To Nail Conversational Style, DON’T Write Like You Talk

To Nail Conversational Style, DON’T Write Like You Talk

/ September 8, 2014

Conversational style is one of the key distinctions that separate blogging and copywriting from other forms of writing.

There are a lot of people, teachers included, that tell you the key to conversational tone is writing like you talk.

They’re wrong.

To truly nail the conversational tone, you should sound like you’re writing in a speaking voice, but you don’t actually write a sentence exactly how you would say it.

You might be a little confused, and that’s okay. We’ll clear it up in just a second.

We All Sound Stupid

Here’s the thing:

When you directly transcribe speech to text, it sounds…dumb.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons that news outlets tend to transcribe and publish quotes from politicians word-for-word – because it sounds so stupid when it’s taken without the context of vocal intonation, gestures, and atmosphere. Stupid politicians sell more newspapers than articulate ones, so there are LOTS of political transcripts out there to practice on.

Kitty Lusby addressing the Las Vegas Bloggers Meetup in February 2016This is not a political post, by the way.

The important takeaway is that ALL speech sounds unintelligent when it’s transcribed directly into text.

We phrase things strangely because we’re thinking, distracted, or because we’re communicating in other ways.

We use filler words like “uhm,” “like,” “so,” “really,” and things along those lines.

We use slang that sounds normal verbally, but doesn’t translate well to text.

If you did all of that in your blog post, you’d be truly conversational, but you’d also sound like a bumbling idiot.

Conversational Style is Like Speech, But Better

conversational style is a matter of writing better than you speak click to tweet buttonDeveloping your conversational tone is a matter of adopting some of your speech mannerisms into text, but improving it so that you’re still communicating effectively.

Let’s take an example:

One of the easiest places to find written examples of actual speech is from court transcripts. Since transcription is quite the arduous process, we’re going to use a paragraph from the House of Representatives Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

This is the direct text taken from the transcript of a hearing about the garnishment of benefits paid to veterans for court-ordered obligations in August of 1998:

Disability compensation—when I say, ”disability,” I’m not talking about disability retired pay that is based on years of service. I’m talking about disability retired pay that is based on a percentage of disability or disability from the Veterans’ Administration, clear disability compensation that, in virtually all circumstances, is never divided as a marital asset. These devices include things such as alimony, a concept known as res judicata, which essentially says, if we divide it, you didn’t object before, it’s too bad; it’s too late to object after the fact. There are other mechanisms as well where a member is perceived to have agreed to divide disability. All these kinds of devices and techniques should be eliminated to prevent the division of disability.

When this was said aloud by a very educated, generally respected person, it probably sounded pretty intelligent.

Written like this, it’s jumbled, hard to understand, and it kind of sounds like a teenager trying to add fluff to an essay to reach the minimum word count.

Speaking of essays, we could write that same paragraph in a formal voice:

Veteran’s disability compensation from the Veteran’s Administration, or compensation that is based on a percentage of disability, is never divided as a marital asset. However, the concept of res judicata eliminates the possibility of objection or amendment after a court decision is made. Therefore, if a veteran has entered into an agreement or a perceived agreement to divide disability payments with a spouse, the veteran may potentially be forced into paying a portion of disability payments as alimony despite the standard which states disability should not be divided as a marital asset. For those reasons, any devices that may compromise disability benefits under res judicata should be eliminated.

a keyboard surrounded by graphics and images representing a creative field or blogging combined with graphic designIt’s the same information as before, but is sounds much more articulate written in these terms.

But that’s not what we’re going for, either.

Have you ever heard someone read a prepared speech, or even an essay, aloud? They generally sound stiff and formal, and they lose an important connection with their audience.

You don’t want to lose connection in your blog posts, and you don’t want to sound inarticulate, either.

So what do you do?

Try this:

I’m not talking about retirement pay – that’s based on years of service. I’m talking about disability pay from the VA, which is virtually never divided as a marital asset.

But with the concept of res judicata, which takes away a veteran’s right to object after a decision has been made, we’re dividing disability pay for things like alimony, and that’s not right.

Even if there’s only the perception that a veteran agrees to divide his disability payment with a spouse, that veteran might be forced to give up part of that disability pay. We need to eliminate those kinds of devices immediately.

Doesn’t that sound more like regular speech than the actual transcript of regular speech?

