Do you read copy too quickly? Many beginners do. Even experienced entertainers do. It’s a natural phenomenon when under pressure in a new situation. As Jay Leno has advised comics, "If you think you're going too slow, slow down."
But maybe that advice is too easy. It needs to be part of your psyche when you’re on the job. So let’s think a bit more aboutwhy people read too quickly – why you might be reading too quickly, particularly in the case of narration. Maybe understanding the reasons will help counter that urge to speed up.
Reason 1: The job is exciting. To a voice actor, that’s good. A VO job – every acting job -- should feel exciting. Translate that feeling into the energy that helps you engage your listener. Energy also maintains their interest – and yours.
Reason 2: The text is exciting. Whether it’s about otter moms, a murder mystery, or new technology, exciting subject matter may seem to merit extra enthusiasm in the form of speed. But speed is not the only way to express enthusiasm. More important is the expression of “thought.” Emotion. In fact, if it’s a narration, it generally requires a bit slower approach than some other genres, because the listener needs time to observe visuals, share in the emotion, and let the thoughts sink in.
Reason 3: The text is not exciting. It might be about a financial statement, a routine announcement, or a subject you’re just not all that interested in. But it’s of interest to somebody, or you wouldn’t have been hired to record it. So muster up an appropriate energy level, and don’t rush this type of script, either. Allsavoring the words, no matter how dry. In any case, unless clearly a case where you’re asked to speed up (e.g., legally required “fine print” such as we’ve all heard and rarely grasped), the thing to do with an unexciting script is to find the energy in it, not rush to get it over with.
Reason 4: You don’t want to sound boring. Trust us, text read in a monotone, without emotion, without energy, without inflection, and/or without clarity will sound boring no matter how fast you read it. Slowing down a bit will enable you to focus on these other factors.
Reason 5: People read silently even faster. When people read to themselves, they usually read even more quickly than when reading aloud. So, when you’re reading aloud, and you’re slower, that’s slow enough, right? No, for all the reasons mentioned above, and one more: the fact that none of the above matters much (or at all) to your listener!
- Your getting this exciting assignment is irrelevant to your listener.
- The listener is not necessarily excited about the subject, let alone this particular text until you (and the visual) make them so.
- If anything will bore them, it’s not words that are spoken too slowly; it's thoughts that are spoken so quickly that they can't mentally keep up.
- They don’t have the script, so it’s not like reading to one’s self – neither silently nor aloud; if you slur a word, or if a phrase is confusing, or if they are momentarily distracted, they can’t go back. (Or at best, it’s inconvenient.) You could lose them.
So now you have plenty of reasons to slow down. But how? Apart from applying Jay Leno’s advice, that is?
Do this: Go online or on TV and record examples of produced videos featuring excellent narration. They should be by well-known professional narrators, as opposed to a scientist or a celebrity (although there are many good examples from those groups, too). Write out, oh, about a minute’s worth of each script. Then record yourself as you read along with the recording. Listen back to yourself and note any differences. Keep at it until you habitually have similar pacing.
A word of caution, though: The point of this exercise is to demonstrate pacing, phrasing and diction, not to make you sound exactly like those other narrators. You are you. That is one of your unique strengths. And, as we said, pacing will vary based on genre, script situation and other factors.