To Script or Not to Script … That is the Question
When building the trust and confidence of your video audience is it better to deliver your message through a carefully crafted script, or go for a more relaxed interview style?
In part, this depends on the type of film you are making.
There are projects that need precision scripting. For example, an annual report or health & safety induction video require an exacting approach – but ask yourself “Am I choosing to use a script because it’s vital to specify every word or because I’m frightened of losing control of the messaging?” If you don’t need complete control, then it might be time to be bold and consider the prompted interview approach.
And there are two good reasons for this. First – despite your own enthusiasm for all the nuances and details of your own messaging, your audience is only likely to retain 2 – 3 broad-brush stroke ideas – and these can often be expressed perfectly well in a number of ways.
And second – very few people can deliver scripted messages with unshakable conviction. The few that can devote their whole lives to it – and they’re called actors. Now you may have untapped thespian talents, but the chances are you have devoted your life to developing your career elsewhere and not on performing into the lens. So be easy on yourself – wouldn’t it be better to film a relaxed, on-message chat with a trained interviewer who understands your objectives and can make you sound both focussed and sincere in front of the camera?
Which would you rather create – a 100% accurate, but lifeless message, or a 95% accurate message that carries conviction, creates trust and inspires your audience?
So it may well be that a more natural interview style will deliver a better result.
Using Prompted Interview
Before a prompted interview, the interviewer will have digested the key messages outlined in your video production brief. They will then hold a casual conversation with the speaker, asking questions designed to elicit answers to meet the brief, in a natural and authentic style. Only about 10% of the conversation will actually appear in the final edit, so there is plenty of scope for the speaker to try different approaches in expressing themselves and there’s no pressure for them to be word perfect.
Sounds easy? Well … the process should seem so for the speaker, but it actually takes skill and experience to ensure the speaker responds in an engaging yet focussed way. If the questions are too closed, then the speaker will run out of things to say – or only give plain boring answers. On the other hand, if the questions are too broad, for too long, the conversation won’t be focussed enough and won’t hit the key points of your brief.
The interviewer also needs to understand the video editing process, so they can guide the conversation in a way that will be helpful to the editor and produce a well structured narrative.
It’s worth noting that If the interviewer is rigidly reading out pre-written set questions from a list – then they are NOT conducting a ‘prompted interview’.
It’s therefore essential your production team include experienced interviewers who can guide a conversation that will convey a natural authenticity – but at the same time ensure your video covers all your key points.
By contrast, there are situations when a scripted approach is clearly the best choice for your project. There are a number of reasons why this might be the case.
When Being Succinct is Essential
In normal conversation people can be passionate, persuasive and engaging, but it’s less likely that they can be all that AND highly succinct at the same time. Only speakers who have a particular talent for communication can achieve this.
Where you need to convey ideas in as short a time as possible, yet still hold interest, a scripted narrative may be the best route for your project. Through script writing, phrases can be carefully crafted to condense ideas powerfully and efficiently, as well as set the tone of the language.
Bear in mind though, that an audience can tell when speech has been scripted, so a script won’t match a prompted interview for immediacy and authenticity
Sometimes a creative approach may require a script to carry the shape of a story or establish a style you wish to exploit. Scripting offers complete control over both the expression of facts and the dramatic turns in story.
It is also often a key element in videos that aim to use humour to engage an audience. A humorous or fictionally dramatic video will have an impact on your audience and be memorable, but this isn’t always the same as persuading your audience and winning their confidence.
It’s important to be known and liked by your audience and creative scripted treatments can be a great way to succeed in this, but a video that captures authenticity may also be required to actually persuade your audience and get them to trust you.
Choosing the Right Voice for Your Script
Once you have decided on a scripted approach, you will have to consider who is going to voice it. Of course – if the script is for a fictional scene you will be hiring professional actors.
In other cases, you will need to choose between a professional presenter or voice-over artist versus someone who has a genuine connection with the subject matter of the video – such as an employee, a subject expert or beneficiary of your services.
Using a Real Participant
There may happen to be someone connected with your project who has a pleasant engaging voice and some flair for delivering a script with an expressive intonation. This can lend authenticity and genuine personality to your video.
Bear in mind, however, that having someone suitable to hand is less likely than you might imagine. It’s often the case that people we find highly engaging in conversation in day to day life won’t be able to show the same spirit in front of a camera or in recording a voice-over. Unless you have some natural talent for it, reading aloud or voicing a memorised script can make an otherwise captivating speaker sound flat.
