I’ve been doing something new recently – I’ve been auditioning voiceover artists. It was for some video infographics we were making for a client, and the tone needed to be just right.
This was noteworthy for me personally as I’ve done voiceover work myself – I’ve been the guy trying to get the tone right. I used to work for a travel company. One of our tasks was making promotional videos for various destinations. So we’d get a load of stock footage of paradise coastlines, wildlife, golf courses and happy people being served breakfast from tourist boards of, say, Saint Lucia, Dubai, Florida, Koh Samui and so on (despite my insistence that they’d get much better footage if they just sent me there). We’d splice it all together, add graphics and then I’d do the voiceover, describing aspects like “undulating mountains”, “beaches of opaque whiteness”, “sunset dining” and “glistening, azure waters” in a default tone that at the time we could only describe as ‘travel porn’.
But travel porn was entirely appropriate. You can’t say “glistening, azure waters” without sounding like an M&S advert for chocolate fondant, and that’s exactly how you want the listener to feel after hearing your voice. It needed to be mouth-watering, insatiable (whether it had that effect or not, I don’t know).
Our optimum tone was “about Radio 2”
I found myself [cringingly] referring back to all this while auditioning. Our client needed an internal communications strategy that was serious in its messaging, but engaging in its delivery. The video infographic part required the voice of someone demonstrating a trustworthy level of sincerity combined with an overriding feeling that you could go down to the pub with them after. That’s quite a complex tone to get just right; I found myself agonising between two women, one who was a little too Radio 1, and other a little too Radio 4. Our optimum tone thus was “about Radio 2”.
Bring your content alive by giving it its own voice and style
Tone is probably the most important thing to get right when making a video infographic, or animated infographic, as they’re also known. You’re bringing generally boring stats to life. What video does is combine the static, on-page element of standard infographics with some visual and auditory chutzpah. Tone, therefore, is everything.
Movie trailers are good examples of video infographics
It’s like being teased with the poster for the new Star Wars movie and then seeing the trailer. It’s a whole new dimension (pun not intended). Actually, movie trailers are good examples of video infographics that have been invariably successful. So imagine if it wasn’t backed by John Williams’s score or the voiceover wasn’t that guttural American guy with the perennial smoker’s cough. The impact wouldn’t be so much ‘Force Awakens’ as ‘Force Snooze Button’.
Video 1: This Southerly video infographic is graphics-led as animated text combines with voiceover narration and real original footage.
You can of course decide not to have a voiceover in your video infographic, in which case backing music plays an even greater role in setting the tone. What a voiceover does, however, is humanise the whole thing. This can be powerful.
With your tone nailed, here are some other important points to keep in mind.
You may notice here that I didn’t say ‘script’. There’s a good reason. The script is important, sure, and every animated infographic needs one drafted out – mainly because you need to know how long it’s going to be – but it needn’t have a narrative per se.
Pauses allow the viewer a moment to digest
You’re not telling a story insomuch as you’re making a series of interconnected points. Which means flowing and transitioning between those points with cohesion, relevance, and engagement (which is where we come back to tone again), such that the audience is kept wanting for the next one. The flow from point to point (rather than from beginning to middle to end) determines the script. You’ll know if the video feels too long or convoluted (generally speaking two minutes is about your limit – our attention span these days is around eight seconds, and the average length of a single watched video online is 2 minutes 40 seconds).
The flow also encompasses its pace and rhythm, and these will become apparent as you do your initial read-throughs of the script. The feel of your animated infographic needs to remain lively and energetic. Spoken words should bounce from their on-screen cues. It needs to maintain this pace even with pauses that allow the viewer a moment to digest.
This goes for on-screen as much as it does off-screen content. If you’re animating statistics and coupling with a voiceover element, you need to ask yourself what needs to be seen, what needs to be heard and what can be implied or inferred.
Aim for as little on-screen content as you can feasibly muster – it can get overwhelming and ultimately your aim is to make this information easier, not harder, to fathom. Don’t forget the viewer is effectively digesting content by way of sensory overload – you don’t want them to sink into too much text while they’re concentrating on the voiceover, nor do you want it all so sparse that they forget what you’re talking about. It’s a ‘burden versus boredom’ kind of a balance.
A voiceover humanises the whole thing, which can be powerful
Bear in mind also that inference and the power of suggestion are effective tools. Giving the viewer’s brain a gap to fill on its own is highly engaging and satisfying. This can be as simple as expressing a message with a simple on-screen image or icon.
Video 2: This Southerly video infographic is voiceover-led, determining the pace of animated typography as it appears on-screen to tell the story.
Lastly, the style of your design is also determined by the tone of the whole piece. Choose a colour palette and design repertoire that reflects the tone and the message truly and contemporarily. As far as the little stylistic nuances go, your best bet is to have a look around you. See what video styles work for different types of message – it doesn’t have to be another infographic – have a look at adverts, short stories, and movie trailers. A wealth of inspiration for example can be found in music videos, which are all about matching style with content and tone.
It’s time to get creative – to add new dimensions to your boring stats. Stand out from the crowd – bring your content alive by giving it its own voice and its own style.
These aren’t just infographics; these are animated, video infographics. Their force is strong.