Voice Acting

Why Cold Reading Skills Are a Must For Voice Actors

Tara Parachuk | May 31, 2010

Have you ever thought of why cold reading skills are necessary?

The ability to think and speak on your feet is essential to a number of voice over jobs including animation, video game voice acting, live announcing, and more.

In this article

  1. Don’t Get Cold Feet About Cold Reads
  2. When Might Cold Reading Skills Come in Handy?
  3. VO Pros Share Why Cold Reading is Integral
  4. How Can You Hone Your Cold Reading Skills?
  5. Suggestions for Cold Commercial Reads
  6. Suggestions for Cold Narration Reads
  7. Suggestions for Cold Character Reads
  8. Any Thoughts?

Find out why this skill is a must from voice over pros in today’s VOX Daily.

Don’t Get Cold Feet About Cold Reads

This morning I received a good question in response to the article from yesterday to do with my recommendation that you hone cold reading skills.

The talent wondered why I was encouraging honing this skill on a daily basis when a voice over is meant to communicate ideas and feelings, delving into the script before it is read in order to communicate in a convincing way.

In response, certainly, there should be some thinking behind the read, but when a cold read is expected, talent need to have the skills to make choices faster with less prep time.

While many of us would agree that a rehearsed voice over is wonderful and preferred in most cases, however, not every opportunity or job comes that way.

When Might Cold Reading Skills Come in Handy?

There are instances where you are handed copy that you haven’t seen before and need to run with it.
This happens at radio stations, in studios when recording VO for video games, some animated projects, and impromptu audition opportunities.

For instance, maybe you get called in to audition and someone hands you copy that you’ve never seen before with only a minute or two to review it.

Perhaps you are called to fill in for someone else at a moment’s notice who has already booked the gig. The client needs to VO as soon as possible and you’ve been given the job that needed to be done yesterday! This happens and on occasion, big breaks can come from it.

Don LaFontaine’s voice over career began that way (filling in for someone who didn’t show up for their session), granted he was familiar with the copy beforehand.

VO Pros Share Why Cold Reading is Integral

“For me, it has come in handy when a client spontaneously asks me to give him a read over the phone as we’re discussing the copy.”
Heather Hogan

“Cold-reading skills are a necessity for voice actors. Often times you are handed a piece of commercial copy or animation sides and have less than five minutes before you go in to your agent’s booth to record.

In that short period of time, you need to be able to fully and accurately analyze the copy for genre, timing production notes, and directorial beats. Then you need to be able to find quick characterizations and the ability to sound naturally conversational (not as if you are reading) and delight in these strategies for success.

Another instance of cold-reading being a necessity is when you’ve already booked a job and the copy is changed at the last minute, or you are given another character to voice that needs to sound completely different from the last!”
Chris M. Allport

“Cold reading skills get used daily. One of the fundamentals for doing the work. Having ability and therefore confidence in a read from the first time you see it only helps the performance.

Being at one with words is where it starts. Then you can concentrate on the rest of the acting detail you need to see and be. This is especially useful in short-notice situations and certain kinds of copy, but I think it holds true for every type of read.”
Hélène Janover

How Can You Hone Your Cold Reading Skills?

Doing a few cold reads a day will do wonders for toning your cold reading muscles.

You could spice your reads up a bit and do 3 completely different reads representative of commercial, narration, and character voice over. Challenge yourself each day with something new… cold reading could fit nicely into your vocal warm up regiment.

Pick up copy to tackle wherever you are with reckless abandon! Continuous diversity and versatility in scripts are required to be prepared for whatever read may come your way.

Suggestions for Cold Commercial Reads

If you have access to labels on food packaging, those are great sources of copy as are magazines, liner notes, and television program descriptions in your TV Guide.

Suggestions for Cold Narration Reads

You may find that opening a random page in a book you haven’t read aloud before is a good way to read in character. A trip to your local library every few weeks (or weekly depending on how quickly you get through the books!).

To keep your reads varied, seek out works from different authors, genres, and time periods.

Can’t get to the library or have a limited library at home? Check out sites like Amazon.com or Indigo that sell a wide variety of books. Oftentimes they will have a preview or some such on their site for each book where you can read an excerpt from the text or “look inside” the book. For more material still, check out Project Gutenberg which is a site that features works from the public domain (royalty-free).

Suggestions for Cold Character Reads

Improvisation, improvisation, improvisation! Let’s say you want to create character voices and you need to start from somewhere.

Decide upon an object, whether animate or inanimate, make a quick character sketch and analysis of what you think they’d sound like, and then see what happens. You can start with objects around the house such as a coffeemaker, a doll, or a toothbrush or you can search for a wider array of images online.

The goal is to create something new. When you see a character for the first time, connect with it, think a little, and then give it a voice. Do this once a day and be sure to pick different objects or images as your muse.

