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How to Sound Conversational

Learn to write blog posts and deliver speeches and podcasts that make you sound like you are having a conversation with your audience.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
June 16, 2011
Episode #065

Page 1 of 2

What do ESL learners, speakers, bloggers, and podcasters have in common?

Give up? It’s the need to speak conversationally.

How to Sound Conversational

English language learners often focus on writing and have very little conversational practice. Speakers, especially technical speakers, memorize and deliver sentences they’ve written out ahead of time, which generally results in a less-than-conversational sounding presentation. And podcasters, like me, may be required to read a script, even though they certainly don’t want to sound like they’re reading.

I’m sure you know from your own experience that it’s boring, difficult--even annoying--to listen to dry, stuffy language. Conversational language, on the other hand, is powerful and engaging. In fact, research suggests that when your brain thinks it’s part of a conversation, it has to pay attention—in essence to hold up it’s end of the conversation.

For so many reasons, it’s critical to how to speak conversationally to engage your audience. In today’s episode I’ll explain how to sound conversational.

We Speak Differently From How We Write

It turns out, we write very differently from how we speak. Just this week, I was talking to Suzanne Ryan. She’s an editor who prepares transcripts of golf lessons and tournament coverage for The Golf Channel. She said, “The hardest thing for me is that I can’t edit the words, no matter how they’re said. It’s very hard to leave the grammar errors alone. It’s also difficult to correctly punctuate. Conversational language often has incorrect grammar, short phrases, and lots of slang.”

So, is the secret to sounding conversational to make mistakes? To make mistakes on purpose? Well, sort of. Certainly, you’ll need to ignore the advice you got from your high school writing teaching: that you should never “write the way you talk.”

For blogs, podcasts, and speeches it’s critical to write the way you talk. I talk aloud while I’m writing this podcast (I feel like a weirdo sometimes, but it helps). I like to imagine a back-and-forth exchange--as if I were in a real conversation. In fact, I keep a picture of my friend, Linda, taped near my computer. I like to talk to her, instead of some abstract notion of a “listener.”

Use Short Sentences and Words

When we talk, we use short sentences. But when we write, we typically use longer sentences. Much longer sentences. Compound sentences. Complex sentences.

Listen to this written sentence:

Mignon Fogerty, who is the host of the Grammar Girl podcast, recently published a new grammar book called The Grammar Devotional.

Now listen to the same content but in conversational form.

Mignon Fogerty is the host of Grammar Girl.   She put out a new book, The Grammar Devotional.

The second one sounds better because of the short sentences and the shorter words. (I used “put out” instead of “recently published.”) In conversation, we tend to use shorter words. Because, well, we’re more familiar with one and two syllable words. Finally, consider using incomplete sentences. Like I just did. It creates a conversational feel. 

If you think about it, what do science fiction writers do when they want to hint that a character is an alien or robot? They don’t use contractions.

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