When I wrote my first audio tour, I thought my words sounded clear and compelling on the page. But when I heard the finished production, I felt like an amateur. The tour sounded stiff, confusing, and frankly, boring.
That’s because I’d forgotten what I was writing: not an essay, but a script for professional voice talents to read into a microphone. The words had to come alive and be meaningful to visitors who would hear them for the first time.
To succeed as an audio tour writer, I needed a completely new writing process. I had to stop writing for the eye and learn how to write for the ear.
STOP LOOKING, START LISTENING
Soon afterward, I was lucky enough to interview Oxford professor Martin Kemp, an internationally known authority on Leonardo da Vinci and the relationship between science and art. I read up on his published works before and during the interview. I thought he spoke in the same erudite style — but when I read the transcript, I realized he was breaking every rule of formal writing. He spoke in sentence fragments and run-on sentences. He cracked jokes, used colloquial terms, even — horrors! — employed the verb “to be” far too often for any self-respecting prose stylist!
None of that mattered. When visitors heard Kemp, he sounded not just eloquent but delighted and excited to welcome them into his world. He explained Leonardo’s notebooks in clear, straightforward language, creating an immediate bond with anyone who has ever wondered why Leonardo drew anatomical illustrations on the same page as studies for his paintings, experimental plans, even shopping lists.
FROM SILENCE TO SOUND
You can try the same experiment yourself with an audio tour script. Read this script from a tour heard aboard the St. Kitts Scenic Railway:
You can see at a glance that you’re not reading a novel or press release. For one thing, the script includes odd-looking notations and numbers (for a producer’s reference in the studio). Also, if you scan the spoken text silently, the language looks surprisingly plain and simple. It also leaves out many names, dates, and other facts that readers might expect to see.
Now hear the produced audio:
Chances are you’ll hear why the writer chose words that anyone can understand and left out facts that aren’t crucial. A tour is a story told in real time, one that aims to build a human connection between visitors and the site. That’s why Martin Kemp and other good storytellers couch their stories in the context of a first-time listener’s experience. Visitors to your site may be silent, but a storytelling audio tour still includes them in the conversation!
WRITING FOR THE EAR
- Find authorities on your subject who tell good stories speaking off the cuff —anyone from your best tour guides to local authors or teachers. With their permission, record them, transcribe their words, and use the audio and transcript as a guide when you write.
- Put yourself in the visitors’ place: will they understand your story immediately the first time they hear it?
- Connect your story to your visitors’ experience, as in this audio segment from the See NYC Sightseeing cruise by Hornblower Cruises & Events.
- Speak your words out loud as you write. (A strong argument for audio tour writers to work at home!)
- If you run into writer’s block, don’t stare at the screen waiting for words to appear. Get up and do anything that makes it impossible to put words on the page — like walking the dog. Then go ahead and talk to yourself! Sounds crazy, but it’s easier to relax and let words flow when you’re speaking rather than typing. I once spent an hour searching for the right words, then heard them coming out of my mouth when I took a break to wash the dishes!
Finally, swallow your pride: ask someone to read your script to you out loud. It’s hard to see problems on the page — but you’ll hear them instantly!
What’s Your Next Story?