Any Thoughts?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,


©iStockphoto.com/Alex Bramwell

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  • Avatar for Mitch Krayton
    Mitch Krayton
    May 31, 2010, 6:33 pm

    When I am cold I put on a sweater before I read.
    When I have a cold, I do what I can to mend myself before I read.
    Seriously, before every gig, and every day for that matter, I pick up print material from the newspaper, to the mail, to magazines, to software manuals, to cookbooks and read out loud for 30 minutes a day. Stuff is out there. I learn a few new words and practice pronouncing difficult words of more than 3 or more syllables, too (tech/med words usually). Amazing how a cold read is no longer cold when you are always warmed up.

  • Avatar for Dan Popp
    Dan Popp
    June 1, 2010, 9:49 am

    Wow, Stephanie. I’ve never received such a thorough response to a question! Thanks to all the talent who shared their expertise.
    When Chris Allport talks about having only 5 minutes to prepare, I think I must not be using the proper terminology; I come from radio, where “rip and read” was once a reality. “Cold reading” to me is literally going “live,” performing a piece of copy while you are reading it for the very first time!
    While five minutes is a scandalously short time to prepare, it is time enough to discover the main ideas in the copy, note difficult passages and make some acting choices. Being able to do those things in five minutes, I certainly agree, takes training and practice! Thanks again.

  • Avatar for Sharon Brogden
    Sharon Brogden
    June 1, 2010, 1:04 pm

    I use cold reading skills all the time. I specialize in audio book narration and it is rare that the script that is sent is something that I have already read. Very often, it is an original work, or published in print only recently. It isn’t practical to read through the whole book before beginning recording. My reading skills used to be pretty good, but with years of recording audio books, I am now extremely proud of my sight reading and cold reading skills.

  • Avatar for Brian W. Roberts
    Brian W. Roberts
    June 1, 2010, 11:23 pm

    I, actually, LIKE cold reading!!

  • Avatar for Herb Merriweather
    Herb Merriweather
    June 1, 2010, 11:24 pm

    I am always able to keep my cold reading skills in tact when I volunteer at the Los Angeles Radio Reading Service. I get to cold-read everything from hard news to sports and comics (great for character development, by the way). A regularly scheduled reading situation can only make you stronger…

  • Avatar for Chris Wagner
    Chris Wagner
    June 1, 2010, 11:24 pm

    I almost always, to a one, have projects that I cold read…

  • Avatar for EJ Marr
    EJ Marr
    June 1, 2010, 11:25 pm

    I’m with Brian. I think my affinity for cold reading stems from many many years of doing live talk radio and having a new paragraph shoved at me every few minutes of breaking news or local events to plug…right now…

  • Avatar for Elie Hirschman
    Elie Hirschman
    June 1, 2010, 11:25 pm

    It’s a great skill to pick up. Reading kids books out loud is good practice for this, if it’s not a book you’ve read to the kids 500 times before.

  • Avatar for Scott Schuster
    Scott Schuster
    June 1, 2010, 11:30 pm

    I love cold reading. I developed that skill quite early on in radio, the same as EJ there…..invaluable skill, really….

  • Avatar for Steve Suekey
    Steve Suekey
    June 2, 2010, 7:32 pm

    There’s some pretty good information in this article. The bottom line is, anything to do with any type of speaking, announcing, in the broadcast media or anywhere else that a voice has to be used. It’s something that just has to be done, and that’s that. No ifs an or buts about it. Radio people (and I know, they don’t want you sounding like an announcer), but you have to take the ball and run with it. If that’s not possible, you’re in the wrong game. Them’s the cold hard facts. Mother said there’d be days like this, she just didn’t say how many.

  • Avatar for Jonathan Tilley
    Jonathan Tilley
    June 2, 2010, 7:34 pm

    Great article!
    I just finished doing a days worth of video game cold reads. 918 takes within 6 hours. Exhausting stuff and I had never seen the copy beforehand.
    It was like, text pops up on screen, no time to read it through, and record, go!
    I would start some sentences off without having a clue as how it would end.
    But thanks to reading everything I can get my hands on aloud through out the day (milk cartons, wikipedia things, anything really) it helped tremendously.
    Good to know I am not alone!
    Take care,
    Jonathan Tilley

  • Avatar for Stone Amada
    Stone Amada
    August 31, 2010, 1:37 pm

    I never claimed to be a “normal” kid but on long car trips in the back of the ‘ol Dodge Coronet when the others were busy with Magic Ink books -I was reading every billboard and highway sign we passed. I’m sure it drove my old man nuts but I’ve always been a very strong sight reader and it all started from the window of that Dodge. Practice and repetition is the key…like with most things in life.

  • Avatar for Beverley Beer
    Beverley Beer
    August 24, 2015, 5:24 am

    I would agree, the ability to cold read is essential, as prep isn’t always possible when you’re on the clock at a studio and a the latest version of the script is still being created! If you’re working every day, you keep your skills honed in an on going way, but I do tend to have a little practise if I’m taking a holiday (what’re they?!) or if I feel I haven’t recorded a particular style for a while, eg a character role.