Tip of the Month

Learning to Control Pace

Generally, a FASTER speaking speed signals urgency, excitement, passion or raw emotion. It can lead the audience to expect something thrilling is going to occur. They hold their breaths and go for the ride with you.

In contrast, a SLOWER speaking rate signals importance, seriousness, or significant ideas. It says: ‘LISTEN TO ME! YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS.’ A new concept or new and perhaps, complex sequential information may need to be delivered slowly so your listener has time to grasp all of the ideas and their consequences before moving on. ‘Slow’ is also useful for summarizing material.

The combination of slow, fast, slow, medium speed etc. adds interest to your interpretation, and makes it easier for the listener to identify with the message.

Here are several areas you can work on and practice to help you slow down your delivery:

  • Read aloud part of a text with which you are familiar. Record yourself. Then play it back. Where was the speed appropriate for the piece? Where was it not? Mark those places on your script.
    (Use a highlighter: red for fast, blue for go slower) Read again, incorporating your changes.For sources, try passages from the Bible, the text from a famous speech you know well. If you don’t have copies, you can find them easily through a quick search on the net.
  • Read a children’s story silently several times to familiarize yourself with the flow. Go through it again noting which passages would suit taking more quickly and which should be slower. Read aloud making those changes and listen carefully.

The next step is to:

  • Pick an information-loaded report from a newspaper or magazine. Go through it to familiarize yourself with the flow of material and then read aloud. Make a note of which passages need careful or slow reading and which can be taken at a faster rate. Re-read aloud until you feel you have the mix of speeds right. As an extension exercise, read the report as if you were reading for an audience who knew nothing about the subject. Note what changes you made and why.
  • Time yourself reading or saying your speech at your normal speaking rate. Note the time down. Now go through again having marked passages for slower or faster treatment. Note the new time. You can use an inexpensive electronic metronome (under $20.00) to set different tempos.
  • Practice with a partner. Go through any of the exercises above. Explain what you are doing and ask them to listen for effectiveness. Get them to note examples where you did well and where you needed to alter your rate and why.
  • Listen to voiceover talents you admire. Note the different rates of speech they use over the course of their presentation and the effectiveness of them.
    Try to listen to a variety so you have a broad range from which to draw inspiration.
    Take elements of their rate changes and experiment with them for yourself. Imitate.

And lastly, give yourself a pat on the back. Changing speaking pace is challenging. The habitual speed of our speech is deeply ingrained. As children we are very effective sponges. We soak up everything around us, including the speech rates used by our significant adults. What was their normal speech speed becomes ours. It feels natural, comfortable and right! Altering rate is not impossible, but it does require awareness, effort and practice!

Strong Endings

It is very important to end most sentences with strength–to not let them taper off and fade out. Otherwise, the drama of the sentence will be lost to the listener.

Everything in language builds. The only exceptions are endings on a redundant word, passive voice, or a colloquial expression.

Here are some examples:

Ending on a redundant word (which also includes pronouns. Pronouns are inherently redundant words):
“Gordon loves his wife. I know he will always love his wife.” (“…love his wife” is not emphasized).
With a pronoun instead of wife: “I know he will always love her.”
(“…love her” is not emphasized).

Ending in passive voice:

“Scientists are diligently trying to find out how the chemical operations essential for survival are being carried out within the cells of all living creatures.” (“…are being carried out…” is not emphasized).

Ending with a colloquial phrase:

“My wife works too hard.”
(“…too hard” is not emphasized).
If too hard is emphasized, it sounds, for dramatic purposes, to be very literal and not informal, as a colloquial phrase is meant to be.

Look for other examples of this fundamental grammatical rule and  instances of the three exceptions illustrated in this Tip of the Month.

Emotional Weight

Every verbal communication, every sentence, contains one or several specific words (mostly nouns), each of which calls for emphasis for dramatic effect, unless they are redundant.  However, this emphasis will not be the same for each of these words.  You must consider the relative emotional weight of these significant words relative to each other within the framework of the message. Listen carefully for this phenomenon when you watch an effectively narrated documentary.  Observe this also in spontaneous, highly motivated conversation, where the person speaking is totally immersed in his or her subject.

Your mastery of this phenomenon will be readily apparent to your audience, as well as to prospective producers who will become your future clients.

Destinations Part 1

One of the most difficult areas of sentence structure that consistently confounds my students is the concept of destinations.

In other words, do you end an event in a sentence, or is there a word or phrase that extends the event to an ending farther into the phrase, clause or sentence?

