Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How to Write Conversationally: 7 Tips to Engage and Delight Your Audience

engage readers with a conversational writing style

How often do you shrug your shoulders and press delete after reading a marketing email?

Many marketing messages make us cringe. They don’t sound like a human being wrote them. They don’t engage. They lack personality and feel cold-hearted.

It’s not surprising.

At school, we learned grammar rules. We learned how to write and spell, but we didn’t learn how to use language to connect with our readers. We didn’t learn how to engage, persuade, and inspire.

But readers crave a human touch.

When we read conversational content, we instantly feel a connection with the writer. We feel like we’re getting to know him. We start to like him.

As content marketers, we know this is our aim. When readers get to know, like, and trust us, we create opportunities to market our services and sell our products. We know we need to write conversationally, but how?

You might think writing in a conversational style requires recording yourself talking and typing out what you said. But have you ever seen a word-for-word transcript of an interview?

It’s full of wishy-washy words, grammar mistakes, and unfinished sentences. People rarely speak proper English when they talk. That’s normal.

Conversational text is a lot tighter than spoken language. So, writing conversationally doesn’t mean you write as you talk. Instead, edit your text so it doesn’t sound like writing.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

Specific editing techniques help make your content sound more conversational.

Shall I show you how to use them?

1. Quit writing to everyone

Imagine writing an email to a list of 10,000 people.

When you think about those 10,000 faceless subscribers, you probably sound like this:

Thank you to those of you who have donated to our charity appeal. You can still donate here.

It sounds like you’re addressing a crowd, right? The phrase “those of you” feels impersonal.

Now, let’s choose your favorite subscriber. Imagine your biggest fan — she often replies to your emails with praise, and sometimes with questions. Even though you’ve never met, she’s a friend:

Have you already donated to our charity appeal? Thank you so much. If you haven’t donated yet, you can still donate here.

A conversational tone makes readers feel like you’re addressing them personally. As if you two are having a drink at your local Starbucks.

“I’m going to have a green tea. What would you like to drink?”

2. Don’t write to impress

When you talk with your best friend, what kind of words do you use?

Do you try to impress with MBA jargon? Do you use complicated words?

To write conversationally, skip the gobbledygook and make your content more specific. For instance, look at this copy:

Pioneering software from the market leader. Schedule your social media updates with our award-winning all-in-one app.

Now, here’s the conversational version:

Save time with our new app. Schedule all your social media updates in one go.

Empathy is the foundation of a good conversation. Understand the problems your readers are struggling with, and address those problems using their words.

Write to engage and help.

“Would you like a ginger cookie with your coffee? Or a blueberry muffin?”

3. Make it a two-way conversation

When writing, we can’t see the person on the other end of the conversation. So, we forget to engage our readers and merely write from our own perspective.

Here’s an example of how self-importance sneaks into our content:

Sign up to get on our list, and we’ll send you our weekly email with marketing tips.

Note how “we” and “our” are both self-referring pronouns. Here’s how to focus on your reader instead:

Grow your business with smarter marketing. Sign up now to get weekly emails with marketing tips.

To spot your self-important sentences, look for the sentences with “I” and “we.” Edit them to highlight benefits for your reader.

But don’t feel you need to replace all instances of “I” and “we.” You don’t need to hide yourself.

If you’re a one-person business, use “I,” “me,” and “my.” And if you write on behalf of a team, feel free to use “we,” “us,” and “our,” when appropriate.

A good conversation goes two ways: A little bit about “me” or “us.” A little more about “you.”

“How was your weekend?”

4. Add a dollop of personality

Think about your friends or favorite colleagues. Why do you enjoy chatting with them?

It’s the small stories you share. You might discuss a bad referee decision in Sunday’s match, the movie you went to yesterday, or where you can get the best steak.

Your friends talk about more than their specialty subject.

It’s the same with your content. If you only discuss your topic of expertise, you show yourself as a one-dimensional expert. It’s kind of boring.

