Hiring a voice over or learning how to speak?

Hi colleagues,

I'm preparing a new software simulation course. I've recorded my screen and my voice and... it's highly depressing. I listen to one of your tutorials, then try to do something similar, with a warm and fresh tone, and when I listen to the result, I feel like sleeping... or going away.

I usually hire voice over for this, but in this case, I found it better to record my voice as I record the video. I think that if I hire the voice here, there'll be problems when syncing, and the result won't be fresh.

I've been searching for info about diction courses and it seems I should do some exercises every day: read loud, read with closed teeth, read making getures... Do you think it's worth it? Will I really improve with this or it's better to rely on professionals?

I'm interested in hearing about your experiences. Thanks a lot!

18 Replies
OWEN HOLT

I've used my wife for audio narration and I like the results while she hates them. I've used myself for audio and I am not overly fond of the results. In either case, learners haven't had an issue with either of our voices. The point is, maybe you are just being too critical of yourself. In my experience, most people don't like the sound of their own recorded voice. We can't all sound like Bruce Graham.

You might try having some of your target learners view several small learning snippits and solicit their feedback on the form, functionality, content, and voice. By asking about several things, they won't know that the thing you are most interested in is how you sound to them.

Michael Harris

On top of my day job as jack-of-all-trades training manager, I'm an aspiring voice talent. Almost without a doubt the exercises will help you improve, perhaps in ways you haven't imagined. The main difference between a person with a pleasant speaking voice and a professional is the professional has made a decision to augment native ability with continual practice and critical listening, possibly with the help of a voice coach.

To learn to like the sound of your own voice you have to listen, identify what you don't like (often more than one thing), and correct self-defeating habits. In less time than you think, you will hear remarkable improvement and become confident in your ability to get the job done right. It's like learning to play an instrument, except the instrument is your voice.

Susan Edwards

Michael's suggestion is great. Also, check out your local colleges and libraries, see if they have the program of audio recording books. There's a lot of part-time talent recording those books who may be able to lend you their voice.

While I don't think I have the best voice, I'm requested for audio recordings! I am an NPR junkie so I'm constantly listening to audio podcasts. I firmly believe my boys talked early and well because we always listened to NPR and audiobooks.

Keep going, don't stop talking!

Robert Jordan

Hello!

I'm new here, but I've done a lot of narration, broadcasting, commercials, voice-overs and master of ceremony work. My work in military broadcasting earned me a Golden Mike Award. I teach speech writing and delivery at the Defense Information School.

Here's my two cents--smooth, professional delivery is no longer a "must." In fact, voices with character may be an asset, as long as you enunciate clearly, use proper pronunciation, and vary your inflection and tone so you don't speak in a monotone.

Key to developing a good speaking voice is to exercise your voice by singing, practicing words that you find difficult, and by tuning your ear to your voice by recording it and playing it back. Before you record, minimize drinking coffee and hydrate your throat instead by sipping water. Relax your throat before you speak ...and use your diaphram (your stomach) to project and strengthen your voice.

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Belen:

Nice profile pic, btw. In the end, a professional voiceover talent will get you better results, and they aren't much more expensive than a good ID (often cheaper, actually). But if you like to do voiceover, I bet there's opportunity for you to do so. The nice thing about being an ID who does voiceover is that you already have a foot in the door. And you also know the content backward and forward. These two things can be a huge advantage.

I found Alburger's Art of Voice Acting to be very helpful in my VO work. Sort of a Bible for beginning voiceover talent.

I would suggest, though, that if a course is to be sold to clients you bring in a pro. People expect a lot when they are actually paying for a course. Hope some of this helps. I love VO so please PM with any other questions. --Daniel

Belen Casado

Hi all,

Thank you for your answers. I really expected more answers like Daniel's, as I find a lot of difference between hearing a pro and hearing an amateur (thanks for what you say about my pic). 

I think it's a good idea what Owen said, to ask some future learners about several things on a short part of the course, one of them being the VO. I agree that not all of us can have the nice voice of Bruce Graham...

I've always admired good voices. Maybe you don't know it, but it's important in my decision: in Spain, all movies are voice-overed (don't know if this is the way to say it). I mean that we never listen to Robert de Niro or Susan Sarandon, but Spanish voices instead. This makes our market to expect professional voices in anything.

I think that it's very important what Michael and Susan said, to learn to like your voice. To be fond of listening to podcasts, radio etc. is also a question of being "Auditive", someone that learns by hearing. I'm more visual.

