Website audio: want to make yours a “wow?” Hear this…

A well-written audio track can work wonders to liven up anything from product assembly instructions to the home page of your website – and, it’s cheaper and far easier to produce than video. The trouble is, not all spoken audio tracks are well written.

Often we think if we pay for a good voice-over artiste to record the words, by some miracle he or she will be able to transform lumpy brochure copy into a great sounding audio track. Wrong. I have directed some of the most experienced voice artistes in Europe and although I’ve seen them do a lot to improve a weak script, they’re not magicians.

We tend to underestimate the value of the human voice in communications – a voice can convey a lot more than mere words. It can touch people’s emotions in ways that text could never hope to. But you’re not going to make much of an impression on people’s emotions if the script for your spoken words reads like a passage from last year’s Company Report and Accounts.

Remember that audio speech really is “a word in your ear”

Someone once said that audio listeners aren’t one audience of thousands; they’re thousands of audiences of one. Always communicate with “you” in a personal style, as if you were talking to the listener direct. Get it right, and your close proximity to the listener’s ear is a powerful communication tool. Get it wrong, and you unleash the equivalent strength of hostility. Never patronize or talk down. Write as if you’re talking to a friend. Be honest and realistic – no hype, no corporate-speak, no unnecessary jargon.

There’s no mystique about spoken speech

It’s simply that – writing the way people speak, rather than the way we’ve been taught to write at school. If you want see how that works, audio-record yourself talking through the topic you want to write a script about, as if to your intended audience. Transcribe it, clean it up (but not too much – audio speech must sound natural if it’s going to work, unless it’s a commercial) and that’s about right for your script.

Use a crisp, uncluttered style

Funnily enough people who write well for online purposes are more likely to write well for audio (and video) because those styles, like online copy, are more direct, more human. When you’re writing for audio, use easy, shortish sentences, but vary their lengths. Stick to one idea per sentence where possible. Make each new idea flow logically out of the previous one.

Check everything you write by reading it aloud

No matter how relaxed a sentence may look on paper or screen, it could read awkwardly. Always, always check what you’ve written by reading it to yourself or preferably to someone else. Or into a recorder, so you can listen to it as often as you need. If it does read badly, change it – even if that involves doing something ungrammatical. Remember, write as people speak, even if it would make your old English teacher blanch.

Words on their own become boring

After a few minutes, wall-to-wall words begin to drone and make people’s attention wander. Break them up with musical interludes. Use simple sound effects. Use pauses. For a script that’s more than a few sentences long, use a second voice for contrast. Get the voices to relate to each other, bringing the audience in as the third party in a 3-way conversation. Use “character voices” as well as straight-sounding narration (most good voice artistes can do numerous different accents and styles). Above all, use your imagination – audio has much more creative potential than most people realize.

On a website, work with accompanying text – don’t fight it or mirror it

There’s no point telling people what they already can see. Use spoken words to add a dimension to the written text, or to embellish images where there is little or no text. In view of current technological limitations, don’t depend too heavily on the audio content to get important messages over (some people don’t even have their speakers on all the time.)

Any questions? Jot them down here in the comments and I’ll answer as best I can.

Make sure they hear the right words:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English




  1. says:

    Website audio: want to make your site sound terrific? Hear this…

    A well-written audio track can liven up your whole website. Trouble is, not all spoken audio tracks are well written. Suzan St Maur shows you how to do it effectively….