Pivot: Tone and Its Role in Training Effectiveness

What’s the tone of your organization’s training programs? If you have a quick answer, you and your L&D team probably already have guidelines in place to ensure that your employees receive training that speaks to them in a consistent and appropriate voice, regardless of subject matter. If you need a few moments to respond, it’s time to start thinking about tone and its role in training effectiveness.

What’s tone got to do with it?

Engagement and retention, to start with. If people don’t like the tone someone is using with them, they won’t pay attention or do what is asked of them. Like every form of communication, how we speak to employees in courses is just as important as what we say to them.

The good intentions of eLearning designers and developers who work hard to create interesting courses are often mitigated by subject matter experts who pay scant attention to tone. The result is that too many employees are subjected to courses that drone on in a Charlie Brown’s teacher’s tone of voice—a voice devoid of interest, enthusiasm, personality, or humor. It’s no wonder that people report clicking their way through boring courses or skipping to the end of videos! No one wants to be talked at, and most of us will remove ourselves—or at least our attention—from courses that are tone-deaf to our need for respectful, interesting communication.

L&D leaders must pay close attention to tone for two reasons. First, organizations that invest significant resources into L&D programs cannot afford to have employees tune-out of training. Secondly, L&D leaders have the authority to require that all training programs use a tone consistent with both the corporate brand and employees’ expectations.

Learning designers and developers need your help to keep Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice out of the courses they are creating. Despite their best efforts to incorporate microlearning, branching scenarios, videos, gamification, and other attention-getting techniques, they need an L&D policy that will prevent the dulling down of training.

Steps to create a consistent tone

Here’s how to create and convey a consistent tone across your training programs:

  1. Consider two other functions within your organization: your external communications and/or marketing group, and the human resources department. Do they have guidelines, style guides, or specifications for language and tone? For example, some organizations may require all external communication to be written in a conversational tone, with plain and gender-neutral language.
  2. Examine whether your training programs reflect the tone of your external and/or internal communications, thus providing a consistent learning and workplace experience for your employees.
  3. If not, meet with the L&D team to discuss and agree upon an appropriate personality and tone of voice for all your learning solutions. This should include all eLearning, instructor-led training, job aids, videos, or other performance support. The tone should be consistent, whether you develop the assets in-house or through a vendor.
  4. Create a document that describes not just the technical and visual branding specifications for your training programs, but the tone and personality you want your training to convey. For example, this could be “upbeat and enthusiastic,” “a friendly product specialist,” “a workplace mentor,” or any other persona that captures your organization’s outside voice (corporate brand) and its inside voice (HR programs and policies.)

In conclusion

We all know that how we say something is as important, if not more important, than what we say. Tone plays a huge role in training effectiveness. It can quickly change a learner’s “Wow! That’s interesting” to “Wah, wah, wah, when will this be over?” By paying attention to tone, L&D leaders communicate that the organization cares enough about its learners to speak to them, not at them.

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