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10 tips to writing better voice-over scripts

The success or failure of a corporate video is largely decided by the quality of the voice-over. It must quickly capture the audience’s attention and be memorable. And whilst casting the right voice for the brand is important; the quality of the voice-over is decided a long time before any recordings take place.

Indeed, script writing is an oft overlooked and fundamental stage in any video production. The quality of the script is critical, and after 15 years at Matinée Multilingual I’m still surprised at how truly mediocre some can be, when you consider the many thousands of pounds spent on the the rest of the production.

Here are my top 10 tips to elevate your scripts to the next level. 

#1: Always have a single clear message

Crafting a voice-over script can be a long process and it’s easy to lose sight of the goal along the way, particularly if there are many people involved in the approval process. Set your goals early on, make them clear to everyone and keep your key message at the heart of everything you write. Don’t get distracted by new ideas. They’ll simply cloud your message. Let your goals and your target audience dictate the scripting process and you’ll stand a good chance of getting the reaction you want.

#2: Set the right tone

You’ll hear plenty of marketers talk about using conversational language and tone. This is good advice in many cases, but the tone you choose is dependent on what YOUR audience will expect. The key here is to use language the audience connects with. If it’s a video aimed at young men, the tone you strike is likely to be very different from a video aimed at mature women. So whilst some choice pieces of slang could go a long way with the former audience; the latter may be turned off.

#3: Keep it short, snappy and varied

Short, snappy and varied dialogue is best for any voice-over. The KISS principal applies here (Keep It Simple Stupid). Don’t use 100 words, when 10 will suffice. Keeping your audience engaged means telling them the important stuff quickly and clearly. Try varying the pace too; long streams of copy without pauses for breath will quickly tire audiences. A varied pace can keep people interested and avoid it sounding monotone.

#4: Remove all doubt

Speech can be pretty confusing at times; website URL’s and Acronym’s are always troublesome for voice artists to say.  Our advice is to ditch the “www.” from URLs in your scripts and tread very carefully with acronyms. If it’s an acronym specific to your industry the voice artist is unlikely to know it, so they’ll be confused about whether to pronounce it as a word or spell it out e.g. is it “PETA” or “P,” “E,” T,” “A”? Never assume the voice will know.

#5: Make it easy to say

You’ll get a better performance by making your script as approachable as possible. Read it aloud, many times and take note of where you stumble. Is there an easier way to say the same thing? If so, change it!

Every voice artist is an individual and they may find a turn of phrase more challenging than you do. Work with them to make their read sound natural and effortless. It helps to avoid having too many hard letters (B, P, T and S) in one sentence. Think carefully before using industry/jargon terms; do they really deserve a place in the script? Or are you using them to sound clever?

#6: Give clear direction

Make useful comments in each section of the script to help the voice artist. It will save you time and it could save you paying for unnecessary re-records. This is especially important for changes in tone. Voice artists aren’t psychic. Keep your instructions crystal clear. Referencing other videos on YouTube or their show-reel for style and tone is a good tactic. This will make the session run much more smoothly, especially if the voice artist has the opportunity to review before the session.

#7: Be flexible

If the voice artist tells your carefully penned 300 word script won’t squeeze into the available 60 second slot – pay attention! Of course you should know this prior to the recording, but the point here is prepare to be flexible. When you hear the script being read by the selected voice talent, it may not sound the way you had imagined.  Go with the flow and change the script to better suit the performance.

Recording alternative versions of any difficult lines is also a good way to get more out of the recording session –  if you have time of course.

#8: Be time conscious

Voice-over can be expensive. You’re paying the voice, studio and engineer by the hour . Whilst it’s important to extract the best possible performance, if you’re still stuck on the first line 45 minutes into a 1 hour session, you’ve probably either cast the wrong voice, or the script is badly written. Keep the session on track by monitoring where you are every 10-15 mins.

Another thing that will save you time is to have prepared a pronunciation guide for numbers, acronyms and company terminology. e.g. 2016 can be said as “two thousand and sixteen” or “twenty-sixteen”.  It will save vital seconds or even minutes if you have this spelled out already.

#9: Use silence for effect

Pauses in audio are the same as white space in visual design. Listeners need time to digest what they hear, especially if the video has many other visual cues for the audience to take in. Pauses and silence are crucial, they play a vital part in setting the pace of the video, something which should also be dictated by the audience you are writing for.

#10: Always have a call to action

If you keep your key message and goal in mind throughout the scripting process, there should be a specific action you want the audience to do. You need to use the final line to remind your audience why your message is important to THEM. And then make it obvious what they should do next e.g. call, email, text etc.

If these tips have helped you, I’d love to hear from you.