This morning I was working with a client on a webinar for her company. One of my tasks is to massage the intro and closing scripts so that they are pleasing to the ear.

Sometimes people forget this simple truth: When I listen to what you are saying, it’s not the same as reading what you have written. Copy that looks fine on the page does not always sound right. Worse, it can be hard to understand.

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Take a typical written passage, in this case from a town’s Economic Development site:

With easy access to North America’s third largest financial centre and a workforce armed with expert knowledge in a variety of fields, establishing your business in Townville will pay handsome dividends. Located at the epicentre of Canada’s Golden Horseshoe, Townville, a dynamic community of 150,000 residents, is well within reach of major U.S. capital markets and nearly seven million potential consumers in southern Ontario. Coupled with a favourable Canadian tax environment, Townville makes perfect business sense.

This is fairly well written, except for the dangling participle in the first sentence. Let’s now recast it for the spoken word:

Establishing your business in Townville will pay handsome dividends. Here’s why: Townville gives you easy access to North America’s third largest financial centre – Toronto – and a workforce with expert knowledge in a variety of fields. Located at the epicentre of Canada’s Golden Horseshoe, Townville is a dynamic community of 150,000 people. What’s more, the town is well within reach of major U.S. capital markets and nearly seven million potential consumers in southern Ontario. Add a favourable Canadian tax environment, and Townville makes perfect business sense.

Do you see the difference? Shorter sentences, simpler language, and a more direct tone.

Here are a few tips for writing for the ear, whether your end product is a script, speech or podcast:

  • Use simple words, not complex ones. (Use rather than utilize.)
  • Shorten your sentences. If it requires a semicolon, it’s probably too long.
  • Round all numbers. Say nearly one million, not 989,320, unless there is a specific reason to use the exact figure.
  • Use the active voice, not passive. (Our team ran the webinar, not The webinar was run by our team.)
  • Use contractions. (Won’t rather than will not.)

What would you add to this list?

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Donna, thanks for bringing up this point. It sounds so simple, but people really do forget that spoken and written word are quite different. Another old-school radio trick for writing scripts is to read out loud as you’re writing the text – if it sounds too convoluted or long-winded, it probably is. You can change your wording right away, present a clearer message and save a lot of time in the process.

  2. Donna, you are on target with your tips. However, I would urge caution about using contractions. Unless you know that the speaker will clearly pronouce the ending of the word (“‘t”), the ear may hear a positive word rather than the negative (can rather than can’t for cannot). Unlike print where the eye can go back to confirm the correct word, there are no second chances in oral communication.

  3. Good point, Joy. Perhaps I should have advised instead to use less formal language. I agree that at times we need the full words for emphasis. Example: DO NOT generalize (which I did!). Thanks for commenting.

  4. As you know, I would rewrite Shakespeare, so please, no tears. Mind you, all I could suggest was changing “epicentre” to “centre” or, better still, “heart.”
    When I’m writing for the spoken word, I often break the text up with punctuation I wouldn’t use in print, especially ellipses and m dashes. You have to help the speaker.

  5. LOL. Barb, after I posted this, I had second thoughts about epicentre! As for marking up the text, please refer to the posts I linked to above. There is a visual on at least one of them of how I mark up text to be read.
    Thanks for commenting!

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