Explainer videos are fantastic communication tools for brands—if they tell the right story. (To find out if you have a good explainer story, read this.) But a good explainer video can’t succeed without a good explainer video script.
Even if you have world-class visuals, a weak script will sabotage your explainer, making it boring at best and confusing at worst. (There’s a reason a beautiful cover can’t save a bad book.) Sadly, many brands underestimate just how crucial an explainer video script is.
Why Your Explainer Video Script Matters
Explainer videos work well for scientific reasons, specifically related to Allan Paivio’s Dual-Coding Theory. The idea is that audio and visual channels work separately in the brain, so when content is presented simultaneously by way of audio and visual channels—say, on-screen images and voice over—the information is processed faster and with greater ease.
If you want to learn more about how they work and why they work for brands, jump over to this post. Or watch this explainer video on explainer videos.
A strong story determines the success of your entire explainer video because it drives both the audio and visual components. That said, many brands struggle with writing an effective script.
A Good Explainer Video Script Takes Work
Explaining a complex or detailed concept is hard enough. When you have to distill that concept, tell an engaging story, show off your brand personality, and deliver a strong takeaway—all in an incredibly limited word count—it’s a freaking magic trick. This is why we see so many, well, less-than-great explainer videos.
The problem largely comes down to a lack of knowledge. Luckily, we know what makes a good explainer video (here are 10 keys to an awesome one)—and how to write a script that ensures it will be awesome. If you need to write an explainer video script from scratch or revamp your current one, follow this step-by-step guide to strengthen your story.
How to Write a Good Explainer Video Script
There are two aspects of an explainer video script: the story itself and how you decide to tell that story. The story is the foundation of it all, so nailing that first is imperative. Here’s how to do it.
1) Identify Your Story
All too often we see explainers that have convoluted messaging, meander all over the place, or wait until the very last second to get to the damn point. Sometimes it’s so distracting it actually does more damage than having no explainer at all. Do not make this mistake. Your job is to tell one specific story in a clear, concise way.
Your story will likely fall into one of two categories: problem-solution or process walkthrough. There are nuances to each, as subtle as they may be. Following these narrative formats will help you craft a strong explainer video script.
- Problem-Solution: This is the classic way to pose your company product or service as the hero that makes your viewer’s life easier. Make the problem clear and relatable, then use the story arc to make a natural transition to the solution. Note: Don’t spend more time on the problem than the solution. You want to leave them fantasizing about your awesome product or service, not ruminating on the frustrating problem.
- Process Overview: This tactic may be used for a service overview or a product how-to. In this approach, there’s no problem. It’s a self-contained story. Outline your narrative in clear beats, moving from one point to the next cleanly and efficiently.
Your video may not perfectly fit into either category, which is OK. The real recipe for success with explainers is simple: Provide a basic setup and a payoff for your viewer. Always remember:
- Be straightforward and confident. You want your viewer to trust you from the start.
- Anticipate the viewer’s questions. Make sure they’re answered in the story.
A few questions to help you find your story:
- Why do I want to tell this story? Don’t make an explainer video for fun. Know your goal to help anchor your messaging and write an effective script.
- What’s my angle? In an explainer video, you’re either filling in an information gap or expanding your viewer’s knowledge. How are you making their life easier?
- Why will people care? Who are you speaking to, and what do they want? What are their pain points, and how are you solving them? This knowledge is necessary to help you tailor your message for them. (If you haven’t identified who you’re trying to reach, check out our guide to creating customer personas in under 60 minutes.)
- What value will this provide? How that comes across is up to you, but it should provide some worthwhile information.
- What should my viewer take away from this? Your conclusion should have a lasting impact. If your explainer is strong up until a shrug of a closer, all your work will be for nothing. You shouldn’t end with an overtly sales-based message (it can unravel the work your explainer video just did), but there should be a definitive takeaway.
At every stage of the scripting process, make sure your story stays front and center. (If you feel stuck or creatively zapped, here are 35 super creative explainer videos to inspire you.)
2) Distill Your Story
Reddit has a subreddit for just about anything, but one of the most intriguing ones is Explain Like I’m Five. The concept is simple: Break down an idea with the language—and likely the enthusiasm—you would use if you were explaining it to a 5-year-old child. Even if your viewer is highly educated, the goal of an explainer is to deliver information succinctly.
Keep your story as simple as possible, but don’t condescend. We like to think of an explainer video script as a children’s book for adults: interesting, engaging, and easy to digest. (Also, the shorter your video is, the more you show respect for your viewer’s time.) A few tips that can help here:
- Try to write your story outline in five sentences. This exercise will help you distill your thinking.
- Use short, simple sentences. Write as though you’re speaking to a friend or family member. We tend to speak far more colloquially than we write, which is helpful when writing for voice over.
When in doubt, keep it simple.
Example: We collaborated with Visa to create this simple motion graphic, which details their new product feature to fight fraud.
