I stumbled into the world of nonprofit copywriting by happy accident. I needed a job, any job, and a "Nonprofit Marketing Firm" in my town was hiring a receptionist. My six-month stint answering phones at an answering service gave me a leg up in any receptionist job, so I applied. In the course of the interview with the owner of the company, I mentioned my love of writing. They hired me as a copy editor, and a career was born.
A few weeks later, I had my first solo writing assignment. I was terrified as I handed my boss the piece. She had a reputation for wielding her red pen with wild abandon, and I was so, so green.
Making your copywriting conversational is one of the biggest challenges for every copywriter. We all talk to people every day, so why is writing like we talk so darn challenging?
Here are three sure-fire ways to make your copywriting sound conversational:
1. You, you, you.
When you're having a conversation with someone, there's none of that stilted "When one brushes one's teeth, it is critical to reach every tooth" business.
Contrast that with something more like this:
You and I both know how to brush teeth. You make sure you get every tooth.
Which one sounds friendlier, more personal? And which one sounds like an expert handing down dictums from on high? Now, you're probably not writing a whole lot about tooth brushing, but the principle applies regardless.
And if this makes it easier to use "you", remember, even if your letter or ad will be viewed by thousands of people, you should aim to write as though you're talking to ONE person.
2. Read Your Copy Aloud
This is probably the most re-hashed and basic advice that any writer receives. And you'd be shocked at how few writers heed it. (Confession: I have been known to skip this step myself...and I always regret it later!)
Even when you think you're doing a bang-up job writing readable, conversational copy, I guarantee that you will have a few passages that sound awkward when read aloud.
So lock yourself away in an office and read it like it's a bedtime story you're reading to a 6-year-old. Any sentence or phrase or word that trips you up -- go back and fix it. You'll have more conversational copy in moments.
3. Axe the Jargon
Please tell me you're going on jargon patrol each and every time you write copy! If not, you need to add this step to your revision process right now. I don't care if you use terms like capacity-building, participatory action, leveraging stakeholders or value proposition in your conversations at work (though your colleagues might), but please don't use them in your copywriting.
Donors want to hear what you're accomplishing with their donations. They've invested their time, attention, resources and passion with you, and they want to know you're worth it. They can't know that if you're holding them at arm's length with insider language they don't understand.
Use one of your revision passes to replace any words or phrases that would be more at home in a conference room with those that would be heard in a donor's dining room.
I used those three steps to revise that first piece of copy. My boss still tore it up with her red pen, but on the second time around, she read the whole thing.