Good Copy, Bad Copy
The Script! This is the single most important thing to get right in voiceover.
However, not all voiceover copy is great.
The emergence and growth of small, medium and large businesses using audio and video in their online content marketing has meant that there’s more voiceover work coming from more sources.
This is good from a quantity perspective but sometimes not so good from a quality perspective.
If you’re lucky enough to be doing voiceover in the commercial area – that’s TV, online or radio advertising generated by an Advertising Agency or associated producers – you’ll be spoilt with well-written, often moving, beautiful or entertaining scripts.
These are scripts that present the ‘brand’ or concept so that it resonates, or tell a story that we remember and talk about.
This is successful advertising. The stuff that wins awards! This kind of high-end advertising is where we all aim.
Simply put, working with great voiceover copy is the best fun you have standing up.
But it’s in the non-commercial or non-broadcast area that you’re more often faced with scripts that…well…are a little more challenging.
Digital media – that is, digitized content, accessed via the internet or on computer networks, is big news and no matter what size the business, unless they’ve jumped on this train, they may well have been left at the station.
Changes in the way businesses communicate, either internally or with their clients or potential clients or customers, has changed the type of work we do.
We’re now adding our voices to;
· E-learning – the broad landscape of training or educational material either made for internal use of for wider public consumption
· Explainer videos – literally ‘explain’ what your business does or what your product is. Often between 1 and 2 minutes and structured more like an ad
· E-books – simply an electronic book, accessed via your computer. Often available free and designed to build trust or profile or to lead to product or service sales
So given that those scripts are very different from what we do in the commercial world, I want to give you some tips and techniques to help bad copy read more like good copy. If you copy me!
Let’s look at the reasons why copy turns bad in the first place.
Scripts can often be overwritten and the language just too formal. Overwriting is common in this area. Often it’s because the script is written by someone within the company who is used to ‘business’ writing and simply doesn’t understand how to write for ‘spoken word’.
In the ‘commercial’ world, copywriters are well used to tailoring scripts to 15 or 30 seconds. To do that, you need to understand how to shrink language. That is, find a way to cut to the chase.
However, when you’re handed a script that’s 4 pages long, full of information and way too wordy, you need some different approaches to make sure your read delivers.
You might feel as though the best way through is to just read it, at pace. Well no!
The only way through it is to understand that you need to treat each new piece of information or each new section in the script very differently, adding light and shade of meaning and variations in pace where it’s needed.
If you’ve been auditioning and keep missing out, it’s probably because your reading just isn’t connecting with the material and the delivery is suffering.
No matter what the content, you need to sound as though you’re the expert.
The best technique for sounding informed is to really look into the language of the script and what it’s saying.
You then need to separate each piece of information and give it its own distinct meaning.
Sometimes there’s more than one piece of information in a sentence.
Here’s an example. It’s a short section from an Explainer Video.
“Welcome to Prime Group, a premiere environmentally sustainable cleaning company!”
Now that sentence is written correctly…for ‘written word’.
For ‘spoken word’ you need to work out how many different thoughts and ideas are in that sentence and also where the key words and phrases are. Next you’ll need to look at the punctuation and ask if it’s serving you…or not.
In this case, ‘Welcome to Prime Group’ is a key phrase.
It needs to stand alone, as though you’d put it on a billboard. See it as having a full stop, not a comma.
The next part ‘explains’ what Prime Group is, but you then need to find the key word, words or phrase. Look into the script and work out what you think Prime Group is ‘selling’ that the customer will go for.
If you said ‘environmentally sustainable’, I imagine you’d be right. Don’t forget, you can’t emphasize everything in a script, so find the word or words that you think will resonate more with the customer or potential customer.
A too formal voiceover script can be torture to turn into great sounding spoken word.
Business writing is generally more formal in its tone. After all it’s written to be looked at and read silently, not heard. So, sometimes when someone used to writing this way is asked to write a script, they forget to (or don’t know how to) create words on the page that translate into great spoken word.
Here’s an example from another Explainer Video.
“And whilst online sales are growing at an impressive rate, research shows all this activity comes from only half of Australia’s shoppers and of these more than half again buy only from online stores they know.”
That’s very formal. If you read it aloud you instantly see the language that gets in the way of good ‘spoken word’ deliver.
Firstly the word whilst. I mean who says that anymore?
Secondly, if you read it straight through, as though it were one long sentence, you’d be in trouble. There’s a lot of information in there. You need to break it down into the different thoughts and ideas.
If I’m looking at a paper copy of a script, I put a forward slash to separate each one. If you have the voiceover script on your computer you can even make it look like this.
“And whilst (while) online sales are growing at an impressive rate,
all this activity comes from only half of Australia’s shoppers
and of these
more than half again
buy only from online stores they know.”
Now that you have the thoughts and ideas separated, it’ll be easier for you to look at each different piece of information and work out which words or phrases are key to message, and therefore help you to find a rhythm that gets the information heard.
And if you do happen do get a clunky and formal word like ‘whilst’, ask if you can make sound more conversational by saying ‘while’ instead. If they say no, just work with it.
Another way you can help a script sound less formal is to understand how to use ‘contractions’.
In grammar, it simply means shrinking two words into one, such as ‘I have’, into ‘I’ve’. When you do this, your focus will immediately be on what it’s about, rather than spelling out unimportant words.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Read this aloud first.
“So with fewer than 20% of Australia’s shoppers prepared to purchase from strangers it is no wonder there is still a gap between you and your online customers.”
Can you see where the contractions need to apply?
Can you hear how clunky it is?
Can you also see where and how you would break this sentence into different thoughts and ideas to create a more connected informal ‘spoken word’ read?
“So with fewer than 20% of Australia’s shoppers prepared to purchase from strangers
it’s no wonder there’s still a gap between you
and your online customers.”
Understanding how to deal with copy that’s badly placed on the page, unhelpfully structured, or just too formal, is one of the skills you need to be successful in voiceover.
The more you look at language in these terms, the closer you’ll be to winning jobs and being booked again and again.
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.