It’s been shown that the tone teachers use, both in written materials and in the classroom, has a profound impact on how students perceive the teacher and the class.
Nailing the tone from the get-go is even more important with eLearning because there are fewer opportunities to correct errors and check for understanding than there would be in a classroom.
Figuring out the right tone to use for content may seem like a daunting task, especially if it’s not something you’ve considered before. To help you get started, we’ve rounded up some top tips on setting the tone for your content.
Plan Carefully Before Producing Content
Establish whatever content tone you’re going for at the very beginning—before you start creating anything. Why? Because consistency in tone is key, and it’s much easier to create your course in the proper tone from the ground up than it is to go back and try to fix things after the fact.
It may take several rounds of brainstorming and testing, but if you get the tone established from the beginning you’ll make your life much easier.
Start with Your Audience
Your course is about the students, so make sure your tone is focused on them. Your target audience is the starting place for nailing the tone of your content and getting the message across in the right way.
“Listening can reveal how your community speaks and can help you speak easier with them and to them,” says Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing at Buffer. “You can use their language and meet them on their terms.”
If your course is aimed at stay-at-home parents, it’s going to need a very different tone than one geared toward business professionals. And a course for business professionals will need a different tone than one geared towards students.
This holds true even if the subject matter is the same. You could be teaching basic computer programming to any of those three groups, but the tone will still need to be adjusted to make sure your audience is properly engaged with the material.
Consider the Nature of the Content
Sometimes, the content itself can dictate the tone. A serious topic such as mental health and mental illness is probably better served by a more formal, authoritative tone. A course on cosmetology might benefit from a more lighthearted and fun tone—though you probably still want to position yourself as an authority on your topic. It all comes back to speaking to your audience in a voice they can relate to.
Factor in Your Brand Image
Your tone should also align with your brand image. You want to maintain the integrity of your brand when communicating your message, or you risk making your content appear insincere. Large companies go to great lengths to ensure that their branding remains consistent, and you should do the same for your courses.
There are also tools out there, like Portent’s Tone of Voice Generator, that can ask you questions to help you narrow in on what you’re trying to accomplish. (“Are you trying to relate to your audience in a light-hearted way? Are you trying to befriend your readers?”) By answering a variety of questions you can quickly get feedback on the proper voice for your content.
Don’t Forget Visuals
We live in a visual world. “Graphic design and video content play a huge role in reaching your audience these days,” says Quinn Johnson, Communications Specialist at USDISH. “Consider the visual elements of your tone as much as the spoken elements.”
If you’ll be using slides for your course, for example, the background color can have a major influence on tone. Hot pink slides may be slightly out of place in a lecture on corporate finance, for example. “Everything needs to blend into a cohesive whole,” advises Quinn.
Refine Your Tone Over Time
Applying the right tone to your content is a continual process, because the variables are constantly evolving. For example, the target audience for your programming course might shift from high school students to middle school students as word trickles down from siblings and friends. Or, you might shift from computer programming to a specific language for mobile apps, which might require a different tone.
You won’t always hit the mark the first time, either. You may think you have your tone ironed out only to find that your course misses the mark after it goes live. Be willing to seek feedback, even if what people have to say isn’t always what you want to hear.
The bottom line is that you should always be refining your tone and looking for a more optimal way to deliver your message. The success of your course might depend on it. But with the above tips, you can make determining and refining your tone much easier.