Ushering in the era of audio content means meeting your audience where it is at the moment and facilitating user experience that matches their evolving needs and demands. It means offering an alternative avenue to explore besides the usual text-based approach.
Despite all the good things audio as a medium brings to your content strategy, we can’t be blind to the challenge of converting your text content (both existing and soon to be published) into an ear-friendly experience. Simply put, some content works better, some doesn’t at all. With this post, I aim to point out a few things you need to be aware of, how to avoid issues when using a realistic text to speech solution, and offer helpful hints like word choices and storytelling techniques.
Make sure you nail down the context
Providing the right context is arguably the first thing you have to do in this case. One of the aspects of audio that don’t translate well from text is the lack of ability to paint a clear picture right from the start, especially not as visual media does. A reader has the luxury to skim through sections, catch a heading or two to get the gist of the article or just race through the entire piece.
A listener doesn’t have that option as listening is far more selective and linear. Plus, audio doesn’t require any active involvement from the user, leaving them free to multitask and if the context isn’t clear, their mind to wander.
Hence, it’s super important to get this right from the start. You need to give the right information first to make the context clear and then develop details along the way. Cram too much information at once (like lede works in news-oriented content, for instance) and your audience will become overloaded, disinterested, and your message will be lost in the airwaves.
Unlike social media (which I totally expect to provide an audio experience in the near future), applying realistic text to speech to your blog offers plenty of room to cover all the fine points and provide enough information so your audience can understand what it’s all about.
However, it doesn’t mean you can treat it the same as textual content. Compared to it, speech comes off quite differently, best suited for short (or shorter) sentences. By its nature, audio is aligned to the spoken word which helps deliver optimal rhythm and pace, made possible by being short and simple with every word pulling its weight. As a listener, would you want to hear a sentence that’s worth an entire paragraph and wonder what the message is? Each sentence should contain only one idea (maybe two, at best) for easier comprehension.
This is where you make your sentences more descriptive in order to increase engagement. Your content can be fine grammatically but the point is to make it interesting, factoring in the audio drawbacks I mentioned before.
Everything from your choice of verbs to the use of adjectives to the overuse of adverbs is open to action. Metaphors, analogies, and similes are great tools to not only explain something but also be persuasive and authoritative about it. The right comparisons can create positive associations and eliminate potential barriers, steering your audience in the direction you want.
Another neat thing you can leverage are signposts – words and phrases (hence, therefore, in short, etc.) that help create descriptive narration and ease the flow of your writing. As the de facto narrator, you must guide your listeners by telling them where and why the message is going where it’s going.
For more details, I offer this link from Live Write Thrive as it covers the topic of descriptiveness in depth.
Stuff you need to avoid
As previously mentioned, some content is audio-ready by default while some can completely mess up your vibe. Text to speech is like that. Chances are, you’ll need to write and edit for the ear far more than you did for the eyes. Writing for readers and writing for listeners are two similar, but different enough scenarios to give you Texas-sized problems.
We’ve discerned by now that you should stay away from long sentences but that’s just the beginning. Text is full of these little traps, so to speak, and they can significantly downgrade the user experience.
Case in point: abbreviations, acronyms, and numerals – all of these require proper phonetic and semantic representation where it’s best to just flat out write them out. There are also special characters like the almighty hashtag or the ‘at’ sign which are better to avoid altogether or spell out for proper audio output.
We are all fans of links when writing but they tell nothing to a listener. If possible, write them out fully or opt to skip them (some text-to-speech software offers such an option) to avoid confusion.
Pay attention to semantics. Using synonyms and related terms, you will be able to avoid confusing situations like homonyms – words that sound the same but have different meanings.
Also, don’t be surprised if you need to put an email or a phone number in a specific format or something else entirely – voice technology is still young enough to have a few bumps on the road. Which brings me to this:
Final piece of advice: test your work out loud
It just makes sense: you will hear the content the same as your audience will, and be able to hear if everything sounds right. You can give Trinity’s demo a go – just paste a snippet of the content you’re unsure of and hear it out. At the moment, it’s only available via desktop but we’re working on getting out a mobile version soon.
Good audio content is increasingly becoming essential for connecting with audiences and improving user experience. If you are aiming to capture and monetize attention, affordable and easy to use text-to-speech solutions can generate such content for you. Add the fact that ConTech (content technology), responsible for aggregating and recommending relevant content, will rise in importance and you have yourself one sweet deal.
However, there are moments where technology is limited in facilitating the same experience in a seamless manner. Even this post isn’t 100% audio-friendly when it comes to linking. It’s important to find the right balance between the reading and listening experience. Maybe one day, technology will make it possible to voice-activate links – maybe we’ll even have a sound associated with links and listeners will be able to command opening up the link they’ve heard and to then to go back to the original text. Who knows? Until those creases are ironed, it’s important to stick to these tried and tested practices to deliver on audio’s promise. That’s one promise you want to fulfill.
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