Voice Acting

Instructional Strategies: Voice Over Scripts

Keaton Robbins | March 27, 2018

A man writing on a pad of paper at a desk

Instructional Strategies: Voice Over Scripts

If you’re looking to improve your instructional strategy, you’d be remiss not to include the creation of compelling elearning scripts to help guide your learners.

Writing an elearning script sounds like an easy task. Simply include everything you want the viewer to know, right? Not quite.

There are many components to a well written script. But what about elearning scripts specifically? We’ve scoured the internet and connected with some elearning script writing experts to compile the best practices of elearning script writing in one place to help you perfect your elearning course narrative.

The Best Elearning Scripts Begin with a Plan, Before They Get Written

The key to writing captivating script content is to plan and outline the course in advance of writing the lesson.

Following project management best practices, setting out a road map allows you to anticipate problem areas and address them in advance. For example, an issue may arise if an area in the course aims to explain a complex theory to an introductory student. The lesson would need to start with the bare-bones concept and become more complex with the inclusion of new information and variables over the course of the…course (pun intended).

When you simplify theories by finding analogies, scenarios, etc. in advance of the script writing, it will help to create a more effective elearning lesson. (The perfect segway into our next tip.)

Use Scenarios, Give Examples, Tell a Story

Story telling releases certain chemicals in our brains that make what we’ve learned resonate deeper and longer. Studies also show that when we’re listening to a story that has us captivated, our brain activity mirrors that of the story teller.

Though not every story will make all students have an emotional or neurological response, this concept can be harnessed by instructional designers to make their course teachings ‘stick’ in the learners’ minds. Parables, specifically, take a learner through a scenario which ends with an overarching lesson that can be applied to many situations. Referencing the example above, an instructional designer can use a parable to begin the introduction of a complex theory that hinges on specific rules, such as chemistry or physics.

Why are analogies and metaphors effective in elearning? They help learners to see connections and common traits between things otherwise unrelated. Because one of those ‘things’ is likely to be familiar to the learner, they very easily comprehend the point being made within the elearning lesson and retain what they’ve learned, thanks to that mental connection. For step by step instructions on how best to craft a lesson around metaphorical learning, Oregon State University has a fantastic resource.

Adapt the Voice Over Script to Your Audience

A well known psychological theory called ‘mirroring’ allows us to adapt to those around us by subconsciously mirroring their body language and expressions as a way of nonverbal communication. Notice the next time you’re sitting with a good friend, when they shift their weight and put their elbow on the table, you’ll find yourself in nearly that exact position within the next few minutes. It just happens!

We don’t know who we’re talking to specifically when we’re script writing, so ‘adapting to your audience’ is easier said than done.

For an obvious example of contrast, the script for an elementary school-level elearning course on the alphabet wouldn’t be written using vocabulary like ‘A is for antenniferous, ‘B is for bicapitate”, etc.

For a more real-world example, business executive training on new purchasing procedures can afford to incorporate more complex vocabulary, and a more straightforward ‘no-fuss, no-muss’ voice over delivery. And an LMS aimed at fresh-out-of-school marketing millennials used to acquaint them with a new marketing platform would require a multi-voice, somewhat playful, relaxed, voice over read.

Use Limited Copy in Your Elearning Course Visuals

How many slide show presentations have you seen where the slides were jam-packed with paragraphs, only to be read aloud by the presenter? It’s all too common. When writing the scripts for an elearning course, creators would benefit from brainstorming the visuals alongside the script. Storyboarding is a common practice to keep the visual aids in mind as the script develops. Thinking about the visuals and script together will also help to highlight areas where the voice over needs to have special voice inflections or vocal direction to deliver the message that the visuals intend.

When the time comes to create the visuals to complement the script (and voice over), try to use the rule of thumb practiced by American marketing specialist, Guy Kawasaki, by using a minimum font size of 30 on any presentation-style visuals. That will keep your word count to a minimum and allow for spoken word to flesh out the idea being presented visually.

When Writing Elearning Voice Over Scripts, Write for the Spoken Word

“When one writes for print, his methods are very different. He follows forms which have but little resemblance to conversation…” – Mark Twain

It’s not until you attempt to write a script and read it aloud to yourself that you realize how different writing for the spoken word is from writing for the written word.