To clarify, here are a couple of simple examples: “I wonder.” (short destination) “I wonder how I’m going to find the time to finish this project.” (longer destination) The word how takes the sentence through a longer destination. This is also true of who, whom, what, when, where, why, and that, as well as a few other words that perform a similar function. Example: Jane didn’t understand.” (short destination) “Jane didn’t understand what was expected of her.” Now the word what leads to a longer destination.

An infinitive can also extend the destination. Example: “I went home in the afternoon.” (short destination) I went home in the afternoon to help my wife move some furniture.” (long destination) The infinitive to help extends the destination.

In all extended destination situations, never emphasize the word that immediately precedes the one that extends the destination. It would be emphasized if it were the last word in an event, but since it flows into a longer destination, it is not emphasized.

There are other parts of speech that can extend a destination. These will be discussed further in next month’s Tip of the Month.

Stay tuned.

Destinations Part 2

To recap from last month’s Tip, a destination extends the ending of an event in a sentence farther into a phrase, clause, or sentence.

Added to last month’s who, whom, what, when, where, why, and that, plus infinitives, are prepositional phrases, descriptive phrases, and the combination of as (modifier) as.

First let’s look at prepositional phrases. They further a destination by extended description. The underlines indicate emphasis.

Here’s an example without the prepositional phrase:

“There are several exceptions to the rules.”

With the prepositional phrase:

“There are several exceptions to the rules about acceptable behavior.”

Extended even further with another prepositional phrase:

“There are several exceptions to the rules about acceptable behavior in the classroom.”

Now let’s look at descriptive phrases, and how they can add destination after destination. Underlines indicate emphasis.

Here’s the basic sentence before adding one to several destinations:

“Apart from the pyramids, it was the largest, costliest single project ever.

Now we add the destinations:

“Apart from building the pyramids, it was the largest, costliest single project ever conceived.”
“Apart from building the pyramids, it was the largest, costliest single project ever conceived by civilized man.”
“Apart from building the pyramids, it was the largest, costliest single project ever conceived by civilized man in 2000 years of history.”

Finally, the combination of as (modifier) as extends the destination.

Two examples, before adding the combinations:

“The doctor will see you.”
“Do you love me?”

With the combinations added:

“The doctor will see you as soon as he is available.”
“Do you love me as much as I love you?”

These are basic examples to help you understand the concept of destinations.

As you read through scripts and other materials, you will discover that destinations appear in almost every other sentence you read. Watch for them and look for where they end.



Sibilance is a pitched hissing sound produced by some people. It occurs when the natural placement of the teeth and tongue create a whistling sound when pronouncing the soft consonants sh and ch, as well as z, x, f, and soft c.

A perfect sentence for testing one’s tendencies toward or away from sibilance is “Sneaky Susie snatched Sally’s soft satin shoes stealthily.”

If you hear this problem in playback of your work, you can teach yourself to eliminate it by doing the following: Get a thin stick, roughly a sixteenth of an inch thick (a Popsicle or ice-cream-bar stick will do the job nicely). Insert the stick between your upper and lower front teeth. Do not bite down on it or press it on your upper or lower front teeth. Hold it so that your teeth can come together and separate freely. The idea is to put the stick gently between your teeth to create enough of a space to stop the whistling. Over time, you should be able to capture a muscle-memory sensation that enables you to keep the space created by the stick without keeping the stick itself between your teeth, thus eliminating the sibilant whistle. If you find that over time your teeth gradually come together again and you start whistling, you should be able to consciously move your teeth slightly more apart without needing to use the stick. If you can’t readily do that, go back to using the stick. Over time, you should be able to avoid sibilance without the stick.

Redundancy and Reiteration

Consider this example:

“This is my friend Tom. I have known (Tom) for over thirty years. He’s my best friend.”

Three very ordinary conversational sentences acquaint Tom with the listener. The first sentence introduces him, since he is new to the person to whom the sentence is addressed. Here, Tom is emphasized. In the second sentence, however, the listener is now conversationally familiar with Tom. To emphasize his name a second time would be unnecessary, or redundant. In the third sentence, it would be a similar situation without emphasis on Tom, but it now appropriate to use the pronoun he, since it would be doubly redundant to say Tom one more time.

When a noun, and rarely another part of speech, has been established in a script, the next time it is stated, it must be without emphasis. This shows the listener that you are keeping track of what is going on in the script. People do this naturally when they talk. If you continue to emphasize what has already been established, it will be very confusing for the listener. When people tell a story or explain a concept, they always naturally keep track of what they have already introduced, and take care not to re-emphasize it.

