I’m a copywriter, not a screenwriter – why do I need to know how to write scripts?
Dude, you’re not just any copywriter; you’re a B2B content marketing copywriter – you should eat, drink and breathe video scripts*. In the right hands, video content can be a powerful tool, but while the details of what’s seen on the screen are largely the province of video producers, what’s heard by the viewer is all down to the writer.
Oh. But surely it can’t be that different from writing other forms of content?
You couldn’t be more wrong. Writing copy that will be read aloud is a very different discipline.
Like all good content, what you say in your video needs to resonate with your target audience. But in videos, you’ve got about five seconds to convince people to keep watching – so make sure you grab their attention and give them a good reason to stick with you.
Now you’ve got the viewers’ attention, you need to think long and hard about tone of voice. All copywriters are familiar with writing for different tones of voice, but when you’re writing for the spoken word, tone of voice is literally everything.
Literally. Unlike other forms of copy, the actual tone of the actual voice your audience hears will be critical to how your message comes across, so your script needs to take that into account. Be very clear on how everything sounds when it’s read aloud – and be certain there’s no room for misinterpretation. If it’s supposed to be humorous, will it sound funny? If it’s supposed to be authoritative, will it have the right level of gravitas?
Plus: timing is also literally everything.
Alright, don’t get cocky.
Think: how long is your video supposed to be? Will you, in your quest to crowbar in every last bit of messaging, have a script that overruns by several minutes and reduces viewers to tears (and not in a good way)?
These things are supposed to be engaging and easy to digest, so make sure you aren’t droning on interminably, or people might fall asleep waiting for you to get to the point. Ideally, you don’t want your audience to start losing the will to live while watching your video. Aim for no more than 150 words a minute, and don’t forget you’ll need to add on time for intro, outro and link sequences, otherwise the only thing viewers will take away from your content will be a thousand-yard stare.
Maybe I should just hire a screenwriter – they’ll know what to do.
Bu they don’t know about content marketing. You need a video script that compels viewers to take action. A screenwriter might win you a BAFTA, but they’re unlikely to come up with something that helps build your sales pipeline. Although, on second thoughts, winning a BAFTA probably wouldn’t do your pipeline any harm…
OK. So how do I write a voiceover that really works?
Well, the most important thing to think about is whether your script can be read aloud easily. Are there lots of unnecessarily long words or sentences that could make it challenging for the voiceover actor to record (and for the listening audience to understand)?
Will everything make sense to the voiceover actor? Are there any industry terms you need to spell out, or show the actor how to pronounce? There’s nothing more brand-damaging than having a shiny new video that talks about the ‘Roy’ of your product rather than its ‘ROI’.
Also – is it clear where to put the emphasis in each sentence? It’s unlikely you’ll be in the room when the voiceover is recorded, so it needs to be obvious from your script exactly how everything should be read. Use italics, en-dashes, bold type, break sentences up over multiple lines – forget grammar: do whatever it takes to make it obvious how things should be said. Because without clear direction it can be very difficult for VO actors to get it right.
Writing for disembodied voices is all very well – but what about when you’ve got people speaking to camera?
Autocue reading can be awkward with amateur performers, even if they know the subject well and are used to public speaking. So ditch the autocue – rather than producing a script your speakers have to stick to, it’s far better to let them say things in their own words and then suggest ways that they can say it better. That way you’ll get a more natural and genuine performance and you’ll create a much more engaging and compelling video.
If you can’t be represent for the recording, make sure you talk everything through with the production team so they can coach the speakers on the day – and get a usable performance that includes the right messaging. This collaborative approach is also a great way to put amateurs at their ease during recording. After all, you wouldn’t want something like this to happen. Would you?
Crikey – there’s a lot to think about.
There sure is. Just remember the four keys to writing for the spoken word in visual content: create an impact, get the tone right, get the timing spot on, and produce a script that makes it easy for speakers to give a convincing and engaging performance.
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*Disclaimer: The World Health Organization recommends that under no circumstances should you attempt to ingest or inhale video scripts.