George Clooney is on record saying that one can make a bad movie from a good script, but not a good movie from a bad script. Legendary Hollywood director, Alfred Hitchcock, went as far as to insist that to make a great film, “you need three things – the script, the script, and the script.”
Nobody in the storytelling business will disagree with those sentiments. Consequently, when you’re producing any kind of audio or audiovisual material today — from fifteen-second YouTube flyers to radio commercials, long-form documentaries, or eLearning and explainer videos — you’re in the storytelling business. Your voice over script needs to reflect that.
It’s also equally true that audiences, whoever they may be, expect so much more from the material they either watch or listen to — especially online.
Is yours a business that’s trying to cut through all the clutter out there? Then grab and engage those audiences quickly.
Of course, writing a winning voice over script isn’t all that easy. Not everyone has the budget required to pay a top-drawer copywriter, either. Nevertheless, there’s no reason why more average folk can’t come up with a worthwhile voice over script.
Are you nodding because you fall into the ‘average’ category? Then here are 10 tips that’ll help get you writing killer stuff in no time!
1. Always write the way you speak
In most instances, you’re writing for the ear, not the eye. As a result, the way you write should be more informal. Some pro copywriters make use of ‘image-training’. They imagine someone sitting in front of them for and to whom they are writing. A typical customer, maybe?
The key here is to use common, everyday words and avoid stuck-in-the-mud adverbs like ‘moreover’, ‘thus’, and ‘therefore’. Using contractions instantly makes everything you write more conversational — and that’s a good thing.
2. Get to the point as quickly as you can
Attention spans are short — and they’re getting shorter. Ensure you get to the point quickly in your voice over script or you’re going to lose your audience. They’ll just click past or scroll on by. Focus on what matters.
Make use of what some call ‘intelligent simplicity’ — that which is easy and effective. Be straightforward as well as to-the-point about your product or service.
3. Learn from others
The advantage of online video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo is that you have access to an absolute abundance of material you can learn from. Using a search term like ‘the best commercials’ will probably provide you with the inspiration you need to write your voice over script.
30-second radio commercials that have stood the test of time or are currently receiving rave reviews will offer you considerable insight. Learn how to write your voice over script for maximum impact.
The format is usually: say it; explain it; repeat it. The opening sentence must grab your attention and make you want to know more. The detail follows and gets repeated.
4. Use only one voice
Be consistent. Whether you’re writing in First, Second, or Third Person, keep to one of them throughout. If you jump from one to the other or jump from First Person Singular to First Person Plural, you’ll cause confusion in the mind of your listener. Consistency will make your voice over script more credible. Believability always sticks and top-of-mind is the best place for your product or service to be.
5. Keep sentences short and easy to grasp
This applies to any kind of writing when it’s aimed at the ear, but perhaps even more so in an eLearning or explainer environment. We’re not suggesting what you write in your voice over script must sound stilted or overly simplistic; not at all! What you say, however, mustn’t force your listener or viewer to constantly seek out the replay button because they didn’t understand something. Go for shorter sentences and vary their length — which is a lot like the way we speak.
Try to put across one idea per sentence and strip your sentences of any superfluous adjectives and adverbs. Keep. It. Simple.
6. Pay attention to rhythm
When you write a sentence or paragraph with an understanding of innate rhythm, it’s much easier to listen to. It’s also more memorable. Much like music, speech has a rhythm that’s related to tempo and the way stressed and unstressed words alternate. To test your voice over script for rhythm, read it aloud and listen for feel, flow, and timing. Swapping words around or finding alternatives that make what you’re trying to say chug along happily is where you want to be.
7. Silence is golden
Always remember that silence is to audio what whitespace is to a page of copy. As little as you enjoy being confronted with a solid wall of text, your listener wants to be bombarded with a stream of rapid-fire, seemingly endless words. There must be at least some measure of respite.
Work brief pauses (or ‘beats’ as they’re called in the trade) into your voice over script. Indicate these clearly when you hand over your writing to a voice actor. Silence is your friend, so apply it with a clear purpose.
8. Use transition words
Transition words (yet, but, because, however, and meanwhile, etc.) will prepare your listener for a change — a new section, segment, or idea. Transitions can be incredibly useful because they change pace or tone. They act as definite cues to clarify the message contained in your voice over script.
9. Calculate the length carefully
Did we say ‘carefully’? You’ll rarely find a voice actor who won’t tell you about a client of theirs who expected a 150-word voice over script to be squeezed into a 30-second commercial read. Clients, they often complain, always have to try and shove as much information as they possibly can into the shortest available time. The problem with that is both core message and comprehension suffer.
What listener will remember a phone number if it gets rattled off at 75 miles-an-hour — even if it gets repeated right at the end of an ad?
As a general rule, work on a voice-actor being able to comfortably and sensibly read 120 words per minute. Craft your voice over script in such a way that you accommodate tone, style, inflection, and pauses in the time available to you. Even if you’re forced to remove information you’d like to include, find a way of scripting no more than you truly need to get your message across.
10. Soundcheck it
This is mandatory. Yes, you read that right. We’ve also mentioned it already. To reiterate: you have to read your voice over script out loud — and preferably to somebody. There is no better way of discovering awkward phrasing or ideas that just don’t connect seamlessly.
Certain words, while fine on their own, are sometimes hard to read when strung together. (Try reading Sister Suzie sows shirts for soldiers quickly). Tongue-twisters are surprisingly common. Try to avoid them unless that’s what you’re trying to achieve!
Reading aloud is also the best way to determine when your sentences are too long and need to be broken up so that the voice actor has time to breathe without interrupting the flow of the script.
A note on breathing
While many clients insist that voice actors remove their breaths from recordings, it’s not always such a good idea because it makes reads sound unnatural. Listeners expect to hear breaths; don’t forget that. After all, breathing makes us audibly human in this age of A.I. assistants like Alexa or Siri!
It’s crucial to keep in mind that writing truly great voice over scripts is an art, but it’s also a craft that can be learned. Write, then do some more; and keep at it, because practice makes perfect.
Do take a look at our series on how to write killer scripts here.
And finally, we wish you every success!