You have to make a great script. No video can work without it.
But how long should it be? Most people start with the question: how many words can I get in a 90 second video script?
That’s the wrong question to ask. Instead: what is the final goal of this project? What is the tone? What do I want for my readers?
Before we start, we have to realize a few things:
- The goal of any script is comprehension…
- We do everything from the client’s point of view.
- Time is a tool to “paint” with.
- Most of the time people try and cram too much in – and that means nobody remembers anything.
So, here are 3 rules that will make everything easy as we work toward using the voice over to create great videos.
Please note that all of this is keyed towards the North American market.
Guideline #1: Optimize Information Density.
Have you ever been interested in a video, clicked it on and thought “ugh,” how hard? That’s probably because you got confused.
There was too much complexity, which our brains are wired to avoid.
You probably encountered too much information density.
New ideas, slamming into you faster than you can process them. On the other hand, you’ve watched videos where you get the gist of the thing instantly.
The basic idea: slow down for the new ideas, go fast for the familiar parts. It’s generally better to be a little on the slow side than too fast. Comprehension is everything and we don’t want to lose our audience. By simply looking at each section of the video and saying “is this hard or easy,” you can go a long way towards a better video.
Guideline #2: Pay Attention To Natural Speech Rates
Then, slow it down.
According to the national center for voice and speech, the normal rate of speech in North America is about 150 words per minute.
This is “conversational” speech, where people have some shared context, some shared history and familiarity.
When your introducing new material, it takes a minute for your brain to catch up. The general rule: the more dynamic the idea, the slower it has to go.
Your visuals should carry some weight, so we want to be 135 words per minute as a starting point. We can absolutely go up – or down – from there.
For a video:
Slow: 110 words per minute
Normal: 135 words per minute
Fast 160 words per minute.
To estimate the word count, simply take the approximate script length in minutes and multiply.
Special note: :30 second videos will need fewer words than longer ones because there is some absolute “warm up period,” to gain comprehension.
Guideline #3: Pay Attention To Style
There are times where a dramatic pause will gain more comprehension than more talking. By creating tension you can drive a point home.
By just going straight “by the numbers” or “with what the word count allows,” we miss opportunities to to make an impact by using time as a tool.
We felt so strongly about this that we changed our pricing structure from the traditional “per second” delivery to “design + time” model in order to lessen the impact of “going over.”
A second or two is all it takes to let something “sink in,” and that can make a difference between a great video and an also-ran.
Put It All Together: Section By Section
Part of the editing process includes VO instructions.
When we work with our voice talent we go by the rule that you can’t be too descriptive.
You generally take a script, identify key parts, and write delivery instructions in a way that makes sense. We give notes on each section regarding rate of speech and other factors so that the talent can understand what they are doing.
Use time as a tool to paint with, make sure the pace and tone work. Keep the density at the right level.