When it comes to writing engaging content for your employee newsletter (or any channel really), it’s not what you’re writing about, it’s how you’re writing about it.
In our webinar, How to Write Your Employee Newsletter Like You Give A Damn, and Why You Should, we showed you how to tweak your writing style to be a little more personal, in order to create the most effective, most memorable messaging.
But a very important question came up.
A lot of communicators said writing in a more personal and relatable tone wouldn’t work in their organization.
They were worried it would come off as unprofessional.
And that’s the very last thing we want.
So I’m going to show you how to write your employee newsletter content in a way that draws your reader in and humanizes your content, while also keeping your writing professional.
It’s called conversational writing.
What is conversational writing?
Conversational writing is when you write in the same voice that you use to have conversations.
Generally, when we are speaking in conversations, we are more relaxed and more casual. And when we write this way, the content tends to be easier to read and more enjoyable.
Conversational writing allows you to relate to the reader on a personal level.
It’s a shift in voice that takes content that would normally be purely informational, and makes it more motivational or inspiring.
So, instead of just spouting off facts and figures, you are using your unique voice to explain and contextualize information, and help people understand why it matters.
Conversational writing also helps take some of the cognitive work out of the hands of your reader. It makes your content more interesting, relatable, and digestible because it is in a style that naturally clicks for our brains.
This is because our brains are wired to extract information from conversations. We know, love, and seek out conversational content constantly.
Is conversational writing unprofessional?
I know what you’re thinking.
But a conversational tone would never fly at MY organization.
Leadership would never let me write so casually.
Let’s bust this myth once and for all: conversational writing is not unprofessional.
Think about it.
Have you ever had a professional conversation?
Of course you have.
Think for a moment about how you conduct professional conversations at work.
Though they are professional, the voice and style you use in those conversations are more personal, grounded, and empathetic.
When when we apply this conversational style to your writing, it should look like you’re writing to a colleague, rather than writing for an organization.
Conversational writing is memorable and effective because it is built around contextualizing important information. Just like in a normal conversation, the facts and figures you’re providing are only valuable to the other person in the conversation insofar as they have context for the information and how it relates to their life.
But the balance between conversational and too casual can still be tricky. So I’ve put together a list of some simple tips for writing more conversationally, while still sounding professional.
How to write your employee newsletter conversationally (and still sound professional)
1. Write for one person
Even if you are communicating to 10,000 employees, just write for one.
You can do this by stylistically shifting your written voice or by simply using the pronoun ‘you’. This style of writing triggers our sense of identity, so we start looking for ourselves in the content, and naturally find it more interesting. It also feels more personal.
Say this: Coming in 2019, there will be some changes to your health benefits account. We’ve secured HealthCorp to take over our employee benefits plan, so we can provide you with even better health services. For more details, you can speak to your manager or contact HR.
2. Write in the first person (us, we, me, I)
Writing in the first person gives your reader a sense that they are engaging with a person, not a robot. It also personalizes, softens, and warms your content. These words pull us in and make us feel more involved and connected.
Instead of this: Acme Corp is proud to announce the opening of five new branches across the US.
Say this: The Acme Corp family is growing, and we are proud to announce that five new branches will be joining us in the coming year.
3. Banish jargon and big words
A good way to alienate your readers is to confuse them, or make them feel stupid for not knowing the words you’re using.
There is a ton of jargony business language out there and each organization will also have its own unique lexicon of jargon that people throw around.
So don’t do it.
Asana also has some helpful examples:
4. Use contractions
Most words that can be contracted, should be. It will make your writing more readable and relatable.
5. Shorten your sentences
Have you ever started reading and by the end of the sentence you forget what the sentence was even about?
In corporate newsletter writing, it happens a lot.
The longer your sentence, generally speaking, the harder it is to read. Each sentence should contain just one thought.
As writers, we tend to get caught up in meandering and flowery sentences that show off our writing skills.
Fight against this impulse.
Often, your meaning will get lost, which means your content will be hard to understand and time consuming to read.
6. Make it easy to read
Your newsletter design is a big factor in the readability of your writing. Because the last thing people want to read is a dense block of text.
If your sentences are packed together in a dense paragraph, people’s eyes will skip right over them. It's just how people read things. (Blame social media.)
Give your sentences room to breathe. Heck, give them their own darn paragraph, if you must.
Think whitespace, whitespace, whitespace.
7. Break the rules
I know, I’ve already asked you to break a lot of rules.
And if you’re a grammar nerd, you’re probably already thinking, no way, not in a million years am I doing any of this. Well, you and your high school English teacher are going to hate what I have to say next.
Broken sentences are okay.
Starting a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’, and ‘or’, is okay.
One sentence paragraphs are hot, fight me about it.
Why am I suggesting you toss out all this deeply entrenched grammar wisdom you’ve learned?
Because real people rarely speak in grammatically correct sentences.
If you’ve ever had to write or edit a transcript, you know that even the most educated of us do not speak with perfect grammar.
And the way we read has radically changed. We skim, skip, and jump around. Breaking some of the more boring grammar rules is a fun way to spice up our writing and make it more interesting and relatable.
So as long as the meaning of your sentence remains clear, go ahead and break the rules.
8. Write in the active tense
In the active voice, the subject of a sentence performs an action.
In the passive voice, the subject receives an action.
Active: The Bananatag Team threw a fantastic party.
Passive: A fantastic party was thrown by The Bananatag Team
Which one sounds more conversational?
Communicators often blunder over the passive tense. When written, it sounds more authoritative and professional.
But when read, it’s cumbersome, cold, and kinda boring.
Hint: To find and weed out passive voice sentences look for the word “by”.
9. Remove non-essential information
Every word, and by extension, every sentence, needs a purpose.
