We can identify the single best tool in the toolbox of conversational copywriting… and it’s something you already have.
It’s your voice.
The same one you use every day, all the time, without thinking about it.
Just to be clear: in this case, voice refers to the way you talk or your way of phrasing things, not your vocal cords and their flavor of noise. When copywriters talk about voice, they’re talking about the way you “sound” in a reader’s head—the traces of personality, the patterns in tone, your choice of words, your way of phrasing things. And so on.
If this sounds complicated, it’s only because language is complicated… and if the complication sounds like a problem, it isn’t. All of us have been immersed in language our whole lives, so we’re better equipped than we realize.
The complexities of voice (and writing more broadly) get a lot easier to manage when you realize that you already manage them every day. Polished writing and everyday speech are different skills, yet they use many of the same mental muscles. Writing suddenly becomes much easier if you can bridge this mental gap.
Confidence is a big part of bridging that gap—it’s the ingredient most writers lack, and it’s a whole topic of its own—but the rest of conversational copywriting is a collection of skills which can be learned and practiced. 🤓
There are a few different angles on Using Your (Literal) Voice, each deserving space of its own. To preview some of the talking points:
Why reading your writing aloud can unlock the magic
😱 Why most people still don’t do it
🗣 Specific tips for brainstorming, drafting, and editing “out loud”
⏯ The rules you can’t, can, and should break in conversational writing
🤠 Why theCLIKK aims for a (very) conversational voice
Writing vs. Talking
Voice is a complicated subject in copywriting. It’s also pretty complicated in real life; just think for ten seconds about why you talk the way you do and, well, there you go.
But before we get intimidated, let’s remember that complexity is not the same as difficulty. Language is super-complex, and yet it’s second-nature to all of us; whether you speak a hundred words in a day or tens of thousands, most of it happens automatically. Our words seem to “choose themselves” most of the time.
So why is writing so much harder than talking?
Nutshell answer: writing is judged more harshly, and writing forces you to make a LOT more choices. Sure, you don’t have to make writing choices in real time—compared to conversation, writing happens in super-slo-mo—but writing choices can get murky. There’s no natural order in which to make those choices, especially because the writing process is iterative (looping) and not linear. Last but not least, there’s a fear of reprisal—because we all judge writing more harshly than we do daily conversation (and we all know it).
How do we make writing easier and more like talking?
Nutshell answer: you treat it more like talking, whether during Ideation or Drafting or Editing (or all three). We’ll cover exactly how you can do that next.
Big Takeaway on Voice
The way you already talk in daily life is a powerful writing tool, both for removing mental friction during writing AND for improving the quality of the final written work.
You just have to learn where “talking things out” can help you.
Why theCLIKK is Conversational
To repeat something we’ve said about ourselves before:
If you’re a regular reader of theCLIKK, you’ve probably noticed two things: (1) our copy generally has its s**t together, but (2) it’s also pretty shameless about bending certain conventions, especially for the sake of conversational tone.
That’s just who we are and how we’ve chosen to do things. You don’t have to be conversational (much less jocular and irreverent) and, in fact, that might be a bad idea for some people. But we’ll tell you why we’ve chosen to write theCLIKK this way, and we think our reasons will help you “calibrate” your own copywriting voice (whether or not it’s like ours).
The overall, nutshell reason for theCLIKK’s conversational voice: it’s what the people want(ed). Simply put, a lot of digital business and marketing info is really dry. For most people who want that info, the problem is not a shortage of content; it’s being able to (A) identify the best content and then (B) engage with it and digest it.
We address those problems in theCLIKK by curating good sources and then presenting them in a talkier, more casual way. (We went the Smart-Ass route in particular because that’s most natural to us.)
But why does our audience want a conversational voice? A few reasons that our peeps have mentioned over theCLIKK’s history…
1️⃣ It’s just easier to read. Conversational styles are likelier to “flow” well because, well, “flowing” is what conversations do. (A number of readers have said that theCLIKK is the only newsletter they read in its entirety.)
