I’ve voiced modules for opticians, lab techs, surgeons, pharmacists, power plant operators, shopkeepers… You name it, I did it. The great thing is that most of these courses get updated every few years, and that means return business!
Once I’m done writing this story, I’ll get back to a module about a popular brand of e-bikes I voiced a few years ago. What I particularly love about eLearning is that, as I am teaching, I am picking up useful information myself.
MOTOR BIKE MAN
I remember one of my last visits to the Netherlands. Out of curiosity I walked into a Harley-Davidson dealership, and talked to the owner. Half-way through the conversation he looked at me, and said:
“This is so strange… I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m sure I have never met you, but you sound so familiar!”
I told him: “That’s because I’m the guy that introduces all the new models, and teaches you how to service them. I’ve been doing it for years.”
Until that time, I had been a voice without a face. Now he could put two and two together, and he got a kick out of that.
THE THREE QUALITIES
Since eLearning is practically my bread and butter, I wondered: what makes a good eLearning narrator? Is the ability to teach via voice over something you are born with, or can it be eLearned?
The number one requisite any eLearning narrator has to have, is something that’s required for every voice over: Understandability.
For people to comprehend what you’re saying, they need to be able to understand every word. In some cases, it could be a matter of life and death. For instance, if -for a medical module- the physicians aren’t clear on the correct dosage of a certain medication, they could potentially kill a patient.
Every time a listener is left wondering: “What on earth is the narrator saying?” you lose the all-important connection. And if people aren’t connected to the material, they are distracted and aren’t learning anything.
THE RIGHT EMPHASIS
What also makes a text easier to understand has to do with the way you emphasize what’s important, and leave alone what is not. If you emphasize too many words and phrases, the listener gets confused. That’s why I always prepare my scripts before recording them. I never cold read an eLearning script. I take a cue from actor Peter Coyote, the voice of many Ken Burns documentaries. Coyote once said:
“The challenge of taking the reader through complex sentences, with lots of clauses and subclauses, is something I have an idiot savant’s talent to be able to do. I have a very wide peripheral vision. I can see when a comma is coming, I can see when a period is coming and I have to dismount. I understand what I’m reading — fully.”
He continues: “I’m attempting to be as transparent as possible. I don’t want you to pay attention to the beautiful quality of my voice, or my articulation, or anything like that. I want to just be there to serve that film.”
This leads us to the next quality.
The second requirement is for you to come across as an approachable authority. You need to display what I call a “kind confidence.” Even if you don’t know what you are talking about, you have to sound as if you know what you are talking about. In order to do that, you also need two things you won’t find on the shelves of your local supermarket: intelligence and education.
Well-educated people make the best eLearning narrators because they are better at understanding the material they are teaching. Once a person understands something, you can hear it in their voice. It doesn’t mean they need to be an expert on the topic, but they need to have a basic grasp of the material.
Lastly, eLearning narrators have to be engaging. With that I mean they should have the ability to make learning easy and enjoyable, even if the material is dry and poorly written. If you’re just going to recite facts, don’t expect anyone to remember anything.
Here’s my rule of thumb that applies to all areas of voice over:
If you want the listener to care, you have to care first.
Remember: YOU provide the human connection between the listener and the material. If you sound like a robot, the client might as well outsource it to a robot. Synthetic voices are a lot cheaper and they don’t need any sleep!
Please don’t give your clients yet another reason to explore text-to-speech software. We all know it’s already being used, and good jobs are lost because of it. This trend is doing no one a favor, except the people who control the money and who always want more for less.
Are we on the same page?