Recommendations for On-Air Oral Interpretation: ‘Speak in thoughts. Not in words.’

With his permission, I’m sharing this news writing and delivery advice from legendary TV news manager Paul Davis. — CM


1. Never read “words.” Communicate “thoughts” and phrases. For example, a name and title is not a series of words but a single thought. Seldom should you emphasize the second word of a two-word “thought” except to show contrast to a previous “thought.”

2. Most sentences have two main parts. Rather than mark a script for emphasis, mark it for thoughts. As for emphasis, except in rare instances, choose only ONE word to stress in each sentence part. Most often, no emphasis is required.

3. The rest of the phrasing should be with normal speech pattern. The sentence “sound” goes downhill melodically to a mid-point then goes back up to start the second half downhill trip. (Consider the reading of each half-sentence a downhill ski slope or a plane landing.)

4. Always begin speaking in the lower half of your normal voice range, especially when using emphasis or inflection.

5. You are speaking with one or two persons max in most homes. Speak to them on the air as if you were sitting in the same room. Ask yourself. “Is this how I talk with people in their presence?”

6. When in an outdoor stand-up or live shot, always speak to the microphone. Don’t get caught shouting to the distant camera. The microphone is very close to your mouth.

7. Avoid melodrama in the voice on sad stories or working too hard to tell the viewer how funny it is.

8. Try speaking variations. For example, speak more softly. Not slower or with less energy. Just less forcefully. Take risks, such as running words together, mini-pauses or speeding up as alternative techniques to spikes.


9. Using a page of sheet music, write down (score) the approximate “notes” of your sentence delivery. Look for repetition and patterns. Pay close consideration to patterns in one sentence being in many others. Check repetitious stressing at the beginning or near the end of sentences.

10. Practice your oral interpretation skills on non-news material. Try reading out loud
poems by Edgar Allan Poe, the Book of Ecclesiastes or a Browning sonnet. Use poetic license to break up the predictable rhythm of poetry. Make the poetry sound like prose.
Then, practice altering the predictable, pattern-rich reading of news stories.

— Paul M. Davis


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