The key to getting the best out of any voice actor starts with one thing: a great script.
It’s easy to become so focused on including every key message to meet your business objectives that your words can end up sounding soulless, lacking any human connection with your audience.
Writing for the spoken word is a special art; it’s definitely not the same as crafting website copy or your business’ annual review.
And getting it wrong can potentially lead to expensive mistakes.
Here are my top five tips for script success when working with a voice over artist:
Read your voice over script out loud
During the creative process, actually speaking the words out loud as you write them will keep your mind focused on ensuring they sound as natural and conversational as possible.
The written word is often much more formalised and structured, and doesn’t always reflect how we speak. For example, when writing, we are far more likely to use phrases such as “we are” or “do not”.
In voice over, your copy will probably be delivered with contractions such as “we’re” or “don’t” to help the words flow and sound more conversational. If that’s what you definitely don’t want for your script, it’s always best to make a note to the voice over artist that they shouldn’t make those natural contractions.
Don't overwrite your voice over
Often, the simpler the script, the better. Think about using as few syllables as possible - for example, when speaking aloud, using “but” is quicker, simpler and less formal than saying “however”. You’ll be using up less time by using words that are shorter, but your copy will still maintain the meaning.
And if it’s not a word you’d use in natural speech, think of an alternative; if you don’t use it in everyday life, your audience won’t either and it will stick out like a sore thumb to them.
Of course, there will be scripts that are highly technical and use lots of jargon. That’s fine if your target audience will be familiar with that vocabulary. If not, make use of words in parentheses or additional sentences to add explanation.
Time is of the essence
It always helps to time yourself reading a rough draft of the copy to get an idea of how long the voiceover will be. You can use word counters to find out how many words you have written, and then work out the number of words spoken a minute, but remember that the voice actor will want to build in natural pauses, and possibly even dramatic pauses for effect (if that’s your direction).
The inflections and intonations the voice over will use, along with adding emotion and meaning, will also lengthen the time it takes to deliver the script.
All of this matters if you need your voice over to hit a certain duration, particularly in scripts for radio adverts where you will then also potentially leave time for music and sound effects.
Be clear about the duration you want from your audio and your voice over should be able to meet your needs.
Pronunciations and symbols
Whilst every voice actor will do their best to find the correct pronunciations, it saves time (and possibly extra expense) if you phonetically spell out any unusual names or tricky words - a sound file of you saying the word into your smartphone is even better!
Also make notes about abbreviations; is it an acronym (an abbreviation that forms a pronounceable word from the first letter or syllable of each word in a phrase) or is it an abbreviation that requires each letter to be read out?
Other areas for clarification; if you don’t need your voice actor to read titles or other parts of a project or presentation, don’t include them. Only send the exact copy you need, unless you need the voiceover to understand more about the context. In those cases, sending a separate storyboard and a separate script as a word doc can be useful.
Any symbol - slash, dots, dashes, hyphens, currency symbols - also needs to be written exactly as you would like it to be said. For example, rather than using a forward slash to highlight two interchangeable words, write ‘or’. So, “patient/staff” should be written as “patient or staff”.
The last word?
It is inevitable that scripts will change, particularly if there are many clients or stakeholders involved in the creative process. However, multiple script changes when recording with a voice actor can incur extra expense. So, it’s always best to get your script as close to the final version as possible, before engaging a voice over artist.
Check with your voice actor about their policy on revisions and changes from the outset. Some, like me, will be incredibly flexible and allow for alterations to the script. Some will charge extra to make those changes.
And if you’re looking for a great script writer, not just for voice over scripts but other genres as well, you can’t go far wrong by checking out these amazing wordsmiths:
Amy Doyle - a hugely talented script writer specifically for voice over and senior creative writer working on audio campaigns for Maple Street Creative.
Amber Beard - a highly experienced copywriter and editor who can help with all kinds of content creation, including features, blogs, website copy, sales literature.
Matt Kenney - an expert copywriter in the fields of technology, shipping and energy and the founder of Laureate Ltd., a boutique copywriting and communications agency.
Vicks Ward - a wonderfully accomplished copywriter for organisations across the globe focusing on healthcare, EDI, renewable energy, education, pollution clear-up, biodiversity, marine, farming, agritech and sustainability.