”
Hidden. Heart. Hard. That sentence rolls like a wave to shore.
The alliteration does it. And the similarity of “heart” and “hard,” which sound alike enough to be fraternal twins. (RelatedWords.org is my fave swap-out-words source.)
6. Ditch needless words. Every word in Ashlee’s post earns its keep. She doesn’t say, “Most people will not;” she says “Not many will.”
Hold your sentences to that standard. Boot out the slackers standing around taking up real estate but not doing the work. Like these (via Everybody Writes):
At which time → When
In order to → To
In spite of → Despite
A number of → Some
Moving forward → Later
In the event that → If
The majority of → Most
Has the opportunity to → Can
Despite the fact that → Although