2️⃣ It gives you the nutshell you want as a reader. The inverted pyramid is one of the first things journalists learn because it’s designed to get to the point immediately. Readers (especially news readers) are busy; they want the essentials first and everything else after that.
This writing skill is hard to master, especially to newsroom standards—but it’s easy enough to learn, and we use this sort of quick-and-dirty summarizing in conversation all the time. Just picture any exchange where a person asks “oh, what’s up?” and you start your response with Well, basically…
3️⃣ It gives you the nutshell you want as a social animal. In other words: you don’t have to work through the raw info so you can share with others, because we’ve already done that for you. Reading theCLIKK gives you some “conversational currency” for the digital-business world, and whether you give us credit is largely beside the point here. (A number of readers have made comments to the effect of “theCLIKK makes me sound smarter.”)
4️⃣ It makes ignorance seem less scary. Remember, y’all, that ignorance is our natural state; we’re born knowing nothing, and we die knowing just a little.
Socrates’s wisdom notwithstanding, it sucks to feel stupid—and when you’re reading about stuff you don’t know, that you feel like you should know, and you can’t understand what you’re reading… well, it’s a sucky feeling.
One of the great virtues of conversation is how it can make any subject approachable. When human beings try to truly share knowledge with one another—not just to document the work or make themselves look smart—ignorance becomes the common enemy. What’s shared is clearer (and often more creative) as a result, even if the level of detail isn’t as comprehensive.
SIDE NOTE ➡️ We’re liberal in our use of words like “basically,” and err on the side of using them as crutch words, because they keep us on the readers’ level. If a clause or sentence starts with basically, the audience expects that whatever follows will be simple, quick, and everything they need.
5️⃣ It helps widen your perspective. A similar problem: readers are quick to ignore subjects they don’t know about (especially if they don’t feel the need to know), but then they miss out on stuff they’d have been glad to know.
People are much more willing to learn The First Thing about something if it’s presented in plain, casual English… and as we’ve heard from readers, this is even truer once they trust your track record of doing so.
A conversational style makes it easier for people to listen, to learn new things, and to consider other points of view—and readers appreciate this whether they’re trying to win credibility at work or hone their own craft from a new angle.
Using Your Voice for Ideation
First things first: Ideation is just the process of developing ideas for use. Ideation encompasses brainstorming (which is specifically the process of generating ideas) and writing those ideas down, but also some strategic thinking like identifying key goals or outlining big structural pieces.
Ideation is everything from “here’s a thought” to “I can run with that.”
Now then! Let’s discuss how your own natural, conversational voice can help get ideas flowing in the right direction.
Before we even get to Ideation itself, we have to address the awkward reality we’re creating for you—because we’re asking you to talk to yourself, literally, in ways you might not have before.
Leaving aside the question of how it’ll look, we can appreciate that there’s some cognitive friction involved when you ask writers to speak more.
So let’s cover the main reason it helps to think aloud:
You Gotta Get Out of Your Own Head 🧠
Most writers would probably agree that solitude is an essential ingredient, that writing (like dying) is something you ultimately do alone, that a writer’s bubble of personal space is important or even sacred.
That’s certainly how we operate. Most of theCLIKK is made in a room with one door, which is closed.
But writing in solitude creates a tricky paradox. Sure, you need that personal space to think—and yet, sitting alone with your thoughts often winds up feeling like you’re attending a committee meeting in a room without enough chairs. There are multiple “voices” speaking up, each with a different concern, none of them knowing how to wait their turn.
Paralysis. Four billion years of evolution and our brains stop working because of a blank page. Again, why is writing so hard when talking is so easy?
Notice that, when you’re in the middle of talking to someone, all of the “committee members” in your brain work as a team. The Creative Impulse (we call it Sparky) produces a thought, the Wordsmith figures out a way to phrase it, the Inspector glances for errors, and the Social Animal gauges whether it’d hurt your chances of eating or reproducing. All of this happens fluidly, like basketball players moving around the court.