To keep a script from sounding like a random instructional email found on the office printer, use transition words like ‘yet’, ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘meanwhile’, ‘in other words’, etc. when steering elearning students through their modules. This resource will come in handy if you’d like more examples of transition words, and to know when to use them.

Always read your script out loud to yourself before passing it along to a narrator. Try reading it with the pacing and tone that you’re envisioning. This is a great way to identify anything like run-on sentences that would be fine for the written word, but make for a challenge when speaking.

Lastly, try to use ‘white space’ throughout your script to help the narrator digest the information flow. White space denote areas where the subject matter is shifting to the next topic, is providing an example scenario, or is telling the narrator to pause for a few seconds to allow the elearning students to absorb the information and perhaps participate in a mid-module activity.

Address Elearning Course Time Commitments

In 2011, psychologists proved that setting expectations with the audience by providing more information – including how long something will take – significantly increases the chances of us committing to it. Plus, as learners, we’re practically programmed to expect a mention of time commitment at the outset. So, at the start of an elearning course, to prepare the learner for what’s ahead, the script should include information about the time commitments of the course, the current module, and any offline exercises.

In today’s time-crunched world, pretty much everything we do in our busy days are first set with an expected time commitment. Recipes tell you how long you’ll need for prep time and cook time. Survey callers tell you how long a survey will take. Public transit apps tell you how long until your transit arrives. Your favourite online publication tells you how long it will take you to read the latest article. Even traditional in-class schools lay out time commitments from semester length, all the way down to time allotted for an exam. So it only makes sense to add the same information to your elearning course.

Use an Active Voice to Keep Learners More Engaged

What is an active voice, and why use it?

In the English language especially, the active voice is used to describe sentences where the subject is actioning the verb by preceding it in a sentence. That sounds confusing. Here’s an example:

“Derek [subject] suggests [verb] that his team uses the new credit card payment system.”

This is an active sentence because Derek is doing the suggesting.

For comparison, the active voice is countered by the passive voice, which in essence is the same sentence with a different emphasis that changes the subject-verb relationship. With a passive sentence, the subject is acted upon by having the verb precede the subject instead. Another example, for clarification:

The new credit card payment system [subject] is being used [verb] by Derek’s team, as he suggested.

This is a passive sentence because the credit card payment system is being used.

The fictional Star Wars character Yoda, provides one of the most famous examples of speaking in an exaggerated passive voice.

Iconic Star Wars character Yoda, to portray the usage of a passive voice in contract to an active voice for use in an elearning course

From our above examples you can see that in the active voice sentence, Derek was the subject, and in the passive voice, the credit card payment system became the subject.

In general, the active voice is more engaging and tends to add impact to the topic being discussed by painting a crystal clear image in the readers’ minds. In this case, the reader is a voice actor who needs to sound like they know their stuff. They are the instructor afterall.

Using the active voice also helps to keep thoughts expressed as concisely as possible, as it generally uses less words. For elearning, the less word-y a script is, the better a voice actor will be able to own what they’re talking about, and the end user is much more likely to remember the points being made.

Use Lists and Bulleted Copy In Your Elearning Script to Improve Information Retention

Why are lists effective? They provide a way for our brains to process isolated pieces of information, and then instantaneously search for personal context that helps us to remember the list items.

Lists also draw our attention to important information. We subconsciously gravitate toward lists as a way to scan information and pull what we need from it.

But what about including bulleted lists in your elearning scripts? It is possible to include bullets, and can be especially effective when it’s complemented with on-screen visuals. This multisensory learning environment is scientifically proven to increase learner retention and practical use, especially when paired with an offline exercise that challenges the learner to recall the list items.

However, in order to set the voice actor up for success, make sure to include some direction around how you would like bulleted lists to be read, especially in regards to pacing. Do you want them to pause briefly between each item – or to read through the list as though it was all part of one thought? No matter what cadence you desire, make sure that you communicate it to the voice actor with detailed artistic direction.

Too tight on time? Not feeling confident in your script writing abilities?

You can hire a freelance writer to put into words what you’re trying to teach in a way that can be read aloud naturally as if there was no script at all! Elearning script writing can be an affordable solution for some, and you can check rates for freelance elearning script writing online. The added value that a script writer can bring to your elearning project is worth the price tag, especially when you’re struggling to find the conversational writing style within yourself. After all, an effective elearning LMS starts with a great script.

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