In business writing, web writing, or any kind of communication for that matter, a conversational tone of voice is critical to engaging your audience.
White paper, business letter, fact sheet? It doesn’t matter. In virtually every form of written communication, there should be an element of the conversational.
A Conversational Tone of Voice – No Matter How Heavy the Subject Matter
That’s not to say that every kind of writing should have the same conversational tone. Of course not. A business white paper must have a more formal and authoritative tone than the back of a cereal box.
The point though is that no matter what the piece, if you can establish an individual voice that establishes a rapport with your specific audience, you’ve created a strong piece of writing. That goes for business writing, theological arguments, economic theory, political manifestos, you name it.
Let’s look at three different excerpts from different genres, each dealing with a serious subject matter in its own way. As we look at each of these passages, notice the conversational flavor, which makes the language engaging.
The Tone of Voice of the Most Famous Atheist Alive? Conversational
Excerpt 1:In the following passage, Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist with the nickname, “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” invites us to follow the logic of his analogy. It’s an analogy that compares those who refect evolutionary theory to a fictional body of people who absurdly deny the existence of the Roman Empire.
Imagine that you are a teacher of Roman history and the Latin language, anxious to impart your enthusiasm for the ancient world… Yet you find your precious time continually preyed upon, and your class’s attention distracted, by a baying pack of ignoramuses (as a Latin scholar you would know better than to say ignorami) who, with strong political and especially financial support, scurry about tirelessly attempting to persuade your unfortunate pupils that the Romans never existed. There never was a Roman Empire.
The subject matter is nothing less important than the origin of man, but Dawkins establishes a conversational rapport by addressing us directly in a familiar way to make his rather passionate point.
The Tone of Voice of a Nobel-Prize Winning Economist? Conversational
Excerpt 2: In this excerpt from a New York Times article, the late Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, mocks what he sees as misguided capitalists.
When I hear businessmen speak eloquently about the ‘social responsibilities of business in a free-enterprise system,’ I am reminded of the wonderful line about the Frenchman who discovered at the age of 70 that he had been speaking prose all his life. The businessmen believe that they are defending free enterprise when they declaim that business is not concerned ‘merely’ with profit but also with promoting desirable ‘social’ ends… In fact they are — or would be if they or anyone else took them seriously–preaching pure and unadulterated socialism.
What makes this piece interesting is the personal engagement of the author. Like Dawkins, Friedman feels passionately about his subject matter. He doesn’t try to hide behind passive, overly formal language, and as a result you can hear the voice of an individual speaking to you. To me it sounds like the voice of a crabby old man, but then, that’s exactly what grabs my interest.
The Tone of Voice of USA’s Founding Fathers? Conversational
Excerpt 3: Did the US founding fathers have rhythm? You better believe it, baby.This final passage shows that even a document as formal and weighty as the United States Declaration of Independence can gain an element of the conversational that brings it to life.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
It is especially the unusual starting of the sentences with the word “that” and their incremental repetition which give the text its impact. This isn’t conversational in the sense of a dialog, but rather has the poetic, oratorical quality of a powerful speech. And it does make you want to be part of the moment and interact with the speaker.
Business Writing, Like Other Communication, Should Open the Doors of Dialogue
Whether your composing a business communication, an essay or a blog entry, the key to striking a chord with your audience is to engage them in conversation. It’s a one-way conversation, true, but your personal attitude invites them to imagine that you’re talking directly to them. And that’s engaging.
How Web Communication Is Influencing People’s Expectations
Content providers know that the growing social aspect to the web is having an influence on people’s expectations. With the ubiquitous presence of things like forums, comment sections and user reviews and ratings all over the Internet, people have begun to expect more two-way conversation in all communications. So, while a conversational tone of voice is nothing new, it’s perhaps more important now than ever.
Strike a Conversational Tone of Voice, and You’ll be in Good Company
A prominent biologist, a Nobel-prize winning economist and the founding fathers of the United States all fashion an element of the conversational in serious subject matter. So when you’re striving to inject a little personality into your next formal business writing, remember that you’re in good company.