I do like the phrase ‘reading the room’. Sometimes I can’t put my finger on why some words and phrases sound just perfect and others grate. What does reading the room mean though? And what does it mean to you?

Reading the room to me is about understanding the mood – the general mood, the overarching mood, the potential mood. It’s about understanding how what you say is likely to be perceived, given the surrounding circumstances. It’s about tone, and tone is a crucial part of copywriting.

You can never predict what mood a recipient is likely to be in when they receive a communication from someone but you can opt for a neutral, informative, compassionate, empathetic etc tone to ensure the message you want to get through gets through. A bad tone, or the wrong tone has the potential to completely dilute a message.

Do you want to sound like a toddler who’s had too much sugar? Use exclamation marks in abundance!!! An American teen? Use super at every turn. (Sorry not sorry, this is my current bugbear).

Back in March/April during Lockdown 1 I blogged (To email or not to email) about my full inbox from companies I’d not heard from in yonks. I naively did not expect the same onslaught in Lockdown 2. I was wrong.

I live in an area that’s been in extra restrictions since the end of July (Oldham). We went straight from those extra restrictions into Tier 3 (once the new Tier system was announced), and after lengthy negotiations and stand-offs between central government and our regional mayor Andy Burnham. So, the actual lockdown, whilst clearly affecting some businesses and individuals more than others, was not dramatically different to what we were/are in anyway. That regional variation did not matter in the slightest to lots of companies who chose to send Lockdown 2 emails and texts.

So, again, I received some unwelcome and pointless communications, all wanging on about being in Lockdown again. In terms of tone of voice and reading the room, they mainly didn’t hit the mark. We’re all tired, we’re all a bit stressed – sender AND recipient – but really.

I particularly don’t like the ‘don’t call us’ ones, but I also have little regard for the ‘we’re here for you’ subject line from a ‘do not reply’ email address. Really?

My mum got a corker from her GP practice which gets bonus minus marks (bonus minus sounds so wrong, but so did the text!) for its length alone. It doesn’t even claim a here for you at all. It’s just full of DON’T call us, DON’T visit us, but the NHS is here for you right? Not at my mum’s GP it’s not. I have no idea who would be responsible for writing a text to be sent out to patients of a GP practice, but I can hand on heart say it was someone who had failed to read the room.

Then there was the building management company one – trying to be chatty, all ‘be a good neighbour’, but actually full of ‘don’t do this’, ‘don’t do that’, ‘cos if you do do this and that you will be charged a fee’. Oh, and obviously ‘don’t phone us as we are all working from home’ (?!)

If you are truly there for your customers, say so and show how. If you’re not, don’t say it.

You don’t want the how you say it to cloud the what you say, when it’s the what you say that you want people to focus on. Read the room and watch your tone.