As someone who coaches voice actors, I’ve noticed that one of the most common areas people want to improve has to do with their DELIVERY. The word “conversational” is often mentioned. But here’s the thing…
If you want something to sound truly conversational, the script has to be written that way. As I’m sure you know, most scripts are written to be READ, not SPOKEN. Every word has been carefully crafted, weighed, and approved by numerous people who make much more money than you or I do.
SCRIPTS ARE UNNATURAL
So, these neatly manicured scripts do not resemble “normal” human speech in any way, shape, or form. They tend to be formal and deliberate. Real conversations are informal and spontaneous.
Secondly, voice overs are usually not hired to speak like “normal” people do. VO’s are paid to sound clean, clear, and fluent. Normal people mumble and stumble, they slur their words, they… pause, and they use meaningless fillers (a.k.a. vocal disfluencies) like “um”and “ah.”
Normal people use words like, ah… “kind of,” or “sort of,” you know…right? Or they start a sentence with “So…” or “Well….” Normal people hesitate, repeat, and repair (correct themselves), and don’t finish their thoughts.
And for the past decade or longer, people like started using the word “like,” like in every sentence, like you won’t believe…
Here’s an example from a website for people learning English:
My mom was like, “Where are you going?” and I was like, “To the movies with Jenny” and so she was like, “What time are you coming home” and I was like, “At midnight I guess” and she was like, “Isn’t that a bit late?” and I was like…..
So, if you need to cram a lot of text into a short video, you’re not likely to waste it on these unnecessary words and expressions, are you? That’s like… silly. Now, since you cannot change the script, the only thing you have any influence over is your delivery. I mean your timbre and tempo, your enunciation, and your tone of voice.
ARE YOU A LOUDMOUTH?
One thing that’s rarely mentioned in this context is the VOLUME of your voice. I remember facilitating a group read, when I observed an interesting phenomenon. While people were chit chatting they spoke at a normal volume, but as soon as it was their time to read a sample script, all of a sudden they put on their “voice over voice,” and began speaking much louder. Why?
It sounded so unnatural, and certainly not conversational.
I said: “You’re not in an auditorium. You don’t have to reach the last seat in the theater. The microphone is right in front of your mouth. Pretend it’s my ear. You don’t want to yell in my ear, do you?”
Now, there are good reasons why people suddenly feel inclined to raise their voice. The setting for a live group read is very different from being one person recording in a vocal booth. Whenever other people are listening, we become a public speaker who wants to be heard. It could also have to do with anxiety.
Anxious people will make their voice louder, because they’re trying to cover up how nervous they feel. They might not even be aware of how loudly they’re talking because there are so many emotions running through their minds. Then we have people who compensate for their shyness by speaking louder.
When we feel anxious, our bodies go into a fight-or-flight mode. This causes huge levels of adrenaline to pump through our bodies, and this often speeds up our speech and raises our volume levels.
And finally, some folks get louder because they feel it makes them sound more important. They just want to be the center of attention.
LOWER YOUR VOICE
Voice overs don’t need to be the center of attention. That’s why they are called a voice OVER. When asked what people remember of a commercial, they will rarely say “that amazing voice actor.” What they will recall are the vivid images and the expressions on the faces of the on-screen actors. In a competition between pictures and sound, pictures always win.
Again: there’s no need to raise your voice as soon as you’re behind the microphone. In fact, I suggest you experiment with doing the opposite.
As soon as you lower your level, you already sound more intimate; more conversational. But there are other benefits to not raising your voice. Your vocal folds will last longer, and your voice doesn’t bounce off the walls creating flutter echoes. If you’re recording in a less than ideal space and lower your voice, it won’t sound as if you’re talking in a tiled bathroom, especially when you use a microphone with a narrow polar pattern (like a shotgun).
Mind you: I don’t recommend you whisper which is bad for your voice. Just lower it a couple of decibels.
Quite often, a script delivered in a soft-spoken voice can be more powerful than when the actor is yelling. Here’s a brilliant example:
Notice that Williams was still able to modulate and color his voice for emphasis, without speaking up.
Of course there are scripts that require you to to yell, or simply raise your voice. But even then it’s more about the intensity of the performance, than about shouting at the top of your lungs. Instead of ruining your vocal folds, try moving closer to the microphone, and die a thousands uncomfortable deaths for that blockbuster video game.
Your ENT will certainly approve!