Ghostwriting for God: Tips for writing great VOG scripts.
I’ve written for many different types of media and a huge range of voice and tone styles over my 20+ years as a copywriter and content strategist, but there is nothing quite like writing a VOG—or Voice of God—script for a live event.
VOG announcements are typically used to introduce speakers, performers and other talent who take the stage during keynote sessions. A VOG is the disembodied voice you hear booming through the speakers at an event that is meant to convey authority, but it’s not a specific or identifiable voice like a Bill Kurtis or Rod Roddy—thus the “Voice of God” moniker. In any event, I thought I might share some tips to help you write VOG scripts worthy of the highest powers.
1) Mind the Gap.
In general, it’s usually best to keep your announcements short and concise, especially if you have a long show with many different people taking the stage. Every second matters when you’re trying to trim overall time in the run of show. I recently worked on a two-day general session event consisting with over 40 different people taking the stage. Almost every presenter was requesting “just a few more minutes” for their time slot, and in that context, every moment of available time was precious. So it was critical to ensure that all of our VOG announcements were as long as they needed to be, but not a second longer.
The one situation when you might want a longer introduction is if you have a speaker or performer who has a lot of ground to cover when taking the stage. In this case, work to sync the timing of the VOG and walk-on as closely as you can.
2) Are you there, God? It’s me, Dana.
Traditionally, VOG introductions are fairly neutral in tone and devoid of any real personality, which is just what you would expect from a non-entity. This air of detachment adds to the mystique and authority of the voice making the announcement, and to preserve it, you may want to avoid the use of pronouns such as my, your, us, etc.
All that said, it’s becoming increasingly more acceptable to reflect a bit of the overall event’s voice and tone, whether that be playful, energetic, humorous, inspirational, or something else. After all, when we’re sitting for hours at a stretch in uncomfortable seats and without sufficient caffeination, a little injection of personality and humor can go a long way towards keeping us engaged and invested in the event.
Neutral Example: Please welcome Regional Manager, Michael Scott
Tonal Example: Please welcome the heart and soul of Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, Michael Scott
Don’t Example: Please welcome my favorite leader, Michael Scott
3) Keep My Name Out of Your Mouth (‘Till the End).
The structure of your VOG announcement is also very important, especially given the primary goal of the introduction is typically to illicit a warm round of applause. For this reason, it’s best to hold the speaker’s name until the end of the statement, which is generally the audience’s cue to begin clapping. Saying the name in the middle of the announcement runs the risk of the audience not hearing the end of the announcement (because people tend to begin clapping when they hear the name), or you may end of up with that most horrible of moments— awkward partial applause.
4) Switzerland Isn’t Boring.
The tricky part of writing a neutral VOG script is that you don’t want to end up with a string of boring and monotonous announcements. It shouldn’t feel like the world’s driest Mad Libs exercise, where only the names and titles have been changed. Find some inspiration from the speaker’s accomplishments and experience, their title and/or role, the content of the presentation they’re about to make, the theme of the event, the relationship between two speakers, and more. Here are some examples:
Introducing someone who really knows how to bring people together for good, Head of Philanthropic Partnerships, Mary Green.
The next speaker is going to share why some of the biggest breakthroughs are made by black sheep. Put your hands together for, Chief Creative Officer at Supercom, Steve Apple.
Introducing two people who are reimagining what it means to be storytellers, Academy-Award-winning screenwriters, Spike Lee and Charlie Wachtel.
Next up, the woman who has the data to back up intuition, VP of Data and Analytics, Jemma Smith.
5) Lordy, I Hope There Are Tapes
If you’ll be pre-recording your VOG announcements, it’s sometimes a good idea to record multiple versions. For example, if you have co-presenters, it can be smart to record a joint VOG introducing both speakers, as well as individual versions, just in case something comes up and only one speaker ends up presenting (which happens more often than we’d like it to). You may also have a situation where a contest winner is announced and you could need to plan for multiple outcomes. Thinking through and planning for all of the possible scenarios will help you avoid tricky last-minute audio edits that can be challenging to get right on the fly .
6) I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Just because you’re writing the Voice of God doesn’t mean you get to play God. VOG scripts should go through the same approval processes as any other content in your event. Don’t assume that the VP of your company will be fine with you introducing her as “a powerhouse in heels” just because she wears them. And, it’s always good to double-check titles, especially if your event might coincide with a large organizational restructuring in which titles may be changing. Finally, if you’re working with outside speaking talent, you’ll need to get approval on those VOG announcements as well (often these are already specified in their contract), and you’ll want those approvals in writing.
I hope these tips will prove helpful next time you’re writin’ for the Lord at an event. It can be a very rewarding writing assignment, especially when you get to craft announcements for speakers and performers such as The Academic, Viola Davis, Janelle Monae and Mike Rowe, as I have been lucky enough to do.
Have your own VOG tips to share? Be sure to include them in the comments.
Image courtesy of Digitearte via Flikr.