9 steps for writing a scintillating video script

Start by establishing your goals for the piece. After sketching your outline, craft a story that’s compelling, concise and crystal clear. 

Video script writing tips

A compelling video starts with a great script.

Voiceovers, music, visuals—these elements enhance your narrative, but the story must be on paper first. Here’s how to craft a comprehensive, clear and concise video script:

1. Outline your goals.

Don’t dive straight into writing, and don’t start with your outline, either. Before you do either, know your goals.

To start, answer these questions:

  • Why do I want to tell this story?
  • What’s my angle?
  • Who will be watching this?
  • What should the audience take away from this?
  • Why will the audience care about this story?
  • What value will this video provide?

List what you plan to cover, and then flesh out your narrative outline.

2. Craft your story outline.

A “story outline” is not the same as a “story.” Start by writing a rough outline of the story you want to tell, but don’t go overboard with details—yet.

At this stage, focus on assembling an outline with a narrative arc that will pique your audience’s interest and satiate their desire to know what happens next.

To distill your story, write the through line using just five sentences. This creates the skeleton, which you can flesh out later.

3. Build out the story.

Now comes the fun part. Expand your story, and start creating a cohesive, persuasive piece. Try these tips:

  • Open with an emotional hook. This could be a powerful story, an interesting anecdote or a jarring stat. Give your viewer a reason to care right off the bat.

2015 Facebook/Nielsen study found that if a viewer watched just one second of a brand video, it still increased ad recall, brand awareness and purchase consideration. Make that opening count.

  • Focus on a single message. Don’t confuse your audience by cramming too much into your script. Choose a single message to convey, and reinforce it through imagery, animation or data.
  • Provide context. Statistics alone won’t resonate with your viewers. Compare and contrast your data with tangible insights or illustrations, and provide context that demonstrates how such observations or data points play out.
  • Deliver a satisfying payoff. Don’t leave viewers hanging. They want to know what happens and where the story goes next. Deliver a strong takeaway that’s simple to understand and accomplish.

4. Cinch your closer.

If you can’t “close” effectively, all that momentum will dissipate—along with any emotional impact you’ve built.

A good ending should be a clear call to action—not just a flash of your logo and URL. Your ending should come from what you want your viewer to do or walk away with.

Do you want them to:

  • Share the video?
  • Sign up for a demo?
  • Subscribe to your newsletter?
  • Download a report?

Your narrative should build toward this ending.

(Note: Not all stories must end with a buttoned-up, full-circle resolution. You can also use suspense or intrigue to spur action.)

5. Pretend you’re the viewer.

Once you have your core story, flip the script. Analyze the piece from your viewer’s perspective.

As you write your script, consider:

  • Is this relevant to your audience? Will they care about the issues you’re presenting, or is your video just something your team thinks is cool? Make sure your piece is relevant to your target audience, and use emotional hooks to make them care.
  • Is the vocabulary appropriate? Don’t use industry terms, jargon or phrases that might confuse people. Use simple, clear, straightforward language to get your message across.

6. Be mindful of tone.

Does the tone of your script seem appropriate for your subject matter? If not, you could end up going viral for all the wrong reasons.

A serious subject doesn’t always require gravitas, but be judicious about using a lighthearted tone. Many brands force humor and whimsy into every video, and it’s not always appropriate. Make sure your script gets reviewed by as diverse a group as possible before you proceed.

7. Cut, revise, and cut some more.

Once you have your first draft, wield a hatchet (figuratively).

Delete any extraneous words. Adding length to your video will frustrate your audience and weaken your argument. Make each sentence count.

Go through your script multiple times, whittling it down until every single word serves the story. Exchange long words for simpler ones, and aggressively remove ancillary information.

For inspiration, see how Apple uses just 90 words to convey its message:

8. Read it out loud.

If any words will be spoken, say them aloud to check whether they work.

A few tips:

  • Don’t just read through the script in your head. Record yourself speaking the dialogue or narration, and then listen back.
  • Read your video script aloud in one take. This helps you catch anything that causes even a momentary stumble. Until you can read the script smoothly in one take, rewrite, revise, and edit.
  • Run your script through a program to check its voiceover read time. Professional voiceover actors know how to maintain a steady cadence, which means your run time might differ from your original estimate.

9. Get lots of feedback.

Get as many fresh eyes as possible on your video script.

Pitch your script to a diverse range of colleagues, friends or target viewers who are not afraid to offer raw feedback.

Handing off your script to someone else will either bolster your confidence or improve your narrative through outside perspective. Either way, candid feedback will help you create a better, livelier script.

A version of this post first appeared on the Column Five Media blog.

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