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Voice Over Too Long? What to do when there are too many words and not enough time


Voice Over Too Long? What to do when there are too many words and not enough time

By Susan Berkley

I hope that as your voice over career starts to take off and you begin booking spots…

I hope that they are all national commercials. I hope that they are union commercials so you make lots of residuals. And I especially hope that you get to experience the thrill of reading incredibly well-written copy in a beautiful, state-of-the-art recording studio. And that in that studio you are directed by a brilliant director, on hiatus from Hollywood, a man or woman who is so skilled, that they bring out the best in you. And then, this commercial… no, this work of ART… goes on to win awards and make millions for the advertiser. And that you will be recognized as the VOICE that made it all happen.

I wish this for you. I really do.

But unfortunately, the more likely scenario is this.

You’ll probably book lots of local spots.

You know the ones I mean. Commercials for the big sale at Bob’s Big and Tall menswear store. Spots for the local county fair. Car dealerships. Dentists. Eye doctors. Local nightspots and restaurants.

These commercials are what they call “down and dirty.” They’re written by an account executive at the local ad agency or by the clients themselves. And invariably, they all write the perfect :75 spot.

If you’re lucky, the writer made a half hearted attempt to be interesting or entertaining. But usually, these commercials are nothing more than a data dump and your job is to (as our Career Launcher Coach Randy Dean so brilliantly put it) cram “10 lbs. of B.S. into a 5 gallon bucket.”.

The commercial needs to be :60 of course. Or maybe even :58. And the script is about 10 pages long! Every last detail is crammed in there. And you start to sweat because no human alive can say all those words so fast.

So what do you do?

When I spy an overly long spot I say to the client: “Let me put one down for you so you can see where I’m going with this.”

And then I take a deep breath, start the stop watch on my iPhone and then FLY through the copy as fast as I can. Remember that fast-talking Federal Express commercial from a few years back? Well, I read it even faster. When I’m done I say, “There you have it. Sixty seconds on the nose.” And then I smile sweetly, send it to the client and wait for their reaction.

“Gee,” they say. “That sure was fast! I guess we have to cut some copy.”

I’m thinking “D’uh yeah.” And then I sit back and wait while they re-write the spot.

Why do I go through this little exercise? Because someone was paid money to write this stuff and I don’t want to step on their toes or offend them by saying there’s something wrong with the copy. And if the client wrote it, it’s their baby. To criticize the copy is like saying their kid is fat and ugly. So it’s especially important to be diplomatic and lead them to draw their own conclusions.

Yes, in voice-over as in life, a little diplomacy goes a long way.


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Susan Berkley is a top voice over artist and founder of The Great Voice Company, a company devoted to teaching great voices around the world how to become successful voice over actors.

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