WRITING: How to Write Like You Talk
The thought of writing like you talk and talking like you write is scary. Imagine the gibberish that would appear on your computer screen if you typed in word-for-word what you said at yesterday’s staff meeting? And can you see the bored look on the faces of your colleagues if you talked the way you wrote in your last email to them?
And why would you even want to talk and write the same, or at least close to it? They’re two different forms of communication, right?
I don’t think so.
Honing your writing to match your talk and upgrading the quality of your conversations might well result in a more integrated, authentic, comfortable, engaging, and downright impressive you. Your writing would seem spontaneous not contrived, and your conversation would sound more purposeful, not trite. Imagine what that would do for your self-esteem and career.
How can you write like you talk?
1. Maintain eye contact.
Conversations and writing are both dialogues that start with the interests of the other party, drift into what you want to say, and then recheck periodically to make sure the other person’s eyes are still on you.
Eye contact is simple – rather, should be simple – in conversations because the other person is right there in front of you. However, writing requires strenuous focus to visualize the reader listening across the desk from you.
If you can talk with that person as you write, however, what you create could turn out quite intriguing. Here are several ways to maintain eye contact with the reader.
- Write your document as a letter.
- Think attention span.
Even some accomplished writers use this technique. At the top of your document, write “Dear” and the name of one recipient whom you know well. If you have a photo of him or her in your organization’s digital library, bring it up on your screen. (You may want to close your door to avoid strange looks from colleagues.)
Now, write your report, or email, stopping regularly to look at the photo or thinking about the person to whom you are writing. Do this exercise for your next five documents, and you may be able to begin writing without props.
When eyes glaze over or look away in a conversation while you’re talking, you probably have lost his or her attention. Likewise, keeping eye atttention on text against a plain background is even more tedious and straining.
To keep the reader’s attention, think format and humility. Formatting means short paragraphs, bulleted lists, drop caps, italics, and whatever else it takes to keep the reader’s eyes moving through the page. Humility comes in by forgetting about what you think a writer should do: that is, write big words in big paragraphs.
2. Change your inflection.
Talk in a monotone during a conversation and your listener will certainly drop out. Attention requires changes in tone, volume, emphasis, and pace — in other words, inflection. The same is true for holding a reader’s attention, whether the document be an email, report, blog post, or journal entry. To create inflection in your writing, you might:
- drop a short, staccato-like sentence in the middle of a long paragraph.
- use not only lots of action verbs but choose edgy ones that come with sound effects, like vex, pimp, and eradicate.
- insert a surprise sentence that might be somewhat confessional or reflective, such as: “Maybe what I just said was overstated, but, hold on, maybe not.”
3. Move your hands.
In dialogue, our hands say what our words cannot and also add drama to our comments. Likewise, in writing, we can create hand-equivalent visuals.
Assume that you are asked to write an assessment report of a meeting with prospective buyers of your company. You could be analytical and dull or conversational and interesting by creating mental images, such as:
- Inserting a simple graphic. A hand-drawn diagram of nuclear energy might better reflect your view that the acquisition could create synergies and energies but had the potential to be explosive.
- Trying out similes and metaphors. For example, “Our company is like a family, dysfunctional at time, but still willing to stick together through troubles. What happens if we adopt new family members?”
- Telling a highly visual — and short — story. For instance, you might say, “Being in that meeting with all those lawyers and listening to the smooth-talking CEO reminded me of sitting cross-legged at sunset on the porch of my Uncle Jim’s dilapidated farmhouse listening to his biting jokes as the mosquitoes feasted on us.”
One final recommendation: Read Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” and then listen to him read it on CD. He writes like he talks and talks like he writes.
Photo credit: psmclaug