In planning your eLearning project from concept through storyboard, working with your SME (subject matter expert) and scriptwriter, there is one stumbling block I’ve often seen in my (long) experience. Regarding timing in eLearning videos, content creators have difficulty estimating how many words per minute their video script will be.
Why Use Voice Over in Videos for Learning?
In a word, impact. Film director George Lucas (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, American Graffiti) often says, “I feel that sound is half the experience.” A-lister content creators like Lucas and other Hollywood film directors understand that sound is where you get “the most bang for your buck.”
In live-action or animation video (let alone static slides), the viewer recognizes themselves as separate from the action. Voice over connects all the information. It interprets the visuals, hones in on the vital message, and, when done well, creates an emotional bridge between your training and the person listening.
What’s eLearning Video Word Per Minute?
The number of spoken words per minute varies depending on who we’re talking to and in what context. More professional video scripts may call for a more formal way of speaking. A conversational, real-person style (popular in all video content currently) will have different pacing, timing, and, therefore, word count.
Slow, Medium, or Fast Timing in eLearning Videos
The standard speed or average speaking rate is 150 words per minute. We tend to talk more quickly in Youtube videos, interviews, and podcasts, and we use less dense content or embed fun explainer videos within e-learning videos.
We adjust word counts when speaking to international audiences or people whose first language is not English. In this kind of video, the voiceover will be slower. The slowest speech is at about 120 words per minute and is used for people learning to read or speak English. Any pace slower than 120 words sounds odd.
It’s a relatively simple formula. And, for your reference, I’ve put together a free video script timer tool. And while you’re there, be sure to check out my tips: “Ten Best Practices for IDs and PMs” It’s an infographic pdf you’re welcome to download and share with your team.
What Affects Word Counts?
Sometimes, people drop a video script in a timer tool, and the word count is off. The voice over times out to be longer. I often see this in medical and pharmaceutical video programs.
Spell it Out
The word count calculator picks up acronyms like M184V (a gene mutation) as one word, but it’s five words: (em-one-eighty-four-vee). Legal proposals, by-laws, licenses, and other numbers are also “seen” by the word count calculator as one. For example, in a series for the ADA that I narrate, the script counter sees grant “#N0DPAD009-01-00” as one word, but when we hear it spoken out loud, it’s 16 words.
Mailing addresses spoken out loud, phone numbers, and URLs are all elements you may write in your course that can create havoc with your word count. How does this affect your production process? By underestimating your video narration’s budget (in time and money).
Pacing and Spacing
Another element affecting word count is the pauses you want to build in your script. If it’s interactive, you may have a point you want the user to think about or an activity you want them to complete. If your visuals are dramatic, you may want to “let the narration breathe,” meaning include enough space (time) for the words to sink in.
Word Counts Determine Narration Budgets and Rates
Historically, training video budgets fell under the same category as corporate narration. But in the ’90s, with technological advancements that made interactive learning accessible to all (not to mention the growth of the internet), actor unions that represented voice artists hired to narrate these resources introduced a rate strategy borrowed from agreements with independent film producers. They calculated rates based on ten-minute increments.
In the current era of eLearning videos, this method of determining narration budgets has fallen out of favor. Why would you want to pay the 20-minute rate if the program you produce is eleven minutes? To keep quality voice over within tolerable budget ranges, timing in eLearning videos shifted to words per minute price structure.
Per Finished Minute Vs. Word Count
Most professional voice over artists prefer pricing on a per finished minute basis. The appeal is fairness: you get what you pay for. Minutes in the finished video are rounded up, so if a script times in at 8 minutes and 15 seconds, it is priced at 9 minutes.
The disadvantage is that you need to know how long your script will be before it is narrated. Ergo, 150 words per minute reference for normal speed all pro narrators use. Occasionally, a rare unscrupulous (often newer) voice actor may attempt to slow down their performance to gain an extra few bucks, but this has a noticeable impact on the audio. Users will find it unnatural, and you can easily direct your voice actor to adjust their speech accordingly.
The Simplest Calculation
Word counts are calculated using the counter in your script software, PC, or Mac OS system. It doesn’t differentiate between titles and script or file naming conventions you might have in your video script margins.
Sometimes IDs or project managers ask if we can eliminate titles from the word count. At that point, it’s a six of one, half dozen of the other situation. If the script is littered with acronyms or scientific notation, the titles may cancel out the words the counter sees as one word instead of five (multiplied by however many times you write those in the script).
Examples of Timing in eLearning Videos That Every Voice Actor Memorizes
- The average number of words in a 30-second commercial: 75
- An average number of words in a 60-second commercial (explainer video, etc.): 150
- The average number of words in a 1-hour script: 9300
Spoken Word vs. Written Words
There’s a difference between a script you write to speak out loud and other written words such as an article. In conversations, we speak and watch for their reaction to what we say. We explain our main point engagingly, saving time by using our soft skills of critical observation and emotional intelligence. We focus on our listener’s feedback and adjust our delivery.
When working in a radio newsroom early in my career, I was surprised by the hum of twenty or so reporters murmuring out loud to their typewriters (yes, it was a while back) while writing their stories. A news team member remarked that, of course, everyone mutters aloud as they write. How else would they know the script would flow well and work within the allotted time for the news?
Later, working in television, the process was similar. Even though we had to be mindful of the visuals caught on camera, we would always write our audio script before creating a plan or sitting down to watch our captured visual elements. Then if we needed to cut or modify the audio side of a scene in the video script to adjust for time, we would record that in a pickup.
Word Counts in MicroLearning Training Video
Advances in specific video technology have made old-school models of text and next training obsolete. Instead, we’re placing more videos in our writing and looking for opportunities to create scenes that include such videos.
Microlearning means breaking your video content down into smaller chunks. Lauded for increasing engagement, improving retention, and being mobile-friendly, this approach to learning, whether applied in online courses or explainer videos, is widely used because of its success.
Word Counts in an Explainer Video Script
Animation explainers have taken over a massive share of the learning and marketing space. By its very nature, animation puts viewers at ease, and perhaps it has something to do with cartoons being our first venture into media consumption (for most of us). Still, animation can make visual content simple and complex to understand concepts more accessible.
There are several free (on the cloud) animation tools to create an explainer video to embed on screen in your video script (Blender and Animaker are pretty simple to use, each with step-by-step instructions).
A recent example from my voice over videos is Smart Biology’s work creating their beautifully animated textbooks. They create visual presentations at the molecular and atomic levels, showing how biological processes work on screen.
Other kinds of videos to include:
- Video embedded in slide show
- Screencast video
- Explainer videos
- YouTube video clip
Think About Voice Over and Characters Before Scripting Your eLearning Audio
Although it may affect your word count, think about the kind of narrator you want in terms of the style you choose for each scene. Also, decide how many characters you need to help make your video more engaging and to improve the quality. For example, one of the tips I give my voice over students is to think of their narrator role as someone they’ve learned from in their lives. It could be a passionate teacher, favorite mentor, great coach, or even an inspirational spiritual advisor.
Incredible roles for the narrator (or narrator-character as I like to think of the role) that I’ve performed in the past few years included a game-show host, a Formula 1 sports announcer, a cyber hacker, a geneticist, a mom, a military commander, a chef, and a gaming wizard. Along with a solid video script, a visual of what the character will look like on-screen helps your performer get into character. Any voice actor worth their salt knows that unlocking the emotional elements in your video script will resonate more strongly with your learners increasing their retention, success, and the KPIs of your videos.