The committee members can only descend into bickering when your brain gives them free space to do so… like when you’re staring at a blank page. They shut up and work together if you keep them moving; talking out loud keeps your brain moving because we’re socialized to finish the thoughts we start and to stay aboard logical trains of thought.
So whether you’re talking to another person, or a pet, or a rubber duck, or (your) Self—because you’ve embraced it and don’t care if you look crazy—you gotta find some way to get out of your own head, or at least open the door.
Your mouth is the door.
We have three pieces of advice for out-loud Ideation, but this article would be aggressively long if we included all of ’em here. So we’re gonna stop a little short for today.
But we will preview those three pieces of advice:
1️⃣ There’s Nothing New Under the Sun. Simply put: people overestimate what it means to be “original,” or how original they have to be. People think that “it’s been done” is a reason not to do something, not realizing that that’s a s**tty argument. In this world, it’s best to assume that there are no brand-new ideas, only “twists” on old ideas… and that’s okay, because that’s always been true and it’s never kept things from greatness.
2️⃣ Patterns Are Everywhere (Including Your Voice). Make no mistake, a lot of the patterns humans spot are either non-existent or meaningless. At the same time, virtually everything that has meaning is part of a pattern, and some of them are right under your nose. You just have to be willing to look for connections and test out what they might mean.
3️⃣ Follow the First Rule of Improv. That might sound like a dorky entanglement, but it could just as easily have been called the First Rule of Creativity. It’s that good, and that broadly useful—and it’s only two words.
Advice for Out-Loud Ideation
Your natural voice is useful during the early stages of writing because talking out loud keeps your brain moving. Y’know, as opposed to that “deafening silence” feeling of staring at a blank page.
During Ideation, your job is to generate ideas that you can use. For our purposes, you only need two things to do that: a place to write ideas down, and “someone” with whom you can talk through the ideas you’re getting.
FYI on Rubber Duck Debugging 🐤 We dropped the same link last time, but it’s worth explaining this odd-sounding term here because it’s informed our thinking here.
As you may know, programs are basically instructions written (in code) for a computer. When programmers are “debugging” their code, i.e. trying to figure out how their instructions cause certain errors, they have to re-read the instructions they’ve written and re-examine how they all work.
One of the best ways to get clarity on something is to explain it to somebody else. Programmers took this a step further by realizing that this process doesn’t require a second person; it just requires that you have something to talk to. So they invented rubber duck debugging, where you debug your code by explaining it, line by line, to a rubber duck on your desk.
Point being: you can always pick an inanimate object to talk to.
Now, let’s get to the three points we discussed earlier.
☀️ There’s Nothing New Under the Sun
That’s technically a Biblical phrasing (Ecclesiastes), but you probably get the idea: everything in the world is somehow recycled, including many things which claim to be “new.”
To make the same point scientifically: everything in the observable universe is made of stuff from the Periodic Table. Most (physical) things you ever encounter are the same, like, 20 elements in different configurations.
For the copywriting version of this point, just look at your keyboard.
So far, though, we’ve only validated this idea at its atomic extreme. Sure, green beans and cake are “the same” at some elemental level, but… they’re obviously different things when you zoom out.
There’s a similar question at play with language and ideas. Obviously we all use the same letters, even the same words—but if you keep zooming out, you start seeing problems in sameness. If we all use the same phrases, they become meaningless clichés. If two students submit the same essay, at least one of them ripped it off. And so on.
Where’s the line? At what point are you stealing someone else’s idea, as opposed to “adapting” or “adopting” it as your own?
A lot could be said here, but we’ll say this: it’s nigh-impossible to truly STEAL an idea. Sure, you can steal opportunities (imagine rivals racing for a buried treasure) and you can steal finished work (imagine pirates plundering the treasure from whoever wins). But it’s impossible to steal a thing you cannot find, and you cannot “find” any idea without its genuine inspiration.