3) Bring Your Viewer Into the Story
So your product delivers information packets through subterranean sea cables? That’s nice. All someone wants to know is that they get quicker Internet. Look for opportunities to make the narrative personally relevant and relatable; it will be easier to capture and keep their attention. As your write, remember to:
- Speak directly to them. Look for opportunities to put your viewer in the driver’s seat. For example, instead of following the antics of an on-screen character, speak directly to the viewer. Write in second person voice.
- Use their language. If they are academic professionals, language should reflect that. But avoid unfamiliar terms or cumbersome words (e.g., “cumbersome”) that might confuse people.
(Note: Consider U.S. presidents. They’re often graded on a curve geared toward people with a 6th-grade reading level. Even more interesting, they’re considered more likable if they speak less, as it’s seen as approachable.)
4) Add Emotion
You may want to make them laugh or tug on your viewers’ heartstrings; either way, the more you elicit an emotional response, the more engaged they will be. Hook them from the start.
You don’t have to tell the greatest campfire ghost story of all time. What matters most is telling a good story. Use your tone, language, anecdotes, stats, or any other storytelling device to help you communicate an emotion. (Just make sure the emotion is appropriate for the subject.)
Effectively communicating your brand voice is also a huge factor here. People want to form an emotional bond with a human, so showcase your personality and position yourself as a helpful and approachable friend. (Yes, even legal or technical explainers can still showcase some warmth or charm.)
Example: This powerful motion graphic for The Locust Effect uses voiceover and music to tell the story of everyday violence that affects people around the globe.
5) Check Your Length
Brevity is key when writing an explainer video script. The longer it is, the less impact it will have. Remember: Explainer videos are usually between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. (Not sure how long it should be? This guide can help you figure it out.)
- Watch your word count. 130-150 words per minute is a comfortable pace.
- Run your read time. Read your script aloud, but don’t solely rely on that practice for time. Because you know the script, you’ll read faster than a properly paced voice-over artist would. You can check your script’s reading time here.
6) Adjust for Voice Over
People who write outstanding blog posts or killer ebooks often forget that video is an entirely different beast. Writing for video sounds easy enough; that’s the trouble. While some explainers do not use voiceover, yours probably will; your writing needs to account for that.
The language you use should roll off the tongue:
- Avoid complicated words. Voice over artists are pros, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen a cut sabotaged by an awkward pronunciation or clunky word that interrupts the story flow. If you can say it in fewer syllables, do so. You can also use the Hemingway app to review your copy for grammar and ease of readability.
- Rewrite awkward phrasing. A lot of explainer video scripts include copy that doesn’t really match the way we naturally speak. For example, a popular tactic is the ask-answer within a script: “Why is online shopping so frustrating? Because you can’t try clothes on.” Just say, “Online shopping is hard because you can’t try clothes on.” Boom. Done.
Example: This explainer video details Intarcia‘s mission to change the future of our daily health experience.
7) Show, Don’t Tell
This should be the golden rule for any kind of writing, whether you’re a first grader or a master author. Do not explain what you can show. (According to Psychology Today, our brains process videos 60,000 times faster than text—take advantage of this!)
You have many visual tools at hand: animation, motion graphics, data visualization, kinetic text, etc. Use these elements to do the heavy lifting. Visualizing information helps you save on word count and explain concepts more effectively.
8) Test Your Script
The best way to make sure your script will resonate with real people is to run it by real people. If you can, do a little focus test. This doesn’t have to be hyper formal, but it helps to get their reactions and make adjustments accordingly.
At the very least, give the script to a colleague or peer to go over it (or hear you read it). Always get a second opinion, though a third or fourth may be best.
Final Tips for Writing Your Explainer Video Script
Before we set you out into the world to write the next great American explainer video script, we’ll leave you with a few general rules to consider.
- Beware the cheesy cartoon narrator. Your viewers don’t need some character named “Sally” or “George” to guide them through the “wonderful world of your explainer!” It often feels gimmicky, hokey, or elementary. (It was barely tolerable when we had Microsoft’s Clippy to follow us through Word docs.) You can certainly include human characters in the explainer, but don’t rely on just one to act as some kind of novelty tour guide.
- Edit mercilessly. Kill your darlings, as they say. Nobody gets a script right on the first draft, so write and rewrite. Keep sentences short. Make sure the tone is appropriate. Craft a cohesive narrative from start to finish, and cut anything that distracts.
- Showcase your expertise. There’s a reason someone clicked on your explainer video. They want to learn something. Demonstrate your knowledge at every touchpoint to position your brand as a trusted source. Deliver that value, and your viewers will thank you.
If you need a little outside help for your explainer video, read our tips for choosing a video agency and how to work with the one you choose. And for more tips on every aspect of video production, check out our interactive e-book The Content Marketers Guide to Brand Video. We’re also happy to chat.