Here’s a contrasting scenario:

“XYZ Company is making you this amazing offer. If you buy our gizmo, we’ll double the repair period of our warranty. Double it, up to an extra year!”

The first time the word double is introduced, it could be emphasized to therefore make the point that the company is making a great offer. This time, however, when double is stated again, it is not with some emphasis, but with more emphasis, as this is hammering home even further the special quality of the offer. This is reiteration, or “saying or doing repeatedly.” It is always emphasized to heighten its dramatic effect. Reiteration occurs often in many medium-sell and hard-sell commercial spots.

Unfortunately, when most untrained people read from copy, they miss what has already been established, because they are not focused on what they’re talking about, or on the flow of subject matter. The same is true of situations where reiteration should be applied. This is typical of the way most people read aloud, from grade school throughout life.

It is important to read over and thoroughly understand any script you are about to deliver, which, most emphatically, includes redundancy and reiteration considerations.

Pitch Control

An important conveyor of mood and emotion is pitch. In my evaluation sessions, many of my students exhibit misconceptions about how pitch works in script delivery. They pitch up where they should pitch down and vice versa, or they change pitch too little or too much.

Let’s address some fundamental concepts about pitch. Pitching way up at the end of a sentence conveys a question: “Is that person standing over there your guest?” Guest goes up and stays up. On the other hand, a rhetorical question ends in a statement: “Well, now, what do you think of that?” or, “What are we going to do about this?” The pitch is raised on the italicized words only slightly to give the sentence the feel of a statement, not a question. As for all other phrases and clauses, they are delivered as pure statements, one after the other, as this is the way most people talk in everyday spontaneous conversation. These statements end with a down inflection, or a low pitch, which gives the endings a sense of finality.

Animation is all about pitch variation. If a script is delivered with a lot of animation, the pitch goes up and down, often to extremes. If it’s delivered with less animation, as in more subtle, nuanced scripts (in particular, most narrations) there is far less pitch variation. Cartoons, children’s stories, commercials aimed at children, and hard-sell car commercials contain a lot of pitch variation, for example. It is very important that you understand these extremes and everything in between them, as your interpretation will depend on this understanding and application.

Dramatic Construction of the Message

Almost all sentences end with a bang; that is, the energy builds to a climax. There may be a high point in the middle, but nearly always, the ending, especially the last word, is the strongest hit in the sentence. That word also happens to be a noun most of the time, although it may be another part of speech as well.

When you read even the shortest sentence, ease into it and keep your vocal energy in reserve to hit on a big ending. The natural tendency for people new to voice over technique is to run out of gas by the time they get to the end of a sentence and almost cavalierly throw it away, when instead the opposite effect should occur. Ease into the sentence in the beginning, increase your energy gradually as your progress through the sentence, and give a strong dramatic push to the ending. Note that the listener always has a tendency to remember best the last word spoken, not the first. This dramatic push should be especially strong at the end of a topic, before a transition, and most of all, at the end of the entire script itself. Aim for a solid finish with follow-through.

Remember that the strongest ending of all is the ending of the last sentence in the script. Give this ending a sense of finality and closure by delivering it with strong focus, intensity, and purpose.

Ability to Visualize and React

Every subject we talk about immediately leads to visualization. All events evoke a picture. You must be able to clarify this picture for the listener and for yourself. For example, if you are narrating the experience of a day spent in Paris, you must be there yourself in your fantasy. Otherwise, how can you possibly take someone else (the listener) there?

If you talk about climbing the Eiffel Tower, imagine yourself, and others, climbing it. Smell the rarified air as you ascend to the top. Experience the movements of people coming down the stairs past you as you continue your climb upward. When you reach the top, imagine yourself taking in the panorama of Paris at its most glorious. As you describe your movements about the city, fantasize every experience. You are there.

In contrast to the Paris experience, consider where your fantasy might go while you narrate a fierce, deadly World War II battle. Soldiers fall all around you, wounded and dying. Cannons and rifle fire. Machine guns, Grenades. React to it.

The listener will react to it with you. Live the experience. It’s all about the ability to experience as your own the experiences and feelings of someone else. The best actors in the business fully understand and make use of this ability in every acting challenge they encounter.


Plosive Consonants

The letters b, hard c, d, hard g, k, p, and t are plosive consonants and when pronounced, they push out a lot of air. On condenser microphones (which are the microphones of choice for voice over work), a puff of air from a plosive consonant may produce a bassy “pop” in the middle of the delivery, which can be an annoying distraction.

