Voice-acting tip: breathing life into lists

Voice-acting listsPretty much all of the books on becoming a voice-over actor will teach you how to perform a list of two or more items. Basically, each item in the list must sound different than the previously spoken item, with each one sounding better than the last. The most common approach is to assign a different vocal pitch to each item. For example: a low-middle-high or a middle-high-low read for lists of three items. For lists of four or more, alternating your pitch in a low-middle-low-middle fashion is a common practice.

But this approach can often lack the ever-important emotional punch.

In this post, I’d like to share with you a wonderful voice acting technique that will help you to breathe life into the lists that often appear in voice-over scripts.

The purpose of the list

Quite often, the lists that appear in commercial scripts are meant to introduce the benefits of the product or service being discussed. For example, in a typical car spot you might see a sentence like this:

“You get air conditioning, power steering, anti-lock brakes…even dual airbags.”

Each of these benefits is meant to wet the listener’s appetite and entice the listener into buying this particular car. Which means, of course, that as a voice actor it is your job to make each one of these benefits sound like “mana from the gods” without sounding like an announcer or crossing the boundary into the land of “sappy, melodramatic overacting.”

And just how does one go about that?

Making it personal

In order to breathe life into these often-dull and lifeless scripted lists one must first ask oneself, “What does each one mean to me personally?”

Using the example script above, think about how you feel about having air conditioning in your car — especially on a hot summer’s day. Imagine your relief when you finally escape the oppressive, baking sun by hopping into your air-conditioned car. If you’re as old as I am and can remember the days before power steering, imagine the first time you ever drove a car with power steering. Think about what anti-lock brakes and then dual airbags mean to you (hint: the reason they are listed is because they are a safety feature that brings peace of mind.)

Now that you have your own, personal answers to the importance of each of the items in the list, practice reading each one out loud with those emotions firmly in mind. Don’t read through all four items at once — not yet. Instead, practice each one individually until you solidify the image each one has to you. With that accomplished, then try reading the list. As always, record yourself and listen back to your performance. If you formed personal images of each item in the list correctly, then you should be able to hear it in your read.


Hopefully this post will help you make lists sound more believable. But please keep this in mind: this is only the tip of the list-reading iceberg. There is a lot more that can be said on the subject (a few being smoothly flowing from one item to the next, reading the list so that it sets up the sentence that follows, and taking into account the overall goal that the script is trying to achieve.) But, if you are a beginner to voice-over acting, these tips will help you get even closer to voice-over perfection.


  1. Thanks for the VO tips!
    I also have heard about reading lists using different tones, but I like how your tips will bring out more personal feelings.

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