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

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

Reader Comments (59)

  1. Hi Henneke,

    Your first point is so on target!

    I used to own a high end web development company and one of the biggest issues my clients had was learning how to create relevant, inspiring and compelling content for their sites.

    So many wanted to just cherry pick through other sites and create this bland, boring content that was meaningless.

    One of the things I did was start teaching them how to write one article, for one person who had one problem/need/desire; and solve it.

    As a speaker, I know that if I go hyper specific and talk to just one person in the room I will have around 20% of the audience come up to me afterwards and say, “OMG, how did you know…”

    Writing conversationally in this context with your advice is powerful. It shows we understand the reader. It demonstrates we get what they are going through and that we are here for them.

    Conversational writing helps us be more relevant.

    Don’t you agree we need a lot more relevancy out there Henneke?

    Great post. Love what you had to share!!!!

    ~ Don Purdum

    • Yes, I know the feeling when people email me to ask … Have you written this for me??

      And they completely don’t match my ideal reader profile, but it still feels personal to them.

      It’s weird how that works, isn’t it?

  2. Henneke
    All excellent points! But, for me, #7 is the jewel.
    Don’t drink coffee with your high school teacher.
    I knew am Irish writer that would pen chapters daily. One day after I compared my sparse paragraphs to her book, I asked… “How?”
    She said, “Americans are taught to worry too much about the mechanics of writing, We just write.”
    Thanks for reminding me. I still have a tendency to fuss and fret.

    • What an interesting story. I hadn’t thought about cultural differences here. My rebelliousness might be typically Dutch 😉

  3. YES!

    The focus in #2 and #3 on (basically) not making writing about the writer (e.g., “I,” “me,” “my,” “our,” “we” — instead … making it about the read (“you”) — was so helpful.

    Oh the power of pronouns. 🙂

    • Oh yeah. The power of pronouns. These humble words have more power and magic than many writers think.

      One day, I’ll write a post about pronouns 😉

      • I received a post from one of the people who write on my blog for editing. I changed his ‘I’s to ‘you’ the result was phenomenal. In a few minutes, his post had higher comments than previous posts by other writers and even more shares on Facebook. Thanks for the great posts. Saved in my Pocket for future reference!

  4. Hi Henneke,

    Nice actionable post.

    Around 2003 I registered a domain, Write Like You Talk.

    Your post epitomises what that website was all about. (I got lazy, didn’t pay attention to the renew notices and then zap… it was gone).

    I taught a group of business owners & entrepreneurs how to craft and write direct mail sales letters and effective emails.

    Before commencing, there were many who gulped and winced.

    How did I put them at ease?

    I said to them if they text message, and if they send email and if they can speak… then… this’ll be a breeze for them.

    For the majority, it was exactly that.

    That’s because I showed them how to write like they speak, to write like they talk, and… how they have to be no-one else but their natural normal selves in their everyday conversations when it comes to presenting in print.

    Thanks again for your post Henneke.


  5. While a bit of casualness is nice, I think it’s easy to go too far and presume a level of comfort (almost intimacy) that isn’t yet established. I do not like it when someone presumes we’re that close. And if the content is regarding something requiring a large monetary investment, I want the content and author to be professional to establish authority and trust.

    • I think conversational and professional can go hand-in-hand. You can be conversational without using slang and interjections.

      Of course it depends on the business, the writer and the audience how casual you want to make your writing.

  6. I just want to say: thank you, thank you, thank you!
    This post was extremely helpful for me to read. I am in no way a “marketing” person, but am trying to fill those shoes while our company is growing. I just recently started writing blogs for our small company. Your helpful tips were very valuable and gave me a lot more confidence moving forward with writing material.

    • Glad to hear that, Molly. Marketers aren’t necessarily the best writers, so don’t worry about not being a marketing person. When you put yourself in the shoes of your customers and think about how you can help them, you can create the most valuable blog content. Have fun!

