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Watch For The Caution Signs
In Voice-Over And Your Life ...
By Lisa Rice
Voice Actor
Caution signs. You’ve seen them. Those yellow, diamond-shaped traffic signs placed strategically along winding roads.
Each one warns us to slow down and pay more attention because a dangerous curve lies ahead. And if your experience is the same as mine, they always seem to pop up when I’m running late.
Ultimately though, we know they’re posted for our own good, and in turn, they benefit the drivers coming toward us in the opposite lane.
When I see one of these, I’m reminded of a little voice-over trick I learned several years ago.
But before I share it, allow me to explain why we need to use it in the first place.
In a perfect world, every piece of copy we voice would be written with timely finesse … just the right amount of words for the allotted time.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Many scripts have been so stuffed with information they feel like tongue twisters.
Good, succinct writing takes time and skill. Or as Mark Twain explained to a colleague, “Sorry about the long letter. I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.”
To be fair, many producers work with tight budgets and schedules. They’re forced to juggle several responsibilities and do the best they can.
And sometimes their customer, with no media training whatsoever, refuses to part with a script they themselves have written and has crammed in every company detail in order to get their money’s worth.
Now, this isn’t usually a problem for non-broadcast jobs because post-production can tweak things by adding more video or longer transitions.
Broadcast projects, however, are entirely different. Advertising is purchased in intervals and these snippets of time - whether they’re 15 seconds, 30 seconds or 60 - can be quite expensive.
In broadcast, minutes and seconds matter. A voice-over for a 30-second spot must come in at exactly that or preferably even a second or two under. If not, the domino effect of one spot running over into another’s time slot comes into play.
So whether we like it or not, as voice-over professionals, we’re expected to adjust our read to fit the timeframe.
Of course, we can ask the producer if there’s anything that can be taken out before we record. And many times this works by removing a word here or there, or by substituting a multi-syllable word with a shorter one.
Little steps like these can make a big difference when seconds count!
But if they’ve done everything they can on their end, the job must move forward.
So, how does this all tie in with curvy roads and caution signs?
Well, when we’re hired to voice one of these scripts, we can apply the same strategy as driving on a winding road.
Move through the copy at the safest speed possible, all the while keeping an eye open for the curve in the road, so to speak.
How do we identify the curves?
Take the script and look for the most important parts:
  • a customer’s name,
  • their slogan,
  • key phrases,
  • tricky pronunciations, or
  • words needing more emotion.
What’s left can be voiced differently.
Better yet, some parts can be handled like straight-aways. Move through them as fast as possible.
The advantage here? No speed limit!
Fly through the "www" in the web site address, a telephone number if it’s mentioned several times, or anything else that might have visuals on-screen.
Drive the read as quickly as you can. Apply the brakes when it’s critical. Get there on time.
You know, we also need to be mindful of these on the road we call Life.
The only difference is that they manifest themselves in the form of health issues, spiritual anemia and relationship problems.
I'm pretty sure this is one area where the "good 'ol days" probably were. Our 24/7 work schedules owe their existence to the Internet and the opportunity to find customers in several different time zones.
Erased from our memories are Blue Laws, a day of rest, and one or two family vacations per year.
Yet I'm convinced that applying the brakes in our personal lives on a daily, weekly and annual basis helps our journey become richer and more meaningful.
By allowing ourselves to recharge our battery, so to speak, and refuel with things we enjoy that aren’t work related, our business only stands to benefit.
We also become better equipped to negotiate the hairpin turns everyone eventually comes upon …illness, family issues or death.
And let’s be honest, we probably won’t be on our deathbed wishing we’d spent more time working.

Our jobs continually threaten to overrun our personal lives. This is especially true for those of us who are self-employed.
Herein lies the challenge. So how will we respond?
If we look at it the same way as driving on a winding road, we have two choices:
  • Keep moving forward, full-speed ahead, or
  • Apply the brakes so we don't crash emotionally, spiritually or physically. Worse yet, take the risk of not staying in our own lane!
I love the quote from Adrian Rogers, "Decisions determine destiny."
We don't always have control over every aspect of our life. This is one we do.
So when faced with a voice-over script that Mark Twain would apologize for, remember that it’s no different than a curvy back road.
We’re in control of the read.
When work threatens to overrun our personal lives, remember the risk of crashing emotionally, spiritually or physically.
And the next time we feel disdain for one of those yellow, diamond-shaped caution signs, let’s appreciate why they’re posted in the first place. For our own good.
Lisa Rice landed her first job in voice-over at the age of 18 and has worked as a writer, television and radio producer and on-camera talent in addition to various sales positions. Her one-to-one broadcast radio and television interviews have extended from the White House and Capitol Hill to Nashville. She’s voiced commercials, narrations, e-learning projects, promos and telephone prompts for a wide range of customers including Levolor, Taco Bell, Bristol-Myers Squibb, PBS Kids!, Arm & Hammer and Hill-Rom.
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Comments (4)
Amy Taylor
4/26/2010 at 6:37 PM
Great article, Lisa. And so true. We surely won't be on our deathbed wishing we'd spent more time working. We just took our first family vacation in 5 years. I won't wait that long to take the next one, that's for sure! Even the self-employed need time away from the rat race.
Be well, Amy Taylor
Linda Ristig
4/21/2010 at 8:45 AM

I loved your parallel between adjusting the speed of reads with the importance of finding a balance in life.
Realizing that we are in control of our actions is a valuable point to remember.

The other day I ran across a statement that said, "10% of what happens in life is what happens to you, the other 90% is what you decide you should do to react to it."

"Decisions determine destiny" is a great quote that I'm delighted you shared in your piece.

Thanks for creating your thoughtful, comparative essay! (I wrote a long reaction, because I didn't have time to write a short one!) lol

Best, Linda
Pauul J.Warwick
4/21/2010 at 8:29 AM
Great insightful post, Lisa!
Jay Webb
4/21/2010 at 8:06 AM
This is a lovely article, Lisa. I enjoyed reading and I really like how you've segued into "In life too ..."

I have a small comment about timing of commercials in regard to your statement, "A voice-over for a 30-second spot must come in at exactly that or preferably even a second or two under. If not, the domino effect of one spot running over into another’s time slot comes into play."

That's true. And in addition, in this day of complete automation of some advertising/broadcast facilities, it's not quite so much that spots run over into other time slots, it's that the equipment used to encode and run commercials will CUT THE SPOT OFF at exactly 30 seconds. The editor, and especially the director, has the responsiblity of making sure a 30-second spot is exactly 30 seconds.

In the video world, each second contains roughly 30 frames of video ... and a 30-second spot shouldn't go over even 1 frame. So from there, if a director or editor neglects this, the equipment is usually set to start playing the next spot at the conclusion of the first, which yes, means the domino effect will come into play, and then the last spot in a break will actually be cut short.

I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of a client's wrath if they actually SEE their commercial get cut off during a highly-rated TV show or event.

Anyway, sorry to veer off the subject of your article ... which is great, BTW. Ignore the signs and you'll crash...excellent concept!

Kindly, Jay
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