Script-Reading...How Can I Impress the Producer?


Any script can be delivered in many, MANY ways. It is up to the producer to give you guidelines, and if you are given none, it is appropriate (expected, even) for you to ask. That’s the first step in impressing a producer. If the producer makes asking unnecessary, move on to the next step – which is to follow the producer’s direction well. Even if you disagree with his or her direction, you’re getting paid to meet the producer’s requirements in an efficient, professional manner.

But sometimes you may meet up with a producer who is unsure or invites suggestions. And in an voice over audition, sometimes a casting professional will give you no direction, so they can hear your script interpretation ability.

We’ll deal with that lack of guidance in a future feature article. Meanwhile, here are some guidelines to help you deliver an impressive performance. The objective is to raise your awareness of what producers -- and listeners -- require.


You can’t read a script correctly until you know:

a) Who you’re reading to

b) Why they're listening

c) Where they're listening to it.

For example:

Ask experienced voice actors how to read a museum audio tour, and most will say "conversational, clear." But then tell the voice actor it's an audio tour for kids. They'll say they should be "upbeat, enthusiastic." Then tell them it's the kid's wing of the Holocaust Museum, and it means yet something else. “Oh, well then, in that case, it should be....."

That's why voice actors need to know (a), (b) and (c) above.

For the (we hope) rare situations where these answers aren’t forthcoming, here are some tips:

  • Offer 2 or 3 styles if possible. You still might not nail the exact style the casting pro wants, but you'll demonstrate your ability to be creative, adaptable, flexible, and smart.
  • Do some research. For example, if it’s a commercial audition for Allstate insurance, look online at recent news and press releases. You might find (hypothetically) that Allstate hired a new ad agency to address senior citizens' medical insurance needs. That could be a clue as to who you’re reading to and why they’re listening.

Now, some tips for specific situations. Remember, there are many variations and exceptions in these genres, and other genres have their own requirements. So give precedence to the specific direction you should receive.

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("Press 1 for this, press 2 for that", etc., for example when obtaining one’s account balance from a bank, or purchasing a product from a catalogue)

For a voice-prompt system, the pace should be conversational -- even though the natural instinct is to draw it out. Callers (users) want to navigate through the system as quickly as possible, not hear a long set of tedious voice-prompts. Make sure not to read too quickly, or the user will not be able to understand the prompts.

Another tempo consideration is whether the phone system is an expense absorbed by the client (the company hiring you to do the prompts) or whether it is a profit center, paid for by the callers. And if it is the callers, another consideration is whether they pay a fixed fee, or a fee based upon the amount of time that they use the system.

If the client is paying for each minute of the call, then the quicker the information is delivered, the less their overhead.

Conversely, if the caller is paying the client by the minute (as with some software Technical Support lines), then a slower pace would increase the client’s income. On the other hand, if the caller pays a fixed fee, or if the client wants to maximize caller satisfaction, this is not an issue.

Next, figure out how articulate the performance should be, by considering what percentage of users are not fluent in the recorded language.

For example, if many international users will use the system, the delivery must be more distinct, so that they will easily understand you. However, users who speak the recorded language well will typically be turned off by over-enunciation.

Then, when deciding how enthusiastic to sound, take into account the recording’s length, and the cumulative length of a series of prompts or messages. A rule of thumb is: the longer the caller will deal with the recording, the more enthusiasm is needed. For example, if recording a short prompt (such as, "For sales, press one...for an operator, press two...etc."), the delivery can be somewhat plain. Yet if recording a long prompt, such as, "While you’re on hold, we’d like to tell you about...", then the delivery should be more enthusiastic.

Also consider how often the user will use the system. If used frequently (such as a voice-mail retrieval or a stock-quote update system), a somewhat plain delivery is appropriate. The user would eventually become annoyed by hearing the same "sing-songy" recording repeatedly. However, if the user encounters it infrequently, a more animated recording may be appropriate, to keep their attention.

How formal to make the delivery? The natural impulse is to read voice-prompts formally, but actually, a somewhat informal style is preferred. Callers are generally turned off by non-conversational tones – too much formality hurts credibility.

Another matter affecting formality is whether the system will be used primarily for entertainment (as in a daily horoscope or movie reviews), as opposed to informational purposes (such as obtaining a bank balance or buying an airline seat). When recording for entertainment, the delivery should be more relaxed and casual -- with a bit of smile in your voice. When delivering important information or processing a transaction, the delivery should be more formal.

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("Thank you for flying American Airlines.", "Exits are located...", "Your seat acts as a flotation device...", "Movies can be heard on channel...", etc.).

When recording narration for an airline video, a conversational, friendly, comforting, and informative tone is required. Basically, speak as if you were talking to a passenger face-to-face.

To demonstrate this point, pretend that you are an airline passenger. Now think about how you would prefer to be spoken to. You would probably prefer a friendly and conversational one...not a lecture delivered in a strong tone of voice.

And, while the many international passengers will require a clearly articulated delivery, an overly articulated voice will turn off the others, since it is unnatural. Even many non-English speaking passengers will sense something artificial.

Also, although a non-animated delivery seems logical for something as important as air travel, it will only bore the passengers. Instead, use a more enthusiastic voice to hold passengers’ attention.

However, too much enthusiasm will also be a turn-off, as it is also unnatural. This is especially true for passengers who fly often and hear the recordings on a regular basis.

How about an “educative” approach? Seems logical. After all, passengers need a lot of information. Yet, most people respond and retain information better when given in a friendly and natural tone. Teens and voters are not the only ones who tend to tune out a lecture.

Finally, while passengers find a confident tone reassuring, overconfidence is not appealing. Furthermore, some passengers are nervous when flying, and the edginess of overconfidence won’t help. Convey confidence in a soft, reassuring, comforting tone.

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If recording a children’s audio book (where there are no pictures), the pace must be fairly quick to keep the child’s interest. The delivery also needs to be more animated, because your delivery is the only thing conveying the story’s character and emotion.

When reading a picture book , use a slower pace. These books are designed to help children read. The words and pictures are accompanied by the audio recording, and will "beep" to signal the child to turn to the next page for the next word. A slower pace allows the child time to see the pictures, while still following along with the words.

Finally, if recording a cartoon, the emotion must be delivered in such a way that it matches the cartoon, so that the voice-over and graphics are in sync.

Other voice over genres similarly each pose their own collection of conventions and surprises. On your own time, learn and observe in the genres you specialize in. In the booth, ask whatever you need to know in order to answer (a), (b) and (c) and deliver a spot-on performance.

Good luck!

March 19, 2009
Meta Description: 
Edge Studio shares various voice over situations and tips on how to read for them.
Meta Keywords: 
Edge Studio, voice over, voice prompt, phone prompt, style, delivery considerations, articulation, tempo, energy level, on-hold, airline video, safety video, children’s scripts, audiobooks, character, tone, producer, recording session,

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