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Approaching Copy: A Dozen Ways
To Prepare For The Perfect Read 
By Michelle Summers
Agent / Talent Relations
VO Planet
The effort you put into analyzing your approach to voice-over copy - whether for an audition or recording for a client - will define your professionalism and skill. Yes, even the tiniest bit of copy deserves your full preparation.
Following are a dozen questions to ask yourself and steps to take, to make your reads stand out.

1. Who is your target audience and what is your role?
Make it up if you don't know. Is it your wife, your neighbor, your best friend, a guy off the street?

2. What is the setting?
Are you indoors, outdoors, in an arena? Are you speaking to someone close or across the room, to a single person or an audience?
3. What is the main message?
What are you selling? What is the point you are trying to get across?

4. What attitude are you trying to portray?
Happy, friendly, somber ...?
Verbally and physically portray that attitude. Physicality comes through in your reads.
5. What would make you want to buy this product, use the service, or listen?
For instance, hard-sell, soft-sell, compelling ...
Record a couple of different reads with different ideas and see which you like best.

6. Use your hands to direct yourself and create emphasis in copy.
Remember that physicality comes through in your read.
For instance, imagine that I am speaking to you in the following copy - the mic is your ear. The copy is:
John! You need to back up out of my face!

I say it this way:
"John" (when saying the word “you,” I place emphasis on that word and I use my finger to poke into an imaginary chest) "YOU need to back up out of" (point at my own chest when saying “my”) "MY face."
This will all come through in your read, and the difference is incredible. Try it!
Read once with no physicality, then read with physicality and play back the reads. Listen for the differences!

7. Treat the mic as the ear of the person you are speaking to.
Is the person you are speaking to next to you? Are they across the room? Are you whispering?
These are all things you need to take into account and work with.
If the person is close to you, speak normally into the mic. But if the person is across the room, back up off the mic and raise your voice a bit, as if you are yelling across the room. If you are whispering, talk softly and quietly. Get a little closer to the mic.

8. Mark up your copy to show when emotions need to change.
For instance, you'll voice it differently when the person is close, when he or she is far away, or when you need to create emphasis or add an expression or laugh.

9. Ignore punctuation.
Many times, copy is written by the writer who isn't paying attention to the emotions that need to be brought through in the copy.
Make it up yourself and improvise! For instance, ignore a period when needed, or turn it into an exclamation point.

10. Add emotion to the copy where needed through laughs, gasps and other sound effects.
Check this example for an animated movie.

Specs: Anita, a child-like pixie, approximately 10 years of age. The copy:

Princess Amelia!
Diane, Baxter, Lily - come quick!
It's the Princess!
With a lot of improvisation and "making it up," here is my translation and my thoughts before giving a read:
  • This is an animated movie. I am a young pixie, so I will give two takes - one in a regular child-like voice, and the second in a quicker, small squeaky voice.
  • Line 1, I am speaking to the princess.
  • Lines 2 and 3, I am speaking to my friends across the room.
  • Perhaps we are in a ballroom celebrating the princess’s birthday.
  • Line 1, I am portraying excitement, and awe continues into Line 2 with an acceleration of excitement into giddiness
  • Line 3 portrays all of the above, and happiness.

So now I go into the studio and stand before the mic with my marked up copy.
  • Line 1: I take a deep breath and start with a huge gasp. Then with excitement, but also a bit of question in my voice (I changed the exclamation to a question mark) Princess Amelia?
  • Line 2: A bit back from the mic, my excitement can't be contained. In a Sniffles the mouse-like way I yell to my friends: Diane, Baxter, Lily - come quick!
  • Line 3: Back to a normal distance to the mic, and having changed the exclamation to a state of awe: It's the princess.

Yes, for these three short lines, that much thought and preparation should go into your audition.

11. Be comfortable!
This means not only being comfortable with yourself, but also wearing comfortable clothing.
For instance, you wouldn't go into the studio in an overly-starched shirt because:
  • the mic would pick up noise from movement of the shirt, and 
  • it wouldn't be comfortable to wear.
Leave the jewelry and perfume home, too.  
Jewelry can make noise. And if you are going on location to record, don’t wear strong cologne or perfume either. It can be off-putting - not only to the producer/director, but also to other talent who might be allergic to those aromas.
12. Finally, trust yourself! TRUST YOURSELF!
Michelle Summers is an agent and talent representative with VO Planet, the online casting and voice-over talent agency. Involved with the entertainment industry for over 16 years including as a model and for the past 10 years, as an agent, she represents clients with a strong background in marketing and advertising.
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