When analyzing a new script, one of your first considerations should be the overall tone and mood it evokes. Is it a breathtaking look at scenic views, an angry reaction to a social injustice, the joy of possessing the car of your dreams, a despondent observation of poverty in Africa, a you-are-there reenactment of a wartime battle, a sad reminiscence of rioting in the streets, or a detailed, informational description of a technical or medical procedure? These are but a few of the varied subjects you will encounter, and as I’m sure you can understand, they suggest a wide variety of emotional treatments.
As you study a script, try to develop an attitude and a mood appropriate to the message. The emotional possibilities are endless. Is it a serious piece? Does it require a great deal of focus? Or is it a very casual, off-the-cuff, spontaneous-sounding piece? Does it make a lot of emphatic points or illustrations? Is it friendly? Familiar?
If it is a teaching or informational vehicle, assume that you know everything about the subject and that the listener knows nothing. This will never be entirely the case but assume it anyway. Put yourself on a pedestal. Take on an air of supreme confidence. You are the expert, the authority. You have just come down from the mountain with tablets of wisdom in hand. (Remember, this is all fantasy)
If there is one adjective you don’t want applied to your delivery of a script, it is ordinary. It is vital that you milk every emotion that is appropriate to the script you are reading. If your listeners perceive that you are delivering with inappropriate, underdone, or overdone emotion, you will lose them in a heartbeat.
At first, I suggest that you diligently try to overdo all the emotional content that you perceive in the script. Even if it’s too much at times, it’s a good exercise, because this approach compels you to use emotions that you may have subdued all your life in the reading-aloud process. Left alone, the reticence, shyness, and fear of performance that you developed during school reading classes will remain. You must break away from this syndrome if you are going to come across as believable. Producers hire professional voice over actors because they know that scripts will be brought to life and made special by the actors’ talents.
Telephone solicitors are often trained to talk with you while watching themselves in a mirror. In this way, they can constantly check themselves to be sure that they’re smiling. Can you hear a smile on people’s faces when they speak to you? Absolutely. It is also very true of other emotions. I constantly tell my students that I want to see the mood of the script on their faces.
What You Can Do
Make working in front of a mirror a part of your practice regimen. Go to extremes of emotion. Experiment. Record it all and listen to the results. You can become your own best judge of how much is enough, how much is too much, and how much is too little. In the early stages of this process, it’s best to work one-on-one with a good coach to make sure that you’re on the right track. You can also record commercials and narrations performed by people whose work you admire. After recording, transcribe the content to give you a working script. Then listen to several playbacks and make notes of your observations. Try it yourself, record it, and listen back. Pay particular attention to how genuine you sound. Are you on the same emotional track that you’re hearing from the performance you recorded off the air? This can be a long and frustrating process, so you must be patient. Don’t expect immediate results. You will get better by increments. Variation is what you’re after. The more varied emotions you can muster, the better. Also focus on how you incrementally control those emotions. The benefits you derive from these experiences can also increase the variety and amount of work available to you when you market yourself.