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Introduction to Voice-Over: Necessary Skills

This lesson is a part of an audio course Introduction to Voice-Over by Joe McNeil and Allison Moffett

Welcome to Lesson 2 “Necessary Skills”. In this lesson, you’ll learn the skills you need to support a career in voice-over.

I’ve been doing VO for about 20 years now and one of the things I like best about it is it’s always a challenge. I learn something with every voice-over job I do. I think a good analogy is cooking. You can learn culinary skills and follow recipes, but each time you cook things will be a little bit different.

Let’s talk about some of the skills you need to bring to voice-over. One of them is reading skills.

The term “cold read” refers to being able to read a script well without rehearsing it first. It’s a similar concept to sight reading in music. Being a good cold reader doesn’t mean you just say all the words in the script. It means you can give a performance of the script that is consistent and interesting without rehearsal. This is particularly important for long scripts, but it applies to short scripts as well.

Being a good cold reader is a skill, not a gift. You can learn to be a good cold reader with practice. Read a book or an article you’ve never read before out loud. You have to read it out loud! How many mistakes did you make? Were you able to follow the meaning of the piece? Record yourself on your phone or with a simple digital recorder and listen back. Can you follow what you hear without looking at your script? Some people are naturally good cold readers and some aren’t. If you practice it, you can get better at it.

Good reading skills are important because, when you do a voice-over script, there is so much to think about that simply reading the words can’t be one of them. You need to be comfortable with reading so it’s not taking up too much of your concentration.

Another skill that’s important for voice-over is good communication. A big part of the job is talking to and listening to your client or director to determine what type of performance you need to deliver. (Here’s some more terminology for you—in voice-over the performance is often referred to as the read.)

Let me give you an example of why good communication is so important. On a particular job, the director told me that the reading (or performance) needed to be “brighter.” What does that mean to you? Happier? Lighter? Smarter? Brighter means different things to different people. It turns out, in this case, when the director said, “brighter,” he meant faster. Faster was not what immediately came to my mind when I heard their words. I had to ask for clarification and really listen to the answer to understand his meaning.

Being able to communicate effectively will make your working relationships much smoother. And it’s not just verbal communication that’s important. A lot of VO work these days is done remotely. That is, you aren’t always working in person with the director or client. You may be communicating solely through email. So good written communication skills are also key.

Related to good communication skills, is the ability to take criticism. When you deliver a voice-over performance, the director or client often wants you to change things. Sometimes, you may find people to be less than diplomatic when they make comments on your reading. Don’t take offense. That just gets in the way of getting the job done. Thicken your skin, listen to what they say, ask for clarification if necessary, and do your best to deliver what they’re asking. Don’t take it personally.

Next, let’s talk about stamina. Voice-over requires a great deal of focus. You need to sustain your energy and have good breath control. When you’re a VO artist, as a singer, your body is your instrument. Stay hydrated, eat well. You certainly don’t have to be an athlete, but give some thought to your cardiovascular fitness. Simply put, take care of yourself.

The final life skill we’ll talk about is patience. There’s a lot of waiting in voice-over. It takes time to learn the skill set required to do voice-over and to establish yourself as VO talent. You spend a great deal of time auditioning for jobs you don’t get. Don’t expect anything to happen overnight. If you want to do voice-over, commit to it and enjoy the process.

Let’s do a quick recap of this lesson before we move on.

  • The term “cold read” refers to being able to read a script well without rehearsing it first. Being a good cold reader is a great skill for voice talent.
  • Good verbal and written communications skills and the ability to take criticism are critical for voice-over.
  • In voice-over, the performance is often referred to as the read.
  • It’s a good idea to take care of yourself physically so that you have the energy and breath control necessary for VO.
  • Be patient. Succeeding on voice-over takes time. Enjoy the process.

Thanks for listening! In Lesson 3, we’ll talk about the technical requirements necessary for voice-over.