Header Image of a person writing a video script

When you think about your favorite movies or TV shows, they likely have one thing in common: a great script. A solid script sets up the story and characters, clarifies the setting and tone, and contains all the character dialogue. Moreover, it’s the blueprint for all the creative work that goes into every form of filmmaking, from the budget, location, and visual design to the costumes, makeup, and special effects. But don’t take my word for it …

“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” – Alfred Hitchcock

But what does filmmaking have to do with training? Most training teams don’t have access to a multimillion-dollar budget, nor to a multiyear production timeline, but that shouldn’t lead to scrimping on the quality of the training video script. In fact, you should take a cue from filmmaking pros and focus on nailing down a good script first and foremost, since a good script is absolutely essential for creating an effective training video. After all, a training video needs to do more than just entertain people; it actually needs to influence their behavior. 

So, how can you add “Hollywood-Level Screenwriting Pro” to your training skill set? I’ve pulled together the following four tips to get you started.

1. Identify the type of training video you need

Training videos come in many different flavors, from purely demonstrative with short screencasts walking users through an app or highlighting product features to sweeping cinematic experiences with storylines and richly drawn characters. 

Sometimes training videos feature a narrator who tells learners what’s most important, while other times they follow characters as they navigate situations similar to what learners face on the job, allowing learners to draw their own conclusions about the key messages. 

There are almost endless ways to mix and match all the different flavors of training videos. But before you sit down to write anything, think about the best way to use video to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for. I find that searching YouTube for examples of different types of training videos can be a helpful way to get inspired if I’m feeling overwhelmed or just unsure where to start.

2. Draft a video treatment before the script

Just as you would write a quick design brief for an e-learning course to flesh out ideas with stakeholders, writing a video treatment is a great way to present your ideas to the team before you start writing a full-blown script.

A video treatment can be a simple one-page document that provides a high-level summary of the characters and key events in the story. An effective video treatment should be high-level enough for stakeholders to quickly read and comprehend, but detailed enough to paint a picture of the story and setting of the video. To break it down further, an effective video treatment should:

  • Clarify the desired learning outcomes of the training video
  • Provide the structure and key plot points of the story
  • Highlight the characters and their roles in the story
  • Help you pinpoint potential plot holes or areas of confusion before you start writing the script

For these reasons and more, taking a few minutes to sit with the objectives of the training video and pull together a short treatment is not only a valuable creative exercise but also a smart strategy for avoiding time-consuming rework.

If you’re not quite sure how to structure a video treatment or what to include, download this free template to get started.

3. Keep your videos short and sweet

Whether you’re writing an e-learning course or a training video (or both!), it’s always best to keep content succinct. Just as lengthy courses can wear down your learner’s attention, lengthy videos—no matter how well written—can do the same.

I like to aim for videos that range from 3 to 8 minutes. Sometimes, however, a longer video is needed to support the learning objectives for the project; in those cases, try writing short scenes and transitions into the script. Doing so will make it easier to edit down a big video into smaller videos in post-production—and ensures your story doesn’t feel too choppy.

4.Keep it real

One easy way to spot a poorly written video script is by dialogue that sounds robotic and forced. That’s not what you want! (Side note: there’s a terrible/delightful example of stilted dialogue in this classic example of a cheesy training video.)

Avoid this error by writing content that’s meant to be heard and seen. Not sure what I mean? Here are some more scripting tips that can help:

  • Write in a conversational tone. Read your dialogue aloud as you write it. As you hear the words, try swapping out formal language for informal language and phrasing (e.g., use “can’t” instead of “cannot”).
  • Speak to the viewer. When your audience is watching your video, ready to learn, they expect to be spoken to rather than spoken at. That means writing in ways that are engaging and personal. For instance, avoid wordy third-person phrasing like, “Before we get started, viewers should note that the audio volume can be adjusted by clicking on the + or - icons” and try something more personal and direct, such as “You can adjust the volume of this video by clicking the + or - icons.”
  • Use the active voice. Passive voice, particularly when spoken, sounds incredibly awkward. For instance, try reading the following sentence aloud:

“The car was started by Tom.”

Painful, right? Now read this rewrite aloud:

“Tom started the car.”

Aah! That’s so much better, isn’t it? Not only is the active voice version much clearer and easier to understand—it’s also shorter!

  • Don’t use dialogue to describe things viewers can see for themselves. For example, avoid having the protagonist say things like, “The customer walked in looking angry” just as the actor playing the role of the customer walks in glaring. Not only is that painfully obvious and far-from-compelling dialogue, but it’s also an acting direction for the person playing the role of the customer! Burying that direction in another character’s dialogue is confusing and may cause cast members to struggle to decipher their character’s moods and motivations. 

Summing It Up

It can be challenging to write a video script that’s engaging and effective for learners and easy to follow for the video’s cast and crew—but it’s a challenge you’re sure to embrace with a little practice. By using the tips I’ve shared here, you’ll be cranking out a training blockbuster in no time!

Liked these writing tips? You’ll find loads more on E-Learning Heroes. Here are a few of my favorites:

What are your top writing tips and tricks? How do you keep things conversational when you’re writing dialogue? Share your ideas and experiences with me and the rest of the E-Learning Heroes community by leaving a comment below.

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