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5 Easy Ways to Warm Up Your Content and Connect With Readers

Your topic is popular and you’re providing lots of valuable information, yet…

The writing feels COLD. FLAT. TEXTBOOK-ISH. (If that isn’t a word, it should be!)

You know in your heart that folks are going to get bored and click away. So, what can you do to connect with readers and keep eyeballs on your content?

First of all – stop panicking. Impulsive edits made out of desperation are seldom helpful. When you feel overwhelmed, the best thing you can do is walk away. Stretch. Breathe. Have a healthy snack. Don’t put your fingers back on the keyboard until your mind has settled down.

Secondly, remind yourself that words are malleable. Unless you carved them into concrete, you’re fine. That flatness is 100% curable. You just need to play with the words and make a few changes. The key is to focus on connecting instead of just communicating.

Let’s look at the easiest, most effective ways to create a positive connection between you and your readers.

1. Ditch Big Words and Jargon

When I used the word “textbook-ish” to describe cold, impersonal writing, you knew exactly what I was talking about. That’s because textbooks are notoriously filled with long-winded explanations and technical terms. And all that mumbo jumbo makes them dry and boring.

Go through your writing, from beginning to end, highlighting words with more than three syllables. Look at each one and honestly ask yourself: “Is this necessary?”

Sometimes, the answer is YES. For instance, if the topic of your content is onomatopoeia (using words that sound like what they’re describing), you probably need to pop that 6-syllable monstrosity into a few sentences. 

But most often, the answer is NO. If you’re just explaining the coolness of “using words that sound like what they’re describing”, say THAT. There’s no need to insert the word onomatopoeia.

No one likes to feel stupid, so if you want to connect with readers, stick to familiar words that most people know.

2. Use You-and-I Language

You-and-I language is more natural and conversational. It has the power to thaw even the stiffest, most frozen chunks of writing. Consider these two sentences:

  • In this course, participants will learn about…
  • In this course, you will learn about…

Shifting to personal pronouns makes a huge difference! 

The simple secret is to write as though you’re chatting with someone. Focus on connecting with that one person, as opposed to a faceless mass of “participants”.

3. Add Storytelling

Stories are an intricate part of our daily lives. We tell stories to explain things, to support our opinions, to spice up our conversations, and to share elements of ourselves with others. 

As a parent, I’ve got stories for everything. For example, my daughters became passionate about brushing their teeth after hearing the story of my poor cousin who ate marshmallows every night and wound up with dentures as a teen.  I’ll skip the details but it’s a gruesome tale!

Storytelling is a great way to turn abstract notions (like dental hygiene), into feel-able concepts that linger in the mind. 

To connect with readers, the best kind of storytelling involves personal anecdotes and narratives based on your own experiences. These don’t need an elaborate plot line. The basics are simple: 

character + conflict or problem + solution 

For example:

  • Character: mother 
  • Problem: kids who don’t brush their teeth
  • Solution: tell them a scary story about toothless cousin

4. Break the Fourth Wall

“Breaking the fourth wall” (also called an “aside”) is a storytelling technique in which the writer, or a character, talks directly to the audience. Done well, it should feel like someone whispering in your ear.

These little outbursts help connect with readers because they reveal a bit of your personality. They remind readers that you’re a real-life human. And as an extra-bonus, they add a jolt of energy to a paragraph. That said, asides should be used in moderation, because too many jolts can be unnerving!

5. Use Humour (With Caution)

Humour is magical. It can spice up dry topics, draw readers in, lighten the tone, and build a beautiful rapport between you and your readers. That said, it’s a bit trickier than some of the other things we’ve talked about. What makes one person chuckle, may annoy, offend, or confuse someone else, so tread cautiously. Make sure each bit of “funny” matches your audience, your topic, and your tone.

My advice is to focus on yourself and your foibles. Witty stories and observations work best when they’re personal. Laughing at yourself is funny. Laughing at someone else is not.

A Few Caveats…

It’s fair to say that some topics are easier to warm up than others. For example, the blog posts on kimscaravelli.com focus on the ins and outs of being a content writer. It’s not overly technical stuff. You-and-I language feels like an obvious style choice, and there are plenty of opportunities to use storytelling, asides, and humour.

But as a professional content writer, I’m not always in such a naturally warm space. For example, I’ve recently created educational content on topics like LGBTQ2+ diversity and inclusion, social-emotional learning in the classroom, and COVID-19 safety protocols.

I DID use you-and-I language in each of these projects. I also used case studies and scenarios, which are just high-brow versions of storytelling. And I kept the big words to a minimum, to avoid boring folks to death.

But I DID NOT try to insert “funny”, or break the fourth wall, because these are potentially sensitive topics and I didn’t want to come across as dismissive or disrespectful. Tone is important!

Ultimately, you’re in charge. You’re the writer and you get to decide how warm and friendly you want to get. That said, it’s always important to connect with readers. COLD, FLAT, AND TEXTBOOK-ISH is never good. If that’s the initial vibe of your content, keep playing with those words!

Kim Scaravelli

Kim Scaravelli is a content strategist, writer, and author of Making Words Work: A Practical Guide to Writing Powerful Content. She has 20+ years of experience working with respected organizations across Canada and abroad and her content appears on more than 400 corporate and nonprofit websites. Kim is also a keynote speaker, mom, and butler to several demanding pets.

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