  7. Great post. It seems like this type of writing would be easier over the long haul. Natural is better.

    • Yes, I do think it becomes more natural over time, but initially it feels like we have to *unlearn* a lot.

  8. Happy day!

    It’s the first “Henneke article” since Copyblogger turned back on comments. 🙂

    I don’t know how often I shrug my shoulders after reading a marketing email, but I know how many times I roll my eyes. Answer: a lot!

    Love your tip for imagining your biggest fan when you write. If we all did that, it would most certainly change the way we communicated with our audience.

    I’ll be tweeting this right away. Thank you for sharing your ideas with us, Henneke. I hope you have a wonderful and blessed week, my friend. 🙂

    – @kevinjduncan

    • First I was super-excited about writing a post now comments are back. And then I got strangely nervous …

      Thank you for sharing, Kevin, and for stopping by!

  9. Like Like and Like. The biggest take away is making it about the reader. Often overlooked as a small part but probably the greatest role in success.
    Secondly making it a conversational voice is so important. After all it’s not a robot reading your text but a person peaking in your mind.
    Thanks for unknowingly correcting my mistake. Will reflect soon on my blog.

  10. Henneke – Your comment about empathy being the foundation is spot on. When I’m mindful of that everything else (eventually :)) falls into place.

    • I find that practicing empathy is a writer’s (and business person’s!) most important tool. Thank you, Jeff.

  11. Really encouraging article! For the most part, this is how I write it makes writing from my heart so much easier. Thank you for the tips, I will work on the “Two-Way” conversation and “Questions” tips even more in my writing now.

  12. I’m in love with this post!

    The part about following grammar rules especially resonated with me.

    As a content writer, it’s sometimes difficult to influence how people think of writing for online use – especially where grammar is concerned.

    So, thanks for giving me a resource that can educate my colleagues on the importance of writing conversationally.

    • Yes, I know. Some bosses or clients get really upset when you start a sentence with “And.” I tend to refer them to the Apple website where almost every paragraph contains a sentence starting with “and,” “but,” or “because.”

  13. Is there a reason my comment wasn’t posted? Perhaps because it was not in full agreement? I’m hoping this is a forum for discussion.

    • Kathy, that was your first comment on this site and it was being held in moderation. I’ve approved it now.

      We’re interested in hearing all takes on our content, as long as it’s respectful (as your comment was).

  14. And Amen!

    B2B is the worst. The very presence of a cubicle farm requires long sentences and bullet points.

    Company cash in hand, people buy all of the things. So we sell to the people. We market to the people. We WRITE TO THE PEOPLE. #tshirts? #fangyrl

    • Yes, I also get confused when people say that B2B is different. It’s still people who make purchasing decisions, right? Companies don’t make decisions. So, you write for people, not for faceless companies.

  15. What a valuable and thoughtful roundup of tips! This brings to mind another piece of advice I read somewhere (can’t recall at the moment) that frames conversational writing in the context of rhythm. Too many short sentences sound abrupt. Too many long ones sound self-important and clunky. A mix of long and short is key.

    • Yep, that’s true. Rhythm has a big influence on how we perceive content. When reading, we listen to our inner speech, and experience the rhythm of the sentences.

  16. Henneke,

    All great points! I echo Jeff Korhan’s comment on empathy. Be it marketing copy or end-user support, empathy is huge in building those bridges and drawing engagement out in a “I’m a human to” way. One of the big things I constantly have to remind myself of is long sentences. Usually I write it, let it marinate over night, and then come back and edit the heck out of it. Short, concise sentences with meaning. A lot tougher than it sounds. Thanks again!

    • You might find the Hemingway app useful. It highlights long sentences, so you know which ones to chop up. The web version of the app is free.

  17. Hi Henneke,
    i’m always on the lookout for jewels to help me improve my writing skills. Your tips are real gems! A huge thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to experiment with some of your ideas…
    Warm regards, Diane

  18. Learnt new things today. Never crossed my mind that I can actually write the way I speak to connect with my audience. I always knew its easier to capture an audience attention with questions in between when speaking. Now its time to start practising writing contents in this new light without having to worry about grammar anymore. Thank you for this great post.

