If you want to book voice over jobs, you need more than just a pretty voice. Way more. Acting chops. Good timing. Articulation (but not too much). And an understanding of the voiceover script. This tells the writer or producer that you GET IT. How exactly will they “hear” that you “get” the script? You tell them in each and every sentence by emphasizing the most important words. How do you know what the most important words are? (cue the ironic laugh here) You cross your fingers, pay attention to what you’re reading, and learn a little bit of detective work here at Voiceover Gurus. Today we’ll go over some possible strategies (and why there is no “exact” strategy) and we’ll also dissect a few scripts. Ready to peel some voice over onions? Let’s get started!
First, let’s talk about the “ish.” There is no specific formula for understanding what the key words are in each sentence, and this is mostly due to the fact that none of these thousands of writers are following an exact formula themselves. Writers are creative, which means they go by the beat of their own drum, or pen. Or laptop. But after casting, coaching, and analyzing my way through thousands of scripts, I’ve begun to compile a few tools for identifying keywords that amounts to a method…of sorts. Method-ish.
One aspect to finding what is at the heart of the sentence is to determine what is good about the product….what the benefit is. This aspect usually only applies to commercials, so I promise to cover aspects that are universal to other voiceover genres as well. These keywords can be adjectives, point out an aspect of the product that is unique to the market, or perhaps even speak to a solution it provides to a common problem. These are just a few of the possibilities to keep your eyes open for. While you want to focus on as few keywords as possible per sentence, there will be exceptions. Sometimes writers are looking for drama. This means emphasizing a few words that seem to drive home the point harder. Another case will be when there are commas in the sentence (see the Traditional Medicinals example below). Commas are essentially used as a pause, when a writer has a separate, but connected point to make.
One thing that is most likely NOT a keyword is the word “you” or “your” (with a very limited amount of exceptions.) The reason for this is that most people who are listening to a commercial automatically know that they are the potential “you” that is being addressed. But what they are really listening for is what’s IN IT FOR THEM. That means you haven’t arrived at your keyword yet on an empty word like “you.” Same thing goes for words that are repeated – by the nature of their repetition they are already being emphasized. It also sounds awkward when you emphasize the same word twice in one sentence, almost as if the listener may be dumb and didn’t “get it” the first time. Example: “The phones you want, for whatever you want.” Try reading it out loud emphasizing just the “you’s” or just the “want’s”. It will sound absurd. Now emphasize phones and whatever (the product and its benefit). Better? Let’s get back to more of those keywords we want to find….here’s a commercial script for Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat tea:
If, like us, you’re vocal about sustainability, you’ll like that we partner with rural Appalachian families who harvest limited amounts of slippery elm by hand to help, well, make you even more vocal. Literally. Plant power for a better you. Traditional Medicinals.
So – we’ve got our work cut out for us here on this first monster sentence. Several commas mean several individual points being made by the writer. If there’s a stand-alone word then obviously it gets attention….you don’t really have to “punch” it or emphasize it in any special way since the pause after it that comes with acknowledging the comma will be sufficient enough to put it on its own platform. After that you have a choice between the words like or us. Given what comes after it I would choose us. The first reason is that they’re clearly creating a connection between their company’s stance on sustainability with your own. If you’re not convinced, I covered that as well on my second reason – I read it aloud and punched the word like instead. It sounds as if you’re using it incorrectly, as if you’re talking about someone “liking” them. It didn’t stand up when actually tested. The best way to believe this is to record yourself. It’s hard to hear yourself while you’re in the act of performing/being. Next I would say the heart of the whole spot is here in the word sustainability, however I would also raise my inflection up higher on the word vocal, as it creates a leading sound….it creates expectation on the part of the listener. It makes us perk up (thinking…vocal about what?!). Next I would choose limited and by hand. I think Appalachian families are important, and we’ll still hear it no matter what, but the exact execution of that sustainability they were promising comes in the form of the “limited” and “by hand” points they’re making. The last point in that sentence comes in the word more. It can’t be vocal, because we’ve already made that point. It’s redundant. As was just saying that. The last line before the product is mentioned may break some rules. It reads like a tag line, and that usually means they’re making their biggest, most memorable point. The most impactful here if made to choose would be plant and better, because it sums things up in a concise cause and effect manner. Let’s explore more possibilities with this ad for Naturtint:
Unlike most dyes, Naturtint’s ground-breaking formula brings maximum color and shine to your locks without harsh chemicals like ammonia and resorcinol. Enriched with natural ingredients like non-GMO corn, oat, and soy, Naturtint provides strength and vitality to even the most damaged hair. With 29 exclusive shades, what color will you choose?
First keyword here is most, as they are setting up a comparison. Next would be Naturtint, maximum, and without. It obvious we are speaking about color and shine when we are speaking of hair dye, but THEIR dye brings out the MAXIMUM effect. Same goes for the chemicals. There are common chemical culprits in the world of hair dyes, and the benefit to using their dye is that you don’t have them(without!). I ignored empty promises like ground-breaking in favor of the RESULTS of that formula. Same would go for the next sentence – I would favor the actual ingredients over the promise of “natural ingredients” – non-GMO corn, oat, and soy. Then it would be strength, vitality, and perhaps damaged. Lastly, we have 29 and exclusive (every dye company offers shades), and then (rule breaker alert!) YOU. The reason is that color is a given, as we know, and choices are obvious given the “29”, so by default you can assume they just want to draw the listener in and give them ownership of this possibility.
For one more example of keyword dissection, as well as an understanding of what else it takes to nail a voiceover performance, check this out: http://www.voiceovergurus.com/guru_blog/?p=80