Writing Strong Copy for Video Stories

A Good Story Starts With A Strong Lead

I recently watched a webinar taught by Al Tompkins from the Poynter Institute that was talking about the way to write a compelling news story. These principles also apply to business videos that want to grab your audience’s attention.

To create a strong lead you have to establish the tension in the story fast and you have to establish who the main character is fast. In the case of a business video your main character is your customer and the tension is the problem that they have that only your business can solve!

The purpose of the lead

The lead of your story is a promise you are making with your audience that tells them that you won’t waste their time. As we know time is our most precious commodity!

8 ways to make a story more interesting

Every story has to have a motivating factor that compels people to want to watch and listen to your story. With over 30 years of experience as a journalist and photojournalist Al Tompkins has figured out what the 8 key motivating factors are that are universal to us all and “always work!” They are:

  • Money
  • Family
  • Health
  • Safety
  • Community
  • Moral Outrage or Social Injustice
  • Curiosity
  • Popular Culture

For the kind of video projects we work on we want to stay positive so we focus on the top five motivational factors. When developing a story we want to appeal to as many of these motivating factors as we can without making the story too complex. If you can hit 2-3 of these factors you will be sure to command your audience’s attention.

Don’t bury the lead! Use the Inverted Pyramid

The lead of the story is the introduction that has to spark the questions of “WHY?” or “How?” in your audience. Without that question in their mind they won’t be engaged. A strong lead makes a promise to your audience that the rest of the story is going to be worth their time.

The inverted pyramid approach to writing for video is drawn from news reporting and is based upon the principle of sharing the most important information first.

In business videos design to build a customer base we modify it slightly. We use a strong lead to grab attention and then we add details to build anticipation and then end with a call to action.

How to write a strong lead

To figure out how to create an attention grabbing lead for your story you will want to break your story down into its most basic story and then analyze it. To do this break your story down into a 3 word focus that states, “WHO DID WHAT”. The who is your customer, the what is the action they took to solve their problem and the What is your solution. Next you want to analyze the motivational factors that we listed above and then construct a strong lead statement that establishes the problem that needs to be solved for your customer.

Show instead of tell

I have a simple rule which is to avoid using any words that end with “ing” like the word AMAZING. I want to inspire that feeling in my audience by showing them why they should feel that way instead of telling them.

Essentially this means that you should always avoid using passive verbs or talking in the third person. Al Tompkins list 8 passive verbs to avoid:

  • Am
  • Are
  • Were
  • Bring
  • Is
  • Was
  • Be
  • Been

These 8 verbs are all variations of the verb “to be”. Your stories need to be active and focused on the present tense and use verbal (spoken) language rather than literary language of a novel. In fact BBC correspondent Allan Little recommends that you try to right your entire script using only 1 syllable words! He gives the example of Winston Churchill’s famous lines, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. This simple device made WInston Churchill’s war time speeches so compelling that it moved an entire country!

Writing for Video

Finally, when you write for video you have to take into consideration what the visuals are going to be. The key to writing copy that goes with video is to not have the words compete with what you are seeing on the screen. You want to have alignment between the words and images so that you can create a memorable story. You want to explain the visuals rather than describe them. Be sure to include natural sound in your video as it will supply the emotional content that balances out the objective facts of your story. Hearing the non-verbal sounds of excitement and joy is much more powerful than telling your audience that they will experience a happy emotion.

I hope this gives you some ideas about how to go about your next video project. If you need help on a project please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you be successful!

Profile photo of Ira Gardner

Ira Gardner

Owner, Gardner Media Group LLC

Ira Gardner is a media and business consultant with over 30 years of experience. He also teaches digital media production at Spokane Falls Community College. He can be reached at: gardnermediagroup@gmail.com

Leave a Reply