    • I wouldn’t recommend ignoring grammar completely because most grammar rules help readers understand your meaning. You don’t want to make it sound as if you don’t know your grammar at all. 🙂

  19. Great post Henneke,

    We train newly qualified lawyers in the skills needed by International lawyers. Getting lawyers to write English that non–lawyer clients can understand is one of our biggest challenges
    Would you mind if I re-post this on our linked in and Facebook group pages? We will give you full accreditation, etc.

    Best wishes,

    British legal centre

  20. Hello Henneke,

    What a delight to see you here on Copyblogger. 

    I have to confess, some marketing messages do make me sick. The worst experience I had ever was when I signed up for someone’s email list and was put on a shared list (someone I didn’t give authorization to email me). 

    Writing in a conversational style is important if you want to make a real connection with your readers. 

    I love this sentence: “writing conversationally doesn’t mean you write as you talk. Instead, edit your text so it doesn’t sound like writing”. It’s an important distinction. 

    As always, your tips are invaluable. 

    A 2-way conversation is a great one. It certainly isn’t necessary to get rid of every “I” or “we”, but I sure like it when a writer is talking to me directly. When I write to my readers, I make sure to use the word “you” very often. 

    I lit up a little when I read “from the Netherlands” — just goes to show how powerful injecting a little personality is!

    Questions are powerful. I like using them throughout my articles. I never actually measured, but I dare to say it has improved interaction in terms of shares and comments. 

    Funny how writing for school is exactly opposite from business writing. You’d think they want to prepare you for the “real” world.

    Breaking a grammar rule here and there is absolutely okay. Until now I avoided starting a sentence with “And…”.

    I’m going to get rebellious and break that rule now and then ;-).

    Thank you so much for this fabulous article, Henneke. Always fun to learn from you!

    – Jasper 

    • I love writing here. Even more so now comments are back! 🙂

      And yep, often people think that writing conversationally means writing a first draft as if you’re talking. But in my experience, it doesn’t work like that. I need to edit the text to make it conversational.

      Thank you for stopping by to comment, Jasper. Good to see a fellow countryman here 🙂

  21. Thanks, Henneke.

    Passion and feelings and friendliness in writing was trained out of me for 12 years as I have a strict science background. Creativity, passion and feelings aren’t supposed to be a part of science (and that’s a good thing). But some of us come out of school and want to speak to the public and we then need to write interesting and engaging pieces.. Whew, It’s not easy!! This article has a lot of the key pointers that I’m still working on today (Even after 9 years of blogging). It’s always good to read them again… Not to mention it’s a lovely, engaging to read and everything!

    • I always think that unlearning is much harder than learning something new. Once you know what to look for, though, it becomes easier.

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Luci.

  22. Great read! It is definitely true that the shorter and personalized the content sounds, the easier it is to read. The writing education given in schools almost makes this ability more difficult. Since that is the way we were brought up to write, being able to throw that out the window is freeing and a little intimidating at times. But once you get used to it, it isn’t as bad.

    • Yeah, unlearning what we’ve learned long ago is tough. I think I have an unfair advantage as English is my second language, and I feel freer to “play” with the English language than with my native language, Dutch.

  23. Fantastic tips Henneke! I love that your post’s so short, yet includes so many concrete examples to bring the tips to life.

    I’ve shared it at work, because we’re focusing on how to communicate better.

    • You’ve discovered my secret weapon in blog writing … examples 😉

      Glad you enjoyed this, and thank you for sharing!

  24. You stressed a lot on not consulting grammar rules. How can a person write impressively without exact grammar rules. Am i right?

    • I’m not suggesting you should ignore grammar completely. On my own blog, I’ve written a few times about following grammar rules to create a smooth reading experience.

      However, certain grammar rules do not promote readability; and these are the rules that you can break.

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