If somebody does well by an idea, it’s because they truly understand it and they’re willing to see it through. The finished work is theirs, but the idea never belonged to them (or anyone). It’d be more accurate to say that the idea happened to them, like any other contagion.
Here’s our advice: If ever you find yourself saying “but that’s been done before,” stop yourself. On its own, that’s a terrible reason not to write something. Go a step further and ask yourself: Would I be using someone’s Idea or someone’s Work? If you’d have to use someone’s Work, well, maybe just don’t—but if you’d use the Idea and make it your own, it becomes your Idea as much as it was ever theirs!
🧩 Patterns are Everywhere (Including Your Voice)
The more you talk out loud (on purpose), the more familiar you’ll become with your own voice and its patterns.
The more you talk out loud, the more you’ll start to notice (among other things) the “crutch words” you use to fill silences and the “buzzwords” you use to fill gaps in meaning.
Many such habits are weaknesses, and this sort of self-awareness gives you opportunities to tune them up. But at the same time, many of these habits are NOT weaknesses; they’re idiosyncrasies. They’re just the particulars of your natural voice—and in some cases, they’re clues to discovering what your natural voice is best equipped to do.
We use the word ‘basically’ a lot, even to the point of using it as a crutch, because it helps keep us on the readers’ level; it forces us to keep explanations short and sweet. That’s good for us because explanations and word economy are both important in theCLIKK.
Approaching the same idea from another angle: not all “crutch words” and “buzzwords” are bad. If they cause sentences to go numb in the reader’s mind, they’re bad. But if they’re used to specific effect, they can actually enhance the reader’s experience and understanding.
Here are a few other “conversational crutches” we caught ourselves using, then kept using on purpose:
Let’s Just Say. This phrase tells the reader that whatever follows is both a summary and some kind of euphemism (“let’s just say that Stalin wasn’t very nice to political opponents”).
Apparently. When used to begin a sentence, this implies to the reader that whatever follows is something the writer has just learned themselves.
First Things First. This indicates that a discussion has an important starting point (which is likely to “recap” any essential summary and/or context).
To Catch Everyone Up. Like the above, but flipped around: this phrase tells the reader that they’re getting a recap first, which may or may not segue into the starting point for the discussion.
We use these kinds of crutches liberally, but always with some purpose in mind like “helping readers feel at ease with the information.” Those little decisions reflect the bigger reasons we do theCLIKK, as they should.
🎭 Follow the First Rule of Improv
By definition, improv is made up on the spot. So if you’ve ever wondered how improv performers can keep a sketch on the rails, here’s the secret: they’re all following the same rules. The rules are simple and few, but they provide just enough structure to nurture on-the-fly, out-loud ideas to their satisfying conclusions in front of the audience.
The first rule of improv is critical not just for improv, but for all sorts of creative exercise. It’s usually expressed in just two words: Yes And.
If we were to phrase the rule as a complete sentence: Performers agree to accept, “play along,” and add more to whatever has already been established in the scene. By the same token, performers agree not to contradict or challenge one another; that’s the opposite, No But, which will bring any sketch or brainstorm to an ass-grinding halt.
Skepticism certainly has a place in copywriting, but skepticism does not belong in the Ideation process. Nothing kills the fun faster, and this should be fun. During Ideation, you should only be required to abandon an idea if (A) it runs out of rope or (B) you lose interest in it.
One last detail worth mentioning: questions are a gray area for improv, and likewise for Ideation. Questions are considered bad if they challenge or contradict, or wasteful if they force the sketch/idea to lose momentum—but they’re perfectly welcome if they add something to the discussion or expand a line of creative thinking.
Drafting Copy Out Loud
Before the Drafting phase, during Ideation, you can avoid the awkward-feeling bits of “writing with your voice” by brainstorming with a partner… or (ahem) just thinking to yourself silently, like always.
