In the business world, the primary purpose of writing is seldom to impart information or even to convey a point of view. It’s to connect with your audience so that they come to know, like, and trust you. Because they won’t buy from you otherwise.
But how can someone get to know you if you don’t let your personality shine? So much business writing, particularly that created in scientific and technical domains, works so hard to sound “professional” that it comes across as devoid of any personality at all. And that’s a problem because people don’t tend to trust people who sound like robots.
Try these two sentences on for size. Which one makes you want to keep reading so that you can get to know the author better?
A. After considerable efforts to investigate the situation, it has been determined that the radar sensors may, in fact, be too limited in their capacity to detect movement outside of the direct line.
B. After more than five trials, we’ve learned that the radar sensors can detect movement only if it happens in the direct line.
While sentence A sounds more scientific and pretends to objectivity, sentence B sounds more natural and friendly. Yes, sentence A conveys the authority of the lab coat, but what kind of person is wearing the lab coat? Someone scholarly, certainly, but also someone rather standoffish and stuffy, I’d say.
On the other hand, what kind of person can you imagine saying the words in sentence B? The shorter, sentence structure and everyday language make the personality behind these words seem easy to relate to and, therefore, likable. And when it comes to building trust with your audience, likability trumps authority in most cases.
So how do you achieve the down-to-earth grace of sentence B, especially if your education and experience have schooled you to suppress all signs of your personality in your writing?
One word: alignment.
The secret to developing an engaging writing voice—the kind of voice that makes readers sit up and pay attention—is to align your writing style with your personality and with the communication context. When you do that, you create a compelling voice that engages your readers and gains their trust. What’s more, the act of writing becomes less about effort and more about natural expression.
A simple shortcut to writing in alignment is to read your draft aloud. Does it sound like something you would say in a business meeting? Or does it sound like someone else—a former professor, maybe, or a bland bureaucrat?
Now, if you happen to be a former professor (like me!), then you might find alignment a challenging task. My “natural” way of expressing myself often involves multi-syllable words and long, straggling sentences, like those you find in academic articles.
So the read-aloud test is very necessary for me. As soon as I start reading academic-type writing aloud, my ear recognizes how out-of-place it would sound in a boardroom, and I adjust accordingly. I then revise the writing, using the other, equally natural, voice I would use when speaking with clients in a business context.
Here’s how I know when I’m writing in alignment with both my personality and the communication context: I feel confident, the words flow easily, and I’m not obsessing over the shape and punctuation of my sentences.
In contrast, when I’m writing out of alignment, I feel like I’m trying to fit into a coat that’s two sizes two big or two small. The writing process feels cramped, and I struggle with writer’s block. I also spend as much or more time worrying about my sentence structure and punctuation as I do trying to clarify my message.
Writing in alignment with who you are feels as good and as true as living in alignment with your passion and purpose. And when you stop trying to impersonate someone more expert or experienced and start letting your own personality show, readers notice the difference. Don’t be surprised if they thank you for your clarity or comment on how easy it is to work with you.
In everything you write, you have the chance to share not just ideas and data but also a bit of yourself. Make it a habit to practice that kind of personal generosity, and your business communication will turn into something much deeper—rewarding relationships with the people you want to serve and collaborate with.
Wondering how your writing style rates on the likability scale? Sign up for a free coaching session at dawnhenwood.bookafy.com.