When it comes to talking, we don’t have to think too much.
Words and phrases move effortlessly from our brains to our mouths.
Heck, sometimes we don’t even use our brains at all — the words pop out faster than booties pop at a Beyoncé
But when it’s time to sit down and write? Total crickets.
Something just…happens when we stare at a blinking cursor.
That incessant blink!-blink!-blink pressures to say something brilliant, witty, powerful, brilliant, and meaningful. Also: witty.
We forget what writing actually is — a way to communicate with another person — and think it needs to produce this glorious, glittering stroke of genius that’s practically perfect in every way.
But, honestly? Perfect copy is overrated.
And we can choose to move beyond perfection in the name of something even better (read: more effective) when it comes to website, blog, and email copy.
Friend, it’s time to embrace conversational copy.
This is the type of copy where the words come alive because you can totally hear them in your head.
It might not be grammatically correct. Punctuation may be thrown into random places for effect. Because it’s not. freaking. perfect.
…which does NOT equal careless.
Rather, it involves loosening the reigns just a tidge and allowing your inner voice to come out through your fingertips.
Here are 9 ways to get started:
1. Get familiar with how you sound
Before you can write conversational copy that sounds like you, you need to know how you sound.
I start every client project with a Copy Cuppa Call, a one-hour Skype sesh where we brew a cuppa and just chat — about work, about life, about their goals, about whatevs.
The goal is for me to get a sense of how my client naturally communicates — the words they use, what their phrasing is like, how they make a point, how they express emotion, all that jazz.
…Aka the stuff I need before I can write a lick of copy in their voice.
To do this yourself, record your next client meeting or catch-up call with a friend. (Just make sure to get their permission first.)
Play the recording back or submit it to a transcription service like rev.com.
Take notes on the words and phrases that feel utterly YOU. (Spoiler alert: we’ll dive more into this in Tip #5.)
Come up with some adjectives that describe how your voice feels. Is it funny? Helpful? Dry? Attentive? Direct? Flowery? Something else?
Get clear on how your naturally sound and use that to guide you as you start writing.
2. Picture one person
It’s intimidating to think about hundreds, or thousands, or millions (dare to dream, dude!) of people reading your work online.
So let’s not do that.
Instead, imagine you’re talking with just ONE person. Preferably a best friend and double preferably over a glass of red wine.
Think about how you would speak to that buddy of yours.
What words would you use?
What kind of tone would you have?
What examples or anecdotes would you throw in to clarify your points?
When you sit down to create your next piece of copy, write like that, instead of how you’d speak to a faceless crowd. It will make your copy more authentic AND more personal, which is the backbone of good conversational copy.
3. Talk it out
When you’re really stuck getting your words onto paper? Skip the paper altogether.
Bust out your smartphone and record a voice note instead.
Talk through what you want to write about as if you’re being interviewed. (By your best friend. Over a glass of red.)
Speaking of which…
4. Write a garbage draft
Writing the first draft is THE hardest part of the whole writing process. So make that step a heck of a lot easier by giving yourself permission to stink.
The magic comes in the editing stages, anyway. So your first draft can be total garbage as long as it’s something.
Whenever I’m stuck on a piece, I’ll set a time limit and get as many words as humanly possible on the page.
I love using the the Hemingway mode of Draft (a free writing tool) for this. This mode doesn’t allow you to delete anything you’ve written — you can only keep moving forward.
It’s a huge help to spill those words on the paper and keep moving!
I bet you’ll be surprised at how decent even your garbage-iest draft is when you come back to it with fresh eyes the next day.
And you’ll def be surprised at how much easier writing is when your goal is to just write something, rather than something groundbreaking.
5. Keep a word bank
One technique I always use when I write for clients is to create a word bank.
I’ll note the words or phrases that my client uses in our conversations and then pepper them throughout the copy when I edit to dial up their voice.
Do the same for yourself! Have a place where you store all the words you love to use and incorporate them into your copy in the editing stages.
I love using Asana to store my word banks. It’s fun to use, it keeps things organized, and I can access it from anywhere.
I walk through how to create a word bank in Asana on Day 2 of my (free) Blog Planning Made Easy Challenge. Click below if you want to learn how to do it…
6. Edit like a champ
Stephen King said “To write is human, to edit is divine.”
You’ve spilled your thoughts onto paper and mapped out your basic structure in the first draft.
Now it’s time to edit the pants off your piece.
– Separate long sentences.
– Swap out complicated words for simple ones.
– Rearrange paragraphs for a more powerful flow.
– Add in words from your word bank.
– Change “do not”s to “don’t”s, “cannot”s to “can’t”s, “it is”s to “it’s”…you get the idea. (This adds instant conversational mojo to your copy!)
– Trim, trim, and trim some more.
You want every sentence to serve a purpose. Keep reworking your copy until you’re thrilled with the end result. (It may take a few rounds of editing to get it just right. Don’t worry — this is part of the process!)
I always use Google Docs for my writing projects because it saves every version of your piece. I like knowing I can always go back to an earlier version if I get too cut-happy.
One caveat: Give yourself (at least) 24 hours after writing your garbage draft to edit it.
You need what we writer types call “fresh eyes” before the editing magic can unfold. I don’t understand why it makes such a difference…but it makes such a difference.
7. Give your copy that extra liiiiittle somethin’ somethin’
When you speak, you use gestures, props, facial expressions, eye rolls, and different voices to spice up your dialogue.
Writing? Not so much.
But you CAN use punctuation and style to make your words jump off the page.
Bold, italics, ALL CAPS, parenthesis (for a sidenote)…ellipses…and that fancy emdash — a long dash to indicate a pause or an aside — add tons of personality to your writing.
These visual cues help readers hear what you’re saying, instead of just reading it. And that’s the name of the game when it comes to copy that sounds like you do.
8. Ignore the grammar police
When it comes to conversational writing, even famous authors agree that grammar rules don’t always apply.
When in doubt about grammatical correctness, write it how you’d say it out loud.
Saying “in which city does he/she live?” might be technically correct, but who would actually say it like that? “What city do they live in?” is the more natural sounding choice.
9. Read it out loud
When you’re all done writing, read your piece out loud. (Even if you feel like a weirdo sitting alone in your bedroom.)
Are there any parts that make you cringe when you read them? Any phrases that feel totally unnatural coming out of your mouth?
If so, scrap ‘em. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, they’re obviously not phrases that are true to your voice.
Go back and rewrite those sections so they feel right when you speak them.
One final note on this whole conversational copy thing?
Sometimes in an attempt to bring more flavor into your writing, you can add the wrong personality into your copy.
If you have a sarcastic, wry sense of humor and your copy is full of “super-adorbs“s and “awesomesauce“s, it’s going to come off as inauthentic.
So always stay true to who you are and don’t try to fit someone else’s conversational style to your own.
We’ve all got our unique voices, so make sure you’re using yours. Always.
join the convo
Because I’m a copy geek, I’m curious…
Who’s your conversational copy crush?
Whose writing can you hear in your head more than anyone’s?
Let me know in the comments so I can check ‘em out!