Can’t blame you there. If you’re not struggling for ideas, then maybe there’s no need to tease them out by talking.
But the mental dynamic shifts once the Drafting phase begins. The main difference is that you’re actually writing copy by this point, which requires you to form complete thoughts and then commit them to specific words and phrases. Drafting is way more focused than Ideation… and that’s a lot of what makes it hard.
During the Drafting phase, your talking voice is especially useful for staying focused, keeping things moving, and avoiding getting stuck in the weeds. You do have to commit yourself to the talking tactic here, as you’re likelier to be alone/flying solo while Drafting, and therefore talking out loud to nobody in particular.
Again: it’s normal for thinking aloud to feel strange at first. Just keep your voice down, don’t be weird about it, and you’ll soon get accustomed to it (as will anyone around you who notices).
Now then! Two pieces of advice for drafting copy out loud…
📝 Converse With The Outline
This is the first piece of advice because it’s the most important.
Without some kind of plan or structure for the copy you’re writing, your natural voice won’t get you very far. Your speaking voice helps you take steps in thought, but it doesn’t know where you’re walking (so to speak).
Most conversation winds up being a series of tangents because conversation happens one or two (reactive) thoughts at a time. A conversational frame of mind is useful for producing raw content efficiently, for “spilling” all of your ideas and information and sweet nothings onto the page—but without a roadmap for that conversation with yourself, there’s an excellent chance you’ll wind up in La La Land.
So if you don’t already have an outline for the copy you’re drafting, that’s the very first thing you should do. You mostly just need to know the main pieces of what you’re saying (1, 2, 3, etc.) and, if you’re really wanting to help yourself out, the key details beneath each one (1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, and so on).
We’re well aware that this sounds like an exercise in tedium. It’s not. Not when you compare it to the alternative, where you wander in circles through the cloudy wasteland of your mind, collecting little scraps and fragments and praying that they all fit together later. Or ever.
Spend 5-10 minutes jotting down the main bullet points and you’ll easily save yourself as much time, if not hours more. Do the outline especially well and you’ll be able to talk straight through the whole draft (almost like you’re prepping interview questions so you can interview yourself for the content).
🔐 Box Out The Editor
During the Drafting phase, your job is to create all of the functional pieces of the content. Even if those chunks of copy aren’t polished (or even finished), you should have a “complete set” before fully moving on to Editing.
We’ve come to appreciate our inner editors and, in fact, the Editing tips we’re giving next might be some of our favorite advice for copywriting out loud. But your inner editor is a specialist and, specifically, a closer; bring them in too soon and they’ll do more harm than good.
More detail next time, but here’s an important distinction: your inner editor is a maximizer, not a creator per se. The editing part of your brain looks to improve what’s already written, to make the words feel as clear and vivid as the thoughts which inspired them—but that same part of your brain doesn’t know how to make something from nothing, which is what Drafting is.
Having an editor around for Drafting is like having a custodian around for construction. If the creating parts aren’t far enough along, an editor won’t help; in fact, they can only obstruct and disturb the work by being involved.
Of course, we’re talking about your internal editor, so you can’t just shoo them away. You have to find some way to ignore them, to keep the creative wheels rolling forward, and that’s hardest to do when you’re silent with your thoughts. (Going back and forth is the same as going nowhere.)
By talking yourself through your outline like it’s a conversation—one piece at a time, one chunk of copy at a time—you’re relaxing your editorial fixations just enough to get the main creative work finished without interference. We’re big believers that, if you can finish the rough draft, you can finish the whole thing.
On that note, one last thing: remember that it’s called a “rough” draft for a reason. It is very much NOT supposed to be audience-ready yet, so relax your standards here. Even if you think the rough draft is complete s**t, the useful thing is that it’s a finished draft.
Editing with Your Voice
For most of this series, we’ve treated your natural speaking voice as a creative tool, and we’ve tried to avoid the skeptical and critical instincts of our inner editors. It wasn’t their turn to speak yet.
