Techniques to Rock your Voiceover Scripts
I’ve been teaching voiceover technique for 15 years and been a voice actor for 40, and through those years I’ve read a kazillion voiceover scripts, whether it’s commercial, non-commercial, animation or audiobook narration.
Something I learned early in my career, is that building a profile and a reputation…and securing ongoing work, is about much more than just reading the words.
I learned pretty quickly that a solid understanding of script analysis was the key to my success.
Creating a Believable Read
In this blog, I want to introduce you to the idea of creating a believable read by analysing your voiceover scripts or story content, no matter what style or genre they are.
First up, a script is never just one long string of words requiring your unique voice.
All scripts contain different thoughts and ideas.
You need to understand the language in the script deeply before you’re able to interpret it… and then deliver it, as though the words are yours, that you ‘own’ that language.
You need to be able to look forensically at voiceover scripts or text for the ‘clues’ in the language.
You may think this is over-kill, unnecessary or pointless, but believe me, this is what makes the difference between a successful premium voice artist earning the big bucks and one that just gets the occasional low-budget job.
You need to look at each paragraph, sentence, part of a sentence, key phrase or key word and know why it’s there, and how it relates to the overall message.
To do this successfully you need to have an excellent grasp of language and subtext.
You also need to be a brilliant sight-reader. That is, you can read almost anything straight ‘off the page’ and do it without heaps of mistakes, while making sense of what’s there. You also need to aim to be someone who can read 4-6 words ahead. That was, you’ll know where you are, have remembered where you’ve been and know where you’re headed.
If you’re a person who is an avid reader, with a love or words and language, has a broad vocabulary and a love of, or knowledge of performance, you’ll love this kind of work.
If not, you need to begin building all the above into strengths.
If you suspect your sight-reading is not strong, you need to build that skill. So, practice reading any kind of text ‘aloud’ every day and begin to get an understanding of how to impart meaning in everything you read.
I also learned very early that the secret to sounding believable, is to sound as though they are ‘your’ words and you’re just making them up as you go along.
However, they’re not ‘your’ words. Your script may have been crafted by someone like a top-class advertising copywriter, with a real gift, to the person who does the business writing for their job and who has no knowledge of how to craft a ‘spoken word’ non-commercial script.
You may notice:
- words that you seldom or never say,
- words that are ambiguous or have different pronunciations, and
- words whose meaning you’re just not clear about.
Scripts come in very different forms and very different styles.
Depending on their intended audience and purpose, they can be full of information, full of character, full of story or full of inspiration.
But one thing voiceover scripts all have in common, is that they’re’ full’ of words.
The most important thing to remember when you’re converting written word into spoken word is that it’s all about getting the meaning right.
And getting the meaning right is all about understanding exactly which word or words tell the story of the script.
So, How do you Work Out ‘Which Word’?
Here are some simple steps which may help guide you.
First read the script ‘on the page’ (that is, just look at it and read it) to find out what it’s about.
Notice next, which words or phrases speak directly to ‘what it’s about’. These are the ‘important’ words.
Then, read the script ‘off the page’ aloud, (spoken word) noticing and marking any of these things:
- What are, and where are the key words and phrases? That is, only words that are about that it’s about. I know I’m repeating myself, but this is so The only words that get emphasis are the words that tell the story
- Clunky grammar. It may be technically wrong, but sound right in spoken word
- Contractions. Notice phrases like ‘we will’ and ‘it is’ which can be replaced with the contraction ‘we’ll’ and it’s. You’ll need to ask whether you can use contractions, which always make a spoken word script sound more natural and therefore more relatable
- Punctuation. In written word, correct punctuation is important. But we don’t speak in correct punctuation. Always question whether the punctuation guides your read. Things like; is that coma in the right place? Or, should I ignore that full stop? Avoid being guided by ‘written word’ punctuation for ‘how to perform in spoken word’. The language will inform your read, but only when you understand it
- Unfamiliar words? Look them up for their meaning. Check word pronunciation if you’re unsure. Go to howjsay.com or Youtube it
- Practice reading unusual or unfamiliar runs of words…that could get caught in the mouth. Practice reading them aloud though. As if you were actually doing the job
- Think about who this message, information or story is targeted to
- And lastly, you can now think about how you’re going to read the script. Sure, it’s your voice, but it’s not you. Make decisions about the right feeling to give to this script?
Okay, that was a lot to take in. But if you thought reading voiceover scripts was just about ‘reading’, you’ll now know you may need to think again.
When you’re listening to your favourite read or hear something that resonates, you can bet the voice actor is using some, or all of these analytical techniques to help guide them into the script.
Take the time to practice, develop an ear for the way you sound, and listen to others to work out what they’re doing that resonates with you.
I hope this helps 🙂