You’ve done the hard work and your product is almost finished. But there’s a problem… it’s difficult to understand. Whether it’s in conversation, copy on the website, or in your presentations, few people seem to easily grasp the big idea behind your product and why it matters.

Before going any further, you need to solve this problem. That means you may be considering making a explainer video for the first time and it may seem a bit daunting. But as we’ll see below, you can do it in a few steps.

How an Idea Becomes a Script

I’m guessing you’ve seen the TV series South Park. Have you ever wondered where the magic happens? What is the secret to making South Park so entertaining? It’s the script. Before the cameras roll or the computers start, serious work goes into thinking through the story and writing down what the characters will say. Your explainer video is no different.

Of course, you can’t just dive into the script for an explainer video. First you must consider a few major points:

  1. Who is the audience and what do they need to understand?
  2. What two or three key points can I communicate that will serve that need?
  3. What do I want my audience to do once they understand?

Having thought through these points, it’s time to start writing. Start by getting ideas on the page. In your mind’s eye, picture a person you know who is similar to your target audience. What kind of language would they understand, and what would resonate with them? Put yourself in their shoes.

Most explainer videos answer two central questions: “why?” and “how?”

You’ll want to cover “why?” first. This means giving the viewer answers to questions like “Why should I care?” and “Why does this product or service make sense? Why does it matter to me?” By focusing on the question of “why?”, we will offer the audience a reason to stay engaged.

Next up is “how?” This is how something works, or how one goes about completing a task. The right balance of why and how delivers understanding.

For now don’t worry too much about visuals. Make note of visual ideas, but keep focused on the script. We’ll get to visuals soon.

Research shows that simply writing down an explanation helps you understand it better, so take time to write down the big points you want to make. When you do, consider these points as a framework for your script:

  1. Build context. Before diving into the details, set the scene for the world where your ideas live. Talk about the forest before the trees and you’ll build a solid foundation. In other words, show the audience why the idea matters first.
  2. Tell stories. Many of our explainer videos use a very simple formula: Meet Bob, he’s like you. Bob has a problem, he feels bad. Look! Bob found a solution and now he feels great. Don’t you want to feel like Bob? Your job is to help the audience see themselves in Bob.
  3. Make connections. Look for opportunities to build on the audience’s existing knowledge. Use an example they already understand to introduce a new idea. For instance, here’s a very simple example for someone who’s never seen a boat: It’s like a car, but on water. Analogy can be powerful.
  4. Describe the steps and why they matter. If you’re explaining how to do something, keep it high-level, and limited to a few memorable steps. Explainer videos should focus less on documentation or discussing detailed processes, and more on motivating the audience to see the big ideas and why they make sense. Your goal is to inspire them so that they’ll want to learn the details later.
  5. Call to action. Your video probably has a goal in mind. Now that your audience understands the main idea, what’s next? Can they learn more at a website? Can they download an app? Can they share the video? An explainer video is often a means to an end; be sure to show your audience the next step and encourage them to take it.

A note on length: As a general rule, you’ll want to keep your explainer video short, usually under three minutes. The script is your first chance to work on length and you can do that with word count. At Common Craft, our rule of thumb is about 160 words per minute of voice-over time. Our goal is to write scripts of 400-500 words. Your mileage may vary.

The beauty of the scripting phase is that it’s cheap and easy to share and change. Iterate and ask for feedback. Read it aloud. The script is the secret sauce of explainer videos, treat it with care.

I’ve provided this framework as a starting point. Every audience, situation and video is different and it’s up to you to create an explainer script that works for your audience. As you might expect, there is no silver bullet in explanation. But, if your video makes an idea or product easy to understand, then you’ve hit the mark.

Next up is to start thinking about the visuals in your storyboard.


About the Author

Lee Lefever of Common Craft

Lee LeFever is the founder of Common Craft, whose video explanations have been viewed tens of millions of times online and have established the explainer video industry. He can be found on Twitter @leelefever.

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Lee is also the author of The Art of Explanation – Making Your Ideas, Products and Services Easy to Understand.