If the word does nothing, don’t include it.
If the sentence doesn’t give the reader any real information, don’t include it.
Blabbering on to your audience is a good way to lose their attention. If they don’t feel like they are getting value or new information from each sentence, they are likely to skip over them.
And if they start skipping one or two sentences, next they’ll be skipping whole paragraphs.
That’s pretty dangerous if you’re actually trying to convey important information in your writing, which I assume you are.
10. Don’t use cliches
If you start a sentence with, I know it’s cliche but….
Stop. Delete. Try again.
Not only are cliches tired and lazy, but they are also unclear. If you are communicating with a workforce that is not from your particular region of the world, it’s likely these phrases will be completely lost on them and only increase confusion.
If you can stomach it, here are some examples:
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Caught between a rock and a hard place.
Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
That was painful… let’s move on.
11. Ask questions
Whether they are rhetorical or serious, questions help put the reader in a receiving and thoughtful mindset. When we see a question mark, we are inclined to keep reading and see what comes next.
Questions can also help you structure your writing so that when you introduce a piece of information, you can answer the audience’s concerns right away.
Curious about that noise on the second floor?
What does it mean to be a member?
Have you used your benefits yet?
How does this affect you?
This makes your writing more relatable and has a more helpful tone.
If you don’t care who you are writing for, or what you are writing about, you have no right to demand that readers care!
If it’s impossible to care about the content (because hey, we don’t always have control over what leadership wants communicated) use questions to give the the reader some context. (See previous tip.)
Sure, lots of corporate content is super boring. But there’s a reason it needs to be communicated. Find that reason and show your readers why they should care.
13. Focus on the reader
It’s hard to have a good conversation if neither person wants to talk about the subject at hand. The same principle applies to conversational writing.
You’re writing for employees, so focus your messaging around what they want to hear. Skip over the painful details that don’t matter to them.
Be sure to ask yourself, will my reader care about this? If they won’t, find a way to reframe the information so your audience can see how it is relevant to them or don’t include it at all.
14. Don’t be self-important
It’s easy to go overboard on formalities in the name of professionalism.
In corporate communications, it’s especially easy to make something sound more crucial or important than it is.
But you can’t inspire people to care about something by using bigger words or long introductions.
Be real with people and be concise. When you ramble on in corporate speak, you aren’t respecting your reader’s time.
Instead of this: As a component of the effort, we will orchestrate to focus the congruous business model approach for our sales markets while striving to offer our products in all markets with a vigorous fixation on maintaining business continuity.
Try this: To adjust to these changes, we will be focusing on evaluating our business models in each of these markets.
15. Be realistic
Look at your sentences and word choice. If what you’ve written would never come out of someone’s mouth in a conversation (it’s too verbose or the tone is too formal), try again.
16. Study conversations
If you want to be the best at conversational writing, you’re going to have to familiarize yourself with the nature of conversations.
So put on your anthropologist hat and start observing. Notice how people around you are speaking. What kind of details concern them? What are the qualities that make one conversation good and satisfying, and another bad or boring?
Next, get some practice. If you have a particularly challenging topic you have to write about, like an IT update for example, talk about it with someone. Try and explain to them what it is and why it is important.
If you can’t do that, have someone explain the topic to you. Notice how their tone and word choice differs from the language used in the official memo or information source.
Starting now, whenever you’re having a professional conversation at work, note how information is contextualized, the words that are used, and the tone.
As you familiarize yourself with the nature of conversations, you will find it easier to bring this style and tone to your writing.
17. Read more conversational writing
Reading conversational writing is a great way to familiarize yourself with the style and become more comfortable.
Browse through people’s personal blogs or search platforms like Medium to find writers that nail that professional yet conversational tone.
Here are some great conversational writers:
18. Edit out loud
Read all of your writing out loud. If it sounds weird or clunky coming out of your mouth, it’s going to sound weird in your reader’s head.
19. Be human
The easiest way to make your writing more conversational, while still remaining professional, is to humanize your writing.
This means talking about more than just facts and figures. Talk about thoughts and feelings. Remind your reader that there is another person on the other side of the screen. And remind them that you know they are a human too.
Robot: PTO Policy Changes are currently under review.
Human: We are excited to announce there are some major PTO Policy Changes coming that will help our employees with a better work-life balance.
Should all my writing be conversational?
Conversational writing is more engaging, and frankly, more fun to write. This may tempt you to make all of your internal comms content more conversational.
But keep in mind that a conversational tone may not translate on all platforms, nor to all audiences. In reports, alerts, policies, and some executive communications, it may be best to keep your writing purely informational or formal.
And in the end, no matter how professional, a conversational tone may not be appropriate for your organization or audience. It’s important for you to use your judgment and be open to feedback.
The power of conversational writing
Once you start writing in a more conversational tone, you'll get a lot of feedback.
Generally, this feedback will be positive. Because conversational writing is more interesting and easy to read, employees will relate to it and take it more personally. And when this happens, you'll see your employee newsletter engagement soar.
You may even hear from employees that the newsletter helps them feel more included or excited about their work.
This is where the real power of conversational writing lies.
Conversational writing humanizes your organization.
Creating a more human experience for your employees will help spark more conversations and facilitate more open communication.
People will feel more comfortable and feel better about opening up, giving feedback, and sharing their stories and experiences. And this level of comfort and connection can help employees feel more invested in their work, creating a more engaged workforce.
Conversational writing is a simple yet powerful tool that can help you create a better employee experience, and in turn help your organization meet engagement goals and business objectives.
Have you tried a conversational tone in your employee content? Why or why not? Has using a more conversational tone helped your internal communications? Tweet us @Bananatag and share your thoughts.