Your payoffs are broken (but easy to fix)

November 17th, 2023



min read

Nobody likes a rambler.

If you’ve ever been stuck in “conversation” with some guy at a party who’s three drinks further along than you, you’ll know what I mean.

He (and, yes, let’s be real, it’s usually a “he”) witters on about something or other, but the conversation is completely directionless.

I know this, because this is me being that guy about 10 years ago.

Pretty sure this other chap is literally talking to someone else…

Now, ramblers aren’t talking with their audience in mind.

They’re talking because they like to hear themselves talk.

No one wants to be that guy.

But, when it comes to YouTube…

The majority of creators sound like that guy without realising it.

And it comes down to a structural mistake.

That’s why we need to identify and correct this structural issue if we want people to watch our videos for more than a minute.

Because, unlike at a party, where social convention demands that people stand there and listen…

Your viewers have no obligation to keep watching.

So here’s how to avoid it…

The most important thing

This week, I tweeted:

But a couple of people asked for more explanation on point #2, “payoffs”. After all…

Nailing your payoffs is absolutely fundamental to creating an engaging video.

So let’s break it down.

There are two things to think about when it comes to payoffs.

  1. How many are there?
  2. Are they well-placed?

A video with only a single payoff at the end is boring, so it needs to have mini-payoffs throughout.

In a well-structured 10-15min video, there are usually around 3-4.

This Johnny Harris video is slightly longer, so has a few more…

Click to watch 👆

The first three mini-payoffs the audience experiences look like this:

  1. Understanding the rationale behind the first undersea cable ever laid.
  2. Learning that cables often break, but how this is sometimes done deliberately.
  3. Realising that sabotage is not actually the biggest problem… spying is.

Now, as I’ve spoken about before, you don’t want to give the payoff and then spend ages talking about it.

But, as you’ll notice in the Johnny Harris example, the mini-payoff is always the very last thing that happens in each segment.

As soon as we experience a payoff, he sets up the next one.

Now, before we look at the transcript to see this in action…

Need a schmancy screen recorder?

I’ve been using Tella for screen recording since August.

I’ve tried a couple of different software options over the last two years, and this has ended up being my favourite because of how flipping good the recordings look.

Get a load of that 👀

I just found out their affiliate program is now offering new users 30% off forever when you sign up through one of their affiliate links (such as mine!)

Highly recommend trying it out if you do a lot of screen recording 👇

Try Tella (1 week trial, then 30% off forever)

Signing up through this link will result in a small kickback for me at no extra cost to you 🙂

Transcript breakdown

So, let’s look at segments 2 and 3 of Johnny’s video to show this payoff technique in action.

He begins segment 2 by saying:

“But sometimes these cables get broken on purpose” (5:50)

This piques our curiosity and makes it clear what the following segment is going to be about.

Johnny then spends 70 seconds building up a picture that explains why the cables get broken on purpose. The curiosity is resolved and we experience a payoff.

Then he immediately sets up segment 3 by saying:

“But the more interesting approach to me isn’t just sabotage. There’s another way that you can use cables to your advantage if you are a great power.” (7:00)

He’s opened another curiosity gap.

We now know exactly what we’re building towards next.

Because as soon as one point of tension has been resolved, the audience needs to know what the next one is.

How to create more payoffs

You might be wondering how to turn one payoff into three (or more).

But it’s usually fairly simple.

If you’re an educational channel, ask yourself:

What are the component pieces of information needed to understand my overall point? And can I create tension in the buildup to the reveal of each?

If you’re an entertainment channel, ask yourself:

What are the component tasks I need to complete in the build-up to the [big explosion thing] at the end? And can I create tension around the completion of each of those tasks?

If you physically can’t find a way to break your concept down, it’s probably not strong enough to be made into a video.

A word of warning

You assume you’ll have done this stuff intuitively.

But after 2+ years of writing scripts every single week, I still overlook these things and have to go back and correct them.

It’s always worth checking.

By constantly orienting your audience within the video’s structure, you make yourself the interesting person at the party who everyone wants to listen to.

Rather than the drunken rambler who just says things until they get bored.

Trust me… the audience will have gotten bored much earlier.

⚡️ Action Item

Review (and highlight) each payoff in your script. Check whether:

  1. You have more than one.
  2. You are setting up the next one as soon as you’ve resolved the last.

That’s all for this week!

Got any questions? Or anything you’d like me to talk about in future? 🧐

You can reply to these emails anytime 🙂

Speak soon,
George 👋

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Join 3000+ creators receiving quick, actionable scriptwriting tips every Friday.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Create more engaging videos with simple, actionable scriptwriting tips.

Join 3,000+ scriptwriting nerds reading “Write On Time”. Insights from writing for multi-million subscriber YouTubers sent to your inbox every Friday.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.