Voice Actors Should Have This Down Cold – Cold Reading!

The voice over job I recorded yesterday for a big name client wasn’t out of the ordinary…

Both of the actors had to show up without having seen the script.

It happens. You get booked on a job that records the next day and the script is still being written. If you’re a working voice talent it’s going to happen. I’ve seen it over and over again. It’s not about to change.

So, what do you do to prepare yourself for that kind of situation?

The two talent on the job yesterday both have years of experience and many jobs under their belts. But what if you don’t? One of the most important things to have in your arsenal is so simple but it’s often overlooked. Sure, it’s great to work on script interpretation, determining your audience, etc. and be able to make those choices quickly. But I’m talking about something even more basic than that. I’m talking about…

Cold reading skills!

Cold reading is when you perform the written piece as you are viewing it for the first time, and I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to a voice actor to be able to do this well. Even in the most time-crunch situations, the talent is usually given a moment to glance over the script, right? Well, usually…but not always… And there are situations that arise where solid cold reading skills will give you the advantage. Some scripts are too long to proofread if you don’t get them in advance. What if it’s a 50 page training module? The producer, director, and engineer aren’t going to expect to wait around while you read through and mark up the script. They’re all there waiting to start the recording. Get in the booth and go! Script-revisions Even if you get the script way ahead of time you’re still not safe from the dreaded… …script revisions! From misplaced punctuation and misspellings to complete rewrites of whole paragraphs, I’ve seen it all on the job as both an engineer and as a voice talent. You have to be able to adapt to sudden changes. A strong cold reader is always ready for anything. Reading for another role… There’s been many times throughout the years where I’ll have someone switch roles at an audition or have them audition for a completely different project that just came in…and I have to keep the rest of my day moving. If you can grab the new script and go, I’m happy. It’s happened to me on the job! One of the most defining moments in my short but successful career as a voice talent happened during my second voice over job ever. I had just a few lines in a much larger project that included many of the area’s accomplished voice talent. The producers had us do a cold read upon arrival and as soon as they heard my younger sounding voice they immediately recast me as the lead role…


In an instant, I had gone from just a few lines to most of the lines on every page of this 10-page script! I was able to keep my cool and let the mechanics of my cold reading skills go to work leaving my mind clear to make the performance choices the directors asked of me. That’s what it’s all about! The professional voice actor can pick up a piece of new copy and spout it off as if it were the thoughts in their mind, with the perfect inflection and cadence to get the meaning across.

How do the pros do it? …..I’ll tell you!

The trick is…for your eyes to be scanning a few words ahead of what your mouth is reading. This mere second gives your amazing brain enough time to process those few words and how they should be spoken before you actually speak them. This takes the right kind of practice.

Say it Loud! Say it Proud!

  • Forget reading in your head! My instructors and I are constantly telling our students to read out loud every day for at least 10 minutes. There are areas of your mind that have to be working perfectly with the parts of your body that control breath and speech. The more you do it, the easier it gets and you’ll find yourself doing it naturally…and being able to scan farther ahead.
  • Mumbling it to yourself quietly doesn’t cut it! It’s much better in your full voice as if you are doing the actual recording. It is as much of a physical exercise as it is mental, and you want to get as close as possible to what you’ll do in a sound booth…and speaking of…
  • Put yourself on the spot! Supersize the value of all that cold reading by doing it in front of others. Especially if you’re new to the biz, performing in front of others can be a little unnerving. I’ve seen people too nervous to effectively voice a job. This is a situation an actor never wants to be in. Producers and directors will be hanging on your every syllable and pointing out even the tiniest flaw in the read. Expect it. It’s their job. Ask friends and family to help you with your cold reading by listening in. They might not have the ears of a seasoned director but the more comfortable you can get reading well (and making mistakes) in front of others, the better.
  • Words are everywhere! The back of the cereal box. Magazines. Web pages. How about those informational pamphlets at the doctor’s office?! Mix it up and also challenge yourself.It’s great when you’re hired to be the voice of a project. You become part of a team of creative professionals working passionately to get a certain message across to their audience. I absolutely love the experience of directing and being directed…the moments when talent and director connect and make art by exploring concepts, sharing ideas and painting with words. During that wonderful process the last thing you want to be worried about is your reading.

So read out loud as much as you can and build that sturdy base for your acting skills to grow from! …And most importantly… Have fun!

Rob Holt - Voice BoxRob Holt is an obsessively passionate voice over professional in the Philadelphia area, specializing in casting, recording, producing, and coaching voice overs. After the company where Rob was VO department head closed its doors in 2010, he struck out on his own and formed Voice Box, subsequently transforming him from voice over enthusiast to all out nut! Whether he should be committed or he’s just really committed to his craft, Rob has poured his passion into 100’s of voice over jobs, working with big name companies and small shops alike, as well as the area’s top voice talent. Rob also produces inspiring voice demos for area talent and his many students.

10 thoughts on “Voice Actors Should Have This Down Cold – Cold Reading!”

  1. Rob Holt - UPDATE

    UPDATE: Since I wrote this earlier last week the exact scenario I described above happened TWICE that I know of.

    First example: About a half hour before Veteran VO Actor, Charlie Roney comes in to do a pick up session of two lines for and earlier job we did, the client sends another long script that they want to bang out at the same session. Charlie handled the complex material that he’d never seen before like a true pro in front of 3 clients…I was sitting there thinking, God he’s good!

    Second example: I’m talking to Dan Shea, another actor friend of mine on the phone and he tells me about a session he did that week were he got the 6-page script ahead of time and went through it thoroughly, marking his pages as he went (which is always good to do). As he was walking into the booth, the engineer hands him a total re-write of the script that the clients had just sent! His cold reading saved the day.

  2. Well, I just practiced my cold reading by reading this hot bunch of info :oD I just wish that all informative articles were so filled with energy and yet succinct! Thank you, Rob!

  3. Thanks Rob! Welcome back to your email list.
    @ Andrea: I just did the same thing. In fact, I read almost everything out loud. (I’m not welcome in libraries anymore)
    See you soon, Rob.

  4. Nice one Rob. All good advice. I’m trying to remember – when was the last time I got a script in advance with any of the jobs we did together? Cold-reading is an essential skill.

    Now: book me tomorrow & throw 50 pages at me please! 😉

    1. Hey Mark! Nice to hear from you, my friend. From your lips to God’s ears as they say!

  5. Such valuable insights! I read out loud daily to my cat and he licks my nose every time….. really!! Guess it’s working for him. Anxiously waiting for new copy!

    1. Well Robin, that’s one lucky cat getting to listen to your rich, sultry voice! Miss you. It’s been a while.

  6. Thanks Carol Anne. Gee, I’m getting comments from some heavy hitters. People might start to think I really do know what I’m talking about, LOL! I know, Charlie is so good. I’ve been fortunate enough to have him on the job countless times. Makes my job so much easier. Plus his voice just records well. Needs very little post processing. My claim to fame…I gave him my dog. It’s true!

  7. Thanks Cathy for yet another great example of why it’s so important. Plus, a certain producer who will remain nameless could invent a few new reads the day of your demo recording session and throw them at you to record.. 😉

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