Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Capturing the authentic voice

Over the last few days I've been writing a number of statement pieces for particular characters within a couple of my clients. In each case, the person voicing the particular piece of communication has a distinctive style and particular way of communicating. Putting words in their mouth, so to speak, made me very aware of my need not to sanitise individuality ans to ensure that not only the content was authentic, but that the communication also captured the true voice of the speaker.

Years ago, I used to work for an Austrian lady who was well known for her ability to strangle the English language yet still get her points across in a vivid and memorable manner. Face to face, she was compelling. On paper, she was often hilarious but the point was made and the reader was always clear that this was a personal and passionate communication. However, she was promoted and gained the services of the organisation's external PR agency who started 'improving' her communications: cleaning up the English and applying the same bland urbane style that made so many of this organisation's public communications so un-memorable. Somehow, she lost some credibility and her pronouncements, which had been 'must read' just became part of the overall deluge of information swilling around the place.

Over the last few days, I've been working hard to try and capture the voice of those I'm helping - frankly with mixed success. In the end, it has to be the participant's communication and not mine, so where a couple of people have toned the edge down, I've had to acquiesce (though most of the authentic voice has been retained). But as I always say, I only draft the copy - those who have to deliver it must take my draft and personalise it. The more they can make it distinctively their own, the better it will be and the more credibility it will retain. A client has done precisely that this morning - building on my words but making them sound as though they genuinely come from her. It's much more her communication now than mine - and that's exactly how it should be.

As communicators, it's our job to give voice through the right channels to the people who really matter. There's no value in carefully crafting words if they lack authenticity - we simply won't make the right connections. Written communication should create a picture in the mind for the reader. That picture has to conjure up the speaker - not make the 'ghost writer' a visible presence.

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