Voices Carry

(Listen to this post, here.)

We just got back from a terrific, two-week family vacation in beautiful Colorado. We covered a lot of ground, making a big loop from Denver to Durango to Ouray to Golden to Boulder and back again to Denver.

Along the way, two things stood out to me:

Thing #1. The state of Colorado does not care whether you live or die.

Want to ride a motorcycle without a helmet? Go right ahead.

Feel like swimming in a raging river? Hop on in.

My daughter, Emily

Have the urge to drive along a two-lane mountain pass where the only thing separating you from a 1,000-foot drop is a thin white line? We wouldn’t dream of offending you by installing a guard rail.

Thing #2. These are some extraordinarily friendly people.

Not just cheerful, either. They are uniformly inquisitive.

Total strangers kept asking me how my day was going. The guy at the next gas station pump inquired as to my plans for the weekend. The supermarket cashier took a long look at my groceries and asked if I was “fixing to have a party.”

I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed both the attention and the attitude. By the end of the first week, I, too, had begun pestering complete strangers as to their upcoming social itineraries.

Here in New England, however, that’s not at all how it works. I don’t mean to say that we are standoffish and unfriendly, but we are standoffish and unfriendly.

Polite, sure. But anything said to a stranger beyond a mumbled, “How’s it going?” is sure to raise some Yankee eyebrows. We don’t know what you are up to this weekend, and we don’t care.

So, who’s right? Neither. But the difference is noticeable, and if you interact in the wrong way with the wrong population, you will immediately tag yourself as an outsider.

Voice Matters

When it comes to creating content for your solo or small professional service business, how you speak/write matters, too.

Just as talking to a Colorado resident with a New England tone feels off, if you don’t pay attention to how you come across, you are at risk of losing your audience, regardless of how valuable your content may be.

With that in mind, here are two voice-related things worth paying attention to:

#1. Who are you talking to?

The more you know about who is on the receiving end, the easier it is to stay on target.

That’s why whenever I am hired to write something or give a presentation, my first question is always, “Where’s my check?”

But my second question is, “Who is this for?”

Knowing about the audience allows you to appropriately shape your communication:

Which terms/concepts/acronyms require explanation?
How experienced are they as professionals?
How formal/informal is the gathering?

Even knowing the approximate age of the audience helps you figure out what works and what doesn’t (e.g., will the 70s cultural references fall flat?).

#2. Who are you?

For reasons that I’ve never quite understood, when it comes to “business writing” in general and “marketing writing” in particular, otherwise perfectly capable adult humans forget how to be themselves.

Some people become excessively formal: “Herewith, enclosed please find the attached document…”

Others, well into middle age, sound like they just snuck into a campus frat party and are hoping to go unnoticed: “Bro, my new product will turn you into a rock star and help you crush it!”

The best voice is your voice. The one you use every day. That’s how you talk to your best clients, isn’t it? Well, talk that way in your marketing and you’ll attract more people like them – those who appreciate your authentic style.

For starters, try reading whatever you’ve written out loud. If it sounds like something you would actually say, you’re on the right track.

Here’s the bottom line.

Voice and tone isn’t everything, but it’s definitely something.

And while “fitting in” in this way won’t guarantee that you close the sale or win the audience, not fitting in will almost certainly help you do neither.

Rock on dudes and dudettes!!!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where did you go on your last vacation?
  2. Have you ever raised a Yankee eyebrow? Explain.
  3. Describe your “natural voice” in three words, exactly.

Share your answers below…

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22 thoughts on “Voices Carry

  1. Laurie Schnebly Campbell

    1. Santa Fe, NM where they had us sign in at every restaurant / museum / hotel in case a fellow visitor developed Covid — I was impressed with their concern & efficiency!
    2. not that I know of, although they might’ve been too polite to do that until my back was turned
    3. caring, intelligent, humorous

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. Love that. Do they promise not to use it for marketing purposes in the future (having your name and cell phone)?
      3. A nice combination

  2. Judy

    1. Wilmington,North Carolina
    2. Nope. Born in Denver…lived in FarEast, Europe and Africa before coming back to the States – North Carolina.
    3. Conversational, respectful, polite

  3. Lindsay

    1. I went to Capitola CA, where many people vacation on the sand by the sea. I spent more time at Gayle’s Bakery. Oh.My.Yum.
    2. My grandparents were Bostonian Yankees. I have no doubt their eyebrows raised now and then.
    3. My voice is confident, cheerful, and conversational.

  4. Carole Seawert

    1. West coast of Scotland
    2. We Londoners are much like New Englanders, I suspect. We were taken completely off guard when we were up north in Northumberland a few years ago. Not only would complete strangers ask questions in the same way that your Coloradians did (is that the right adjective?) but they would join in the conversation I was having with my husband in the supermarket queue. As you say, you get used to it by the end of your trip but woe betide them if they start to engage in conversation with a Londoner on the Tube! (translation: subway train).
    3. conversational, upbeat, engaging

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Carole! I love that story. My wife and I had that same “joining our conversation” experience a couple of times in Portland, OR. On the other extreme, my daughter, who spent a college semester in Prague, said that asking to pet a stranger’s dog is like asking to asking to hold their infant over here!

  5. Dana Bos

    I grew up in New England and spent 15 years of my adult life living in Arizona. Your time in CO resonated bigtime. I had the same experience when I lived in Phx. ha!

    My voice: practical, energetic, real

    I’ve enjoyed your newsletter for about a year now. First time posting

  6. Michael Hume

    Great edition this week, as always! Here’s a fun anecdote: Whenever I decide to “set” fiction in a place other than beautiful Colorado (where I live), I go to that place and LISTEN TO THE RADIO. If a well known author had done this before he set one of his novels in Denver, he would’ve avoided embarrassment. In LA, where HE’S from, they describe highways as “the __,” as in “If you’re stuck in traffic on the 10, you might want to divert onto the 60 west to the 5 north, that seems to be flowing nicely.” And this you learn from listening to the way radio announcers, who are used to their local audiences, TALK to those audiences. But this author referred to Interstate 70 in Colorado as “The 70,” and it was an instant indicator that “ya’ll ain’t from around these parts.” Our radio announcers always talk about the horrific traffic on “I-70,” not “the 70.” Just a fun little tip almost no one can use, ever!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Love that idea, Michael! Long ago, I wrote a monthly newsletter for Comcast that had 10 regional variations each month. I’d always have a “local” read it to make sure we didn’t make those same kinds of subtle but telling mistakes!

  7. Terry Matlen

    1. Where did you go on your last vacation?
    Does staying in a cabin 45 minutes away count as a vacation? Especially when you lose electricity after the first of two nights? And a staffer drives over in a 1970s era golf cart with two buckets of water, teaching us how to flush the toilet with them (everything was electrically driven). All this and on one of the hottest days of the summer? We left 15 minutes after the bucket lesson.

    2. Have you ever raised a Yankee eyebrow? Explain.
    Here in Michigan (Detroit suburbs, anyway), we have a similar attitude. When some friendly stranger waves at us from his/her car while we’re taking a neighborly stroll, the men check their flies; the women check their bra straps.

    3. Describe your “natural voice” in three words, exactly.
    Empathetic, curious, funny-ish

  8. Kristin Lieb

    Myrtle Beach, SC , but away from the crowds. A favorite destination.
    I raise my own Yankee eyebrow when I hear an overly-sweet “oh hey, how ARE you? Life is just so fab”
    Wry, descriptive, observant


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