Voice Over Education Blog

In voice acting, what does "enunciate" really mean? Part 1 of 2.


NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Click here to read Part 2!

You can't be a voice talent without having encountered the word "enunciate." Even if you've spoken very clearly all your life, and no coach or director has ever complained that you need to enunciate more, surely you've thought about it. Or read about it. Understanding how to enunciate is key to a voice-over career. After all, no matter if you master all other voice-over skills and do everything else right with your read, it's for nothing if your listener can't tell what you said.

But one of those other skills is "sound natural," and in most genres sounding natural is equally important. Can the two skills work together? What does "enunciate" really mean?

Maybe it will help if, instead of "enunciate," we say "speak clearly." Because that's what we mean. When a coach says "enunciate," they usually mean "enunciate more." The practice of enunciation is not absolute. There are differing degrees. Exactly how clear do you need to be? The art is in finding a happy medium – the range of intelligibility that is easily understood, yet fits the script's tone or character.

Too much enunciation can make you sound "stand-offish." You know the stereotype: it sounds like a character in a goofy 1930s comedy where some professor or upper-crusty type pro-noun-ces e-ver-y letttter and syl-ab-buhl separately. And maybe even rolls their R's.

Unless you're playing such a character, that's way too much.

But at the other extreme, you're not speaking clearly enough if people think you said "What's the Biggie's turtle you met?" when the script said "What's the biggest hurdle you've met?"

Improv offers voice-actors more than comedy. It offers reality.


Improvisation training is not essential in developing your voice-acting skills, but can be highly valuable. Just about everyone is familiar with comedy improv, and maybe you've even taken a workshop in it. But do you realize that comedy improv is just part of the improv universe? In fact, various types of improv experience are helpful in many other professions besides acting or comedy. The training and exercises can improve your ability to connect with listeners in any presentation, whether it be a voice script, a business proposal, or university lecture.

Here's a "wavetop level" view of what you can experience in the refreshing, fun, and sometimes scary ocean of improv ...

So far, we've called it a "universe" and an "ocean." Rather than continue with those mixed metaphors, what is "improv" anyway? It's simply two or more people acting without a script, making up the characters, story and dialog as they go. The "acting" can be for an audience, or it can be for each other (as in training or a professional development class). Some improv is done entirely free-form, with maybe just a random seed of an idea (e.g., "at a picnic" or "credit card"). But, especially in training, it can be highly structured, with specific objectives. When there's an audience, the objective is entertainment, but other times the objective is the improv experience itself.

That experience is what's so valuable in voice-over. It actually rewires the brain. The process of working with others, learning to read and anticipate their thoughts and responding with yours, is very much like what we do every day in the real world. And in most VO genres, sounding (and being) real is essential in developing your voice-acting skills.

6 ways to improve your VO performance, away from the mic


If you keep busy at your mic and computer, you may have no reason to leave your studio, other than to go to the kitchen and to sleep for the night. But unless you get out and about from time to time, you could be losing more than muscle tone. That lack of variety could leave you short-sighted, figuratively, and maybe even literally.

Here are six ways you can improve yourself as a voice artist and strengthen your business, while you're away from your mic.

We've all seen articles by "efficiency experts" who say to, oh, buy stamps online instead of at the post office. Heck, these days you could do the same with groceries and half the other stuff you need.

But go there anyway. You can get more than stamps at the post office.

1. Get acting inspiration. In just about any stable crowd, you can find acting inspiration -- because you see and meet other people of every sort.

So if there's a long line of customers when you get to the post office or supermarket or wherever, don't view it as a negative. Use it as an opportunity. Look at each person around you, and imagine what they're thinking. Come up with a word to describe whatever emotion each person seems to be feeling at that time. In fact, do this with everyone you come across. This mental exercise (or let's call it a game) has been proven to be an effective technique in enhancing your ability to empathize (to know what other people are feeling). Empathy is part of a voice actor's stock-in-trade. Imagining and understanding the thoughts of your audience is helpful, especially considering that your audiences are people you can't even hear or see.

2. Get ideas for voice characters. Leave your earbuds at home. Listen to the voices of the people around you. Now and then you'll hear a voice or notice a mannerism you've never encountered before. Maybe someday you can use it.

How to voice a run-on sentence comfortably in a single breath


So there you are, cruising along in a script, sounding natural and vocally free, and suddenly the Director stops you. You've been narrating in moderate-length phrases, taking breaths just often enough that you can sustain a comfortable delivery, not chopped up by too many breaths, yet not straining to finish a phrase. Now you're told, "Don't breathe during this phrase. Say it as one continuous statement, without pause, and don't rush it. Oh, and keep the easy, natural sound."

How do you deal with that?

Let's back up ... The rule of thumb in voice-over is to phrase the script in ways that don't require you to strain. If you try to extend a phrase too far, yes, you might get the words out, but the listener might hear you straining to find the breath – no matter how expertly you try to hide it. But at the other extreme, that doesn't mean you have to speak always in short choppy phrases. Even in a genre such as video narration, where relatively short phrasing is often the norm (so as to let the video play out and sink in), variety is the spice of authenticity.

Sure, the engineer could edit out a breath, but if the Director wanted to do that, she wouldn't have asked you to take a shot at it. Or she may not have thought about it, or might not realize how easy such an edit usually is.

There might be a good reason for not pausing. For example (admittedly one contrived to avoid embarrassment), suppose the client insists that their advertising slogan not be broken up, and their slogan is:

"The place to go when you just don't have the hang of
hassling with computers and today's high-tech electronics."

(This example is even more challenging because, look at all those H's! An H sound uses more breath than average. See our footnote.*)

The solution?

How to voice a run-on sentence comfortably in a single breath


So there you are, cruising along in a script, sounding natural and vocally free, and suddenly the Director stops you. You've been narrating in moderate-length phrases, taking breaths just often enough that you can sustain a comfortable delivery, not chopped up by too many breaths, yet not straining to finish a phrase. Now you're told, "Don't breathe during this phrase. Say it as one continuous statement, without pause, and don't rush it. Oh, and keep the easy, natural sound."

How do you deal with that?

Let's back up ... The rule of thumb in voice-over is to phrase the script in ways that don't require you to strain. If you try to extend a phrase too far, yes, you might get the words out, but the listener might hear you straining to find the breath – no matter how expertly you try to hide it. But at the other extreme, that doesn't mean you have to speak always in short choppy phrases. Even in a genre such as video narration, where relatively short phrasing is often the norm (so as to let the video play out and sink in), variety is the spice of authenticity.

Sure, the engineer could edit out a breath, but if the Director wanted to do that, she wouldn't have asked you to take a shot at it. Or she may not have thought about it, or might not realize how easy such an edit usually is.

There might be a good reason for not pausing. For example (admittedly one contrived to avoid embarrassment), suppose the client insists that their advertising slogan not be broken up, and their slogan is:

"The place to go when you just don't have the hang of
hassling with computers and today's high-tech electronics."

(This example is even more challenging because, look at all those H's! An H sound uses more breath than average. See our footnote.*)

The solution?

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