24 July 2012

Writer's voice

Today I had the pleasure of lecturing at the University of Nottingham to a multi-disciplinary group of students on a summer programme from China. It was a 3.5 hour session; those of you who deliver training or teach know that this means I spent most of Sunday preparing. The session was titled “Reflection in Education”, and seemed to be well received. It has given me a few ideas for how Clearly Stated can bolster our selection of courses and training. It has also made me reflect and develop this week’s post. Nothing quite like taking a dose of my own medicine!

What I’ve been reflecting on is “voice”. (I’m not meaning to theme my writing quite like this, but the conscientious reader will notice that last week was all about the art of listening.) I’m not talking about diction, clarity or volume – even though some trainers could do with working on this – but rather the curious ability a great singer, comic, storyteller or trainer has to take an audience on a journey. This strange talent seems only tangentially related to the quantifiable characteristics of speech, and instead is an ever changing blend. In front of an audience, you’ll know when you’ve got it: the room will hush, still, ready to erupt with applause, laughter, tears or even raised hands and appropriately thought out questions. I found this speakers’ Elysium today and it was good. I’ve been doing this verbally for a while now and a love of public speaking is a big part of why I became an educator and trainer to begin with; whether presenting a new product, first aid or something far more esoteric, people tend to listen.

Let us then examine the presence of voice in some technical communications. It seems to exist most often in the genre as the garbled love child of jackanory and a dalek, “Are you sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin; press the red button to EXTERMINATE! TOTAL DOMINATION WILL RESULT!” Finding our voice as writers is probably more difficult than doing so as speakers, especially when the prime goal in our communication is not to entertain. Again it is not so much the mastery of register, grammar or typeface, but some marvellous mixture of all this and more.

I’ve decided, in my continuing quest to seek out new ways of writing, to aim for "nurturing yet firm". Time – and client feedback – will tell.


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