Writing fiction isn’t really my forte. I love trying, and if I try long enough, I might just create something great (or at least, good).
Writing nonfiction is my forte. Explaining the intricacies of any particular subject matter is fun. Yep, you read that right … fun.
Despite that reality, I don’t think the two are as distinct as some might think. In fact, I merge them as much as possible in everything I write. Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone fictionalize work that isn’t meant to be fiction. That would not be good. (Although, I would argue that some instruction manuals read like fiction. Have you ever tried putting something together with the help of instructions that seem to be written for an entirely different product? Uh huh.)Both fiction and nonfiction require good storytelling. That’s the crucial element that makes a piece of work readable and engaging. Remember those dry textbooks that functioned better as sleep aids than learning tools?
Where storytelling really shines is when writing a video script for an otherwise ordinary product. After all, how much can you really say about a washing machine? In the old days, companies were more than happy to settle for a hard sell ad. Well, that just doesn’t cut it anymore. More companies than ever have turned to producing short YouTube videos about their products in the hopes of connecting with their potential customers. And therein lies the challenge.
So, if you’re a company looking at producing videos for your products, or if you’re looking to hire someone to help you create those videos, I have some tips that you should keep in mind throughout the process.
Writing a video script is a lot like blogging. Better yet, writing a video script is a lot like having a conversation. That’s where you should start. Keep in mind that age-old advice about explaining something to an alien who’s just landed on the planet. Make the conversation informative and light. Relying on technical information and jargon that’s beyond most people’s knowledge or interest is a sure way to kill customer engagement.
Beyond making the script conversational and informative, there is a tried-and-true method to writing great video scripts for products.
First, planning is key. Knowing what message you need to convey and what any other expectations are right at the get-go will quash any chance of problems later. The first meeting between client and writer is where the two will need to hammer out what format the video will take (Q & A?), how long will it be (1 minute or 20 minutes?), and what will the tone be (formal or casual?). My advice is to ask as many questions as possible at this stage. Neither the writer nor the company may have ready answers. But, at least, in asking the questions all those involved in the process will arrive at a solid plan that reflects what the company wants to achieve.
- Start with a summary. This bit must answer the important questions. What’s the goal of the video? Who’s the target audience? What is the video specifically about? What message do you want viewers to take away from it? What’s the call to action? What do we want viewers to do after seeing the video?
- Write the script. Focus on writing in a conversational tone. Most people don’t use big words in everyday speak. Fill in as much detail as possible. Make the information thorough. Add in details that indicate direction, like when there’s a voice over, when B-Roll will be shown, when text overlays will be used. Write out the entire script in full sentence format. If the actor is very knowledgeable then ad libbing might be alright. But generally, it’s best if the actors are given an entire script. The trick is for the actor to provide the information in a natural sounding way.
- Keep it short. There’s a lot competing for our attention. It’s hard to keep people’s attention for long. Aim for videos that run approximately 1 to 5 minutes. You can go shorter or longer depending on the subject matter, just not by too much. Keep the information succinct.
- Pace it. Once you’ve written it, read it out loud. I don’t always get to be part of the table read. So, reading aloud helps me know if I’ve achieved the right intent. Remember that someone else will be reading it in front of a camera. Speaking more slowly than normal and enunciating will ensure that you’ve got the timing right, too.
- Check facts. Especially if you’re writing about a topic that you don’t really know anything about, it’s vital that you check your information. Use the company’s experts. Ask them all the questions you need to ask in order to make sure you’ve got the info right. After you’ve written the script, it’s a good idea to run it by those experts to make sure that no important information has been dropped in translation. The key here is to communicate regularly with the client.
Videos, especially those that explain a product and answer customer questions are hugely popular because they’re effective. They don’t demand a whole lot from the viewer. Yet, they provide a wealth of important information about the product and the company.
Good luck and have fun with it. Let me know if you have any other questions!