Your voice is the unique you that you are online. Akin to your personal or organizational brand, your voice is reflected in how you communicate (tone, style) and is connected with who you are (character, values).
Finding your voice can be challenging, particularly if you are balancing both personal and professional online identities. You may not have a fully fledged sense of your voice when you begin, and that’s ok. As you experiment, you’ll test out what feels right and see how your audiences respond. Over time, you’ll become more comfortable. Try different tones and spend time considering the values you want to model. All of this is part of your voice.
|15 minutes to skim
1 hour exercise
30 minute reflection
30 minutes to explore links
15 minutes to read again
2.5 hours total
Practitioners on Finding Their Voice Interviews
Including voices expands the brand—we’re more embracing, more porous.
We spoke with John Killacky, executive director and CEO, Flynn Center for Performing Arts, to hear how he has cultivated an organizational identity that invites multiple voices to show, share, converse, and play.
I realized that I should simply be myself.
We reached out to Ranger Greg Dodge, who writes the Nature Watch blog at the Museum of Life and Science to learn how he uses his voice to give audiences a peek at the “nature in between” the larger exhibits.
Stream of Consciousness Reflection
Step 1: Gather your supplies
To begin working on your voice, we invite you to start with a reflection that will pave the way for the exercise to come. Write in an unfiltered, stream of consciousness style.
You will need:
- about 30 minutes
- several sheets of paper and a pen you enjoy using
- relative privacy
- a thoughtful and open mental space
- a timer
Step 2: Set a timer and write
Set a timer for a minimum of seven minutes and answer the following question:
How can you use your voice to serve your community’s needs and aspirations?
Keep writing until the timer goes off and stop regardless of where you are in your stream of thought. If you get stuck, write about the experience of being stuck.
Step 3: Take a short break
Set your timer for five minutes and spend that time doing nothing. Do not check your email or phone or computer. You are free to stretch or walk about or close your eyes. Taking a pause will help you clear your mind and return to the activity with a fresh perspective, ready for the next writing session.
Step 4: Set a timer and write again
Set a timer for the same amount of time and answer this question: What values, attitudes, and behaviors do you model?
Step 5: Take one last break
Set your timer for five minutes, and again spend that time doing nothing.
The point of the exercise is to do the exercise, not necessarily to revisit what you’ve written unless that feels fruitful to you. You might reread your writing, file it, or even throw it away. Remember there’s no wrong way to do this.
Play with Your Voice Exercise
Step 1: Review the year
Think about events, programs, publications, products, or other efforts that you or your organization have produced over the past year and choose a specific example to work with for this exercise.
Step 2: Create materials to support a blog entry
Tease out a memory, detail, or series of events from the example you chose above that 1) feels special to you, and 2) would likely resonate with your audience.
Imagine that you have a blog on your website, and create three pieces of content:
- A headline for your blog post
- A short summary that could be used as a teaser for the post
- A photo that could be used for your post and teaser
Instead of writing an actual blog post, the exercise of creating these related elements allows you to test things out, to play with voice, iterate, and rewrite quickly.
Step 3: Craft messages for different media platforms
Whether you publish regularly online, consider the following channels:
- Monthly Email Newsletter
- Quarterly Direct Mail Postcard
Try creating a series of messages for these platforms, speaking to the types of users that follow you there and testing ways to use your voice, tone, and the media capabilities of each platform. You do not need to already use these channels to do this exercise, but if you do, consider the voice you use now and notice if you adapt it for this exercise. If you need more context for selecting a channel, visit the Go Further resources in our Channels section.
Resources on Voice Go Further
Finding your voice is important work for anyone who experiments with digital engagement. Here are a few resources and readings that will help you discover who you are and communicate that to others.
# 1 – Voice and Tone, from Mailchimp
Mailchimp provides a guide for its employees that serves as an inspiration for how to disseminate a coherent voice throughout an organization. The guide also covers areas you might want to find a voice for—customer service, email, video, social media, etc.—and brings attention to the likely emotional state of an audience during a specific interaction.
# 2 – The Four Steps to Finding Your Voice, Stephen R. Covey
In this short guide from 2008, Covey compares finding an organization’s voice to finding an individual voice and suggests asking key questions built around four needs: the need to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy.
# 3 – Storythings
A British-based consultancy that works globally, Storythings’s website and weekly e-newsletter share curated examples of effective storytelling on digital platforms.
The BBC’s “Academy” website shares information for creating and reporting news for digital platforms, covering writing styles and image selection for digital vs. print or other platforms as well as legal and administrative concerns. For a US-based hub for digital journalism training, check out the free online courses offered by the Poynter Institute’s News University.
# 5 – Writing off the subject, Richard Hugo
Hugo’s remarks at the outset of his poetry classes can be returned to again and again to discover new insights for honing your craft. Particularly relevant to our course is Hugo’s description of the ways the subject is discovered by the process of writing, not known before we begin.
Finally, pay attention to the online content you find persuasive, memorable, thought-provoking, and fun. We can learn a lot by paying attention to the kind of content that draws us in and makes us want to share, link, and engage.
Voice and Community Think Deeper
How is voice a responsibility?
Your voice is a reflection of your or your organization’s mission, content, character, and values, but having a megaphone that reaches large audiences comes with responsibility as well. How do you decide when or what to share? Who do you celebrate? How is your voice an invitation? How might your voice be a barrier?
How can your voice amplify the voices of others?
Digital engagement involves entering into a dynamic, multifaceted conversation. As you grow your audience and gain a larger platform for sharing your ideas, how could your voice also benefit stakeholders who might not have the same reach? How might amplifying the voices of others also serve your mission?