How to Write an Audio Narration: To Script or Not To Script?

microphoneAdding audio narration to your PowerPoint is a great way to incorporate imagery into your recorded lecture.   But many faculty fear using a written script will make them sound too scripted rather than conversational.   The trick is how you write the script, using everyday language rather than formal prose (write like you talk!) an animated voice, and practice.  I personally prefer to have a full script in most cases, but having at least an outline (or “semi-script”, as it’s known) of your major points can keep you on track.

What are the benefits of a PowerPoint with audio narration when you can just post a recording of your lecture?  The research of Richard Mayer, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), shows that learning retention increases significantly when we combine audio (speech) with relevant and congruent images.   Recording a PowerPoint audio narration is relatively easy (tutorials are available at the end of this blog for Mac and PC).  Record your lectures in “chunks” of 10 minute sections or less; they are easier for students to digest and you can easily use them in parts of a future lecture if you wish.

This blog article written by Jesse Harris at KnowledgeOne contains great pointers to writing your own “conversational-sounding” script.  Here is an excerpt:


Use smaller words and simpler sentences. You’re not shooting for class valedictorian here. Chances are you know the material in your script like it’s second nature, right? But remember that your listeners are hearing it for the first time! Simplifying your language gives them a better chance to let the information sink in.

Write in contractions. Though academic and business writing practices generally have us avoiding contractions and short forms, remember we’re trying to make this script sound as natural and conversational as possible. We all speak in contractions (unless you’re Data from Star Trek: TNG), so shoot to have your writing mimic your conversational speech. Consider printing out a first draft of your script, scanning through your text with a coloured pen, and identifying all the places two words can be replaced by a contraction—most often between the subject and verb: it is → it’s; you are → you’re; we have → we’ve; she will → she’ll. (Of course, there will be places where contractions might impede the flow and meaning of your narration, in which case you’ll keep the un-contracted form.)

Get personal. Don’t be afraid to write your audio script using first person (‘I’ or ‘we’) pronouns. By the same token, use relevant, brief personal anecdotes or examples to engage and keep your listeners interested in the material you’re presenting.

Use the active voice. When speaking, people frequently speak in the active voice because it’s clear, expressive, and easy to understand. When switching to writing, however, people tend to use the more passive voice to convey distance and formality. For the sake of clarity and keeping a natural tone, stick with the active voice in your script writing.

Don’t be afraid to end your sentences with a preposition. Or for that matter, feel free to end your sentences as fragments if your point still comes across intelligibly. We break grammatical convention and speak in fragments in conversation, so why not write our narration scripts the same way?

Write your vocal stage directions into the script. You’re writing a script, so think of yourself as an actor (a voice actor, to be precise). Think about your audience and the way you want your message to come across. Then write stage directions (or notes to yourself) on a hard copy of the script to quickly and visually remind you of how you plan to deliver certain passages. Leave white space between paragraphs to remind you to pause and take a breath, mark or highlight important words with a bigger or bolder font for emphasis, and write vocal directions in square brackets to help you remember tone, speaking speed, or other voice cues (e.g., ‘spoken with authority’ or ‘don’t rush here!’).

Test your script readability with Microsoft Word. You may not be aware, but Microsoft Word has a built-in tool that tests how readable your text is! When enabled, the tool scans your document and gives it a score based on the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests (you’re currently reading an article written at the Grade 9 level). Check out Microsoft’s website for details on testing your document’s readability.

Practice reading your script out loud before recording. You’re probably thinking about skipping to the end after reading this pointer—too late, it is the end!—but I would strongly encourage you to not just go through the motions of reading aloud, but to actually do it. Go into a room (or closet, or car) and close the door. And read your script out loud, as though it were conversation, as theatrically as possible! In doing so, your brain, while reading, will automatically cause your voice to skip over unnecessary extra words, and you’ll immediately hear where sentences sound awkward and unnatural. Mark these places with a pen, then go back and revise your script accordingly.


Helpful tutorials:

Remember, the UTS media department can compress your file so it can be added directly to your UTS Moodle page.  We’re just a call away!

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