How to Give the Best Voice Over Direction
Having a great script is an essential first step in creating content that entertains and interacts with your intended audience.
However, since a script can be interpreted in many ways, you also want to ensure that you are being clear in your instructions to the voice actor, so he or she can help you achieve your ideal sound in your voice over project.
So, how do you convey how the script should sound to the voice actor? What should your scripts even sound like? How can you increase accuracy in the delivery of your script to ensure as few retakes as possible?
5 Script Writing Tips to Help Voice Actors Nail Your Read
Achieving a great voice over read starts with crafting a great script. After all, if you’re not clear on the flow, words, and cadence first, then you won’t be able to clearly convey how the script should sound to the voice actor who has to bring it to life. While there are many elements to creating your script, considering these five script writing tips can set you and your voice actor up for success:
- Write clear copy
Don’t get too caught up in the end-use for your project when it comes to scripting. As a rule of thumb, script copy is considered clear when it mirrors how people actually talk. Think about the words you’ve chosen and how they flow when spoken out loud. Does it sound conversational, or stiff and forced?
Voice actors often recommend the clients give their script to a coworker or friend to read out loud just to hear how it sounds before sending it off to a voice actor to record.
- Properly space your script
Provide your voice talent with a script that is double-spaced in order to allow them to clearly read the words. This will also give them room to write notes or add in their own markup to the script, which will assist them in nailing the read.
- Use simple punctuation
Avoid more complex punctuation, such as percentage signs or dollar signs. Instead, spell out the symbols. For example, write out ‘eight dollars’ instead of $8. If you need to indicate a pause in speech, add in commas or even ellipses to signal a natural break during the read. If you want to place emphasis on portions of the script, apply boldface or italicized formatting on words that need extra ‘oomph’ to indicate this direction to the voice talent.
- Give pronunciation cues
You want the script to be as easy to read as possible. Be sure to write out the phonetic spelling of any difficult or unfamiliar/industry jargon words. Avoid tongue twisters.
Tip: If you’re unsure how to create phonetic spelling, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary online provides phonetic spellings of just about every English word you could imagine.
- Abbreviations and numbers
As a best practice, spell out any abbreviations to avoid confusion on how they should be read. Chances are, if an abbreviation is causing you to pause, you should be spelling it out. Take the term “ROI,” for example. Do you want it read as R-O-I, or “Return on Investment”? Specify how you want it voiced.
When it comes to numbers, be sure to spell out how you want them voiced, too. It’s not until you sit down to write a script do you realize there are a few different ways to read a phone number! For instance:
Example phone number: 1-888-277-9172
Read Option 1 – One, eight eight eight, two seven seven, nine one seven two
Read Option 2 – Eight eight eight, two seventy seven, ninety one seventy two
Be clear if you prefer a phone number, address, website containing numbers, or anything else, to be read in any combination of those two “read options” above.
How Should Vocal Directions Be Given?
The answer to this question will vary depending on the nature and scope of your voice over project. Let’s look at how you can give the best possible creative direction to voice actors auditioning for your project.
Tone of voice plays a huge role in how your content is felt and understood by your audience. Although some scripting content may be a bit dry and oftentimes complex, the tone of voice can really help bring your content to life.
The tone is something within your control while you’re writing the script, so go into your script writing with a tone in mind and let it permeate throughout your script.
Take elearning content or modules as an example. When it comes to creating educational content that entertains (even if the content may be a little dry) there are directions you can provide to ensure the most entertaining read is achieved.Digging into the conversational read of your voice over a bit further, it is worthy to note that you want to use a human voice. While text-to-speech can be a quick way to add voice to your visuals, it often sounds too robotic. A human voice has been proven to be more engaging.
Style / Role
The role and style you outline should depend on your key audience. Are you targeting middle-aged adults or children? Will your audience be mostly male or female? Studies show that audiences respond best to those that sound like a peer, which is something to consider as you select a voice that best reflects the demographics of the elearners you are targeting.
The artistic direction you give will dictate the way you want the voice actor to speak. You’ll outline the style and role of your voice over project in the job description when you’re ready to post a job, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until then to outline what style and role you’re envisioning.
Think of a role in a similar fashion as a role for stage acting. It offers a generalized view into the character and gives the voice actor an immediate sense of who you’re looking for: a millennial, a trucker, a detective, or anything in between.
In general, it can be effective to treat your audience as a peer, speak in a relaxed manner, and use simple language. Using contractions is okay! Not only are contractions (e.g. ‘it’s’ instead of ‘it is’) commonplace, they make the voice over sound more relatable and colloquial.
On Voices, there is an option to add one role (e.g. Announcer) and up to two adjectives to describe the style of read that you are looking for (e.g. Authoritative, Engaging). This is a built-in starting place where you can select these descriptors from a drop-down menu.
There is also the option to add ‘Artistic Direction’ in your own words. This is where the magic really lies when it comes to providing great vocal direction. If you rely on only the Role and Styles options in your job posting, it doesn’t give voice over talent enough direction to work with. Why? These adjectives are subjective. What sounds upbeat and engaging to one person may not sound that way to another person.Using words like ‘believable’ as a way to describe a job isn’t always bad—it just needs to be coupled with more explanation. What does believable mean to you? On this note, voice actors recommend that you include an example that demonstrates what you mean by your choice of description—a link to a YouTube or Vimeo video, or even an image of your project to help them understand your meaning.
The rate of speech can have an impact on how engaging your content is. Too slow of a read will be boring and your audience won’t stick around, but too fast a read means your learners may not be able to absorb enough information. According to the National Center for Voice and Speech, the average American speaks at around 150 words per minute when engaged in conversation. When you’re listening back on your voice over, it should sound clear to your ears. Take note of whether you are tuning out at any parts of the narration due to a dull or slow read. This is an indication that the pacing is the issue.
Using an Active Voice Versus a Passive Voice
Aim to make your read sound more conversational by using either the active voice or the passive voice where appropriate. An active voice is one where the subject is performing the action: ‘He eats pizza.’ The passive voice is when the object becomes the subject: ‘The pizza was eaten by him.’
Although the passive voice might sound a bit strange in the above example, there are times when using the passive voice might make sense and help contribute to the conversational flow of the read. A natural-sounding voice performance leads to greater learner engagement.
Now that you know the elements that comprise a great script and what consists of a good read, you are well on your way to making your voice over project engaging and memorable for your consumers/audience.
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