As a voice over artist, what do you do with a script when you get one? Other than just read it cold into your microphone. Do you analyze it for meaning? For nuance? What about its message? The writer of your script definitely spent much more than a few minutes putting it together, so you as the performer must spend more than a few minutes analyzing it. Discovering the perfect delivery for any script separates the professional from the amateur in our business. I’m going to discuss four keys successful voice artists use to unlock it.
No matter the genre – commercial, narration, promo, game, etc. – dozens of hours go into the script before it ever gets to your studio to voice. Clients hire a creative team – copywriter or script writer, creative director, producer – or they go to an advertising agency, elearning company, explainer video shop, etc. who then provide the directives and all together they sit down and discuss end goals. They dream up a concept, stories they intend to tell, messages they want included to resonate with their intended audience. The writers then pack all those nuggets into an engaging, intriguing script. Your job is to unpack that.
Step One: Read the Script For Flow
It may sound obvious that you will need to read the script. But this means giving it more than a cursory glance. You need to read the script for flow, to start to absorb what is being said, why and how. Read it multiple times. Like eight or ten. While you’re doing that, think about how the script might be said aloud. Then think about multiple ways it might be read. Ask yourself what the script is about. If you’re having trouble figuring that out, try this: if you had to sum it all up into one or two words, what would they be? Does the story have a problem/solution structure? Does the narration build slowly or move quickly between points? What is the environment where the story takes place? A kitchen table? A grocery store? A science lab? A forest?
How does the actual language flow? Does changing emphasis assist in the voicing of the script? There is a great exercise for quickly seeing how emphasis can enhance story telling. Take the sentence “I am going to buy shoes”. Read through the sentence 6 times, each time with the emphasis on a different word, i.e. “I AM going to buy shoes” or “I am going to buy SHOES”. Where you place the emphasis can expose the subtext of the script and improve your delivery.
Step Two: Understand What the Script Is Saying and Why
If you are not clear on why you are saying something, do you understand the language? What is the deeper meaning behind it? If it’s uncomfortable, how would you say it? You can’t change Shakespeare. You have to find ways to understand what the script is saying and why.
In a workshop on unpacking the Bard I took several years ago, the instructor had us paraphrase lines in Hamlet in our own vernacular. This helped those who hadn’t grasped the meaning really isolate why they were saying what Will had written. So “To be or not to be, that is the question” became something like “Do I keep on living with this pain or should I just kill myself? That’s what it comes down to.” Once you’ve put it in your own words and it’s comfortable, switch it back to the existing script. ‘Cause you can’t rewrite Shakespeare, neither can you rewrite the Whole Foods ad you’re about to record.
Step Three: Sort Your “Who’s”
Part of understanding the what and the why is understanding the WHO. Every script has at least one character and you need to sort your “who’s” – Who’s talking? Who’s listening?
For example – let’s say you’re voicing a commercial for Skippy peanut butter. Who are you? Are you the company that makes and sells it explaining its nutritional value to consumers? A mom thankful for a food her kid likes who is sharing this discovery with another mom? Or are you a kid who tells her friend she can’t wait to have lunch because it’s a peanut butter sandwich? These three characters are going to have vastly different perspectives about Skippy. And that perspective is going to then influence what they say, how they say it and why. You can’t find the right delivery without knowing what character you are portraying.
Or another example – now you are providing narration for an explainer video discussing 5 steps to help flatten the curve of coronavirus outbreak. Who are you now? A doctor? An authority such as a mayor or a governor? A concerned family member or friend? Are you speaking to a patient who is worried about catching it? Or to a city or state who needs to understand the risks or new rules? Are you hoping to help those you love stay calm and do what’s necessary. Again, a serious subject, but who you are will guide you to why and how you are saying what is in the script.
Work on making the connection between speaker (you) and listener strong and clear.
Step Four: Connect Emotionally With the Script
Finally, give yourself the chance to connect emotionally with the script. This is another reason why a cursory glance through the words on the page before recording really won’t help you nail the voice over delivery. What emotions come up for you when you read the script? What emotions is the client looking for? Was the script funny? Did it make you tear up? Did you want to shout “hell yeah!” when you got to the end? Note how you’re feeling.
Now, see how that aligns with what you understand to be the creatives’ intention. What is the obvious emotion or intention being invoked? Is it happiness? Does the spot fuel outrage (like in political spots)? And what is the subtext – the unspoken or less obvious meaning or message?
Why are you opening your mouth to say anything at all in this? Aka – What do you want to share?
If script analysis is new to you, work on this a lot until it becomes second nature. Practice makes the process quicker, but it also makes you better at analysis which makes your performance better too.