What does “conversational” mean when we talk about writing?
Essentially, it’s writing as you would speak; keeping to plain and simple language.
Some clients are put off by the idea of conversational copy, assuming that it seems unprofessional. But we have conversations in business all the time.
That’s how we do business. So you can still have conversational copy that is professional and informative, as well as warm and welcoming.
And that’s where tone of voice comes in.
“Conversational” isn’t a tone of voice – it’s a style of writing. Like “formal” or “corporate” or “technical”.
Tone of voice is the way you use the words to have the conversation. For example, I have lots of conversations with different people every day. I speak with my husband, my kids, my clients, my family, the barista in the coffee shop, my accountant, my friends. You get the idea. And the tone of voice I use in each of those conversations might be quite different. So you can use a specific tone of voice in your writing, too.
Often clients will want a “conversational” style but aren’t able to nail down their preferred tone of voice. This kind of boils down to your brand’s personality, just in the same way that your personality or mood often dictates your own tone of voice when speaking.
Is your brand personality formal and functional, cheeky and chirpy, or slick and sophisticated? Have a good think, if you haven’t already, about your brand’s personality and the tone of voice you want to use within your copy; whether you’re writing it yourself or preparing a brief for your copywriter.
So if “conversational” is your preferred style, you can still strike a professional tone. As a former lawyer, I spent a lot of my early career writing in an ultra-formal style. I assumed that, to be professional, you had to use big, complicated words and write in a serious tone.
The best firm I worked at had a different approach. It was a mid-sized London firm with a strong reputation for giving grown-up legal advice to high-profile clients. But the firm had a brilliantly simple way of communicating this really important advice in ways that clients found so easy to understand.
And that was largely down to the conversational style in which we communicated with clients. Even the serious advice was delivered in ways that everyone could easily understand. No unnecessarily big words or endless sentences. It was still professional, but the ethos was to keep writing succinct and in plain language. My favourite mentor always said to me “if you can’t explain it in simple terms, you probably don’t understand it properly yourself.” And she was so right.
I also acted for a lot of overseas clients whose first language wasn’t English. And that made it even more important to write conversationally, so that they could easily translate the advice I was giving. There is a balance to strike though when writing for an overseas audience – idioms, puns and colloquialisms don’t translate directly into other languages and might just confuse people.
So don’t be afraid to use a conversational style if that’s how you want to write. Your customers and clients will thank you for keeping things simple and easy to understand, even if you’re providing a professional or high-end service. It doesn’t detract from the power of your message; in fact, it will have quite the opposite effect.
And the most important thing to remember – use your own voice. It’s the one surefire way to keep it authentic.
First published on toribeat.co.uk