An interview on why voice is important in the business and technology world


RF: How important is voice in the proposals you write?

JR: Vitally. Let's assume for a moment that you're the consultant and I'm the potential client to whom you're attempting to sell work. When i try to decide between your proposal and a competitor's, I feel like I'm listening to a debate. Each proposal not only presents different content, each "speaks" that content in a different voice as it attempts to convince me. You're no longer there, but your voice is, even in your absence, as it speaks through the words on the page. What the voice says reveals a lot about your character and your personal characteristics. The voice can project you as sympathetic or hard-nosed, as structured or flexible, as detail oriented or global. Your written voice shouldn't be the same from proposal to proposal any more than your speaking voice is the same from situation to situation.

RF: I'm always struck by how difficult it is for my students to adjust their voice in writing, despite the fact that they are quite good at adopting different personas whenever we do role-playing.

JR: That's because they get so much practice doing the latter but not the former. It's a similar situation with my colleagues. There are so many roles to play around here, and they get good practice not being the same to a superior as to a subordinate, and to that subordinate, not being them same at the office as they are at a baseball game or at a cocktail party at the subordinate's house or at a party of their own. They know, somehow, that in any of these situations they're still "themselves," only a different side of themselves, of their many sided personalities. So they don't think very much, don't have to think very much, about how they present different sides of themselves in these different situations. Every day, they play so many different roles, speak in so many different "voices," that they're probably not even aware of doing so.
Despite their being relatively different across different situations, my colleagues are relatively the same in each situation. This consistency within a situation is important in many relationships. When someone you thought you knew acts differently than you would have predicted, you often feel that you didn't really know him at all or that you didn't know him well enough. This change in behavior might surprise you, and it might unsettle you. Here's the bottom line: I will know who you are, which kind of person you are, by the voice that speaks to me though the words of your proposal. That voice is characterized by the relationship between verbs, nouns, and adjectives. (Freed 474-475)

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