Voice Over Education Blog

July 2016

The value of observing conversational etiquette at the mic

With the U.S. Presidential Election season under full steam, maybe you’ve encountered situations where people you know are talking (or more likely posting) rather heatedly, even to other friends. It might be nice to remind them that there are common rules of etiquette for polite conversation, and even passionate discussion. But that’s not why we mention this here. We mention it because the rules of conversational etiquette can also serve you well in your reads.

We don’t mean “booth etiquette,” such as “don’t adjust the mic” and “take direction.” That’s important, but here we’re talking about the etiquette between you and your listener. The fact that you never actually hear them makes it even more important.

Listen, don’t just talk. This may be Rule #1 for having a rewarding conversation. Obviously, it’s a hard rule to follow when your listener can’t respond. But you can follow it in spirit. Before you begin your read, imagine your listener’s situation. Where are they? What were they doing before you started? Are they still doing it, or have the stopped to pay attention? Do they agree with you, or disagree, or are you just irrelevant noise in the background of their day? Do they know the subject your script is about, or are you bringing them up to speed? Knowing more about your listener will give you clues as to your best choice of tone and use of emotion.

(Note also that, although your “listener” is often a wide array of people in a great many situations, most reads should be person-to-person, not like a PA announcement; that’s why we use the singular, and why you should try to identify whatever qualities your audience may have in common.)

What does your voice say, about what you say with it?

Has the demise of the “goldenthroat” been premature? For decades now, clients in the voice-over industry have trended away from seeking “great voices,” instead favoring “real” voices from people who know how speak conversationally. In short, casting pros want actors, not announcers. Where the VO world once relied on a deep male voice to convey authority (a form of credibility), now the industry wants talent with the acting chops to produce credibility of a different, more personal sort.

But research has shown that, even today, in everyday situations a deep voice is more credible than a higher voice. How does that square with “reality”?

The simple answer is this: Some people have naturally have a deep voice, and so, for them, a deep voice is natural. If you happen to be one of them, lucky you. But you still need to be able to use it well.

And for those tenors and sopranos among us, we should look at this more meaningfully.

First, let’s look at some findings. (And we remind our reader that these are general findings; there are many exceptions.)

Follow your VO passion? Or love the one you’re with?

Do you dream of doing voice-over work? Should you pursue your passion? Let’s talk about that, starting with the other extreme.

If anyone knows about occupations that are not typically considered “dream” jobs, it’s actor, presenter and voice talent Mike Rowe, the host of TV’s “Dirty Jobs.” Although those pursuits may not be dream jobs, the people he profiles seem pretty enthusiastic about their work and are careful to do it well. Rowe has noted their dedication. It’s why he says, “Don’t follow your passion.”


Rowe has been making this point for years. He says, “'Follow your passion' is terrible advice.”

We hasten to elaborate – he means it’s bad to give such advice to someone you know nothing about. People shouldn’t follow their passion blindly. His point is that only being passionate about something does not necessarily make you good at it. Passion alone is okay for a hobby, but not necessarily for making a living.

Using his own life as an example, Rowe relates how his grandfather was a natural carpenter. Mike took all the shop classes in school, but by age 16, it had become obvious that he didn’t have his grandparent’s genius with lumber. On seeing a project that Mike brought home from wood shop, his grandfather advised him, “Mike, you can still be a tradesman, but only if you get yourself a different kind of toolbox.”

So, as an adult, after trying his hand at various types of performance jobs, he found a trade that he does excel at: Narration and hosting (although he characterizes his on-camera “Dirty Jobs” role more as being a stand-in for the viewer).

How to read VO copy inhumanly fast on purpose. Part 2 of 2

NOTE: This is the second post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 1!

Last week we discussed ways to speed up or slow down a read while still making it sound natural. But there are times when copy has to be squeezed into a timeframe that would not be humanly possible to fit without some technical manipulation.

When you know your read is going to be sped up – a lot – are there things you can do to make the end result more intelligible and at least more natural?

Yes, there are. Edge Studio’s David Goldberg discusses them in his classes, which includes feedback from other voice professionals who have been in such situations. Here’s a sneak peek at his advice ...

Did you miss last week's article? Click here to read last week's article — 6 Ways to read VO copy faster or slower, still naturally.

However, first some background. Contrary to what you might think, many tags and disclaimers are not presented unusually quickly. Actually, many sound natural. Because they blend in, they tend to go unnoticed, which is often a good thing as far as the advertiser is concerned, considering that disclaimers are by nature “negative.” People typically only notice unnatural things.

But, as we’ve all heard, there are times when a natural read just won’t fit. “Fast talk” is required. And, although the words may go by the listener so quickly that they won’t all be caught, let alone remembered, it is nevertheless important that they be understandable.

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