Reading Prepared Material

By Candice Coleman, Ph.D.

Most radio broadcasters are speaking ad lib when they’re on the air and the style is usually conversational. However, when they have to read a news item or commercial, the style will often change. It can sound forced, formal and stilted. This can be true for anyone who is reading prepared material, whether it’s a play script, a speech or even the Bible.

We’ve all been told to “just look natural” when having our picture taken. What does this mean!?! Easier said than done! We run into a similar issue when trying to “just sound conversational.” We don’t usually know what that means either.

Never fear, there is a way to develop that more “natural” sound.

There are logical principles and conversational patterns explained in a subject called Analytical Reading which underlie our everyday, conversational speech and can be applied to what we read. Most are explained in Giving The Sense: How to Read Aloud with Meaning by Nedra Newkirk Lamar and the Institute of Analytical Reading. When you understand them, it’s much easier to determine what to stress and where to pause. The subject is called Analytical Reading. Don’t let the term “analytical” throw you. Although you’ll be required to look carefully at your copy or text, it isn’t as daunting a task as it may sound and definitely gets easier with practice.

Remember the voice over in a flea collar commercial a few years ago? The talent read the line:

Kills fleas///and tick for six months.

He made it sound as if the collar was going to explode! Obviously, the meaning the company wanted to get across was that their product would kill BOTH fleas and ticks for a six month period of time. The talent distorted the meaning. A more meaningful and logical read would have been:

Kills fleas and ticks / for six months.

You can avoid a blunder like this by following the guidelines below.

 In conversation we usually:

  • Stress new ideas and subdue old ones. For example,

The weather today will be rainy. I know that we’re all tired of the rain.

In the second sentence you’d probably stress “tired” because it’s the new information. You wouldn’t stress “rain” in that sentence (I know we’re all tired of the rain.) because it’s an old idea and would sound forced. In fact, if you were just talking, you probably wouldn’t say “rain” at all, but substitute the pronoun “it” (I know we’re all tired of it.) Read this last sentence out loud stressing “it.” Notice how unnatural it feels and sounds.

If you can substitute a pronoun for a word or leave it out without changing the meaning, you generally shouldn’t stress it. (See Giving the Sense, p. 15.)

  • Stress contrasting ideas.

    There were plenty of roses for sale at market today, but fewer peonies.

    See how “natural” is sounds to stress “roses” and “peonies”? It’s because we do this unconsciously in conversation. As a guide, after finding the new and old ideas, look for contrasts. (Giving the Sense, p. 26)

  • Stress the last name of a person or company unless it’s a contrast.

    Candy Coleman, Edward Jones, Saks Fifth Avenue

    However, when a contrast is present the emphasis shifts.

    I talked to Candy Coleman today, but didn’t see David Coleman.

    This is one of those areas when using the illogical emphasis will surely give away the fact that you’re reading instead of speaking. It won’t ring true to your listener’s ear.

  • Pause between a subject and verb, especially when the subject is very long.

About 2,000 members of an international trade organization / will arrive
in London today for their annual meeting.

It’s logical and conversational to pause between “organization” and “will.” Remember that your listeners only get to hear the sentence once and you want to make certain that they understand the meaning. Logical pauses help them to do that. (Giving the Sense, p. 67)

Although these are just a four of many logical principles and conversational patterns which underlie North American English, if you begin to use them, they’ll help your prepared material sound as if you are simply speaking.

You see, there really is a way to “just sound natural.”

For more information and guidance, check out The Expressive Voice System by Dr. Coleman.

If you read sacred texts, click here for more articles directly related to this aspect of reading aloud.

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©2019, Say It Well! Permission is given to reprint this article if the following is included: Reprinted by permission of Dr. Candice M. Coleman. She can be reached at 386-402-7047.

Troy McClenathan