Mastering VoiceOver Techniques – Part 3
The Power of Punctuation
If you’re an experienced voiceover artist, you’ll know that the more you understand about:
- the structure of language,
- the fascinating world of grammar and
- the skills of creating deep meaning in your scripts
…the more work you’ll book.
But if you’re new to voiceover and the techniques for creating brilliant reads, you may be a bit bamboozled when it comes to knowing how to inhabit a script and bring that language to life.
And if you’ve looked at my recent blog series ‘Techniques to Build Voiceover Mastery’ Parts 1 and 11, you’ll know it’s crucial to have a stack of great techniques, that will help you navigate any script you’re given.
Now for Part 3 – Punctuation
Before we begin, I have just one thing to say that you’ll need to remember.
Never look at punctuation as a way to guide your read
Confused? I’ll explain.
In ‘written word’ – that is words ‘on’ the page – correct punctuation and sentence structure is important. Punctuation allows you to understand the meaning the writer wants to convey. If you’ve ever read anything where punctuation was missing or incorrectly placed, you’ll know how difficult it is to understand. When that happens, you need to look at the language deeply and try to work out what it’s saying.
In ‘spoken word’, if you’re faced with the same thing, there can be slightly different considerations.
So, I want to talk to you about how to look at punctuation when you’re converting ‘written word’ into ‘spoken word’.
In ‘Spoken Word’, always Question the Punctuation
Yep. It’s so important. Ask if it’s serving the story? Does it sound natural? Or do you need to remove a comma so that something flows better; or add a comma where you would naturally add a pause between two different thoughts or ideas.
***Punctuation in ‘written word’ is all about the rhythm of the writing. And a good exercise to do is to focus on punctuation when you are reading for pleasure. Just take a few paragraphs and read aloud to discover how and why the author is using punctuation.
And the reason I’m asking you to do that exercise is that when it comes to ‘spoken word’, punctuation needs to be looked at a little differently.
Because as soon as we convert ‘written word’ to ‘spoken word’, we often need to convert the punctuation as well.
When you look at the script, your focus now needs to be on:
- what it’s saying and who you are talking too.
- what information are you giving, or
- what are you trying to convince the listener to do?
These elements need to be understood before you decide how you’re going to read it.
So, let’s cut to the lesson.
First cut and paste the script below, increase the font size and the line spacing and print it out (preferred) or have it ready to mark up on your computer. You’ll also need a pencil (rather than a pen) and an eraser if you’ve printed it out.
Once you’re ready click on the audio for the lesson.
Okay, let’s look at the script. Clearly, I’ve removed all the punctuation. First, I’ll read the script without any indication of where punctuation needs to be and meaning accented for the message to be understood, so it will sound pretty awful.
“The world is changing and the pressure to change along with it is something we all have to deal with but how do you keep up how do make sure you’re on top of things breaking new ground and creating a business that will take you into the 21st century get onto the Business Solutions website they have the answers”
And before you put ‘written word’ or any punctuation back in, you need to look deeply into the language to find out what it’s actually saying, who you’re talking to, what is it you think they want, and what the kernel of the message is.
What I want you to do now is mark up the script looking for these things. Find:
- the central phrase.
- all the key words and others key phrases.
- the language that’s about the problem and then language that gives the solution***
- all the parts of the message that give different information, or different thoughts and ideas. This is where you need to add the punctuation that suits the language, a comma, a question mark, a dash, ellipses or whatever you feel will guide you better.
***You may already know that the problem/solution structure is something that’s used a great deal in commercial advertising but exists in the non-commercial world as well.
When you’re looking at the script, avoid applying ‘written word rules’, such as…you can’t put a comma after the word ‘and’. Or, you can’t begin a sentence with ‘but’.
Just concentrate on the important information and separate it, so that the listener understands it all.
So, pause the audio now and mark up your script. When that’s done continue with the audio.
How did you go? It can be tricky to do this. We’re so used to using punctuation to guide us.
Did you look first for what I call, ‘the central message’? That can be a line or a phrase that encompasses what this is about. It could even be the reason the company or product exists.
Once you’ve located that phrase – and there is one in this script – you needed to look for all the key words and phrases. They’re the words and phrases that both address the problem and then the solution.
This technique was covered in Lesson 2 in case you need to refer to it.
I’m going to read the script now, allowing myself to be guided by the ‘written word’ punctuation, and avoiding any particular emphasis on key words, so that you can see how punctuation for ‘written word’ and ‘spoken word’ can be so different.
And how important it is to locate and know how to express key words and phrases. This is how the script appeared originally.
“The world is changing and the pressure to change along with it is something we all have to deal with but how do you keep up? How do make sure you’re on top of things, breaking new ground and creating a business that will take you into the 21st century.
Get onto the Business Solutions website. They have the answers”.
Okay, so now I want to share the edited for ‘spoken word’ script with you.
I’ve now added spoken word punctuation and on-the-page sentence structure, to make it easier for a voice actor to navigate.
What you need to look at, and listen for, is when I pause to highlight a different thought or idea. Listen for when I slow down through a word or a phrase to make it more important.
And especially look at the marks/punctuation I’ve added or the structure on the page, to help guide me through the read.
Here we go
“The world is changing.
And the pressure to change along with it,
is something we all have to deal with.
But how do you keep up?
How do make sure you’re on top of things?
Breaking new ground.
And creating a business that will take you into the 21st century.
Get onto the Business Solutions website.
They have the answers”
So, hopefully you did choose ‘the world is changing’ as your central phrase.
If the world wasn’t changing in business, this message or even this company may not exist.
And of course, your audience is anyone in business who’s having trouble dealing with technological and other changes that keep coming at them.
See also how I’ve not just separated the different thoughts and ideas, with either a comma, a question mark or a full stop…and put each thought that applies to your audience on a different line, I’ve broken many ‘written word’ rules to do so.
This is ‘spoken word’ punctuation. It is quite different.
I hope this has given you some great techniques for creating a superlative read, the next time you’re in front of a mic.