Illustration of a young boy with letters coming out of his mouth to express vocal 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?

How to Create Meaning through Script Writing

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:

  1. Write clear copy – As a rule of thumb, voice over script copy is considered to be clear when it mirrors how people actually talk. So don’t get too caught up in the end-use for your project when it comes to scripting. For instance, you should write your scripts for elearning in the same conversational manner that you would, as if you were writing for broadcast. Think about the words you’ve chosen and how they flow when spoken out loud. Does it sound conversational – or stiff and forced?
  2. 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 markups to the script, which will assist them in nailing the read.
  3. Use simple punctuation – If you need to indicate a pause in speech, make sure to 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, use boldface on words that need extra ‘oomph’ to indicate this direction to the voice talent. 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.
  4. Proper pronunciation – 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 words. Avoid tongue twisters. Tip: If you’re unsure of how to create phonetic spelling, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary online provides phonetic spellings of just about every English word you could imagine.
  5. Abbreviations and numbers – As a best practice, you should 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. For example, an acronym like ‘ROI’ could be mistakenly read as ‘Roy,’ unless you present it as ‘R-O-I’ in your script. Alternatively, you can include both the full word and the abbreviated version. Example: FBI can be written out as ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI.’ When it comes to numbers, be sure to spell out any numbers under twelve and hyphenate phone numbers for a smoother read (example: 1-2-3-4). 

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 a few ways in which we can begin giving the best possible voice over direction to our hired voice talent.

Tone

Tone of voice plays a huge role in how narration can sound. Listen to the tone. Is it engaging enough to have listeners pay attention throughout the entire length of the content? Although some scripting content may be a bit dry and oftentimes complex, the tone of voice can really help bring your content to life.

Take for example, elearning content or modules. 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.

When providing scripting for voice artists for your elearning narration, you should learn how to give the best voice over direction through tools like a great script.

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 artistic direction you give will dictate the way you want the voice actor to speak.

Two key components of artistic direction are the role and the style. For example, you can 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 professor, a guy/girl next door, or a parental figure. On the other hand, style indicates how this character communicates. They may be friendly and soft-spoken or they may be authoritative with a deep voice.

In general, for educational content, 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.

The role and style you outline should depend on your key audience. Are you targeting middle-age 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.

On Voices.com, 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.

However, 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.

Using words like ‘believable’ as a way to describe a job isn’t always bad. It just needs to be coupled with more explanation.

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.

Pacing

The rate of speech can have an impact on how engaging your content is. Too slow of a read will be boring and not keep learners engaged the entire time, but too fast of 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 may be slightly off.

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, example: He eats pizza. The passive voice is when the object becomes the subject, example: 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 narration. A natural-sounding voice performance leads to greater learner engagement.

Those who are creating educational content (from corporate explainer videos to elearning modules) may also enjoy a deeper dive on the impact of passive vs. active voice in Instructional Strategies: Voice Over Scripts.

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.

Ready to hire the perfect voice? Find one here!

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