Not only that, but the text in the conversational rewrite is 20 words shorter, and still makes the point more clearly than the direct transcript.

There’s a big difference.

How Do You Sound Conversational?

So how do you sound conversational without actual writing LITERALLY conversationally?

The short answer:

Practice.

Style takes time to develop, and my “conversational” style is vastly different from Neil Patel’s, Brendon Burchard’s, or John Maxwell’s. All four of us write in a tone that is decidedly conversational, but we each have very individual voices and tones.

Wait, now you have to develop your own tone, too? What the heck?

Don’t panic. You’re going to develop your individual style over time – you’ll discover your preferences and skills as you continue working on becoming a better blogger in general.

There’s a few different factors that come together to give your posts the impression of conversational style:

  1. Word choice
  2. Sentence structure
  3. Smart use of punctuation
  4. Modifiers like underlines, italics, bolded text, *stars*, (parentheses), and “quotation marks”
  5. Reader focus

How you use all of those things is entirely a matter of your personal preference, with one exception.

Focusing On Your Reader Is The Big Secret

No matter how you choose to write, if your focus is not on the person who will eventually read it, you’re never going to converse.

The whole point of writing conversationally is making a connection with your reader…

So if you’re not even thinking about your readers, why are you going to bother learning how to write conversationally?

blog readers don't come to your blog for your benefit. They read your blog for themselvesIt’s time for some grownup talk:

Nobody reads your blog FOR YOU.

They read your blog FOR THEM.

With the possible exception of your mother, if you’re lucky enough to have a mom that reads your blog posts, nobody who reads your blog cares about your traffic numbers, your income, or your ROI.

And why should they?

If you’re not there yet, the turning point in your blogging career is going to happen when you stop writing blog posts because you want something from your readers, and you start writing blog posts to give your readers what they want.

Believe it or not, the vast majority of successful businesses aren’t out for all they can get. They’re focused on solving problems, improving lives, or maybe even changing the world.

Your readers are smart.

They know if you’re trying to use them for personal gain, and they’re not going to keep coming back to your website if that’s the case.

When you start writing FOR them instead of AT them, you’re having a conversation – and that’s the big key to conversational tone.

You Still Need To Practice

With that essential adjustment in your focus, your training and techniques will start paying off.

You still need the training and techniques, though. Don’t think you can make a minor attitude adjustment, and therefore, a million dollars. Long-term success takes long-term commitment.

Telling you to practice without telling you how to practice would be pretty useless, though, wouldn’t it?

If you practice bad habits, you’ll only solidify those bad habits, so practice smart:

How To Practice Conversational Tone:

  • Read fiction. Specifically, read good fiction with well-written dialogue. Good dialogue is just like conversational blogging: it’s NOT actual normal speech. You’ll also get a solid idea of how styles differ between authors, and you should be able to pick out words and phrases that appeal to you.
  • Revise transcribed speech. It might sound boring, but it’s one of the fastest and most effective ways to learn the difference between normal speech and conversational writing. In most cases, you should be able to cut at least half of the words out of a transcript without losing any of the meaning.
  • Read lots of great blogs. This should be obvious. Follow blogs that you find useful, interesting, and stylistically pleasing. Never copy somebody’s work, but as you’re learning and developing, it’s perfectly fine to try to imitate somebody’s style.
  • Read and copy your junk mail. Copywriters work hard to master conversational tone because if they can’t connect with their readers, they’re going to go broke in a hurry. Good sales copy is easy to find – it usually shows up in your mailbox every day – so read all of it, and whenever something strikes you as particularly effective, take notes on what they did right. Copywriters often learn by rote: they write the same sales letter by hand over and over and over again just to reprogram their brain to write in that style. It’s boring, it’s tedious, your hand will hurt, but it has the power to make you wealthy, so…

Remember, this takes time to develop.

Even professionals who have been writing for years continue to develop their voice throughout their careers, so don’t freak out if your next blog post doesn’t sound the way you want it to.

You’ll know you’re on the right track when your readers start responding. They’ll feel like they can talk to you, like you’re a real person behind that computer screen, and that’s a good place to be.

public speaking is a common fear, and photography of speakers results in strange facial expressions

Did you find this post helpful? Was anything unclear? I always appreciate feedback! Tell me about it in the comments.

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