8 Tips for a Perfect Corporate Script
As you start planning your next branded video, before discussions of the way it will be shot, the music used, and the cool effects, remember to begin at the beginning…your script.
In Hollywood, the biggest, hottest films always start on paper. It’s like the blueprint. In corporate media it really should be the same. You can discuss production value, actors and special effects all day long, but if the script doesn’t communicate your concept, then it doesn’t matter how many cool effects you have.
So here are some tips for writing a clean corporate video script. I’m going to assume you already have the basics down, that you know your culture and your product and that you are able to write a cohesive sentence.
- Write for the audience.
You want the audience to be your first priority. If they are young, write to sound young. If they are neurosurgeons, write smart and sound like one of them.
If you manufacture a medical device that neurosurgeons use, then you’ll know how to speak to them. They are unique. As a scriptwriter I often find myself having to become an instant expert. You may have to do the same if what you’re writing about is new to you.
By studying white papers, watching presentations, doing some interviews, and reading lots of articles you can get into the head of your audience and write just for their ears.
- Write to be heard, not read.
You may be able to write a killer technical manual, or knock out web copy in your sleep, but whatever you write for voice over has to be written to be spoken and heard.
There’s a nice literary style one can achieve when writing an article that people will read, but there’s a whole other side of style when you write words another human needs to speak out loud to a listening audience. In many cases your audience will play your video once. Will they get your message?
Without an opportunity to “read back” over a sentence, or the inclination to start your video over again, your audience needs to hear clearly what you’re saying, so use clear phrasing and prose that can be heard and understood on the first pass.
Next time you kick back to watch TV watch the commercials and you’ll see how much information can be put into a short timeframe. As you “study” them you’ll begin to see how it’s done–that unique blend of “see and hear.” You’ll notice when a spot is successful and you’ll know when it’s not. You’ll see how your sentences can be short and concise.
Think about pauses and emphasis too. When we speak to friends we pause for effect, and we get loud and soft, fast and slow, depending on what we’re talking about. If you have a particularly complex thought to convey, deliver it in segments, take a beat to let it sink in, then move on.
- Remember, you’re writing a visual script.
Keep in mind as you write that there is a visual component to your script that during the writing you can’t see. That will of course be the video that is yet to be shot. You need to write in anticipation of what those shots will be, and you will even call them out in your script.
Because your video is more than just words, you’ll need to consider how the visuals will communicate to your audience. Will they mirror your script in a “see-say” style or will they support and add to the communication in a way that enhances the words and visually portrays things your words can’t?
Most often, especially as a script passes the rough draft mark, it’s the writer that calls out the visual side of the script with a suggested shot list and graphics. These callouts are usually placed in a separate column to the right or left of the words. You’ll need to think that through, and with the help of your producer or videographer discuss your vision and make sure that what you imagine can be done within your budget.
As you write, think about what will be seen and how that can combine to reinforce the concept. For example, knowing that you will see a shot of your beautiful product in use means you’ll write about your product differently than you would if you couldn’t see it in action. Some explanations will feel redundant when your words accompany the video. So think of your words as only part of the communication that is taking place.
- What’s Your Style?
Decide up front on the style of communication. Is your story factual, humorous, emotional? As an extreme example, will your script sound like an encyclopedia or a graphic novel? Should the delivery be light and humorous or does it need to sound professional and formal?
Each brand needs to have a carefully crafted “voice.” Defined, that is the way your brand is communicated. It can be playful, like the current Farmers spots. It can be emotional like the Hallmark Card spots. You, or your brand guru, need to decide on that voice. If it’s been decided, then you need to write to that voice.
If your next video doesn’t need to follow a brand objective then you are free to explore the possibilities. Even if you have to communicate many hard facts you can still do it in a variety of styles. Try skimming through a series of television channels and observe the different styles. From the History Channel to the Food Network, each provides a different style of communication you can examine.
As mentioned, commercials are a great way to observe many different styles of communication in one place. Once your style has been determined it will make the script easier to write and the visual side of your story easier to plan.
- Write for the voice talent you’ll be using.
As a crazy example, if you know that Jim Carrey is your voice, don’t write the script for James Earl Jones. You’ll want to pick voice talent that matches your demographic and write with that voice in mind. If you’re trying to reach teenagers, have a young voice talent, and phrase the script in a way that will resonate with them.
No matter who your audience is, you don’t necessarily want to write exactly the way they sound, it will depend on the purpose of the video, but you may want to adjust the kinds of words you choose, so you don’t write in a way in which your audience can’t connect.
Finally, you don’t want to write a zany, comedic script and have a staid, serious voice actor deliver it. If you hire specialty talent, like a known actor or comedian, you may even collaborate with them to adjust phrasing and prose to their delivery style. So if you’re paying for James Earl Jones you want to get from him what he delivers.
- Edit, edit edit!
Be ready to throw out even your best phrases if they don’t work. As a writer, you’re going to come up with clever turns of phrase and beautiful sentence structures that you will be IN LOVE WITH! But…you have to be ready to throw them out if they don’t contribute to the overall objective. I know it’s harsh, but that’s reality.
And you can always collect those great lines into a new doc that you can visit whenever you want, just to remind yourself how good you are with words. Just sayin’…
- Read it back out loud.
Always read the script back out loud. Make sure the phrases work. You’ll find out right away if you need to turn a really long sentence into two shorter ones.
A voice actor reading your script will have to breathe, unlike a person reading an article where a sentence can literally go on forever. Reading it back to yourself will help you find those trouble spots to fix before you’re paying money in a recording studio. It will also help you “hear” the structure of your script. Does it make sense? Should you move things around?
Reading out loud also helps you figure out the timing of your script. Read at the pace you hear in your mind and see if it’s too long or too short.
- When all else fails, hire a writer.
There are people out there that for them, this is a piece of cake. You tell them what you want, give them a pile of notes, some product, or a brochure, and they’ll come back with a script that all you have to do is approve. They’ll make the changes you want and bring you a final draft. Easy.
There are writers everywhere. The good ones have samples you can read, and credentials you can see. You can search online in your area or go outside your area, since the Internet has created a world market. You can use a writer from across the country or even across the sea.
There’s much more that can be said about writing a successful script, and I can tackle some of those in later posts. For now, happy writing!
–Gregory King is President and Executive Producer at King Media Group, a production and events firm in Southern California