Type the way you talk: 14 tips for better online conversations

Looking to connect with your audience? Here’s your interactive guide to sounding more conversational online.

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Ready to master the art of online interactions? (And by that, we mean forms, quizzes, surveys, and polls)

Here are some simple tips to help you create more personal experiences—and build 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. You should try to:

Say hello. Hopefully obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many online conversations don’t start with a greeting.

Share your name and location. It immediately feels more personal. 

Share what you can do for them. Important, because it frames the conversation and helps you decide if it’s relevant or not.

Ask for information. “Turn taking” is important in conversation—we like to know we’re being listened to.

Provide 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 repeat 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.
Dale Carnegie

Creating a survey? Ask for their name early on, then use it again when you ask a question later. This feature is called Recall here at Typeform, and it'll make your form 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

Enjoying those GIFs? Head here for your guide to the best GIFs

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 your friend want to provide more information about their niche 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.
Stephen King

If you’re like me, you’ll sometimes come back and feel like a drunk zombie wrote your initial draft. Stepping away gives you the opportunity to make sure that what you wrote, is what you really meant to say.

7. Move towards a goal together

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 your friend with the toasters 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.

9. Contract

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 most 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?

12. Simplify

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.  

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.

Think you're ready to give your conversational skills a try? Make your first typeform today

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