Write for the spoken word

Honesty is audible on the radio.

You can feel it in your bones when the person you’re listening to sounds authentic — like a real person. The flipside, of course, is we can hear dishonesty a mile away.

Humans have an uncanny knack for sensing insincerity. It’s something we’ve all developed over time to protect ourselves from dubious individuals, like people trying to sell us something! The moment your audience catches a whiff off insincerity, their guard goes up and you’ve lost them.

So, naturally, our radio ads need to avoid dishonestly like the plague.

Now, you’d be forgiven in thinking that this responsibility lies solely with the actor voicing the script. But it actually starts before that. It starts with writing for the spoken word — versus the written one.

Think about the last conversation you had. Now imagine how that conversation would look on the page. There would be a lot of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. You’d cut each other off. Ramble. Sometimes not even answer each other’s questions. Mumble. Say things that don’t make a lot of sense. Sometimes be super direct, and sometimes talk around the point. And all this seems perfectly natural – when spoken.

Seeing it on the page, however, can take some getting used to.

Now, I’m not proposing you write long scripts which ramble on about nonsense. Quite the opposite actually. Because when writing for radio, the language we use has to be more precise and simpler that other mediums. A reader can always reread something printed, or pause a video to ponder a difficult section. But in radio we need to engage listeners quickly and strongly, especially when working with ever-shortening durations. There’s no rewind button!

When we write for radio, we need to keep how people actually speak in mind. After all, what we write is going to heard, not read. So we need to talk honestly and emotionally. We need to write conversationally — like a real person. So we need to use language that’s authentic to the character in the story and the audience you’re speaking to. Because people don’t speak the same way as they write.

Here’s 6 points to keep in mind when writing for the spoken word. And some great examples of work that’s done so.

1. Use conversational language

2. Write simply and succinctly

3. Read your scripts aloud (does it sound natural?)

4. Time your script. Cut 25%. Then time it again.

5. Underwrite to leave room for a natural performance

6. Don’t be afraid to improvise in the recording

If you can do this, if you can manage to pull it off, you’ll have a much greater chance of connecting with your audience long enough to share your message.

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