What’s the difference between a good and a bad script? Maybe it’s a single awful word choice, or maybe it’s a series of grammatical mistakes—or, perhaps, it’s a single memorable joke that buoys an otherwise forgettable piece. As you write, it can be hard to know when these mistakes are happening, or when these magic moments have occurred. There’s a way to look over your work, though, and see if you’re hitting the target: evaluation of the three central goals of business scriptwriting.
Every sentence in your script should do one of three things: appeal, inform, or suggest. Good writing can and should do more than one of these at once, but let’s approach them individually.
Appeal is all about emotion. This can take various forms for different scripts, but it always means reinforcing the feeling that you want your audience to experience. The prerequisite to writing appealing sentences is audience research. Who are you writing for? What emotion is likely, and preferred, for this audience?
If want your audience to be amused and jovial, there are your criteria for every sentence meant to appeal to them. If it’s not funny, if it’s not tongue-in-cheek, if it’s not witty—there’s plenty of synonyms here, so pick the one that fits your intent, and evaluate the sentence by it. If it doesn’t land, try again.
If your audience will likely be in a fairly serious mindset (your organization’s revenue comes from something more weighty, say), appeal will need to generate feelings of respect, directness, or gravity. If they’ll be surprised, you’ll want them to feel reassured, excited, and valued.
Approach writing the appeal portions of your script with some target emotions in mind, or even better, on paper. Referring back to it can be a great way to objectively reevaluate your work down the road.
The Teachable Moment
Let’s move on to informing your audience. The criterion here is singular: when it’s time to teach, are you successfully communicating the vital points of your message? Does this sentence, in the middle of your product description, say, contribute to the understanding of someone who doesn’t know what you know?
The truly difficult part isn’t writing as if you’ve never heard of the product—it’s guessing what parts of the product will feel familiar to your audience, and which will not. Audience research will again be vital here but some of this will feel a bit like mind-reading.
Example quagmire: Does your audience know what viral vectors are? Have they, maybe, heard of the idea? If so, is that the limit of their understanding? How much can you take for granted here? The answer will almost always fall between the extremes of ‘nothing’ and ‘everything,’ and that can drive a writer to frustration very, very quickly.
Let’s pause before getting to ‘suggest’ for a moment. In informative sentences in situations where you can’t be sure of the audience’s exact knowledge base, save yourself by appealing.
Remember your target emotion, and balance your informative sentences by reinvigorating this feeling. Make fun of yourself a little as you proceed with your best guess, or respectfully acknowledge the uncertainty. Be flexible. The personable, appropriate tone you’re (hopefully) hitting through appealing sentences can do wonders to cover the informational errors that sometimes just happen.
Finally, suggest. This is definitely about a call to action, but it needs to happen sooner than that, usually wrapped tightly around your informative sentences. Your car has a better sound system than the competition? Suggest some reasons why this should matter to your audience. Your service is entirely new? Suggest that your audience has actually been waiting for it their whole lives.
Suggestion, as the word sounds, should necessarily be the most subtle of the three goals of your writing. “You need this right now” is technically a suggestion, but rarely feels convincing. For many, that kind of suggestion actually creates a backlash effect: “No, I don’t.” This is true right up until that call to action.
With your call to action—a vital piece of your writing that you absolutely cannot disregard—suggestion should be direct. “Visit our website,” or “Ask your representative;” this is the concrete next step. Don’t soft-pedal it.
One more thought—a sort of fourth and final consideration that lives next door to these three goals. You will write many, many sentences that fail to appeal, inform, or suggest. There’s no avoiding this; you’ll make mistakes in any writing effort, and business scriptwriting is in no way easier than others. There is, however, a way to keep it from being a problem, and regroup quickly. That way is all about how you talk to yourself.
Personally, I don’t love the terms “cut it,” “drop it,” or “kill it” when talking about sentences that don’t measure up. It implies some kind of weird vacuum, as if by missing the mark with your sentence you’ve left a hole in the page.
If you’re an editor, know that there’s a heft and aggression to these phrases that writers tend to feel in their bones. Rewriting, reworking, rewording, even replacing—these words convey confidence in the writer’s abilities, a giving of a second chance that you know will come out better. Pursue changes from a place of positivity.
Care to guess how many times I’ve rewritten major portions of this article? You’re probably guessing low, and I don’t feel like less of a writer because of this truth. I’ll even let you in the original impetus for this article—it was going to be about leaving unnecessary information out of your script. I was going to call it “Don’t Tell the Whole Story.” It wasn’t working.
“This isn’t quite working—how can I reimagine it?” This is the thinking that helped me reconfigure. I didn’t tell myself to “Scrap the whole thing.” I found a different angle (must-includes instead of must-avoids) and moved on. Appeal, inform, and suggest: Work to accomplish these three goals, and you should be well on your way to a highly successful business video script.