I want to give you some techniques that will help your voice over reads connect with the listener.
As we all know, punctuation implies the structure and organisation of written language. When we write, we use correct sentence structure and we punctuate. I’m doing it now. We use full stops, comma’s, semicolons, etc.
Now let’s talk about voice over scripts specifically and the technique of working through the language that’s written, to deliver the message to your ‘half-listening’ audience.
In voice over scripts, the job of punctuation is to help us know where to place inflection and/or pauses so that the meaning comes across; and to make what we’re saying sound as natural as possible.
However, punctuation is not always helpful. It may be grammatically and structurally correct, but it doesn’t always help us convey the message. If you’re already a voiceover artist, you may have had the experience of a script with either wrongly placed, very little, or occasionally no punctuation at all. I often prefer the latter, as my technique is to run through the script and find the story and its rhythm by placing my own punctuation marks.
The thing is, when we are in conversation and moving from one thought or idea to the next, we don’t always use punctuation in the same way as we would if we were writing what we were saying. The formality of the written word is so different from natural speak.
Breaking sentences into parts!
Often, one long sentence may carry more than one message. You need to always be mindful of what the language is actually saying, where one part of the message ends…and the next begins. For instance a line such as this:
“Australia Post now does it for you by securing your entire purchase from the moment you click ‘til the moment it’s delivered to your door.”
It would be wrong to think that this sentence, is just one long message. It actually carries several different messages. If you just read it without making sense of those differences by pausing, your listening audience may miss the point.
I use forward slash / marks to indicate where different parts of the message are.
So, take a look at the sentence again, and work out how many different messages it contains. What you need to be doing is making sure that each piece of information completes…and that means pausing between the parts.
So, you would break it up like this, “Australia Post does it for you/by securing your entire purchase/from the moment you click/’til the moment it’s delivered to your door.”
Can you see how breaking it up like that allows you to place difference emphasis on each parts of the message, which makes the message stronger.
The full stop!
I often ignore punctuation completely, in favour of making sense of the story in the script. This can sometimes include ignoring full stops.
“What? Ignoring full stops? You can’t do that!”
You’re right, sometimes you can’t, but sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do. And when you do it’s almost always to do with the character whose shoes you’ve just jumped into and the story you’re telling.
For instance, if you were to actually honour all the full stops, you would actually stop…and that’s not necessarily what we do in natural speech; and it’s not what we do in voiceover if we want the story to be engaging. The voice actor need to find a rhythm in the language that’s about conveying meaning rather than being guided by punctuation.
Remember, the voice over artist is charged with the responsibility of creating strong visuals as well, and this is always achieved by understanding where, or where not, to place punctuation.
If the idea of a deep-dive kind of analyses of scripts excites you, have a look at my audio coaching programs, which are easily downloaded to your computer. Mastering Your Voice Over Technique
They’re full of rules, tips and techniques just like these, and will give you the skills to create great work in the studio.
Find Your Voice As a Voice Over Actor And Artist With The Voice Over Coach. For over 30 years I've had a successful voiceover career. I work in mainstream voice over for radio and television, narration for the corporate sector, website content and documentaries, as well as characters for animation, IVR, ADR, on-hold and foreign film dubbing.