6 Questions a Voice Actor Should Ask When Reviewing a Script

One of the most fundamental roles of a voice actor is bringing a script to life with their voice. But that’s almost impossible if the actor doesn’t take the time to carefully review the script before recording.

Regardless of the medium – TV commercial, radio ad, instructional video or even IVR systems – a voice-over talent must become acquainted with the script to understand how to approach the delivery. If they don’t, then they’re setting themselves up for failure.

Here are several questions that every voice actor should consider when presented with a new script:

1) What is the message?

Sure, you’ve read the words, but what do they actually say? What’s the main point being expressed? If necessary, say the answer to yourself out loud: “It’s an ad for a new car, focusing new safety technology that helps to prevent accidents.”

For all voice actors, understanding the message and meaning behind a script is the critical first step to knowing how to approach the voice over.

Let’s look at an example of a demo voice over copy that is worded heavily.

“Are you tired of feeling vulnerable and unprotected in emergency situations? Look no further than the new XYZ emergency phone. Equipped with a built-in GPS tracker, a loud siren, and a direct emergency call button, this phone is designed to keep you safe in any situation. Whether you’re hiking in the wilderness, traveling abroad, or simply walking alone at night, the XYZ emergency phone gives you the peace of mind you need to feel secure. Don’t take any chances with your safety. Get the XYZ emergency phone today and protect yourself and your loved ones.”

This example is very interesting because it has some great messages in such a short voice over script. Where do you see the final main message? Where do you see the writer’s main purpose? The fortunate part is, the answer is usually unknown to everyone except the writer, but we as Voice Over actors have to make a choice – and some choices are better than others. I would choose the line “the xyz emergency phone gives you the peace of mind you need to feel secure” – this line is perfect in bringing the problem and solution together in a simple way. It makes you believe that this phone will bring you security and safety – when you need it the most. You don’t want to overthink it. I just want you to show a little bit of extra love to the important messages in the script.

2) What is the tone?

Is it upbeat and fun? Or serious and contemplative? In a recent post, I illustrated how two voice-overs can have totally different styles, even when they’re focused on the same subject (i.e. holiday gatherings with family). So it’s important to use cues from the script to find the right tone.

  • Tip: If you’re not sure, ask the client/producer. I also like to ask for the music track, which usually makes it clear what tone or energy I should bring to the VO.

The tone needs to be reflected in your voice and, depending on what choice you make, it should be a clear choice. If you’re going with serious – make it serious. Then allow the Director to adjust you on the different levels and nuances and tonality. Consider the emergency phone script listed above in our example – its tone is serious and urgent. But it is not sad. It is hopeful. And that is your dance as a voice actor. To be able to dance between serious and hopeful in the reflection of your tone.

3) Who is the audience?

This is another important question that voice-over talents should always ask if the information hasn’t already been provided. Knowing the target audience will further help to guide the tone and delivery.

For example, if it’s an instructional VO geared toward CEOs and other C-suite executives, then you know the tone should probably be professional and articulate. In other scenarios, a voice-over artist might want the voice to match the sound of the target demographic (to make it more relatable and empathetic).

Let’s consider the emergency phone example once again. Without overthinking it, you can make a short list of who this emergency phone would be beneficial for and then choose one specific person to speak to. Is it an elderly parent? Is it someone who may be disabled? Or maybe it’s a family with young kids on a trip? The options are endless. Really be specific and then allow the Director to direct you.

4) Which emotions should be conveyed?

Professional voice actors take their voice overs to the next level by infusing emotion into the script. It may be subtle sometimes, but it can make a big impact.

I’ve mentioned before how tools like the Junto Emotion Wheel can help voice actors tap into more complex emotions for their reads. For example, instead of a general emotion of happiness, the voice artist might want to take it to a deeper level by infusing more specific feelings, such as pride, optimism, hope or curiosity. Each of those emotions can have a different “sound.” Take the time to experiment and find the right one for the script.

5) How will you work around time constraints?

Some scripts will be copy-heavy. This poses a challenge for the voice actor, who needs to fit everything into the allotted time. Too much copy can translate into an accelerated read. (And unless the client is willing to cut down the script, the voice artist has few options.)

But this doesn’t mean the voice over needs to sound rushed or frantic. For example, there may be some lines that you can read faster, while others can be paced slower. Or, maybe you can shorten some pauses between lines. All voice actors for hire face these challenges. But by experimenting with your pacing and spending more time with the script, you can usually find a solution that works.

Let’s consider the emergency phone script listed above and you will notice it is written to be a 30-second spot. Your goal as a voice actor should always be to meet the needs of production and their time limits. However, even in the most magical moments, there are times when the writer will adjust copy live in session to meet the voice actor’s needs. This is a beautiful moment as the centerpiece becomes the production and not the egos of anyone in the room. Do your best and brings all the experiences.

6) What are the client’s expectations?

Keep in mind, when a client seeks to hire a voice actor, they often have their own instructions for all the questions above. This is why it’s so important to work closely with the client to understand their needs and what they’re looking for. In addition to the questions above, voice actors should ask if there are any other specific requirements, such as the need for multiple takes, different voices/accents, legal disclaimers or other messaging that isn’t included in the script.

Embrace live voiceover sessions as an opportunity to really understand what directors look for in production. You will get great insight into their needs and expectations. If you’re humble in your approach and goals, then you will align with the voiceover production team.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more tips from professional voice over artist, poet and philosopher Kabir Singh.

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