Storytelling Tactics: What is Tone?

In the content department of Ethos3, we love using the word tone as a way to describe the overall feeling conveyed through written content. For example, if we are describing the tone of a healthcare presentation, we might use words like “fact-based,” “contemporary,” or “clean.” If we are describing the tone of a tech pitch presentation, we might use words like “modern,” “conversational,” and “fun.”

But what is tone, really? And even more than this, how can tone be identified and shaped within your content? Let’s dive deeper into this brand storytelling tactic, and learn a little bit more about what tone is and isn’t.

Tone is Voice

Consider the difference between the way a drill instructor, an auctioneer, and Marilyn Monroe speak. It’s possible to convey all of these vastly unique voices through written language, by using punctuation and description to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. In the same way, tone expresses the “brand voice” of a company through similar writing techniques. Maybe you are the kind of brand that likes to yell! With exclamation marks! Or maybe…you use…thoughtful ellipsis. Tone gives the audience an idea of voice, even if no one is actually speaking aloud.

Tone is Style

Using a specific brand voice, the tone of a presentation also encompasses how much content is used, what kind of content is used, and where it is placed. This is also called style, and is another way that the audience can gain insight into the speaker and presentation. Let’s say that you have a deck filled with charts and statistics; your style might be described as “educational.” Now let’s say that you have a deck with only a few words on each slide, meant to evoke a strong emotional response in your audience. That style might be called “minimal,” or even “powerful.” Tone and style are interchangeable, expressing the high-level purpose of the content materials.

Storytelling Tactics: What is Tone?

Tone is Context

What is the purpose of your content? Tone uses style and voice to reveal insight as to the point of the talk itself. Think about ads for a brand like Old Spice; they use an irreverent tone to let you know that their products are fun to use, and the “manly” experience of buying soap isn’t something their consumers take seriously. Now consider the average car commercial, with orchestra background music and cars making turns on rainy roads. The tone gives viewers context about what they can expect, and how all of the elements add up to deliver a certain feeling.

Deciding on the tone of your content, whether it’s for brand storytelling or a presentation, is crucial for consistency and clarity. It’s similar to choosing a palette of brand colors for use throughout marketing materials, or even picking a logo. A tone lets the audience know who you are, what your purpose is, and how they should feel about it. Is your brand positive and peppy? Serious and informative? Conversational and fun? Work to develop your tone before you start developing any content, and keep it consistent.

Want to read more about storytelling and other brand content techniques? Check out these related posts from our blog archive!

10 Questions to Ask When Building A Brand Narrative

Storytelling Tactics: Developing The Hero of Your Presentation

The Neuroscience of Storytelling

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