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Tips on the Art of Voice-Over Writing

Voice-overs aren’t like any old speech. They are words that are put together in a script to be read at the same time that a specific image is being shown. They can be a form of marketing (such as a commercial), or they can be a news or documentary-style speech. The way the voice-over speech is written depends upon your goal in compiling the words.

Voice-Over Writing: Getting Started

Before you begin writing you need to:

  • Establish your goal. Are you selling something? That’s a very different kind of monologue than, say, narrating a documentary or doing a voice-over for a newscast.
  • Envision your intended audience. Are you speaking to kids? Do you want to sell parents on child safety? Do you want the family members of, say, cancer patients to donate money to your cause?

Find your audience, then decide how you want to speak and reach your audience, and you’re halfway there.

Decide on the Goal of the Narrative

If you’re doing a narrative over a visual track, such as a Youtube-type tape, that’s different than a straight audio track, like what you might hear on National Public Radio (which incidentally excels in this kind of narration.)
If you are doing a narration over a visual tape, you need to watch the tape and determine what it is you’re trying to convey. Are you describing action? Are you making a commentary on what is shown on the screen?
What you want your audience to come away with from your narrative will determine what you say, and when you say it.

Timing Is Everything

You will have a limited amount of time, whether it’s an audio segment or a voice-over narrative for a visual tape, to get your message across.

  • Figure out how much time you have, and that will help you figure out what it is you need to say, and how quickly or slowly you need to say it.
  • If you are trying to synchronize your text with a visual tape, you need to time the segment (very few voice-overs will be straight-speaking with no pauses.)
  • Note at what point something dramatic happens. That may be the moment you want to emphasize the action on the screen, or it may be the time you want to say nothing.

Sometimes no speech at all can be the most eloquent, and punch up exactly the point you want your listeners and/or viewers to come away with.

Who Should Do the Speaking

No tips on the art of voice-over writing are complete without a discussion of who will read the narrative.

  • Make a tape of whomever you’re thinking of doing the narration.
  • Use a sample of your writing style to get that person saying the words you want your audience to hear.

Some narrators can do very well with any type of speech. Many of them may be professional voice over actors.  However, if you’re using a friend, or a professional who isn’t a voice-over expert, be aware that what you write may not come across as you anticipated it would.
You may even want to be your own voice-over actor. If so, make sure you get the opinions of more neutral parties (not your mother!) so they can tell you what it is you really sound like.
Just remember: almost everyone hates the sound of his own voice on a tape, so you may not be nearly as horrible as you think. Of course if you are only asking your BFF or your significant other for their opinion, you may not be doing them, or yourself, any favors. This is the time for honesty! Don’t be afraid of it. Get their opinion on your script as well.
Get some friends (or pay some experts) to judge your script.

  • How does it sound?
  • Is it unduly serious?
  • Is it not serious enough?
  • Does it sound “unnatural”?
  • Is your language extremely formal, such as that no one would focus on the meaning of the words because they were put off by the formality?
  • Is it too casual? Are you writing something serious that comes across as being too relaxed for the purpose you intend?

Use your common sense, and a stop watch, and you’ll soon be ready to give others tips on the art of voice-over writing.


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