But now, it’s time to grab your red pen and your Chapstick—because, believe it or not, your voice is also an excellent editing tool. Today, we’re sharing our best advice for Editing out loud, a.k.a. using your voice to help you find what you were really trying to say.
Y’know, without so much loathing and self-doubt.
I’m gonna switch to writing this as myself (Kevin) because… you’ll see. I’d rather not refer to myself in third-person over and over again.
🗣 Everything You Publish is a Public Address
This whole time we’ve been discussing copywriting, there’s an assumption we’ve not bothered to state: that whatever you’re writing, you mean for other people to read it.
You aren’t writing some kind of diary here. You have an audience.
In a sense, anything you “publish” is already a “public address” — notice the shared root? — but the point of this advice is that it’s helpful to treat copywriting more like a literal public address (a speech).
In high school, my “sport” of choice was debate. Judge me all you want, because it was incredible writing practice; at any given time, I was working on two speeches (my Affirmative and Negative cases), and every two months we’d get a new topic and start all over from scratch.
I got very, very familiar with my own voice—partly by writing dozens of speeches, but mostly by editing each of them to a competitive edge. In a debate, your case is both your only “offense” and the only speech you prepare in advance, and you can expect your opponent to pick apart every word of it because, well, you’re debating.
If you thought having an editor would tighten up your writing, try having a literal opponent (or several in a row). Each of my speeches would see 3-5 revisions in its life span, all of them informed by encounters with opponents, and I’d test the revisions out loud every time.
The funny thing is that, when I first started “editing out loud,” I wasn’t really trying to edit; I was just trying to clock the speech. I clocked myself all the time during editing because it’s the only way to be sure your delivery will fit within the time limit. Still, I eventually noticed that my ears were helping me edit in ways my eyes hadn’t—for instance, by slowing me down enough to catch the errors I’d glazed over.
After a while, my ears became the final judges of readiness. I knew a speech was ready when I could read the whole thing aloud without prompting a single twinge from my inner editor (thoughts like “I don’t like how that sounds” or “that’s not quite what I mean”).
I would later learn that this style of editing doesn’t just help with speeches…
📚 Talk the Knots Out
When I worked in book publishing, most of my clients were independent professionals (think specialists and consultants) who wanted to have their own book for subject-matter credibility or marketing opportunities. Books are the ultimate business cards, I’d often say.
My clients were smart people who knew their stuff, but they were not “writers.” All of them struggled mightily to produce complete manuscripts, and all of them were nervous (if not terrified) about the editing process. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that they expected suffering.
They tended to relax, however, once they’d had an editing meeting with me. The main purpose of these meetings was to resolve any edits I couldn’t resolve by myself; we’d open the Google Doc, get on a call, and talk through the passages I’d highlighted.
Ambiguity was the most common issue, whether partial (something could mean A or B) or total (no clue what something means). Even if a passage was complete gibberish, I trusted that the finished version of it was “in there somewhere” because the author always knew what they were saying far better than they knew how to say it.
Because they had already turned in their best attempts at writing things out, and after months of bashing their skulls against the keyboard, I sensed it’d be easier to talk our way through those ambiguities.
I had no idea how right I’d be.
This sort of exchange happened countless times in my editing meetings:
Let’s take a look at [this convoluted passage about XYZ].
OK, I’m with you.
Can you explain what you meant here?
Sure thing. So, basically…
[way better explanation of XYZ]
That’s way better. Why don’t we use what you just said?
… holy crap. That is way better.
All of this is to say:
At first, I took a conversational approach to editing because it was my trained instinct and because it seemed like the better way to put clients at ease.
It was only later — after I’d seen the confidence and relief on their faces, after they loved the finished work — that I realized I’d tapped into a source of copywriting magic.
You can tap into this magic, too. You just need the patience to literally speak up with—and literally listen to—your own writing. 🤓