How To Build Your Cold Reading Skills

One of the greatest assets you can develop as an actor is to become a strong cold reader.  This skill requires attention and practice.

The best, most basic way to develop your cold reading skills is to read anything and everything out loud, and with great frequency.

When you’re given a script for an audition, be sure to read it no fewer than six times through—OUT LOUD—just to discover what the script is trying to say. Of course, the degree of difficulty will vary from project to project, but it’s imperative you animate the read fully. Read it slowly. Over-enunciate and over-animate your delivery during your first few reads. You’ll be creating something of a muscle memory not unlike an athlete. The object is to expand your performance playing field from the very start to offer the best possible performance options. Then, drop this pretense and simply—deliver.

Avoid giving yourself too long a runway by ramping up into your performance. This can occur when you (unwittingly) find yourself attempting to craft only one ‘perfect take’. Far too often the unfortunate effect from this approach is a stiff, affected, robotic delivery, which can be extremely difficult to break out of after only a small handful of takes.

Your goal as a talent is to offer a number of honest, appropriate options within the parameters of the project. The result will be uniquely YOU, which is the most valuable thing you can play.

All the more reason to be sure you coach privately a few times a year with a respected coach, such as ACTORS’ SOUND ADVICE. Your objective is to sharpen your performance muscle; otherwise, these skills will atrophy. Enlist a coach who will record these sessions. Then be sure to listen to them in their entirety within 48 – 72 hours afterward in order to fully comprehend what your coach is imparting to you. Monitoring afterward will allow you to determine honestly whether you gave yourself the command then fully executed what you had intended or had been directed to do.

If you’re already a strong cold reader—wonderful! Then, the primary caution that befalls you is becoming too set in your ways by offering the same repetitive performance option again and again and again with no room for discovery or play, or neglecting to address the unique attention each script demands.

In most circumstances we’re required as voice actors to get the script on its feet as soon as possible while offering our own unique point-of-view, sincere interest, and plenty of room to simply play. There’s nothing but discovery and joy in it when we do. This is especially true when the text is dull and lacking any imagery. We’re paid to have a pulse. Keeping on top of our performance skills insures that at a moment’s notice, we’re sure to supply one.

Kate McClanaghan

Kate McClanaghan is a casting director, producer, and founder of both BIG HOUSE CASTING & AUDIO (Chicago and Los Angeles) and ACTORS’ SOUND ADVICE. Kate is a seasoned industry veteran and actress who has trained and produced demos for more than 5,000 talent over the years. Kate has developed a unique, custom-tailored approach to establishing, expanding and maintaining a professional career as a working actor and voice-over. Her approach is detailed in The SOUND ADVICE Encyclopedia of Voice-over & the Business of Being a Working Talent.