Think about how you can inject your personality into your blog posts, emails, or sales copy:

  • Share the mistakes you’ve made so your readers can learn from them.
  • Use a personal anecdote to illustrate a point.
  • Create your own style of metaphors.
  • Tell readers why you’re on your mission to change the world.
  • Add a personal P.S. to your emails — even if it’s an unrelated comment about the weather or your latest cycling trip.

When you sprinkle a little bit of yourself over your content, readers get to know you.

That’s when content marketing becomes magic.

“Yeah, my weekend was good. My sister came over from the Netherlands. Luckily the weather was good.”

5. Engage with questions

Do you pose questions in your writing?

Research has shown that questions in tweets can get more than double the amount of clicks. And what’s more, they can even boost your persuasiveness.

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink explains that a question makes readers think — they process your message more intensely. And when readers agree with you, your question is more persuasive than a statement.

Note the difference between:

You ought to include questions marks, so your writing becomes more conversational.

and:

Want to make your writing more engaging? Add a few questions.

Questions are a powerful technique for engaging and persuading your readers. They keep readers invested in your content.

“The weather is nice today, too. Shall we sit outside?”

6. Shorten your sentences

A standard tone of voice in marketing often sounds boring and robotic, and an academic tone creates a certain distance, too, as if you look down on your readers.

Both styles tend to use unwieldy sentences — and those long sentences are tiring to read. To make your content more readable, chop up long sentences.

Here’s a long academic sentence:

Presenting yourself only as an expert makes you one-dimensional, but when you tell short stories about yourself in addition to sharing your knowledge, you become a multi-dimensional human being, and you become a more fascinating person in your reader’s eyes.

Phew. Did you run out of breath? That’s forty words in one sentence.

Here’s the conversational version with only nine words per sentence on average:

Presenting yourself only as an expert makes you one-dimensional. Perhaps even a bit boring. But when you tell itty-bitty stories about yourself, your hobbies, and your life, you become a real human being. You become more fascinating.

In grade school, we received praise for using difficult words to write complicated sentences. In college, we read verbose sentences stuffed with words derived from Latin and Greek.

That’s how we learned to write to impress.

We didn’t learn how to communicate our message, write with clarity, and be persuasive. To engage our readers, we must unlearn what we learned in school.

Put your readers first. Make your message simple. Chop your sentences down.

“Nice shirt you’re wearing. I like the color. Suits you well.”

7. Don’t drink coffee with your high school teacher

Just thinking about my high school teachers puts me on edge. I get nervous about making mistakes. I worry about sounding crazy. I fear not living up to their expectations.

And that’s how writing becomes stilted.

Following grammar rules usually makes content easier to read. However, certain rules may actually hamper readability. So, give yourself permission to break them:

  • Use broken sentences. Broken sentences don’t necessarily befuddle readers; they often add clarity. By stressing words. (Like that.)
  • Start a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “or.” Because it makes your content easier to read and less monotonous. More dynamic. Enthusiastic.
  • Create one-sentence paragraphs to stress specific statements and give readers room to breathe. A short silence in a conversation is okay, right?
  • Feel free to occasionally use … uhm … interjections like “Ouch,” “Phew,” and “Duh.” They add emotion and a touch of casualness to your writing voice.

Writing is not about sticking to grammar rules. It’s about communicating ideas with clarity and personality.

So, please come along for a cup of tea and a chat, but don’t bring your grammar teacher with you. She’ll strangle our conversation with her pedantic remarks.

“Your hair is getting long. You should get a haircut.”

Embrace the power of your voice

Do you ever think back to a conversation you had with a friend? Do you hear her voice in your head?

That’s how readers should experience your content. Let your words linger in their minds. Inspire them long after they’ve read your words.

In a world of endless pixels and meaningless likes, we crave human connections and voices that resonate with us.

So, be yourself. Brew a cup of green tea. Offer your readers a slice of homemade cake.

And have a cozy chat.

“Sugar?”

The post How to Write Conversationally: 7 Tips to Engage and Delight Your Audience appeared first on Copyblogger.

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