Voice Over Script Style Tips

How to deal with an information-loaded Voice Over script

All voice over scripts inform us of something but sometimes scripts are full of information. And information-loaded voice over scripts can be some of the most challenging to voice.

If you listen to the many different ways information is delivered in a voice over script, you’ll also hear that there are many different structures and styles of script.

On first reading the script, it can be hard to know how to approach it, so that the meaning gets delivered to your listening audience.

There are no hard and fast rules and voice over is often more about the science of ‘what sounds right’, than what rule to obey.

But here are some techniques I use for getting through information-loaded voice over scripts.

First, these are the things you need to do when you look at any voice over script – so make sure you have these ticked off first:

  • Identify the product
  • Identify all the key words and phrases that are about the product
  • Find the line or phrase that tells us what the central reason is for this message

Once you’ve nailed all this, it’s time to look at the language in the script. You need to find the different pieces of information and work out how best to deliver the message.

Before I give you the techniques, I want to say this…

‘Written word’, that is words on the page, is very different from ‘spoken word’.

When you first look at a script, you’re looking at the written word. The language is created in correct sentence structure:

  • But we don’t speak in correct sentence structure when we’re having a conversation or delivering information.

When you look further into the script, punctuation (usually but not always) is correctly placed for written word:

  • But in real life, we don’t use punctuation in the same way.

In fact, if you were to record someone speaking, you may be surprised by the way they:

  • Use pauses,
  • Ignore full stops, and
  • Run from one sentence to the other without stopping.

This is what makes conversation, or story, sound interesting – and when the story-teller is engaging, we always listen.

This is what you’re trying to emulate when you read a voice over script – you’re not reading written word.

You’re converting those ‘words on the page’ into your version of spoken word. To do that successfully, you must always look at punctuation and ask if you need to honour it, or not:

  • Is the punctuation helping you understand the information you’re being asked to deliver or getting in the way of a connected delivery?

Here’s an example from a voice over script, where you might question whether the comma is effective, or holding up the flow or rhythm of the read.

First, find the key phrases, then read it aloud, first pausing at the commas, and then not pausing.

“Now wouldn’t you have liked to have gotten there earlier?

Say, six months earlier?

Well, apply for Swinburne’s mid year intake, and you’ll finish your course six months earlier than those waiting to start next year.”

If you discovered that pausing after ‘Say’, was more effective because it made the phrase ‘six months earlier’ stand out, you’d be correct. It does!

Often pausing just before a word or phrase that’s important helps it to stand out, without you needing to place any emphasis on it.

However, if you paused after the word ‘well’ in the next line, you might have found it more difficult to place emphasis on the most important phrase in the whole ad, Swinburne’s mid year intake. This phrase is the central reason why the ad is being made.

Not only does pausing after the first word in the net line create a slightly clunky rhythm, it stops you from moving smoothly to the key phrase ‘Swinburne’s mid year intake’.

When you’re reading a voice over script that’s delivering a lot of information, one thing that makes it totally listenable, is the voice artists ability to let each different piece of information ‘land’. This is so the listener really takes it in, before you then move on, differently, to the next piece of information.

To do that, you need to pause.

The thing about information is that you need to always imagine that the person you’re delivering the message to has never heard this stuff before.

You need to do this every time you do another take. It can be quite a challenge when you’re recording material that you’ve said over and over, to make the information sound fresh, but that’s what you get the big bucks for!

One of the key techniques, is to work out how may different pieces of information, thoughts, or ideas lurk in one single sentence. 

Sometimes the ideas are separated by commas and sometimes not, so be forensic with what you notice!

Like in this example:

“You’re going for a really great job but by the time you get to the interview the job has already gone to some bloke who got there 10 minutes before you.”

How many different thoughts, ideas or visuals are in this sentence?

If you said 3 you’d be right, but what are they?

  1. You’re going for a really great job
  2. but by the time you get to the interview
  3. the job has already gone to some bloke who got there 10 minutes before you.

When you break up the language, you’re able to give each different thought, idea, visual or piece of information, its own life – its own importance in the scheme of things.

I’m always talking to voice over artists about the importance of a deeper understand of what they’re reading. It’s all too easy to just pick up a voice over script and ready it nicely, but that won’t build you a career.

In voice over, we deal with information in almost every script. Understanding the techniques for delivering that information dynamically, will keep them coming back for more.

Happy Voiceovering!