Continuing with the 10 things you need to know when starting out in voiceover.
Number 9: What do you think is the most important skill in voiceover? Having a voice that melts people’s hearts? Having a voice that is right on trend? Being able to mimic any accent on demand? Here’s another question. What do you need to be a success in voiceover? A high-quality studio? A major coastal agent? A U87 microphone? These questions are asked all the time and the answers used as examples are valid. Yet, one of the great things about voiceover is we get to play with words. Let’s take valid as an example. It is an adjective meaning “having a sound basis in logic or fact”. So, although these answers have sound basis in logic and fact it doesn’t make them right or wrong. The creative world is subjective and there are very few right or wrong answers.
When you listen to people, what draws you in? Humans yearn for connection. We are very social animals. Even socially awkward introverts like me. I am cursed with an extremely short attention span. It is something that I try to improve and work on every day. One of the biggest issues this causes me is when having a conversation with someone. If they don’t capture my interest and keep it, I start thinking about other things and stop listening. I don’t mean to, and it always gets me in to trouble when I have to ask people to repeat themselves. There is a silver lining though. The moments that I get sucked into a story and time just disappears. These moments are visceral. Every time it happens, I am in awe. And after these amazing moments, I spend some time thinking about what it was that was different. What captured my attention in such a way that I hung on every word. As if each consonant and vowel was alive with some kind of magic elixir from times gone by.
So, here’s the more important questions. What makes a good storyteller? What is it that makes us hang on every word that someone says? What qualities do they have? I’m glad you asked! I think it can be broken down into about 5 traits. All these things added together can make somebody reading the phonebook sound interesting. Ok, I’m being a little facetious, but you get my point. Master these skills and you can get closer to fulfilling the human desire that wants, and in truth, needs stories to make sense of the world that we live in.
Empathy. When we listen to a story, we want to feel like the person “gets us”. We want to say in our head; “they understand me”, “yeah, that’s how I feel”, “Yep, I feel that way too”. Authenticity is key to being empathetic. You need to make the listener feel like you understand their problems. That you recognize their emotions. Many scripts are written with a problem at the start which the product is going to solve. This is a great place to show your empathy. If you can’t imagine how that problem affects you, try to imagine how it would feel for someone in that exact situation. Or imagine a situation that you have been in where the same emotions swirl in your head and use that feeling to empathize with the listener.
Enthusiasm. This is a tough one. Many people think that to be enthused, you have to be wild and crazy and sometimes over the top. That’s not really what it’s about. Try and remember the last time you told someone about a product that you just bought that was absolutely game changing. You don’t go and shout in people’s faces that “this is bloody amazing!”, Ok sometimes we do. But more often than not we transmit our enthusiasm through our body language. We gesture more. Our facial expressions are more exaggerated. Our voice changes slightly. An example of this for me recently was upgrading my internet to 1GB fiber and an Eero mesh network. I do think “that it is bloody amazing!” but I don’t shout it in people’s faces. I have a genuine desire to let people know how good the service is. Use experiences like this when you are reading a commercial script to take you to a place where you are naturally enthusiastic and not a cheesy used car salesman.
Think of your story as a gift to others. Part of what a voiceover does is read words that were written by other people in which we had absolutely no control or creative input in. This can sometimes leave us feeling slightly disconnected from the words. Especially if we have no idea what the product or story is that we are discussing. We’ve all read scripts that make us roll our eye’s or shrug our shoulders as if to say that nobody wants to hear this. But that is not our decision. We should not be judging what others do or don’t want to listen to. We are a conduit for the words. The hanger on which the clothes hang. The clothes take center stage, not us. The art of storytelling is sharing a message in a way that inspires people or helps them make a decision that will improve their life. It has nothing to do with you. You should not be stroking your ego. The story, whatever it is, is simply a gift to others.
People must believe you. In other words, they must trust in what you are saying. If they don’t believe you, they are going to stop listening as quickly as my kids do when I try to impart some dad wisdom into their lives. And by that, I mean REALLY quickly. Most humans can smell insincerity a mile away. If someone is not being genuine, there is something in their voice that conveys this. “But Craig, most of the things we say as voiceovers are not true in the sense that we don’t use the product or know the science”, I hear some of you say. And you would be absolutely right. I am the voice of a Gas Analyzer manufacturer. I know NOTHING about gas analyzers. But I do know a lot about electricity, and I have taught people about it. So, I talk about gas analyzers as if I am talking to people about electricity. That makes me sound genuine. It conveys a sense of knowledge and authority about a subject I’m unfamiliar with. This is what we do as voiceovers. We cannot be experts in everything. We can’t have used (and loved) every product we are trying to sell. But we can transpose the necessary feeling from another situation to make it sound like we have.
Leave a piece of you in the story. That usually means showing some form of vulnerability if it fits into the script somewhere. Read the script. Find a section that resonates the most with you on a personal level. A part that actually makes you feel something. Yes, this can be tough. Especially in a 15 second commercial spot. Vulnerability is not necessarily something quiet, sad, or a thing you should be embarrassed about. It is being able to show your true emotion. It is a state of emotional exposure that comes with a certain degree of uncertainty. It doesn’t matter what the emotion is. As long as it is truly you. If the listener can feel your vulnerability, they will connect with you on a personal level. They will listen to what you have to say. And that is what it is all about
None of this is easy. And it shouldn’t be. It’s what makes the great storytellers stand apart. It should be something that we strive for every time we record a script. It can tire you out emotionally and physically. It can frustrate the hell out of you when you just can’t get there. But it is just so rewarding when all comes together. And I want to leave you with a great example of what it sounds like when nearly all 5 come together. Enjoy!