Essential Voiceover Lesson 2

Simple Ideas for Better VoiceOver Acting ‘ Emotion’


Last time we talked about techniques for using breath in voiceover

This time I want to talk about emotion’.

This is something that many new to voiceover just haven’t considered. Or if they have, what they may be adding to their work, and how, is often ill-considered or not well placed.

The biggest mistake some make is that their ‘emotional’ choices don’t sound authentic. If we don’t believe the person talking to us, we won’t connect our message.

Here’s the quote that forms the basis of this blog.

From Maya Angelou, Poet and Civil Rights Activist.

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning”

Maya is a writer and civil rights activist who crafted poems and memoirs that have captivated millions. But she knew very well that uttering these words with the right emotions is the ultimate way to touch people.

In voiceover, emotion belongs more to the area of ‘voice acting’ than straight information delivery, where the technique is to sound as though you’re an expert, delivering the message.

Voice acting is most prevalent in book narration or animation. In any form of traditional storytelling you need to have finely honed skills at understanding where to apply an emotion, or ‘take’, on the story you’re telling or the character you’re inhabiting.

I often find that those I coach have a lot of personal charisma and are great conversationalists or story-tellers in the room…but when they’re handed a script, they’re so focused on ‘reading’ the words that they lose the ability to ‘convert’ the words on the page into a message that carries meaning.

That is, they can’t voice act.

Just reading the words with a nice voice won’t cut it.

That’s why you need to be an extremely proficient sight-reader (that is, words ‘off’ the page) if you want to make a splash in the world of voiceover.

I’d like to give you some script examples and exercises to do, that will help you ‘hear’ the difference applying specific emotions makes to your read, and therefore the way your message is heard.

Specifically, I’d like to focus on the techniques for voice over in ‘commercial’ advertising and give some ideas about how to find authenticity in your work.

In advertising what copywriters understand and execute brilliantly is language that gets into our head. They often create phrases that are so memorable, they drift into popular usage and become the norm.

If you’re in Australia you would have heard (and possibly used) the phrase ‘not happy Jan’. It was from an ad created almost 20 years ago for the Yellow Pages Business Directory.

Remember, ‘Oils Ain’t Oils’, the Castrol commercial, what about ‘Slip Slop Slap’, for the Cancer Council, and the famous ad for Victoria Bitter beer, with the classic line, ‘Matter of fact I got it now’.

No matter where you are in the world, there’ll be advertising slogans that are now used in every day conversation.

Not only do we get great phrases from advertising, we get great performances. Language is just that, ‘language’…until it’s brought to life by the actor or voice actor.

Let’s talk through some techniques that will help you find the attitudes or emotions for the words or phrases that will tell your story in a connected way.

In a script we sometimes say something that seems bland, but if we infuse it with meaning, see how much more accessible it is.

Let’s look at the kind of line you may find in a commercial, such as “Maybe you should try a glass of warm milk”

Now let’s choose some words which, when applied to the line, will change the underlying meaning, and therefore the message.

Whatever you choose will reveal either a ‘deeper’ meaning, an ‘attitude’ or ’emotion’.

Try the line applying each of these examples to the line.

***Don’t forget, it’s just an exercise. Avoid analyzing the words. Tust try applying the attitude.



Seduction – as in tempting

Cynicism or doubt

Warmth or caring


Discovery – as in, I just had this thought

Of course, you need to be aware that in commercial advertising, you may be required to apply different emotional choices to each different ‘key’ word or phrase throughout the script.

Next, I want to share with you a character script, a radio spot, that requires excellent voice acting to really lift the words of the page and tell a story, not just by reading the words well, but by placing different meaning across each different word or phrase.

Each phrase needs to carry with it, a ‘history’, in relation to each word or phrase, from the perspective of the father.

You always need to imagine yourself in a location and visualise the other or others who are in the room.

Don’t forget, most radio advertising, especially spots requiring voice acting, is ‘theatre of the mind’, so whatever choices you make need to be visual and (here comes that word again) authentic.


Humphrey Law Socks

1×30 second radio

 (A father addresses his family )

“Here, for those who are interested are the things I do NOT want for Christmas

 Car cleaning equipment

 Shaving accoutrement

 Golf balls

 Humourous T-Shirts

 Hits of the sixties

 And socks

 Unless of course they are Humphrey Law socks, made from the finest Australian Merino wool and available at Myer and David Jones, because you see Humphrey Law socks……” (voice fades under tag)


Remember, sometimes placing attitude or emotion on a single word is all you need to reveal story.

Given that in advertising we need to cut-to-the-chase and reveal just who we are and what our attitude(s) are pretty quickly, try taking the word ‘interested’ in the first line and play with what you can do with that to set up your character’s emotional positioning or attitude.

Then take each phrase or word from the rest of the script and try placing different meanings.

Record yourself and listen back to whether you are hitting the mark…or not.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey into authenticity in voice acting.

Happy voiceovering!

And, of course, if you feel you need some personal direction, we can always Skype. Here’s the link to see what a Skype session could do for you.