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Watch your tone! Four tips for capturing the right tone-of-voice in conversations

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It's not what you say, it's how you say it. Tone of voice conveys far more than the actual words themselves. Tone dictates mood and meaning. How many times has an email or text been misinterpreted or taken out of context, simply because you weren't able to show the emotion behind your words? We've all been there.

When we speak, we’re able to portray our emotions and intentions behind our words. In today's world, important discussions are far better on the phone or in person. Emails and texts often convey different meanings than when speaking in person and using intended tone.

Knowing how and when to use various vocal tones in in-person conversations takes practice and awareness. Tone refers to the volume of one's voice—the amount of stress or force applied to a word and the pitch of the words. And pace often impacts tone as well.

Below are the top four ways to use proper tone to effectively get your message across:

1. Kind of tone

It is important to use a neutral tone, and change your tone when there’s a change in mood or when you want to emphasize an important point.  Speaking loudly, with sharper tones often conveys an aggressive message, even if you’re just excited. A tone that is too soft can often convey doubt or sadness, even when you intend to sound supportive or thoughtful.

If you are discussing a potentially negative topic and want to sound more positive, speaking in a slightly higher pitch and softer tone could make you sound happier and positive.

2. Amount of tone

Using too much force or stress on a word could result in harsh tones, or could sound jerky. When you combine this with increased volume, this could result in an aggressive tone and could come across as confrontational. Not using enough tone changes could result in a monotonous voice, and can often reflect boredom or disinterest. To convey the right message, using a moderate amount of volume and stressing a select few key words is much more effective.

3. Pace

Using the right type and amount of tone is also impacted by pace. Taking the time to pause for two seconds between thoughts allows you to speak slowly and gives you time to gather your thoughts.

4. Change of tone

Changing your tone of voice to rise at the end of a sentence or thought often makes you sound doubtful and unsure. We've all heard people sound like they're asking a question at the end of a sentence when they're really trying to make a definite statement. To sound definite, make sure to have a lower pitch and a downward glide of your voice at the end of a sentence. To make your point sound more important, you can also add more force to the last few words of the sentence.

Balancing the right amount of tone changes, with the right words, takes practice. Improv for Business can assist with learning how to improve your tone of voice to enable you to sound more effective and confident.

Photos: ViktorCap/Thinkstock


Bonnie Laurie is a communications expert, public speaker, acting coach, and the owner of Improv for Business—providing specialized training on the use of improvisation to enhance oral communication and interaction within companies. She achieved her ATCL and LTCL teacher’s diplomas in speech, drama, and communication skills from Trinity-Guildhall College (based in England), and also has a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy from the University of Toronto. Since 2000, Bonnie has taught acting and communications skills, and has coached people of all ages and backgrounds. Her clients have gone on to represent and speak on behalf of many different organizations and foundations. To learn more, visit: ImprovForBusiness.ca