Writing A Software Demo Script

This is part 2 in our series on how we help make demo videos.  Part 1 is here.  Part 3 is here.

The script is the next part of what we do. It is the "glue" or foundation to build your visual metaphors. A good script is instantly obvious - it sounds compelling, initing and low key. You feel like you've been informed on what some software can do.

A good script is meant to do the following:

  • Indicate the quality of your product
  • Inform you of what the product does
  • Help people become customers
  • Inform people of the important features and the feeel of the product.

What a script  should never attempt:

  • To Change Your Mind
  • To present every option (the fewer you present the better you sell)
  • To get you to know every feature of a product

Writing this is tricky, but it can be done in half a day if you're used to it.  Here's the process we use to make this work. Demo Script Writing  Step 1: Set Your Goal

It might be counter intuitive, but we start our scripts at the end. We write the last sentence first, generally. That's done in consultation with the client. More often than not, we ask for a purchase.

The first thing you do is set a primary goal. There are some presumed goals, i.e. not look stupid, tell people what you do. But everything a script does leads to a logical, gentle close. This means that you should, at the end, make a request of some sort. Examples:

  • Sign up for a free trial (great because it includes a risk reversal)
  • Watch more videos. (Surprisingly effective—watching an overview before we drill down is why Headway Themes is working. the other videos aren't going to be as intense.)
  • Give us your email address.
  • Request a quote.
  • Donate.

These are the goals. Obviously, we want people to think you're great, love what you do and such, but you're piquing interest. People always want to know what to do next. We build a gentle close first. Closes we've used:

  • To learn if Acme Widgets are right for you, put your name in the box.
  • Get started with a risk-free trial.
  • Select a risk-free plan and go live today.

We always try to get in a risk reversal in our scripts. This means that we're not asking for any major, irreversible decisions; we're just inviting people to take a look at our product or program. After that, we'll continue to win their business. Finally, you want the close to be no more than about 25 words, with 18 or so being ideal. Remember: we'll be revising as we go.

Step 2:  Chose Script Density, Length, and Tone The next things you decide are working guidelines. You can modify them in progress, but when you're writing a script, you want to set your density, length and tone.

Density is how much information you'll convey. A one minute script can contain from 100 words, or 180 or so (if you talk like John Moschitta, JR).  The less information, the more retention you can have. We generally stick to a range between 120 and 145 words for our Simplifilms.

It seems counter intuitive, but you want people to remember and act on the most important bits about your operation. The lower the density, the higher the impact. There are, of course, times (especially in 30 second spots) when it could be possible that you may talk faster.

Remember: professional VOs can talk at 135-145 words per minute (and still be compelling). This means that we can speak at about 2.25 words per second. Remember this at all times.

The length is the next thing you shoot for. Before we write one word, we want to pay attention to length. Generally, you want to be between 48 seconds and 72 seconds. After a home-page demo ad runs past 72 seconds, many people start to leave. There's something we call audience decay and we want to make sure we stay ahead of the points where audience decay gets faster. So, we want to keep the length down. 

Finally, the tone. There are many variables that we use to set the tone, but broadly speaking:

  • Professional, Casual, or Corporate
  • Urgent/Salesy, Laid Back and Simple
  • Over-the-Top (think WWE style) or Relaxed

The tone you set can be influenced by many factors. We generally like to keep things low key and quiet with our scripts.

Step 3: Write Your Opening

75% of the time spent writing the script should be spent on the first 25 words.

If you spend 2 days on a script, a day is spent coming up with the perfect opening line. Because you want people to get their hand off the "back" button and watch your script.

You have to tell exactly what's coming next.

We use a this format because people watch with it:

Welcome to [product], now you [what you can do with the product].

Think about this. We've all had a sales call or sales pitch. We hate it when we can't figure out what the other person is up to. If we get buttonholed at a meeting and we know there's a pitch coming, we get tense and anxious. If the pitch comes out right away? It's more respectful to us and to someone else. So, an opening that gets our cards on the table.

Now, we use other formats:

Tired of [problem]? Now there's [product].

The risk with the second type of script is that you will lose the audience if the problem is perceived as trivial. Example: Tired of eating crappy scones? Now there's Scone Select to have better scones. Nobody's going to keep watching when if the problem you solve isn't one they are interested in, so there's always a big risk when leading with a problem. It has to matter to the end user.

Step 4: Write Your Bullet Points (see part I)

When we did the first part—the feature selection—we selected some ideas to convey to you. Now, it's time to write bullet points.

The bullet points support the opening. We're not worried, yet, about getting from the "headline" to the "bullets." What we are doing is making sure we get the core explanation in correctly. The middle part should be the easiest part of the equation. "Your product does X, Y and Z".

Often we'll use a short, one-three word phrase, with a further explanation after to convey information to the people watching.

"Step 1, Design: Create a custom design that works for you."

We can use a quick phrase so people remember, and then we can elaborate later.

The bullet points should be 45-50% of the total script.

Step 5: Add Transitions and Read Aloud—sentence by sentence

Now we're going to build bridge phrases and transitions. We want each part to flow to the next part.

So if we have a basic script, we go from a headline into the next part:

"It's as easy as 1, 2, 3"


"It's as easy as drop, drag and publish."

Consider reinforcing ideas in the points with transitional phrases.

The two main transition areas are between the headline and the bullets and then again between the bullets and the close.  Also, during the close we can add in some other details. "It's easy to get started, just ___________," is a good way to go (we start with the close).

Step 6: Revise for Economy, Read Aloud & Send to Others or VO

Now we want to make sure every word matters.

Look, people are about to tune you out. You want to make sure that your sentences are as concise as possible. Remember: the visuals tell a big part of our story. We can fill in the gaps with the rest.

So, every word that you can cut out, cut out. For everything that could be phrased differently, shorter, do it. Cut sentences in half, and make sure every adjective is vital to the conveyance of information.

Then, we read each sentence aloud, and each segment aloud. It must all make sense and flow together.

After we're done, we send it to our voice-over artist. We should provide him (or her) with notes on tone and pacing.

Obviously, we have more back and forth with this. We send stuff to other people in our group at various points. We might take a first pass on a rough script and then make it adhere to this.

Conclusion: Good Script = Great Foundation

Now you know how to make a basic script. The next thing we do is put a visual metaphor over top of it. A good script should lend itself to lots of ideas, visually. A good script can be interpreted many different ways. You will be flexible when working with a good, well-crafted script.

That's important because the next thing we do is put a metaphor on it.