If you are considering using a team member to deliver your script, then it is wise to handle the possibility with diplomacy and prime everyone to avoid assumptions about who would be the best person to voice your script. This is to avoid the very awkward situation in which a candidate has been lined up for the job only to prove rather wooden when recording starts.
It’s a good idea to ‘audition’ a few people, keeping expectations low and light-hearted, with the approach that you are ‘just exploring’ possibilities to see what might work best overall. Sometimes those who are not immediately promising respond well to a little coaching and certain editing tricks can be used to elevate their performance even further, so once again it’s important to keep an open mind. On the other hand, there are times when, in the best interests of your project, you really should be using someone else.
The Top Dog Trap
Often it is assumed that the ‘Top Dog’ in your outfit is the obvious person to voice your video. This might be the Head of Department, the prize winning student or the CEO.
These sorts of people are usually very accomplished in numerous ways and may have impressive interpersonal communication skills, but don’t assume they will be best for voicing your script. Don’t be blinded by internal politics and the wish to defer to seniority merely out of the fear of challenging convention. Making an audio or video recording requires a very specific flair and instinct that is frequently outside the experience and talents of even the most gifted high achievers.
Thinking less conventionally can unearth wonderful speakers right under your nose and this applies just as much to prompted interview participants as the voicing of scripts. The maverick, the on-looker, the junior and the ‘newbie’ are all worth considering when looking for ‘The Voice’. Not to mention Joe “who’s been fixing the heating for the past 20 years” or Sarah, the student who “gets into trouble occasionally and can’t hand her work in on time”, but has an infectious zest for life that enthuses everyone around her.
Be brave about your speakers. Given the time, money and high profile associated with video production projects – don’t compromise the impact of the final video by only considering the safe options.
When You’ve Just Got to Hear From the Boss
That said – there are times when we do really need to hear from the top person in an organisation, but this doesn’t mean they have to carry the whole video. If your boss isn’t naturally a strong presenter, it’s worth considering a brief intro and outro commentary from them to frame the rest of the video.
This can work really well, in that it clearly establishes their leadership as the authority underpinning the video, but allows other – perhaps more engaging voices – to maintain the interest of the viewer. Indeed, by association, it reflects well on a leader that they have a talented and committed team working for them bringing energy and passion to a campaign.
When Should You Use a Professional Voice?
If your budget is very tight, then the obvious disadvantage to hiring a professional voice is the cost. However, unless you’re going for a ‘celebrity’ voice, charges are generally affordable within typical video production budgets.
It’s worth remembering, however, you will pay for each recording of the script, so you need to be very sure that the script that is recorded is the final version, if you really can’t afford the extra cost of a further recording.
Lack of Authenticity
Even if only at a subconscious level, your audience will know that they are listening to a hired professional rather than someone with a genuine stake in your mission. At the point of persuasion – there may be those that respond to a hired voice with a “ well … you would say that wouldn’t you” reaction, rather than belief in what you are saying.
This may not matter very much where you are only aiming to be known and liked by your audience. However, if you’re asking me to part with lots of money, my vote or entrust you with my safety, then I may need to see or hear evidence of your integrity that I can trust. In this case the authentic voice of a genuine member of your team could be more powerful in persuading your audience.
An experienced and talented professional voice-over artist or presenter can bring varied and emotionally engaging tones to voicing your script. They can do this in ways that are well beyond the skills of a non-professional. Add this to the attractiveness of most professional voices and you have a powerful instrument that can really gain and hold the interest of your audience, ensuring they listen carefully and stay with you to the end of your video.
Sometimes organisations only have a handful of ‘in-house’ candidates who are willing and available to voice a script. Then there are issues such as confidence, accent, gender, age, ability and internal politics to consider. Such factors can reduce your options even further. This is particularly so if you are aiming to engage a particular audience demographic by using a voice they can relate to.
By contrast, there are thousands of professional voices to choose from and, through auditioning digital audio files, you can usually quickly find your ideal voice for your campaign. Age, gender, accent, nationality and style can all be specified and matched when using a professional voice-over artist.
Authenticity is one thing, but when it comes to engendering trust, there are times when the right tone of voice and precise demographic positioning of the speaker can also be vital in reassuring your audience and winning their allegiance.
Making a Judgement
Evidently, there is no ‘one size fits all’ formulaic approach to creating a video that will inspire trust and belief amongst your viewers. It takes careful consideration of numerous factors such as budget, your team members, and the tone and purpose of each video project.
Keeping an open mind, staying focussed on the specific objectives for your video and listening to the input of experienced video producers will go a long way to ensure you end up with a powerful video that will move and persuade your audience.
Blue Sky Film & Media – Video Production
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