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Can You Get Through A 60-Sec VO Spot
Without Stumbling? Tips For Fluent Reading ...
October 9, 2015

By William Williams

Voice Actor & Coach

I’ve been teaching voice overs for 20 years, and every student begins with the same declaration: "I can talk and I can read, so I can do this.”

One of the first things we discover is that half of these talents can’t read.

Now, I don’t mean they read like in the first grade, "See Spot run. Run, Spot, Run.” I mean they can’t get through a 60-second ad without stumbling on words, missing words or substituting words.

Some aspire to read audiobooks in their career. Well, trust me, if you can’t nail a 60-second spot, you’ll never get through a 257,000-word Harry Potter book.  


Reading isn’t as simple as you think it is. 
  • Your eyes have to track the words as you read and synchronize with the pace of your speech. 
  • You have to recognize and pronounce the words as they flow by.
  • Then you process the meaning of the words in your mind.
  • Finally, you express, not just the words, but the meaning of the words in your speech by adding various inflections.  
And things can go wrong at any stage.

So if you have trouble reading, here are some hints on how to identify your weaknesses and improve your skills.  


You learn to read by reading out loud. But very soon you learn to read to yourself. And you can read to yourself faster than you talk.

So you may find your eyes are a racing rabbit and your mouth is crawling tortoise trying to keep up. 

Suddenly your brain says, "Where am I?!"

To teach your eyes and speech to synchronize, try guiding your eyes by pointing to the text with your finger or a pencil tip. Keep it moving along as you read. You’ll find this keeps your eyes from jumping ahead. 

This will improve the flow of your reading with less stumbling.  

You may think we sound out the letters when we talk. We do at first, but very quickly we just learn the shape of the letter combination and we process a word as a unit. 
Taht si wyh yuo cna udnersatnd tihs sentesne. 
But is takes practice to learn this automatic recognition of words. If you don’t recognize a word, you have to pause to decode it. Or worse still, your mind may guess the intended meaning and just substitute any word that works.  

The more words you automatically recognize, the faster and more accurate your reading will be.

To improve automatic reading you need to … read!  More. A lot. Out loud. 

Don’t worry about speed. Concentrate on accuracy. Start with simple material and then work toward widening your automatic vocabulary. 

The actual recognition of words should become unconscious behavior. If you don’t have to concentrate on decoding the individual words, then you can allow your mind to pay attention to comprehension of the meaning of the words.  


We also don’t read individual words. Most languages group words together to enhance ideas. Adjectives connect with nouns, adverbs describe verbs.

For example: 

The sentence, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” really says "Fox jumped dog.”  Ah, but it’s:  
  • the [quick brown fox] who
  • [jumped over]
  • the [lazy dog].  
As you’re reading, try to sense which words work together like this, and learn to group these words in your speech.  

Also, most sentences - especially in business copy or in advertising copy - are constructed from smaller, easy to read phrases.

So the previous sentence becomes:  
  • Also most sentences,
  • especially in business copy
  • or in advertising copy
  • are constructed
  • from smaller,
  • easy to read phrases  
If you have trouble with [word grouping] /or phrasing/ you can try/ marking your copy /with [brackets for grouping]/ and [slashes for phrasing].  


There’s a word you don’t see every day.  "Prosody” is the linguistic term for the melody and variety in speech. Prosody includes changes in pitch, tone, stress and rhythm.

Two important aspects of English are word stressing and sentence pitch direction.

Word stress is so common we have a way of writing it with underlines, italics or bold type. And word stress adds additional meaning to a sentence. 

In "Tom is here,” Tom doesn’t move, but where we think he is changes:  
  • Tom is here — we didn’t expect Tom to arrive.
  • Tom is here — we thought Tom wasn’t here.
  • Tom is here — Tom didn’t leave.  
Try reading this:  
  • Sentences can go up.
  • And sentences can go down.
  • Or go up and then go down again.
  • Or go down and the go up again.  

Remember that one kid in third grade who could make "The Cat in the Hat” sound like Orson Wells or Katharine Hepburn reading the Old Testament?

When all these reading skills come together you become what we call a Fluent Reader.
And it is an ability you can acquire.  

So if you’re having trouble reading out loud, don’t fret. It’s a skill you last worked on and practiced in elementary school. 

Look over this list of possible problems to identify your weakness and then practice to improve that aspect of your reading.  

Fluent reading will speed up your auditions and make your jobs easier. And it will give you more time to concentrate on your artistic interpretation of the copy. 

Then, who knows? Maybe you will book that Harry Potter job.

And remember … keep talking!  
William Williams has worked for the last quarter century as owner of Aliso Creek Productions. As a voice talent, he has voiced national, regional and local commercials for AT&T, Apple Computer, Radio Shack, Princess Cruises, Chicago Tribune and many more. He has directed Nancy Cartwright, Michael York, Yakov Smirnoff, Jack Mayberry and other top voice talent. And he teaches commercial and animation voice over, offers private coaching and demo production in his studio in Burbank, CA and online.


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Comments (7)
John Stafford
10/14/2015 at 6:33 PM
Thank you for taking the time to share this with those who, like me, are considering "getting into the business." It's the best, most concise advise that I've read so far.
Kurt Feldner
10/12/2015 at 6:54 AM
Wow, such insight! [I see some things] here that I'd never heard or thought of doing, which means I'm excited to [give them a try] and see what happens!
Howard Ellison
10/12/2015 at 5:09 AM
Your piece came in handy for a self-test. No stumble for two minutes until I reached 'lazy dog,' which popped out as Lady dog. Freud again?
Bobby B
10/11/2015 at 7:21 PM
Just what I needed.... Thanks for the advice :-)
Greg Downey
10/11/2015 at 10:47 AM
One way to practice reading aloud is to volunteer as a reader for the blind. That was a big help to me.
steve latham
10/10/2015 at 8:09 PM
I have found that reading aloud, practicing,workout groups, and some coaching, has strengthened my reading muscles, eyes, brain, mouth, etc. It has also improved my ability, speed and concentration in reading to myself silently.
Dan Nims
10/9/2015 at 6:08 PM
Many worthwhile tips. I was told many years ago to have your eyes 'look ahead' of where you are speaking. That way there will be no 'surprises' as you come to the end of a sentence.

Thanks for posting!
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