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Voice Over Training: Reading Numbers on a Script

They are so familiar; we use them everyday, yet when it comes to reading numbers in a voice over context they can present a bit of a problem. I want to show you how best to do this so you are not bamboozled by those bothersome digits.

At first sight the idea that you should be tripped up by a load of numbers seems silly - surely they are part of our everyday language and in such common usage that they just roll off the tongue. However anyone who has had to quote a telephone number will know it is not always straightforward; how do you break up the read? Is there a set pattern or rhythm?  And what about that dreaded zero?

What's Your Number?

How would you say this innocuous looking fictitious telephone number: 08006261534 ? Simple right? Er well no, because there are numerous variations and  first of all we have to decide how we want to say the zero; is it zero or 'oh'.  I don't think anyone would say it is 'nought' in this case, so we are left with  two alternatives. 

The answer is it doesn't really matter - oh or zero would be perfectly acceptable, BUT what does matter (and this is the important thing for voice actors) you must be consistent. Do not start by saying 'oh eight hundred zero zero six etc'. It needs to be a constant pronunciation. So if we use the 'oh' it would read: 
'oh eight hundred double oh six .....  ' Notice that we can't say 'oh oh' as this would sound odd, so 'double oh' works better on the ear.

When you do come across two numbers the same, whether they are noughts or not, underline the pair in your script. In our example this would look like this on the page 08006261534. Some voice over artists prefer to write the whole thing out in words and I will discuss the merits of this in a moment.

I said we are left with two alternatives, but in reality there are more than this, because you could say 'oh eight hundred' or 'zero eight hundred' thus substituting the double digit for 'hundred'. In a commercial script the phone number is accompanied by a call to action  "call now on 08006261534".. If you are starting to get number blindness, which can easily happen on an advertising script, then make it easy for yourself. Substitute words for numbers.

Spell it Out

Once you have decided on the pronunciation for your zero/oh and whether you are going to read the double digit or use the hundred nomenclature, then write it out in words. This may seem long winded, but it will be easier in the long run and stop you tripping up as you read; it will also allow you to be confident that you are being totally consistent. An example could be 

                                              oh eight hundred six two six one five three four.

Now we have the issue of rhythm. It is important to split up the number to make it easier to read from your perspective, but also to make it easier to listen to. In our case I suggest marking with a comma or slash where the pause should be. On your script it will look like this:

oh eight hundred, six two six, one five three four

 or equally valid is this:
zero eight / double zero / six two six / one five three four

But don't forget, you do not want to vary this - every time the number appears in the script it has to be delivered exactly the same way. Because of this need for consistency, make sure you decide beforehand how you are going to approach the numbers and write them the same way. 

But what about the names of the year?

 Date Dilemma

Before the twenty first century, it was fairly easy: nineteen sixty one, eighteen twelve. All clear cut. But since the year 2000 (I say two thousand) we have reached a conundrum. Should 2014 be two thousand and fourteen or twenty fourteen? I think the jury is still out on this one, but again consistency is the key. Also as with your phone numbers, make sure you write it out in words so that you say the year the same way each time. 

What I do recommend is liaising closely with your client. Most have a specific way they want the date (or any string of numbers for that matter) read. Once you have ascertained that, you can work on marking this out on your script. 

So don't let the numbers go to your head, make sure you know how you are going to read the date or phone numbers out before you even open your mouth, write them out in words (if that's easiest on your eye) and then you are all set to deliver the script with confidence. 

You can count on that. 

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Gary Terzza is a voice over coach 
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