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Understanding VoiceOver Scripts

10 August

For those who have a strong desire to work in voiceover and want to know how to make a start, or are already getting some work but want to understand more about voiceover scripts and the process, this blog might give you some helpful techniques.

You may have noticed that sourcing good samples of voiceover scripts is really difficult.

To study and research voiceover, you need to get yourself some good quality, creative scripts, so you can begin to understand their structure.

One way to do that is to record commercial breaks or things you hear online. Transcribe the script, then print it out for use as practice.

To discover or refine your unique style or personas and add your own flavour to any read, you need to learn the techniques to working out the best way to approach each different piece of copy.

 

You Need to Know this About VoiceOver Scripts

The first thing you need to know is that voiceover scripts are not like real-life communications. 

They’re not like a conversation, although producers will ask you to make the read sound conversational.

The language in them is not yours, but the producer will want the listening audience to believe these words are your own and that you’re literally making them up as you go along.

Or, the structure is very stylized, with short grabs of phrases, rather than sentences, or a condensed use of language designed to convince any listening audience…of something.

And often, what’s being said in voiceover scripts, is not what’s meant.   That is, you need to look for the hidden meaning (or alternate meanings) beneath language.

 

VoiceOver Scripts Are Created for Different Reasons

It helps if you understand the difference between the commercial and non-commercial world of voiceover.

Scripts are structured very differently for each, because they have a different job to do.

Think of it simply like this.

Commercials (paid media) deal with a ‘half-listening’ audience. 

 No one really wants to hear commercials on TV, radio or online, which is why having brilliant skills are needed for working with stylized or condensed language.

In the commercial world, because of time constraints, creating convincing reads that sell an idea or concept and capture the meaning in the script is crucial.

Also, commercial scripts are written to time; most often 10, 15, 20 or 30 seconds.  Sometimes (but rarely these days) reads are longer, 45, 60 or even 120; especially in the world of ‘infomercials’ https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/definition/infomercial

Non-commercial reads are most often delivered to a ‘captive’ audience. 

These are almost always audio visuals for the business, corporate or medical world and created to deliver information or instruction (sometimes called e-learning) to someone who wants, or needs, to know.

Usually this audience is compelled to watch and/or listen as part of their job, interest or research.

The length varies but is often more than 1 minute in length and can be much longer, even beyond 5, 10 or 20 minutes if it’s an e-learning project.

 

The Language of Voiceover Scripts – Converting to ‘Spoken Work’

I’m going to give you an example of a script for a radio commercial.  But the technique I give you can be used in any kind of commercial or non-commercial script.

We’re going to look at this script, in relation to the following 4 points, so you can begin working out how best to:

  • Sort through the language in anyscript to have it make sense?
  • Break the script into scenes?
  • Look at the script, not as one whole thing, but a series of different parts that all fit together?
  • Make the words your own and sound convincing?

…and be so memorable, that you book another job from that read?

Here’s the sample script.

***It would be a good idea to cut and paste the script and print it out, so you have something to practice with, and so you can mark it, as we go through this process.

***PS Use a pencil and have a rubber handy.

VO

“Just 10 years ago, there was no ipod or ipad…

no-one had broadband… and the only thing you could do with a mobile phone was make phone calls.  

The world is changing and the pressure to change along with it is something we all have to deal with.

But how do you keep up?

How do make sure you’re on top of things, breaking new ground and creating a business that will take you into the 21stcentury?

Get onto the Global Business Solutions website.

They have the answers.”

Let’s work through those 4 points using this script.

First up:

 

Sorting Through VoiceOver Scripts for Sense and Meaning

Very often scripts are written in language that’s not necessarily the way you would speak, and sometimes in language that’s unfamiliar, even on occasion using colloquial phrases you may never have heard of before.

But if you do come across anything for which the meaning is not entirely clear, ask for clarification.

If you’re working in a studio, or working from home but being produced, it’s all part of the process, but you can come unstuck when you’re auditioning, or self-producing and you send the work off with the meaning not clear.

One of the most prized skills looked for by producers is the ability of the voiceover artist to look at any script and be able to work out what it’s saying.

Back to the script. You need to look for all the words or phrases in the script that tell the story of what this is about.

In the ‘Global Business Solutions’ script, you first need to work out who you’re talking to.

In this case it’s people who are business owners (often new businesses).  You may have asked, “How do I know that?”

Well the clues are all in the third last sentence, when the subject of the script (called ‘you’re’ in the script) is described as wanting to succeed, discovering something new, building a successful business.  Look at the phrases that are bolded and really think about what they mean.  That is, what’s underneath the language?

How do make sure you’re on top of things, breaking new groundand creating a businessthat will take you into the 21stcentury?”

Then work out what problem you think that person is having, that the product or business can solve.

In this case it’s those who are adversely affected by constant changes in technology.

