Intelligently written spoken speech can add a wonderful dimension to a web site's marketing effectiveness. Trouble is, spoken speech is not always intelligently written.

Often, we think that 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.

In her article on MarketingProfs back in March, Ronni Rhodes said, “Voice conveys many of the intangibles underlying the written word. A voice can touch the human spirit and deliver a message on its own merits.”

Those are charming thoughts, and they're absolutely right. But you're not going to touch many human spirits if the script for your spoken words reads like a truck driver's delivery roster.

Sorry to be such a cynical old trout, but I've been hired to rewrite too many terrible audio scripts to feel confident that the uninitiated marcommer can achieve perfection—without some help.

So, let's talk help. Ronni gave some good advice in her article, and here's mine from the perspective of a scriptwriter and audio producer/director.

Be aware of the technical restrictions of audio on a web site. OK, as Ronni says, “audio is the most mature of the streaming technologies and doesn't have the bandwidth requirements associated with video.” However, there may still be people in your target audience with slow modems, old computer systems, poor-quality sound reproduction, etc., so devise your audio content to work well technically for the lowest common denominator.

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 directly. Get it right, and your 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 or BS.

There's no mystique about spoken speech. It's simply 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 the right style for your script.

Work with the online 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.)

Use a crisp, uncluttered style. Funny 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, short sentences, but vary their lengths. Stick to one idea per sentence when 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 it 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 three-way conversation. Use “character voices” as well as straight-sounding narration (most good voice artistes can do numerous accents and styles). Above all, use your imagination—audio has much more creative potential than most people realize.

Use a voice artiste to record your audio track. No matter how good you think your speaking voice is, if you haven't got the training and experience you won't come over well. Most cities have at least one voice agency in town, and you can select your choice from there. Another good place to recruit is local radio stations. Their DJs and announcers usually moonlight. And it shouldn't cost much: for a script of up to 15 minutes, certainly no more than one hour of the artiste's time. Even if you want a good-old-home-cookin' sound, get it done professionally—it always sounds better.

Above all, enjoy creating your web-site audio speech. If you enjoy writing it, there's a good chance your audience will enjoy listening to it. That goes a long way toward achieving your objectives.

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Suzan St Maur ( writes extensively on marketing and business communications and is the author of the widely acclaimed Powerwriting.