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Content Advice For Businesses, Stuff for other Copy & Content Writers

A copywriting quick win: use the barstool test for conversational copy

Let’s begin with a copywriting truth: achieving a chatty, conversational tone in your writing is really hard. Making it appear effortless is harder.

When writing it’s easy to slip into jargon-filled business-lingo that talks “at” the reader. Especially if the topic is complicated. Yet, if explaining the exact same thing verbally, chances are way less mumbo-jumbo will have crept in while speaking “to” the person.

There will have been an easy-flowing, simple, clear conversation.

And that’s how (most) humans like to interact. They don’t want to be talked “at”. They want to be spoken “to”. And they want the exchange to be simple to follow and understand.

So, how can that be achieved in copy? Well, the way I see it is that a good piece of copy needs to include the elements we’d expect in a face-to-face conversation. It should be an easy flowing exchange of ideas that both the reader and writer understand. Conversations need two or more participants, so the copy shouldn’t just talk “at” someone, it needs to give the sense that it’s able to listen, too.

One of the easiest ways to achieve that much coveted conversational tone is to run your copy through the barstool test.

How the barstool test works

Originally coined by direct marketing copywriter, Paul Hollingshead from the American Writers & Artists Inc (AWAI), the theory of the barstool test is:

“Your copy should sound like you’re sitting on a barstool, chatting with a friend, rather than lecturing him.”

via GIPHY

To put it into practise, imagine taking whatever you’ve written to the pub, where you’ve arranged to meet the person this copy should appeal to. Now, over your imaginary drink you start reading your copy aloud to them.

As you read each sentence think, “is this how I’d really say this point, in this way, to this potential customer so they’d understand me?”

If the answer’s “no”, it means there’s a more natural way to say it. Rewrite the sentence or paragraph. Really try to imagine how you’d explain this out loud, in an easy flowing, simple to understand way so your prospect “gets it”.

If it takes several attempts, no problem. You’re #1 drinking buddy isn’t in a hurry and by the time you’ve finished they’ll be so thankful that you spoke “to” them rather than “at” them that they’ll go ahead and buy whatever it is you’re selling or asking them to do.

via GIPHY

That’s pretty much it. That’s how the barstool test can lead to copywriting that sounds conversational.

What are the benefits of using the barstool test?

By running your copywriting through the barstool test it’s more likely to:

  • Be free of confusing, industry jargon
  • Be more interesting and engaging
  • Put the reader at ease so they trust you.

What if you need the tone to be more formal?

Some businesses balk at the idea of using a conversational tone. There’s the misunderstanding that ‘conversational’ means ‘informal’ and they need to sound professional. This concern tends to arise when writing for a B2B audience.

My advice: still run your copy through the barstool test.

Realise that not every conversation has the same tone. If your prospect is a young, go-getting business owner, the tone of that conversation might be very different compared to the exchange you’d have with a mature finance manager for a big corporate company. But you’re still talking to both of them. You’re still aiming for a natural-sounding, easy flowing, simple to understand conversation.

See what I mean? Different audiences may require a slightly different conversational style. You can switch it up to suit your audience by making small changes to the type of language you use (without going OTT on the technical jargon).

No time for a trip to the bar?

Finding the time or energy to run through the barstool test isn’t for everyone. As I said at the start, getting a free-flowing, natural sounding conversational tone can be difficult.

Luckily, I love a good chat, am an experienced writer, and even used to work in a pub. Basically, I’ve got everything going for me to help you get this right!

Contact me for a natter (no pressure or obligation to commission me) and I’ll get those effortless conversations up and running to help firm up the relationship between you and your audience.

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