How often do you shrug your shoulders when reading a marketing email?
How often do you roll your eyes?
Or press delete?
Many marketing messages sound cold-hearted, and they make us cringe.
It’s not surprising.
Because most marketers write as if they’re engaging thousands of subscribers, and nobody likes to be addressed as part of a crowd.
To write more conversationally, start by picturing your one favorite reader. Imagine her opening your email. Picture her chuckling at your jokes and nodding along as she agrees with your points. Have you noticed how eagerly she clicks through to read your blog post?
That’s because she feels like you’ve written for her, personally. It’s as if you’re answering her questions exactly when they pop up in her mind.
As if you’re chatting at your favorite cafe, and she’s sipping her favorite green tea.
Yet, a conversational tone doesn’t mean writing like you talk
Have you ever seen a full transcript of an interview?
It’s full of wishy-washy words and unfinished sentences. The writing feels lazy.
Conversational writing may sound like a conversation, but it’s different from talking.
Firstly, when you have a face-to-face conversation, you can see your listener’s reaction—when they nod along, when their mind wanders off, when they feel puzzled by your ideas. With writing, you don’t have that immediate feedback, so you need to impose more structure to your writing and ensure each sentence communicates its message with clarity.
Secondly, when writing, you can’t use facial expressions and hand gestures to add meaning and emotion. So, your words have to work harder. Much harder. Writing is more concise—you scrap redundant words. Plus, in writing, you use stronger words to compensate for the lack of body language.
An example of writing like you talk:
Conversational writing feels like the writer is having a conversation with a reader, and you can take two steps to make your writing conversational. The first step is removing long sentences and difficult words. And you also change the passive voice to active. And the second step is to make the reader feel like you’re writing for him or her personally by using questions and the word “you.”
And here’s how to make it more concise and more structured:
Want to write as if you’re having a chat with your reader?
Firstly, chop up long sentences, slaughter difficult words, and use the active voice. Secondly, engage your readers with questions and use the word “you.”
Conversational writing may feel like a cozy chat in a cafe, but the writing is stronger, more concise and better structured.
Want to practice a more conversational writing style?
Try the two steps below …
Step 1: Cut the “writerliness”
Somehow, when we write, posh words and complicated constructions sneak in.
But readers get lost in complicated sentences, and difficult words make them yawn.
So, your first step is to cut out this “writerliness.”
Conversational writing is simple and easy to read:
- Slaughter the passive voice. Rather than write You’re loved by me (passive), write: I love you (active). Rather than write Your email will be answered (passive), try: I’ll answer your email within 24 hours.
- Hack long sentences in two; and stop worrying about starting your sentences with And, Because, or But. Because it keeps your sentences short, clear, and easy to read.
- Send difficult words to the naughty corner and throw a party for simple words.
Want an example?
Hiut Denim’s website uses a conversational tone, using short sentences, simple words, and tight writing:
We make jeans. That’s it. Nothing else. No distractions. Nothing to steal our focus. No kidding ourselves that we can be good at everything. No trying to conquer the whole world. We just do our best to conquer our bit of it. So each day we come in and make the best jeans we know how.
To spot “writerliness” in your writing, read your copy aloud. Does it sound like writing? If yes, bin more gobbledygook, and simplify your sentences.
Step 2: Apply these conversational writing tools
How chatty would you like your conversation to be?
No one conversational tone exists. A business conversation with an authority is different from catching up with your best friend or a chat with the girl next door.
Use the following techniques to play with different conversational tones:
- Use contractions like they’ll, he’s, and we’re, because these sound more informal.
- Address readers in the second person by using the word you—good conversationalists talk less about themselves and more about their listeners. So, check how often you’ve used the words I, we, me, and us. Now, count how often you’ve used the word you.
- Engage readers with questions. Have you noticed how I’ve included questions in this blog post? It’s my favorite conversational technique.
- Consider using slang and interjections like Yay!, Doh! or Phew.
Ann Handley’s tone in her enewsletter is chatty, making you feel like she’s a friend:
Hello, hot stuff!
This essay in today’s newsletter is shorter + sweeter + more tactical than most. Not because this week is Valentine’s Day, but because I’ve been obsessed with Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, Tidying Up. Marie has become my constant internal companion this past week or so.
You’ve heard of the show, right? It’s a reality show in which the Japanese lifestyle brand-slash-person ransacks people’s homes. She sifts and sorts, and she fills massive trash bags with stuff that doesn’t “optimize joy.”
Often, the people whose homes she invades are reduced to tears. So it’s fun to watch.
I kid I kid… It’s fun to watch because it’s 1000% relatable.
Conversational writing is not just about HOW you write
It’s also about WHAT you share.
In a world of pixels, fake news, and meaningless likes, we crave human connections. Real human connections.
So, be yourself.
Brew a cup of your favorite tea. Offer your readers a slice of homemade cake.
And share your personal stories.
PS This is an updated and expanded version of an article originally posted on January 14th, 2014. That initial article was inspired by Kerstin Castle.