To avoid this problem as much as possible, we use a windscreen, which may be a porous foam sleeve over the microphone, or a double windscreen inserted between the performer and the microphone. These serve to divert the puff of air from a direct line to the microphone and soften the plosive.

You can learn to deliver plosive consonants directly to the microphone without popping by practicing your delivery four or five inches in front of a burning candle. It may take many hours of practice, and you may have to relight the candle countless times, but over time you will adjust and learn to deliver plosives without blowing out the candle. Then, when you work close to a microphone, you will be able to avoid popping entirely.

Breath Control

Most breath-control problems stem from a lack of understanding of phrasing and from overlooking breathing pauses. Others are caused by simply delivering at too high a volume level, not taking in enough breath at every opportunity, and not staying relaxed. Anxiety is the mortal enemy of breath control.

Let’s talk about pauses first. Pauses give us obvious openings to breathe, and if the pause is a long one, a chance to grab a big breath. Most long sentences can be broken up into several shorter phrases or clauses that can stand alone, and can therefore offer many breathing opportunities.

Now a word about loud delivery. Many stage actors (as mentioned in a previous chapter) as well as amateurs who are new to voiceovers, often project the message as they would on stage. This is a surefire way to run out of breath. Delivering at a comfortable, relaxed, conversational level will conserve your breath in a way that may surprise you.

Keep your breathing relaxed and try not to overdo the intake. Don’t rush it, either. I have heard many broadcasters (mostly from reading too fast) take short, quick gasps for breath that are frequently quite audible. The use of electronic compression often exacerbates this phenomenon. Easy does it. Try to pitch the breath as low as you can by making the opening in the back of your throat as wide as comfortably.

One way you can build up your breathing stamina is to take a script – any script – and read it in an easy, relaxed, albeit expressive manner, while eliminating all of the pauses. The ideas to take a comfortable breath in the beginning and go as far into the script as you can. Try using the same script for a few days for this exercise. Each time you read it aloud, mark how far into the script you ran out of breath. The next time you do it, try to go a word or two or three further. Over time, you will be amazed at how far you can go without a breath. When I first started this myself, I could only do two to two and a half lines. After working on it for several months, I was able to do fourteen to sixteen lines. Many of my students have achieved similar results.

Building a Solid Working Vocabulary

On the narration and audiobook sides of this business, we often encounter words whose meaning or pronunciation are unknown to us.

Get in the habit of looking up every word you encounter in a new script, whose meaning you do not fully understand, and look up its meaning in a good dictionary, as well as its correct pronunciation.  Study and learn the phonetic spellings in the dictionary and how to use them to pronounce the new words you encounter.  Bookstores offer vocabulary builders of many kinds that you can use to learn 15 to 20 new words per week.

If you specialize in medical, technical, or IT scripts, it would be a smart move to buy an appropriate dictionary for any/one of those categories, as the necessity for looking up definitions and pronunciations of new words occurs far more often in these areas than in the average script.

With these approaches, your vocabulary will grow steadily, and poring over a new script will go much more efficiently.

How to Avoid Running Out of Breath

1. Keep your volume to a minimum.  The louder you talk, the quicker you will run out of air.  Remember, too, that voiceover delivery is an intimate medium.

2. Mark the places where you can catch a breath:  ends of phrases, ends of clauses, end of sentences.  Commas generally are good places to take a breath, especially in front of prepositional phrases, or in front of a conjunction (and, or, if, but, when, as, etc.).

3. You can take a big breath (and a big pause) at the end of a paragraph that leads into a transition – a change in time and/or place or a change in subject material.

To increase your own breathing and endurance capacity, take a deep, quick breath.  Then close your mouth tightly, pursing your lips to form a very small opening.  Let the air out slowly, and keep pushing it out until you are absolutely out of air.  Then breathe normally.

Wait 3 or 4 minutes, then repeat this.  This time, when your last breath is expelled, let the breathing in that follows be the intake for the first line of a script you’re working on.  Then read into the script without a breath or a pause, and see how far you can go on that one breath.  Do this every day with a different script. Count the number of words you made it through, and try to go a word or two further each time you do this.  You will be amazed at how your endurance will improve over time.

To summarize:

• Keep your volume at a close-up conversational level.
• Mark your scripts for breathing opportunities.
• Look for transitions for deeper breaths.
• Work on your endurance and capacity. Remember that breath and energy are handmaidens in this business.


Always be on the lookout for patterns in the scripts you deliver.

Being aware of similarities  in points of emphasis that exist in patterns will make your interpretations shine.

