Voice over narration is a useful tool in video production. It is used in feature films and documentary too and lessons can be learned from looking at how it is used and why. How you use narration will depend on the content, form and style of the videos you are producing. You might find that a voice over narration is useless if you have an onscreen presenter for example. If your video is vox pops style at an industry event, it is likely narration will feel inappropriate then too. However, if you are telling a very visual story with your video, narration may be just the tool you need to give the video some structure and to fill in some information gaps.
Examples of corporate videos with narration
Narration can be an extremely efficient way to move a video forward. It shouldn’t tell your story for you but it is a useful tool for moving the plot along.
XLHR: This video relies heavily upon the narrator to explain what the company does and how you could benefit from using them.
This video for Protouch uses the presenter to provide narration which is good for consistency and avoids confusing the audience with too many different voices.
This video doesn’t use voice over narration at all. It uses graphics to display key words which gets the message across.
Mercedes Benz AMG
This corporate video uses narration with a very particular type of ‘voice’. The voice is very masculine and the language is also masculine; lots of talk of ‘components’, ‘performance’, ‘muscle’ and ‘engines’.
Video Narrators point of view
Before you start writing your video narration you need to decide what point of view the narration will be coming from.
First-person: This is when the narrator is speaking from their own personal perspective and the information will therefore be limited to what that person knows e.g. ‘I have been working at X for X years and I have an extremely positive experience’.
Second-person: This is a rare form of narration in film and video production. It involves the narrator addressing the audience as ‘you’ e.g. ‘you want to know what this department does and so you go and find out’.
Third-person omniscient: This is a commonly used form of narration and is ‘objective’. With this form the narrator can slip in and out of different people’s thoughts or actions e.g. ‘He knew that there was a way to improve the product and felt that he should put his ideas across as soon as possible’. In the past this has been known as ‘voice of God’ narration. A neutral third-party voice can bring a distinct tone to a video which will inspire trust from an audience.
Third-person subjective: This is similar to third-person omniscient but the form is limited to one individuals point of view throughout.
Who should use narration in their video production and when?
It is a good idea to have some awareness of where you want narration and what it will say early on in the pre-production process. You can then polish the narration and adapt appropriately during the editing phase. Sometimes it is best to wait until you are editing when you will know conclusively where the narration is needed.
In terms of who writes your narration, that is for you to decide. If you don’t feel that you have the skills within your existing team you can bring in an outside writer. This may also be useful in terms of getting a new perspective from someone who hasn’t been involved in the project so far.
Experimenting with corporate video narration
Experiment with different versions of your script for your video’s narration. By experimenting you will become more aware of what sounds good and what sounds bad. You can do this by literally reading scripts out aloud over a rough cut of your video for example.
Choosing a narrator
When choosing a narrator for your video production you need to consider their age, gender, accent, dialect and the timbre of their voice. These factors will make subtle, and sometimes not so subtle statements, about who you are and who you expect your audience to be – whether intended or not.
Choosing your narrator can be an opportunity to break from stereotypes or traditions. Use a female voice for videos about traditionally male dominated subject areas and vice versa. Sometimes, breaking from tradition might not be appropriate. For example, a video for a service targeting an audience in Manchester probably wouldn’t benefit from a southern accented narrator.
How to record narration
Narration is straightforward to record. Depending on your needs and your budget there are a few different ways to record narration.
Directly into a computer
If you are making a screencast video or are on a low budget, you can record narration directly into your computer. Software like Screenflow allows you to record narration and place the file on the timeline of your video so that you can edit it along with the rest of your video.
Using a marantz
A marantz is a piece of equipment that allows you to record audio. It creates files that can then be uploaded to a computer and imported into editing software. If you use this option make sure you record in a space where there is minimal background noise. ‘Soft’ spaces are preferable to avoid the recording sounding echoey or cold – unless this is the effect you are going for.
Recording in a studio
You could have your narration recorded in a professional recording studio. This would cost you more but someone else will do all of the technical work for you and quality will be guaranteed.
If you need to record narration more than once, try to ensure that the conditions for recording are consistent because differences will be noticeable – especially if you use pieces of narration recorded in different venues next to each other.
Some top tips on writing narration for corporate videos
1 Meaning: Narration can completely change the meaning of a video production because it is seen as the film’s ‘voice’.
2 Using narration to give structure: The role of narration is not to talk about what is already evident on the screen – it should add something. It can be a really useful tool to structure a corporate video, for example, by explaining to the viewer where they are and when.
3 Avoid formal written language: You need to use plain English that will be accessible to a diverse audience. It is only appropriate to use jargon or specialist language when you are making videos which are being aimed at experts who use that language and understand it.
4 Lose unnecessary words: Long sentences will lose your viewer so keep them short and to the point. Cut out any words that don’t add anything to what you are trying to say.
5 Give tone some thought: Think carefully about your tone. Know what tone you want to portray so that you can question whether or not you have achieved it at the end.
6 Read it aloud: When you are writing narration yourself, or reviewing someone else’s work, read it aloud to yourself. Ask yourself how it sounds and if it makes sense. Practice to an audience.
7 Avoid anachronisms and name dropping: You should be aware of what your audience will be familiar and unfamiliar with and avoid disenfranchising them by using inappropriate language or name dropping people who they have no association with.
8 Don’t make your audience work hard: Don’t put your audience in the position where they have to do any maths! Be aware of what different statistics will sound like to different audiences and present them so that the audience doesn’t have to make any effort working out what you mean. E.g. ‘we have been providing this service since 1972’ – you might want to be clear about how many years that equates to; ‘we have been providing this service for forty years’.
9 Avoid stereotyping: Use neutral, especially gender-neutral, language. Acknowledge that your audience will be from diverse backgrounds and aim to accurately represents the world that we live in.