When you’re writing a voiceover script, you’re writing for the ear, not the eye. We hear someone speak to us from the instant we’re born, whereas reading comes much later. Our brains process information differently when we hear it vs. read it. This means different rules and best practices apply to writing a great voiceover script. Below are 7 tips for writing a kick-a** voice-over script that will hook listeners from the get-go and keep them engaged!
1. Know your audience
Understanding your audience’s age, socioeconomic interests, tendencies, and preferences will help you write a script that resonates with them. It may be helpful to create a persona, on paper or in your head, who would be listening to your script, and imagine speaking to them specifically. If you write too broadly, it will be harder for any one individual to connect with your script on a personal level.
2. Keep it concise
A script for voiceover should be easy to follow and avoid complex sentence structures. People don’t speak in complex sentences, so it’s not how we’re used to hearing information. The last thing you want is to bore your audience by sounding like a droning lecture.
3. Pause where appropriate
Make sure to include natural pauses. Feel free to ignore normal punctuation rules and put a comma wherever you want a pause, keeping in mind that you may have accompanying visuals that need time to build on-screen. Use line breaks, dashes, and ellipses to guide your voice actor towards the tone and emphasis you want.
4. Think visually
If you’re creating a video or whiteboard animation to accompany the voiceover, it’s important to make sure that the visuals complement the script, because that will reinforce your message. The videographer or artist is responsible for delivering the right images, however, the script should be crafted with visuals in mind. The most poetic, profound sentence in writing may be too abstract or vague for a corresponding visual, which means your visuals will not be able to reinforce your message—a missed opportunity.
5. Use active voice
Using active voice in your script keeps the message clear, concise and direct. Active voice is also easier for the talent to read aloud. An example of active voice is: “The cat chased the mouse.” This is active voice because the subject (cat) is performing the action (chasing) on the object (mouse). The sentence makes it easy to understand who is responsible for the action. In contrast, the sentence in passive voice would be: “The mouse was chased by the cat.” This form of writing is weaker and less engaging because it obscures who is performing the action, making it less clear and concise.
6. Use the right tone
The tone of the script will depend on the context of the message you’re trying to convey. If you’re promoting a product or service, you might want to use an upbeat, enthusiastic tone with a sales spin. If you’re sharing important information, you might want to use a serious and authoritative tone. If you’re sharing helpful information, perhaps a friendly, conversational tone is best. Make sure that the tone of the script is consistent with the message you’re trying to convey.
7. Add pronunciation
If your script contains product names, technological terms, or anything difficult to pronounce add a phonetic cue [in brackets like this]. This is also true for words that may have more than one common pronunciation, or if you are specifying a regional pronunciation. This will help your voice actors read the script properly and help your audience identify with your message.
8. Read! Out! Loud!
This is essential! You don’t know if your script is working until you’ve read it out loud. You may have written a tongue-twister and not realized it…until you read it out loud. And you’ll hear if you’re missing connective statements and segues needed to help it flow and sound natural.
No matter how long your script is, it helps to break it down based on how you will record the script. Generally voice over talent prefers manageable, short paragraphs ideally 4-7 sentences. Remember, they need to breathe. Moreover, segmenting the script into manageable recording segments allows the talent to focus on the right points of emphasis more easily. It’s also helpful for managing the recording session.
And finally, numbering your paragraphs (or “graphs” in recording lingo) make it much easier to make notes and pass the direction to the audio engineer. Tips for running a voice over recording session in our next installment!
Remember that writing for the ear is different than writing for the eye. By following these tips, your voiceover script will sound more natural, connect better with your audience, and help your message hit home.