Want a Conversational Read?

Session Notes squareWe see this a lot:

Read: Conversational
Announcing the biggest sale in our 35 year history! That’s right, bargains like you’ve never seen before…(and on and on.)

A lot of times, copywriters throw in the instruction “conversational” just to say “don’t let some disc jockey scream this copy.” That’s fine—we understand. But it does cause some head-scratching, and could jeopardize the casting. (Maybe what they meant was low-key, natural, quietly?)

Nobody wants to cast announcers anymore because announcing is fake. It’s not believable. It inserts a wall of formality between the copy and the listener. Thus, the need for “conversational” reads. But what does that mean?

Conversational reads should sound natural—like someone just dropped a microphone into a room, and the person speaking is unaware of it. But if the read is going to be truly conversational, the copy must be written conversationally.

A good exercise in writing conversational copy is to listen to how the people around you talk. Quietly turn on your phone’s recorder in a meeting, then transcribe what you’ve recorded. You’ll find that people don’t speak in sentences that would make your old English teacher happy. They pause….and think. They streeettch words while looking for the right word to say. They…they stutter & repeat…um, repeat words.

Here are a few tips we’ve learned for writing copy that sounds conversational:

  • Break sentences up into short, simple chunks. Like this. No, really.
  • Use contractions wherever possible.
  • Give up perfect sentence construction. Not gonna happen.
  • Write like you talk, not like you write.
  • Exploit conversational tics (i.e. beginning sentences with So… Now… I guess… Ya Know… Whatever…)
  • Keep the same Voice throughout (don’t switch from informal to formal construction then back again.)
  • Go over the copy points, then record yourself telling someone about it—without notes. Transcribe. Expand.

It’s always a good idea to read your copy out loud. Not just moving your lips, but out loud—to a co-worker. If the copy doesn’t feel awkward when reading it to another human, buy yourself a drink…you’ve done it. If it does feel awkward, go back and edit.

If you’re working alone, start out by saying “I was talking to my friend Pat the other day, and I said ‘Pat (insert copy)’”. Does it feel right? Does it feel honest?

Of course, in the Voiceover world, there are directorial tricks to make a formal piece of copy sound conversational. Your Soundscapes producer knows how to direct the talent into the conversational read you want—even through the mandatories and bullet points.

You always end up with better work if the copy you want read conversationally…is written, well, conversationally.

—Brent Walker