In my case I don't feel bad with my voice, as I've appeared in presentations and I've taught in-class lots of years. When I teach, my voice is loud because I see my students. When I record my voice it's feeble and sleepy, maybe I should imagine my students with me.

I like the point of Robert: "voices with character may be an asset". As there's such a tradition of "voice-overing" everything, Spanish pros tend to record courses as if they were adverts. I ask them to be natural and conversational, but still, they tend to be like spots.

So... today I'll write an script and read it. Before it, I'll do some exercises of reading aloud and vocalizing and I'll give myself 2 or 3 days more to make the decision.

I really appreciate your feedback.

Belen

Bruce Graham

<blushing>

Look...I'm just a middle-child that never felt they were heard...and look what happened

Loads of great advice here.

Alburger is great, as is "Finding Your Voice" by Barbara Houseman.

You have to remember that talking is not the same as speaking. One is natural, one has to be learned, and practiced.

Any voice has the potential to be a beautiful tool, and as Robert says - all voices are now acceptable, so long as the communication is clear. Voiceovers (in the UK certainly) used to be the preserve of the "plummy" voice, but with the democratisation of media that is certainly no longer the case.

As said - learn to love your voice. I used to hate mine. I still wish I could do more things with it, but I am now comfortable with it. I do not do "character" voices, but I try to use the full vocal variation of my voice to add character to my voiceovers.  Visualising your audience can be powerful. Very often I rehearse the lines a couple of time, then close my eyes to record, imagining someone is there.

If you are going to record, try and do so in one session - I find my setup, (not a full studio - but a South-facing office in my garden) ) is affected by climatic conditions, (moist/dry air etc.). If I have to do edits some time after the event it can often be quite hard to get the same sound and a good match.

I have taken to drinking jasmine tea a lot, I find it lubricates my mouth, gums and lips which can make nasty clicking sounds otherwise. I call them "squodges", as I have to edit out "squodge" sounds in post-production.

I have been doing v/o for about 4 years now, the 1st 3 months were hell - I hard a sore throat, you HAVE to look after the gear that makes it all work. I always keep Vocalzone tables handy. My voice is now able to hit much lower notes than before, I can sing carols at Christmas now in entirety, without having to change from the "low" to a "high" version half way through

A voice trainer can be fantastic. I has 3 visits to one - he helped me over one particular problem I had from schooldays - it took 10 seconds of explanation. One thing that opened my eyes (or vocal chords?) was when he explained that the PACING of words often reflects the subject. For example, in Shakespeare's "Richard III" there is the famous "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" speech. He delivered that to me in the style of many great actors. He then delivered it to me in the style of many great actors while riding a horse. It TOTALLY changed the feeling of it, something I would never had thought was so powerful. I try, very hard to FEEL my delivery as well as speak it.

I now always try to think "musically" about my voice - is this jazz, classical, "pop"? The timbre and pacing of your voice is very like music. You will have to learn how to enunciate - sometimes stretching your mouth and lips at the end of words, often at the exact point where we relax and drop the volume when we are speaking.

Persevere - like any skill, you need to practice. Learn how to use your microphone and editing software. Learn a new word every day, love words. It can add a perfect service to your eLearning portfolio when it works well.

Take care - good luck.

Bruce

PS - my Mum (who has a very "received English" delivery) still thinks I speak poorly and too much

T. Travis

Hi Belen,

OK.... Here are some "Secrets" of professional voice talent ("ssshh, don't tell anybody")

(1)  Everybody hates the sound of their own voice.  It's impossible to evaluate your own voiceover.  As a beginning voiceover talent, it doesn't matter whether you're doing great, or not - you will hate everything you hear.  It takes people years (It took me about twenty) to get accustomed to the sound of their own voice.  Get input from people who will be honest with you about your ability to communicate.

(2)  The primary requirement for any voiceover talent, whether amateur or pro, is to get out of the way of the material. - To not distract from the message.  You can have a great voice and still not be able to communicate..  Likewise, you can have a terrible voice, and, if you find a way to actually communicate with it - you've done your job.

(3)  The most important element in "getting out of the way of the material" is sincerity.  If you mean what you say, and allow that to come through your narration, it will be TONS better than if you attempt to fake it.  That means, of course, that you need to understand the material before talking. 

(4)  For voiceover, the emotional content is everything.  Even very dry, technical mater must be narrated with emotion.  What emotion? The narrator should actually believe the material is interesting - and allow (not force) that to come through the narration.

