Diction, Clarity, and Pacing Makes for Good Communication

Pen-Pen Chen

Diction, clarity, and pacing are crucial for communication in general, but are especially important for voice over professionals because our listeners have to hear every single word clearly. Talk to any engineer and they’ll tell you there is only so much they can do to cover up a sloppy read. A slurred phrase, weird pauses, and glottal stops add hours to the editing process, and can run production costs through the roof. This does not exactly inspire a casting professional to use you as a voice talent again. As a voice artist, if you do not focus on your diction, clarity, and pacing the communication process will break down, listeners will think “what’d they say?” and you will not be hired again. So how can you ensure that every word you say is clear, natural, and precise, and this communication breakdown between you and the listener doesn’t happen?

What you need to do is to understand the components that contribute to optimal speech and language conditions. These are just the very basics, but if you can focus on your listening, your breathing, and your body language, this will have a direct impact on your diction, clarity, and pacing. This will improve the communication process between you and your listeners, and make everyone happy. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Train your ears: Our ears are like our receptive antennas, so we want to train them to hear the difference between the target utterance we are aiming for vs. what we are actually producing.  If we can’t hear the difference between the current vs. target, then we, more often than not, cannot be properly directed to make a meaningful change in our delivery. You need to be able to hear if you are reading too fast or too slow, if you are slurring words, and if your reads are choppy. Without training your ears to hear your own reads, you cannot hope to effectively communicate with your listeners, and it will be very difficult to master diction, clarity and pacing.
  2. Check in with yourself and make sure you are breathing.  This sounds like a silly thing to pay attention to, because we are alive, obviously, we are breathing.  It is the foundation of not only our speech, but life itself.  However, are we breathing in a way that allows us to showcase our greatest potential?  For most of us, the answer is no.  And we typically don’t realize this, because we typically don’t think about our breathing, which is good because then we would be in trouble when we slept.  However, in our waking life, our breathing is something that we can also control.  Our natural tendency is to breathe from our chest, but this is ineffective and results in a shallow exchange of air, which renders our voices less effective.  If we learn to breathe with our diagrams, we can have a much fuller experience and more endurance in our sound and more strength in our words (Check out this article on  Diaphragmatic Breathing to learn more). Breathing from our diaphragms gives us more stamina for our reads, and allows us to keep a nice even pace for each phrase. That way, we don’t speed up our lines to hit the end of the phrase before our breath runs out. Breathing properly is the foundation for good diction, clarity, and pacing, and therefore essential for voice actors to understand.
  3. Body Language: While our listeners may not see our face and expressions, they can hear and likewise detect emotion through our voices.  Many of us don’t realize this, but we tend to hold our breath, clench our jaws, elevate our shoulders, clench our fists, and even scrunch the muscles in our face when we are stressed-out or nervous or frustrated (ever been stressed out in the booth? Not exactly optimal conditions for a record.).  When our muscles are tense, that not only restricts our breathing, but also limits our ability to have flexibility and facility with our instrument, our voice, and thus our sound quality and diction suffers.
  4. Practice with Precise Placement and Movements in Mind: In terms of the “clarity” in Diction, Clarity and Pacing, we need to further develop facility in our articulators (mouth, lips, tongue, etc.), by making sure the placement of our articulators and their respective movements are what we intend, rather than what we may be familiar with doing out of habit. Much like an athlete training in a sport; to achieve precise, calculated movements we need to establish new movement patterns. This creates new muscle memory that will result in clear, crisp sounds.  It is these sounds that are the basis for our words which is the foundation of conveying meaning.  The bottom line here is if our words are not clear, our message will not be clear, and if our message is not clear, then we have not delivered on what our clients hired us to do.

I know- this is a lot to keep in mind when you are in the booth. When in doubt, slow down and make sure to articulate all the sounds that are appropriate for your message.  This is a bit of a Goldilocks situation where we need to find the “just rightness” of our pronunciation to get our diction, clarity, and pacing to where it needs to be.  Sometimes we overcompensate by over-enunciating and end up sounding like a robot.  Other times, when we are told to  “sound more natural,” “be more casual,” we start to under-articulate and drop sounds, especially endings or words.  For example, ‘went,’ without a clear “t” sound at the end will sound like ‘when.’  Just dropping that one little “t” sound changes the whole meaning of the spot.  Companies would not be thrilled, to say the least, with having their message lost or misrepresented or we may not even get the gig because our read was not clear.

If this sounds a lot like a “pat-your-head-and-rub-your-stomach-at-the-same-time” situation, don’t worry- that’s where Edge Studio can help. You can always book a session with me and we can work one-on-one if you are having diction issues. We can come up with an effective game plan to ensure you are able to communicate with your listeners every time you step into the booth. Also, be sure to tune into my upcoming class, “Diction, Clarity, and Pacing” on Sunday, February 28th where we will dive into these areas and make sure you have the skills and knowledge to become the most effective communicator possible. This will help with everything from your demo records, to auditions, and especially when you book that next gig.

It is always helpful to get feedback from others, especially a professional coach about topics like diction, clarity, and pacing. So don’t be shy, ask an Edge Studio team member to lend an ear, and ask them the million dollar question, “Did I make myself clear?”