Chances are your online training has audio in it. It’s a classic human sense! Easily one of the top five. Using audio narration is excellent for bringing dense or tricky concepts to life through the calming power of the human voice. We even have some advice on how to find just the right person for the job. But just like in any story, film, or TV show, effective narration starts with and ends with purposeful and stylish writing. Unless you’re able to book Morgan Freeman, your best shot at quality narration is creating a solid script to work from. Take a look at some best practices to do just that.
CHOOSE A NARRATIVE MODE
All narration has a perspective. Whether it’s timeless folklore passed down from village elders or a half-hour compliance course, the speaking voice is coming from someone or something. The important thing is to define this before you start writing. If you don’t you’ll end up with confusing shifts in tense or a super generic take on the content. And those all damage the narrator’s credibility and expertise, and in turn the learning impact. Here are some narrative modes to consider!
This is when your narrator is speaking directly in first-person pronouns, usually giving primary accounts of their knowledge. This most closely emulates the training from a live instructor in the classroom or a colleague on the job. Learners often respond well to this since we’ve all had real people teach us things before. But with this mode comes great responsibility - because if you’re having someone speaking in first person, you likely owe it to the learner to be clear about just who is talking. Is this an industry expert, a veteran employee, or some kind of respected guru? Whoever it is, at least be clear in your intent when scripting. No one likes to be trained by an unknown stranger. Mostly no one. That actually sounds kind of cool to me but moving on.
Third-person is a pretty standard way to go. Most training courses use this. The narrator is never introduced and is usually not embodied in a personal sense. There are no references to the narrator’s specific characteristics or preferences. The focus is purely on the content here, and getting across the key takeaways in an efficient, meaningful way. Perfectly good mode for training. But you shouldn't just choose that and call it a day - there are more interesting choices to make.
Limited vs. Omniscient
Another choice it might be fun to make - does your narrator know everything? Or only some things? If you’re using first-person, is the narrator is the one final authority on all the topics and knowledge (omniscient), or speaking only from specific experience (limited)? Maybe you want to use two or more voices to create a team of informed voices. Communicating the premise to the learner early on helps them quickly relate to the voice charged with instructing them and turn their attention to the content. You don’t see people creating third-person limited narrators very much. What would that even be? Are you up to the challenge of finding out?
Reliable vs. Unreliable
No one does this and it’d probably be pretty weird. But it’s definitely a fun literary technique that has turned many stories into bestsellers. What if your narrator was uncertain in places and relied on the learner to take the lead? What if the narrator was just lying or hiding something? Could you do this without wasting everyone’s time? Maybe! Maybe the learner would feel empowered as they realize they are in control of setting all the facts straight. I don’t know! Whatever you decide, just making some decisions before scripting will help keep voice consistent throughout.
In addition to a clear narrative mode, you need to make choices about style. This is the thing that makes narration memorable, and is lamentably the thing that gets ignored or cut out the most. Think of your favorite books, or comedians, or even podcast hosts. What do you like most about them? Chances are it’s because they have an intriguing, funny, or just slightly odd delivery and personality that draws you to them. That makes you just inherently believe in their message. Maybe it’s a kind of unexpected phrasing, or way of expressing their thoughts, or even just their candid manner. You can add this flair to your script in the right doses and give the audio talent something really vibrant to work with.
EDIT FOR CLARITY
Editing isn’t all about hacking and slashing. It’s a process of careful curation. Keeping the terrific parts that have rhythm and precision, upgrading some language that is almost terrific, and excising the parts of the script that either aren’t adding anything or are actively hurting the text. You don’t have to cut all the jokes - humor is often a powerful technique - but you absolutely definitely should ditch any humor that feels belabored or confusing. Bad, fumbling humor can discredit your narrator pretty quickly. Same thing with overly didactic narration - try to pare down the stretches of explanatory language to distill each sentence down to its most pressing purpose. Concision is king, but don’t go crazy and remove all the flair we talked about. Leave in your top instances of flair, space them out strategically, and ditch any that make you roll your eyes or clench your jaw.
It’s easy to think you can’t do much with the script; that it needs to be “conversational yet professional” and sometimes that works fine. But don’t be afraid to mix it up and leverage the nuance, elegance, and sheer power of well-crafted language. Stylish writing is a low-cost, high-impact gift that everyone notices and appreciates.