Voice-acting tips from
"The Art of Voice Acting Workshop"

Thought Pacing

If you’re an actor, voice-artist, professional speaker, or ever need to speak to an audience from a prepared script, this concept can literally change your life and the way you communicate!

Your brain processes information in different ways depending on what the information is, how you receive it or deliver it, and how the information is intended to be used. The left hemisphere of your brain handles linear, sequential, information like words in a book or on a script. Your right hemisphere processes non-linear, random, information and is responsible for the way you respond to surprises, your sense of humor, and your ability to improvise or come up with an idea on the “spur of the moment.” Here’s an easy way to remember this: Left = Logical, Right = Ridiculous.

You instinctively use both hemispheres all the time and switch back and forth frequently throughout the day. Women tend to have a better ability to process information in both hemispheres simultaneously, while most men are primarily operating from one side or the other at any given time.

Understanding this left-brain/right-brain idea is important in order to understand the concept of “thought pacing” and how you will speak when you are on-mic, on-stage, on-camera or in front of an audience. When you read the words on a script, you are primarily using your left-brain because a script is a linear, sequential series of words. In order to bring life to those words, you need to use your creative, right-brain. When you hear someone who sounds like they are “reading” the script, it’s because they are stuck in their left-brain and they either aren’t able, or aren’t allowing themselves, to move into their right brain to create a believable, conversational, interpretation. This is a very common problem for people starting out in voice-over without any acting or performing experience. There’s a fairly simple way to quickly “get off the page” and bring the words in a script to life. I call it “Thought Pacing.”

When we have a script in front of us, the tendency is to “read” or deliver the words at a consistent speed (pace) with consistent energy, variety and interpretation (dynamics). This is OK when we read silently to ourselves, because this is how most of learned to read. But it isn’t an effective way to deliver a written script with spoken words. Part of the reason we tend to deliver our interpretation at a steady pace when reading out loud is because we instinctively know that everything is there in the script. There’s a lack of spontaneity because we don’t need to put any thought into what we are saying. The interpretation is based on how the script is processed through the left-brain and a creative interpretation is done through the right-brain as the words leave the mouth. When the spoken words sound a bit stiff, or awkward, it’s usually the result of just reading the words without “thinking” about what you are doing. Even an experienced performer can fall into the trap of “reading” a script from time to time.

“Thought Pacing” is based on the idea of telling the story rather than reading the words. When you are just talking with someone in a casual conversation, you tend to say things spontaneously. You’re simply telling your story. As you tell your story you will naturally “think” about what you are saying, you will slow down, pause, speed up, falter on some words, emphasize other words, add physical energy, add drama, add emotion, or do something that is completely real and true for you as you tell your story. That’s what “Thought Pacing” is all about: delivering a script in exactly the same way you would speak the words if they were coming right off the top of your head. In other words, even as you are reading from a script, the words you speak should sound as though you just “thought” them up as you are say them. The result is that your interpretation and delivery become completely natural and conversational.

A perfect example of where “Thought Pacing” is especially useful is during an ellipses (those three dots . . . ) that you’ll sometimes see in a script. An ellipses is used by the writer to indicate a break in the thought flow of a character or to show an interruption. We break our flow in conversation all the time whenever our thoughts are interrupted (by ourselves or someone else) or we change direction in mid-sentence. When this interruption in our thought flow happens, we don’t just stop thinking – and we don’t just stop making sounds. Our thoughts actually continue after, or through, the interruption, and even though we may stop talking, we will often utter some other sounds like the first part of the next word we were going to say, or simply just a mumble.

When you encounter an ellipses . . . in a script . . . it’s your opportunity to use “Thought Pacing”. Whether they come in the middle or at the end of a sentence, those three dots give you permission as an actor to do something . . . anything! Don’t just stop talking! Use that opportunity to bring the words to life by doing what you do naturally. Speak the line as though you just thought of it for the very first time, and use “Thought Pacing” to embellish your delivery with believability and naturalness.

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