Make a Good Video Script Great in 5 Steps

Georgina Laidlaw

With YouTube receiving 1 billion unique visitors each month, it’s no wonder businesses are going crazy over video. A good video usually beats a written product demo hands-down, but there are all kinds of reasons you’d use a video on your site, from telling your brand’s story to pitching your business to potential investors who might stop by.

I’m not going to assume you’re writing your own video script here. Instead, I’m going to assume you need to review a script someone’s written for you. Other than the usual—Is it on-target for your audience? Does it reflect your brand values and personality? etc.—here are some techniques you can use to make a good script great.

1. Know your limits

How long do you want your video to be? For most of us, the shorter the better.

While estimates vary wildly, you can expect straight voiceover talent to speak at around 160-180 words per minute; natural dialog might be slightly faster; instructional scripts a little slower. But the best way to see how long your script will run is to set a stopwatch and read through it, carefully, aloud.

The other thing you’ll gain from doing that is an idea of any sticking points, where words that look fine on paper don’t work so well together when they’re spoken. If you stumble somewhere, that’s probably a good indication that the script could be smoother at that point. Flag it with your writer.

2. Keep the reading level low

We talked about the reading level of text before, but reading level is also a good tool to use to perfect a video script.

When we speak, we tend to use natural language, and express things with shorter words than we might if we were writing. So aiming for a low reading level—around grade 7 or 6 if you can swing it—is one way to help make sure you (and your script writer) aren’t getting carried away with the context of writing on paper. This will also help keep your messages accessible to (almost) everyone who watches your video.

3. Start with a strong word that you want associated with your brand

This isn’t a must-have, but it’s something I like to do particularly for straightforward (that is, humorless) marketing videos.

A good opening word or phrase grabs viewers’ attention. It can indicate that this video is for them. And it can show you’re on the same page as they are.

Recently, I was working on a script for a product that solved a problem for health practitioners. In that case, I started the script with the phrase “Health care can be hard work,” to qualify the audience within the first second: if you’re not into health care, this video’s not for you.

That said, this can be—and has been—a good technique for some funny/entertaining promo videos too, so it’s worth considering in most contexts.

4. Avoid qualifications

With video, you want to get your message across in as short a time as possible. So if you’re using a writer, the script is likely to be fairly economical with the language. They’ll try to pack as much punch into as few words as possible.

Often, though, business owners will want to pad that out with qualifications. As an example, the client of the medical product I mentioned above wanted to preface the opening phrase of his script with a qualification so that it read, “Effective health care can be hard work…”

Be careful when it comes to adding qualifications. I avoid them wherever I can, because they inevitably dilute the message and only make it harder for viewers to get to the point. And, as in the case of “effective”, the words we use to qualify a statement are often pretty fluffy and vague—both in terms of meaning and the way they sound when spoken.

In this case, we compromised so that the opening phrase read, “Quality health care is hard work…” We added a more concrete qualification, but removed another one at the same time.

5. Give viewers something to go on with

Finally, don’t leave viewers hanging at the end of your video: give them something to go on with.

It doesn’t need to be an outright call to action, or an invitation to visit your site or read more below. It can be as simple as a mention of your URL and a final shot of your logo.

Whatever the case, don’t just let the video end: give users an address to use, or action that they can take next. It’s a good way to make sure you’re doing all you can to connect with viewers, wherever they may see your video.

What about your script tips?

To me, these are the five easiest checks you can make that can add real value to an already-good script. But what about you? Have you reviewed, written, or worked with video scripts? I’ll bet you have some tips of your own to share. Let’s hear them in the comments.