(5)  At the beginning of the program, establish who you are.  For instance, in the first few words of my narrations, I establish that I am a professional narrator - Though I may not be an authority of the subject, I show that I have taken the time to understand the material I'm communicating, that I care about the message and the audience, and, by inference, that the people who hired the messenger care also. I do this solely through the "tone" of my narration, in the first few words of the narration, usually in the "welcome" sentence.  Again, it's about sincerity. 

As a "non-pro", you would be best served to also communicate who you are to your audience. What might seem like "deficiencies" in your voice can also be charming - and allow your audience to identify with you.  You can do this with actual words, ("Hi this is the first time I've narrated one of my instructional programs...." ) through text on-screen or through the tone of your narration.

-Travis

Bruce Graham

@Travis

Top notch advice.

You have to love and or be immersed in your subject - no matter what it is.

I remember trying once to be enthusiastic and sound convincing on a course named "The Benefits of Infrared Flush Urinals compared to Water Flush"; when I started I thought my life had just about gone as low as it could

I got there eventually

Bruce

Pam Richmond

I'm not a pro voiceover actor, but when I need to record my own narration, I did some research and found the following tips helpful.

  • Smile, smile, smile while you narrate - it addswarmth and personality
  • Drink lots of water (preferably warm, nocaffeine), don't clear your throat (do the panting puppy instead), avoid dairy
  • Your state of mind influences your voice — notonly whether you are tense and nervous, but also how you perceive yourself. Ifyou perceive yourself to be “outgoing, strong, forceful, and intelligent,” yourvoice will reflect that. Ultimately it’s your state of mind that determineswhether you can relax properly.
  • Standing up while speaking opens the diaphragm
  • Talk with your hands (might be hard if you're recording a software demo)
  • Use your "head voice" - direct yourvoice up through your head.  Not throughthe lips or throat or the nose.  Givesyour voice a nice quality.
  • Draw on a repertory group of at least five ofyour real friends whom you imagine you’re speaking to when preparing to readcopy. You should select one appropriate friend that you imagine you’re speakingto when you read copy. In order to make this real, you’ll create a scene with awho, what, and where.
Sources: http://idratherbewriting.com/2010/03/10/4-avoiding-plosives-and-breathing-noises-developing-a-personal-voice-in-audio/

I also like to run my audio files through Levelator, which seems to make the quality a little richer.  I don't have a particularly strong voice, so this helped.

Marci LaValley

Hi Belen,

I started out as an amateur because we didn't have the option to hire a voice over. I hated the way I sounded and thought the same thing.  When I listen back it just doesn't sound like others that do it so well.  I think I sound very boring and plain. However, I get compliments on my voice.  I still don't like my voice, but if others are happy with it, then who cares, right?  Anyway, here are my tips:

1.  I smile while narrating. I actually can tell a difference in my voice.

2.  I used to be a teacher and so when I do the narration I envision myself holding up a book and reading or of me just telling a story. I didn't do this originally. I just tried it this way because I wasn't liking the way I sounded.  Big difference!

3.  I definitely use  gestures just like I would if I was training/teaching live.  Just  be careful.  If your mic is sensitive it will pick up your movement.  I have had to learn to control my movement so it wont pick up.

Good luck!

I am sure you sound way better than what you think!!

Marci

Steve Lyne

Hi Belen,

At the risk of giving you information overload following the great posts above, can I offer my experience along with the rest?  

I use Articulate full time and exclusively and do all of my own voice-overs.  I am not a voice-over specialist at all - in fact I really didn't like listening to myself initially.  That was because initially I was producing rubbish - very much of the zzzzzzz stuff of which you spoke.  

However, following the advice above and a couple of things I'll add - you may find it much better to do your own.

One of the real advantages is that it's much easier to update any projects with any new information.  Clients often want a small thing changed - one of the advantages I preach about what I can offer is the ability to keep the material up to date quickly and cheaply.  If you have bought in voice work it is often hard to get the same person again when you need them, resulting in delays, cost and often you end up not doing anything because it's too hard.

To avoid sounding like you're trying to put the user to sleep you obviously need to be more animated than you would be in general conversation.  It's a different mode of speaking, even though you are speaking personally and directly to a single-person audience.  This initially sounds false and over-the-top but you'll quickly work out the right level.

Good oral reading involves varying the Pitch, Pace and Volume of your reading; and to make sure you make good use of the Pause.  You need to read quite slowly and make sure that you clearly pronounce the last syllable of every word (this, itself, will slow you down).  Poor diction will annoy a listener far far quicker than any perceived lack of voice quality.

But - THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT is a well-written script.  The script should have balanced phrasing and not use expressions that tie up your tongue, or create breathing issues.  The script should engage the listener wherever possible with things like appropriate level of humour, rhetorical questions etc etc.  A good script is 80% of the job.

Hope some this helps,

Steve

Tamworth

Australia

Bruce Graham

@Steve makes a VERY important re the script making you tongue-tied.

I always reserve the right to change words to avoid this and it is IMHO one of the main reasons why you need to rehearse your v/o OUT LOUD.

Rehearsing by sub-vocalising (using the "voice in your head") does not involve your lips, so very often you will fall flat by relying on it. Practicing loud also help you hear where the pauses etc. should be, a "PowerPoint Notes" script, not matter how well-written by an SME will seldom be written for oral delivery, so we have to take that responsibility.

Bruce

Nancy Woinoski

Bruce Graham said:

@Steve makes a VERY important re the script making you tongue-tied.

I always reserve the right to change words to avoid this and it is IMHO one of the main reasons why you need to rehearse your v/o OUT LOUD.

Rehearsing by sub-vocalising (using the "voice in your head") does not involve your lips, so very often you will fall flat by relying on it. Practicing loud also help you hear where the pauses etc. should be, a "PowerPoint Notes" script, not matter how well-written by an SME will seldom be written for oral delivery, so we have to take that responsibility.

Bruce


As a note to people writing the scripts - it is always a good idea to read what you write out loud as you are working on the material. If your own writing makes you tongue-tied then your narrator (no matter how good) will have trouble as well.

Andrew Sellon

Sorry I'm finding this thread so late!  I'm a professional actor and voiceover artist, as well as an ID with a distinct fondness for Storyline, so I have to chime in on this one.    Belen, you've had terrific advice from many people on this thread.  I actually teach a full-day eLearning voiceovers bootcamp for companies who have their SMEs creating eLearning content internally.  I also coach people one-on-one.  I teach my students that there are three levels of preparation that lead to voiceover success:

  • Prepare your script and practice with it (Make your word choice sound like someone talking, not reading.  And ALWAYS speak your draft aloud, then replace any words or phrases that are tricky for you)
  • Prepare your voice (There are a host of exercises that can help; first you need to identify where you most need improvement: vowels, consonants, flexibility of vocal range, etc.  Then you can find exercises that best meet your specific needs.)
  • Prepare your tech (Choose a good quality mike, buy a pop filter, and I recommend recording in Audacity or another software outside of Storyline, so that you have more control over editing)  I will actually be doing a brief post on Friday, 8/22 about basic components on my blog: www.sellonsolutions.com/blog 

I think many of us would emphasize that there is no replacement for practice--and guided practice with a good teacher will help you improve more quickly, if you want to do voiceovers regularly for your projects.  And I agree wholeheartedly with those folks on this thread who highlight the importance of finding an emotional connection with what you're saying.  Regardless of the topic, you have to sound like you want to talk about it because it's good/important (that's where the "smile" trick can often help).  Having a reason to speak will help give your voice the sense of "energy" you say it currently lacks.  You need to sound like you want to share this great information.  

A voiceover can be a classic neutral narrator, or something with more personality--you need to be able to choose the voice that best suits your specific material.  Sometimes that might be you; other times, you might need to hire a pro.  Sometimes a regional accent will make the voiceover more appealing to the target audience--at other times, it may be offputting.  Make the best choice for each individual project.  As to pro talent, many of us are out there, and for reasonable fees.  And most of us who are in the business are around and available for updates at a later time--something you may be less likely to find if you use local amateur talent.

When you can combine a sense of purpose with a free, natural, and clear delivery, you'll be in the voiceover "zone."  And when you're in the zone, your learners will genuinely listen to what you're saying and absorb it.  If you're adding voiceover to eLearning, "okay" delivery will not serve your content or your learners well.  It really does need to be good to be compelling.  And with some work, it can be!  

Myres Hopkins

Hi Belen, I confess I didn´t read all answers here to see if what I say is already mentioned. I hate my voice, but what I do is I use Sony Vegas Pro for voice recording of my scripts. I am always cutting stitching to fix what I record, and I learn how to say as I go. It generates a sound track that I can still edit by lowering pitch, adding some reverb... The final .mp3 128 CD quality is compatible with Articulate. Then I go to ... say: Presenter, 'import audio' and it works fine. Other sound editting softwares would do the job, like Audacity. But there are some things in Sony Vegas that makes my work easier. Of course I already had in my PC Sony Vegas Pro, and the reason I use it is because I am translating the audio of a video and recording a new translated sound track. Hope it helps.