Techniques for Voiceover Success

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Sight Reading Techniques That Will Really Give You The Edge!

It’s true that being a great ‘sight reader’ is one of the most important skills a voice over artist can have, but how many of you, when faced with something you’ve never read before, struggle to have it make sense on the first reading?  Read on for some simple techniques that’ll help you perfect your sight reads.

The reason sight reading is such an important skill in voice over, is that you rarely see the script before it’s handed to you in the studio.  That’s why you need your reading skills to be sharp.

You need to quickly look through the copy, work out what’s going and decide who you are and who you’re talking to.  You also need to make a decision about what response you want from the listener and most importantly, you need to deliver it in a way that captures attention, which brings me to one of the most important aspects of the script that you need to decipher; the punctuation.

As we all know, punctuation implies the structure and organization of written language. When we write, we use correct sentence structure and we punctuate.  We use full stops, comma’s, semicolons, etc.  However, most often text is written just to be read, not spoken.  The thing is, when we are speaking in conversation and moving from one thought or idea to the next, we don’t always use punctuation in the same way.

Now let’s talk about voiceover scripts specifically.  In voiceover scripts, the  job of punctuation is to help us know where to place inflection and/or pauses so that the meaning comes across; and to make what we’re saying sound as natural as possible.  If you’re already a voiceover artist, you’ll know that not all punctuation is useful.  It may be grammatically correct, but it doesn’t always help us to convey the message.

Many of you may have already had the experience of a script with either wrongly placed, very little, or occasionally no punctuation at all.  I often prefer the latter, as my technique is to run through the script and find the story and its rhythm by placing my own punctuation marks.  I put comma’s where it may be incorrect to put them, if I want to pause.  I also often ignore punctuation completely, in favour of making sense out of the story in the script.  This can sometimes include ignoring full stops.

“What?  Ignoring full stops?  You can’t do that!”

You’re right, sometimes you can’t, but sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do.  And when you do it’s almost always to do with the character you’re playing and the story you’re telling.

For instance, if you were to actually honour all the full stops, you would actually stop…and that’s just not what we do in natural speech; and it’s not what we do in voiceover if we want the story to be engaging.  Remember, the voiceover artist is charged with the responsibility of creating strong visuals and this is always achieved by understanding where or where not to place punctuation.  I’ll give you an example of what I mean with the following script.  It’s for an IKEA Storage catalogue and it was written and punctuated like this;

“You wake up at 7am on the morning of The Big Meeting.  You shower and begin to dress.  Favourite skirt.  Favourite shirt.  Favourite bag.  Favourite shoe.  Where is your other favourite shoe?  You look under the bed.  Under the coffee table.  In the laundry.  You look at the dog for signs of guilt.  You consider your second favourite shoes.  Your lucky shoes.  Your, ‘I’ve never lost a deal in these shoes’ shoes.  You wake your husband.  He suggests it might be where you left it.  You leave late in your second favourite pair of shoes.  You hit traffic.  The car park is full.  Everyone watches you walk in late.  You spill your first coffee down your shirt.  You accidentally delete your presentation.  As you’re weeping into keyboard, you remember the IKEA Storage Brochure that was delivered the other day.  You vow never to lose another shoe again.”

This is a classic ‘character driven/story driven’ script, in that we don’t know what the product is until the last line of the ad, when the ‘IKEA Storage Brochure’ is first mentioned.  (Just as an aside, there’s also something quite unusual that I want you to notice about this script.  It’s written in second-person, which uses ‘you’ to drive it, rather that the first-person ‘I’ or third-person ‘he/she/they/them’. Quite unusual in advertising copy.)  The script itself is a lovely idea.  It’s written very well and all the punctuation is correct.  But how do you deal with it as a voiceover artist wanting to make sense of the story.

When you’re handed a script like this, you need to read it through and work out what matters.  First, you need to find the key words, which are the words or phrases that connect to the subject and concept of the copy.  In this case the subject is ‘good storage solutions’ and the concept is ‘the missing shoe’.

Now you need to make the story of this script work by breaking it down into thoughts and ideas, and this is where you’ll discover where you need to add punctuation or remove it.  I’d also like to add that it’s not always necessary to pause between each new thought or idea, as long as your interpretation indicates a change.

Now to the script.  Here’s one I prepared earlier.  I’ve broken it up into separate thoughts and removed the full-stops where, I feel, they can successfully be ignored.  I believe this will drive the story more dynamically.  Of course, this is only my interpretation but have a read now and see how it feels when you don’t honour all the full-stops, which means, of course, that you don’t stop.

“You wake up at 7am on the morning of The Big Meeting.

You shower and begin to dress Favourite skirt Favourite shirt Favourite bag Favourite shoe.

Where is your other favourite shoe?

You look under the bed Under the coffee table In the laundry You look at the dog for signs of guilt.

You consider your second favourite shoes.

They’re nice But they’re not your favourite shoes Your lucky shoes Your, ‘I’ve never lost a deal in these shoes’ shoes.

You wake your husband.

He suggests it might be where you left it.

You leave late, in your second favourite pair of shoes.

You hit traffic The car park is full Everyone watches you walk in late You spill your first coffee down your shirt You accidentally delete your presentation.

As you’re weeping into keyboard, you remember the IKEA Storage brochure that was delivered the other day.

You vow never to lose another shoe again.”

Now the script is punctuated to reflect the concept of the story, rather than correct sentence structure.  Food for thought?

If the idea of playing with scripts like these excites you, have a look at my audio voiceover over technique programs, Mastering Your Voice Over Technique.  They are full of rules, tips and techniques just like these, which help you understand how to better create great work in the studio.

After listening to them and when you’re just bursting to try your own versions of scripts,  come and play with us in the studio at a ‘One Day Studio Intensive’.  Go on, you know you want to!!!