The first sentence foreshadows that change, by placing rapid technological advancements in a time frame.  10 years

The next sentence contains the ‘central phrase’in the script.  It’s the phrase, ‘The world is changing’.

Can you see that the language in that phrase tells the central story of the script?

It’s often the reason for the ad, the product, or even for the company to exist in the first place.

 

Break the Script into Scenes

VoiceOver scripts are mostly very short stories.  Often, because of time constraints, they’re written to a kind of template; one that helps the writer structure the script.

In the commercial (half-listening) world they must be written in way that captures the listeners attention.  In non-commercial, it’s often about different and separate pieces of information for the captive audience.

I like to think of a script as having a series of different scenes, where the story moves from one different thought or idea, to the next.

One of the most important things you need to look for when you’re breaking the script into scenes, is a structure called the problem/solution structure.  When you know what it is, you’ll hear it everywhere.

Have a look at the script in terms of problem/solution. What is the problem and where is the solution?  I’ll give you the answer at the end of this section.

In our script, the first scene is the ‘foreshadowing’ of what we’re talking about in the first sentence.

“Just 10 years ago, there was no ipod or ipad…

no-one had broadband… and the only thing you could do with a mobile phone was make phone calls.  

The second scene is the all-important ‘central premise’ and the dilemma.  “The world is changing and the pressure to change along with it is something we all have to deal with.

The third scene is all about their aspirations in business.   “But how do you keep up?

How do make sure you’re on top of things, breaking new ground and creating a business that will take you into the 21stcentury?”

 The fourth scene offers the solution, “Get onto the Global Business Solutions website.

They have the answers.”

The script is only short, but you can see that each of the scenes contains quite different language and information in relation to the ‘story’ of the script.

Breaking it into scenes will help you to add meaning to the read.

Did you work out where the problem was and when the solution appeared?

If you said the whole script is problem, until the final two sentences, “Get onto the Global Business Solutions website. They have the answers”,  you’d be correct

 

Break the Scenes into Parts

Once you’ve done that, you get to drill down and find a way to make more meaning, to more listeners.

To break the scenes into parts, you need to look at the sentences in each scene, and what the language in the sentence is actually saying.

Let’s take these two sentences. “But how do you keep up? How do make sure you’re on top of things, breaking new ground and creating a business that will take you into the 21stcentury?”

There definitely are two sentences there, but how many different thoughts or ideas are in the sentences?  Well, the first sentence, only had one idea, the question “how do you keep up?”.

The second sentence has three different ideas.  Can you see them?

To help you work out how to handle these different ideas, go back to the first question you asked the script, “who am I talking to””

Remember.  It’s business owners.  Now let’s break it up.

But how do you keep up?

 How do make sure you’re on top of things,

breaking new ground

and creating a business that will take you into the 21stcentury?”

Can you now see that each phrase means something different from the next?  You can even think of these parts as ‘stand-alone’ sentences, with a capital letter and a full stop.  I know it’s not correct sentence structure, but we don’t speak in correct sentence structure.

What I want you to imagine is your audience listening to what you’re saying and taking in each different piece of information.

If you break different ideas up in this way, you’re not only giving your listener a chance to take in the information, but by separating the thoughts or ideas, you will always sound as though you just decided what you were going to say, rather than ‘just reading it’.

Essential in voiceover: You have to make every read sound as natural to you, as you can. 

So, whenever you get the script, after you break it into different scenes, look through every sentence and work out how many different thoughts and ideas are there.

Now to the final and most important consideration for voiceover scripts.

Make the Words on VoiceOver Scripts your Own

In all scripts you are required to ‘own’ the language in a way that sounds as though you just made the whole thing up.

If it’s a commercial, it’s about believability, first and foremost.

If we don’t believe you, you’re not doing your job. 

This is where you need to make it about the words on the page, not just your fabulous voice.

A technique for creating believability is to put yourself in the listeners shoes.

When you do your read, really imagine that there’s a person there listening to the message… and deliver it to them.

Then, when you listen back to the read, ask it this question.

If I was listening to this for the first time, would I:

  • understand it?
  • believe it?
  • be persuaded by it?

I absolutely know that unless you give attention to ‘who’ you’re addressing, you will almost always sound like you’re just reading the words. Big voiceover fail!!!

So, for all scripts the key thing to remember is this.

It’s believability that makes a great voiceover artist. 

In the commercial world, we need to trustyour message, and for that we need to believe what you’re saying; even if it is just a bunch of sales-speak and jargon designed to manipulate and seduce you.

And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

In the non-broadcast (information delivery) world, we need to believe that you are the expert, the all-knowing; delivering this information with a complete understanding of what you’re saying and what that means to your listening audience.

VoiceOver, in many ways, is a game.  The game of convincing communication.

Learn to play it.  Learn to love it.  Learn to have fun with it; and learn to master the language in it.

Happy voiceovering!!!

Abbe Holmes About Abbe Holmes
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.

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