How To Develop Your Ear For Voiceover

Ever listened to your voiceover work and felt that something wasn’t quite working…

…but you didn’t know how to fix it…or even what the problem was?

There can be several reasons why a read won’t ‘sound right’…but the most common is this:

  • your read is disconnected from the script’s meaning

In fact, the biggest problem is that it will sound as though you are reading, rather than delivering a connected, engaged message.

So, what skills do you need to develop to deliver a sometimes clunky, stylised, anything-but-conversational script and make it sound connected?

First of all, you need to really understand what you’re saying.

I write a lot about the techniques for looking at the language in the script to work out what the message is, from looking for the product name and key words or phrases, to finding the words that spell out the central reason for the ad.

So if you haven’t read any of those blogs and want to learn those techniques, just click this link to find them.

However, the key to really understanding what you’re saying is in the way you listen to yourself when you’re reading.

The secret to all voiceover success is:

  1. To be able to look at a script and understand what the author is getting at (on behalf of the advertisers or client), and then
  2. To convert the writer’s ‘written word’ into ‘spoken word’ and sound like you’re an expert, speaking your own words.

To do this you need to be able to ‘hear’ what you’re saying, as well as read ahead to where you’re going. 

In my voice over coaching, I’ve tried to work out why some people who have a great voice, a charismatic personality or are talented actors, have so much difficulty bringing a voice over script to life.

Successful voiceover artists have the ability to listen to what they’re doing while they’re reading.

As they read, they find it easy to judge whether or not their message is being delivered powerfully enough to reach the ears and attention of their listening audience.

Producers want voiceover artists to sound natural, conversational, and at ease with the concepts and messages in the scripts!

So the big question always is, ‘how do you do that with the sometimes stylized, unnatural language of a script?

Here Are Two Things To Consider…

1 Start listening to the way you speak

If you recorded yourself speaking on any subject you were knowledgable about, you would probably hear why people have been saying to you…

“You have such a great voice and a way with language – you could be doing voice over!”

But the difference between this and voiceover is that your conversation is your story and an advertising script is someone else’s.

So you need to become more attuned to your own voice and start listening more consciously to the way you speak when you’re working or socialising.

2 Consciously listen to the way others speak

If you record your voice or anyone else’s, you’ll hear many of the same elements of language that you’re required to reproduce as a voiceover artist.

You’ll hear yourself or others:

  • Separate each thought and idea,
  • Give emphasis only to important words,
  • Know how to pause for effect,
  • Know how to set up a gag or humour, and
  • Know what mood, emotion, or feeling you need, to colour your delivery so it gets the result you want.

Becoming conscious of the way others speak, the rhythms they use, and how they tell stories is key to your understanding of how to convert any written word into spoken word.

When you listen to others telling stories, relating incidents or sharing information they’ve discovered – listen to it with a forensic ear.

Analyse what’s being said and listen consciously for the way they naturally emphasise what’s important about what they’re saying.

We speak like this every day. In fact, every time we open our mouth to speak we apply:

  • Colour,
  • Rhythm,
  • Mood, and
  • Emotion

Now you need to add the same techniques to your voice over work. 

Listening consciously will allow you to make choices about which emphasis works best, and lets you make subtle changes to words and phrases.

It also allows you to give the engineer or producer more options when they’re editing parts, phrases and sentences, from one take to the next.

And listening consciously also helps you answer this question, “Will the person I’m targeting this message to, be hearing what I need them to…on behalf of the advertiser or client?”

I’ve been listening consciously for a long time. It’s helped me add character and colour to my choices as a voiceover actor and has helped me build a great career!

So, one of the key skills to develop for voice over is the skill of knowing what you’re saying, at the same time as reading ahead so you know where you’re going!

And to do that you need to listen!

Developing an ear for voiceover is a crucial ingredient for your success.

Happy Voiceovering!