Here are some examples of patterns that will give you some idea of what to look for: (Underlines indicate emphasis)

1. On the veranda, people will gather, and doors will slam, and dogs will bark, and someone will play music.

2. The foot presses the brake. The hand turns the steering wheel. The car tracks through the corner, as if connected with Velcro.

3. Picasso painted many women in abstraction. The women may have elephant ears, crossed eyes, two noses.

4. During his lifetime, Albert Einstein was witness to the rise of modern Germany, the birth of nuclear weapons, and the growth of Zionism.

5. It’s important to understand who you are, where you’re going, and what you know you can achieve.

6. Please observe all of the safety guidelines we recommend, before you start, while doing the job, and when you are finished.

Get the idea? Always look for signs of patterns. When you have learned to recognize them, your delivery will sound more natural, conversational, and believable.

Keep it Slow

No matter what the nature of the script you’re delivering, enough can not be said about keeping your delivery slow and smooth.

Many commercial reads, especially a hard-sell commercial with a lot of hype, coupled with up-tempo music, can sound as if it’s really moving along. If you listen carefully, however, you will realize that the voice actor is not rushing the delivery. If it were rushed, clarity of diction would suffer. Any message, no matter what the mood is, will never move the listener if he or she doesn’t understand the words that make up the message.


“This week, we’re having an end-of-the-year sale that’ll blow you away!”

I would deliver this line with overpronounced deliberation, and slow it progressively from “that’ll” to “away” at the end.

We also slow down if we’re making a very important point, even on an individual word or a small phrase.


“After contracting polio, FDR was unable to walk or stand unaided.” I would slow this phrase progressively from “walk”through “unaided” for dramatic effect.

Most narrations should slow down progressively through the last three or four words of the entire script, to give the ending as sense of dramatic finality.


“Finally, the demographic transition is one of the most significant phenomena of modern history. As people get richer, they have smaller families.”

(Progressive slowdown through the phrase “…they have smaller families.”)

Listen to seasoned professionals and observe how much they slow down for clarity and drama.

Know Where You Are

You must keep track of where you are in the script as it unfolds. For the sake of drama, you must be in the moment, but it is also vital to be aware of what lies ahead and, especially, to be mindful of what has come before. (See “Redundancy and Reiteration.”)

If you’re having trouble understanding what’s going on in the sentence, delineate who or what is acting (the subject), what the action is (the verb), who or what is the object of the action (direct object), and where the action is going (prepositional phrases). Look ahead, but you must also remember what nouns were established earlier in the script, as they will now be redundant.

Key Reminder: Never throw away an ending except in a colloquial phrase, passive voice, or a redundancy.

Controlling Your Energy

Every sentence, clause, and phrase should begin with a no-emphasis lead-in. The energy at the beginning is low; at the end it is high. The phrase, clause, or sentence should end with a strong declarative emphasis. This also applies to every time there is a phrasing break in the sentence interior. Remember, this refers to emotional energy, not volume. Everything builds, from the shortest phrases to clauses to lists.

Most importantly, don’t move outside the emotional energy and pitch parameters you have set for yourself for delivering a particular script.

The Competition

Most newbies to voice over seem to fret a lot about “the competition”.

In these times, in any professional environment, one will encounter countless others out there trolling for clients. The voice over world is no exception. When I was in college, if you wanted to teach in a public or private school when you got out, you were almost guaranteed a position somewhere. In the first quarter of the 21st Century, this is no longer the case – in teaching, or almost any other endeavor.

There are literally thousands of people out there looking for voice over gigs. The good news is that most of them aren’t that good. In fact, if I were doing the hiring, I would only consider fewer than 5% to be worthy of doing the work out there. Why? Because a vast majority have been lured into the business by voice over training mills or coaches that never should have encouraged them to get into this business in the first place. Others who initially showed potential didn’t get enough training before they did their demos, and went out into the job market with one hand tied behind them. They simply couldn’t ace the auditions.

Before venturing forth into the voice over world, you need to have a professional in-depth evaluation of your basic skills and instincts, as well as your grasp of English language dynamics. If the outcome is positive, you should embark on a training regimen that addresses the areas you need to fix, and one that ultimately gives you the ability to nail down the real message of the script, and demonstrate to your client that you can put that message across to the listener in a natural, believable, meaningful way.

The ultimate goal is to teach you to become your own best director and critic. If you have done this diligently, you won’t have to worry about “the competition”. All of your focus has been trained on being the best you can be.

One last thought: Never, never rest on your laurels after you achieve some success. The best people with whom I have worked always want to get better, and they continue to work persistenty to that end.