I’d like to introduce you to someone.
That’s my alter ego, Esteban. He might stick his nose in again a bit farther down. But that’s what humans do, right?
Your audience is (most probably) made up of humans. But sometimes it’s all too easy to slip into robo-speak.
Imagine you meet a friend for a drink. She tells you there’s a job opening at her startup. You ask for more info, then she launches into a 20-minute monologue that includes a summary of the responsibilities, desirable attributes, and org structure. She uses phrases like:
But all you really wanted to know was whether it was fun to work there.
You’d probably think twice about how much value you get from this friendship. Yet all too often what we publish online sounds a lot like that. One-way, jargon-stuffed, and irrelevant.
Ready to master the art of online interactions?
Here’s some simple tips to help you create more personal experiences—and more trust between you and your audience.
1. Make a good first impression
Erika Hall, author of Conversational Design, says that people start conversations with a bunch of questions in mind.
Who are you?
What can you do for me?
Why should I care?
How should I feel about you?
Why should I trust you?
What do you want me to do next?
To reassure people, answer some of these questions from the get-go. Like Esteban did in the conversation above, where he immediately:
Says hello. Obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many online conversations don’t start with a greeting.
Shares his name and location. It immediately feels more personal.
Shares what he can do for you. Important, because it frames the conversation and helps you decide if it’s relevant or not.
Asks for information. “Turn taking” is important in conversation—we like to know we’re being listened to.
Provides a hint. This makes it clear what sort of reply is expected (“Type your answer here…”).
Will you get the first bit of info you ask for? It all hangs on that first impression. Give something up before you ask for something in return.
2. Say my name, say my name
Ever repeated someone’s name to help you remember it? Well, turns out people like hearing their name too. It makes them feel special—and more likely to agree with you.
“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Creating a survey? Ask for their name early on, then use it again when you ask a question later. Your form will feel like it’s got a short-term memory. Use it sparingly, though. Otherwise you’ll sound like you’re trying to Jedi mind trick someone.
3. Ask questions
4. Curb your narcissism
As humans, we think about ourselves. A lot. Right now, I’m thinking about rewarding myself with lunch.
But good conversations involve good listeners. So put your needs aside and focus on theirs.
Ask yourself this: What’s the benefit for your audience? Why should they invest time answering your questions? Get the benefit in there early.
Let’s say Esteban wants to provide more information about his line of travel toasters…
Remember: their needs, not yours.
5. Speak as one, to one
A one-to-one conversation feels more intimate. Use “I” and other pronouns like “you” and “your.” You know, just like you do in a real conversation.
“We” makes it sound like your entire company’s gathered around, waiting for the other person to reply. Unless you want to give them stage fright, keep it 1:1 and add that sense of intimacy.
6. Say it out loud
Your colleagues are going to love this. Read what you’ve written aloud. Often. And really loudly.
Listen to yourself. Does it sound like something you’d say to a human? If not, change it.
Another tip: Put it in a drawer before you hit publish. Give yourself the space to think about what you wrote, and the opportunity to revisit your first attempt. Read it back in the context of the conversation, as if you were on the other end of it. Repeat.
“The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising.”
If you’re like me, you’ll sometimes come back and feel like your initial draft was written by a drunk zombie.
7. Cooperate towards a goal
In everyday conversations, speakers and listeners work together to arrive at a mutually satisfying outcome. To understand that goal, provide some options for the other person and go from there.
Looks like Esteban wants to butt in again.
8. Avoid jargon
Yes, you call it “onboarding” in your company. But most people don’t know what you’re talking about.
Instead of: How did you find the onboarding?
Try: Did you get the help you needed to start using the product?
Now even the novices can understand what you’re saying.
We do not separate words in real life. So you will create better experiences if you do not spell out every word in your online conversations—will not you?
Instead of: What is your email address?
Try: What’s your email address?
That’s easy enough, isn’t it?
10. Wave goodbye to TMI
TMI—or Too Much Information—is the death of authentic online conversations. Case in point:
11. Ixnay on the essay
Thus. Hitherto. Therefore. Aforementioned.
The aforementioned words inundate academic essays. They’re not used in everyday conversation. Well, not by the majority of people. Cut them out.
Instead of: We sincerely apologize. Nevertheless, we would still very much like the opportunity to ascertain your opinion.
Try: Sorry to hear that. We’d love to know more.
Which one would you rather answer?
Often, we use verbs that are more complicated in an attempt to sound more “professional.” The good news? You can sound professional and natural at the same time.
Instead of: Would you like to modify your answers and input another response?
Try: Do you want to change your answers?
13. Rock your body (language)
In-person conversations feel easier. Why? Because you pick up on all kinds of cues.
Facial expressions, tone of voice, terrible post-jägerbomb dance floor thrusting (not that anyone’s ever accused me of such a thing). These all transmit information beyond your words alone.
So how do you carry this over to your online conversations?
Add pictures to your questions and responses to bring more elements into play—and make the conversation more engaging.
Read this Help Center article to find out how to do it with Typeform.
14. Add personality
People crack jokes and reference pop culture. So throw in a little fun. You might be surprised how it helps you connect.
Injecting some character into your online conversations will also reveal your personality—which is a good thing. Because the last thing people want is the voice of a stuffy corporation.
Remember that everyone’s personality is different. So don’t just try to recreate a joke you saw on MailChimp’s website. Be true to yourself, man.
And if it’s a choice between being clear or being funny? Clear wins every time.
Want to add this CUI into your own content? Hop over here to access our Conversations experiment.
And don’t worry, you can pick your own avatar—you’re not stuck with Esteban.