Read Time: 4:18

Key Takeaways

  • Developing your "voice" is a process that demands lots of writing and reading

  • When I'm writing for EBCs, I try to use the Q&A format, metaphor, narrative (including a healthy dose of personal stories), and humor

  • Be selective with humor — there's a fine line between fun and distracting

Today we're talking about building voice and style into your writing

I do not claim to be a writing teacher. But, from my own experience (a posteriori — as they say), there are some things I've picked up in the process of writing about 120k words for various email-based courses. Like yesterday, these fall within the realm of "tactics". Developing and honing your voice doesn't happen overnight*, so give yourself some grace as you build out your course.

*it doesn't really "happen"... it's just kind of always "happening".

What's so important about voice?

What's easier? Conveying your personality over a live video stream... or in a series of emails? Answer is obvious. We are facing a "richness of medium" problem. The more robust the medium, the easier it is to let your freak flag fly (and that is what people are really paying for). Reading is pretty low on that totem pole, unfortunately, so we have to get crafty.

This is not an exhaustive list of techniques, but it includes some of my personal favorites. Fortunately, all of these methods can be deeply personalized (it's not "say this, then say that"). Alright, enough preamble, let's check 'em out.

For a conversational feel, utilize the Q&A format

I use Q&A a lot (just look up a few paragraphs to the bolded text). What do I love about Q&A? Well, you're forced to anticipate questions (and prioritize them!) and it evokes the sensation of learning (which keeps them coming back). Here's an example:

For a personal touch, tell stories!

This accomplishes two things: you scratch the brain's itch for narrative, and you get an opportunity to add a few layers to the student-teacher relationship. People love stories — it's evolutionary (it's also why we occasionally cry during Samsung commercials).

Yes, good storytelling is an art form. A good story requires three things: intention, obstacle, and stakes. If you’re going to tell a story, it should be clear…

  • Who is trying to do what

  • Why

  • What’s getting in the way

  • And what’s on the line

To add depth to understanding, incorporate metaphor

I took a philosophy class in college on cognitive science and metaphor. Do I remember the details of synaptic clefts and clusters? No chance. What stuck with me was one simple takeaway: metaphor deepens our understanding of something, it doesn't just paraphrase it. Here's an example:

Regarding jokes: laughter will keep your students coming back, but be selective

When I first wrote Big Later it was packed with jokes. Like some little quip or comment in every single paragraph. It was too much. We were on the right track (financial literacy plus humor is a great combination), but a lot of it was overkill. So we stripped out all the jokes that didn't make people audibly laugh and moved on with our lives. And ya know what? People liked the course even more. We didn't lose our voice, but we did reduce distractions to the learning.

Paraphrasing my friend John Bates who has helped hundreds of execs give better presentations: "don't add humor, find it."

Think of a time when you were at a corporate event or public talk and someone tried to be funny. I'll bet the joke fell flat on its face. Trying to be funny over email is not a wise move. Trying to communicate clearly and then spending some time reflecting on the humor that is hiding in the content... that's a much better approach. It's also why incorporating humor is one of the final stages of my personal writing process.

There you have it folks

Four tactics that you can employ right now to augment your voice-building efforts. Use the Q&A format to keep things conversational, employ metaphors to deep meaning and understanding, tell stories to get personal, and take the time and effort required to find the humor! I think you know what happens next...

If you said, "I've gotta re-write my email again, don't I?" you would be correct

Take what you've learned about the email outline, body copy structure, and now a few stylistic tools, and give that email a third pass. You will hardly recognize the first draft when this is over.

In the next email, I'll be detailing my personal writing process. After that, we're on to Chapter 4, which is all about building up your email automations for the optimal learning experience (skipping weekends? We can do that. Self-pacing?? We can do that too.)