Number of narrators

I am in the process of developing an e-learning course on ethics for nurses. With some trepidation, I have decided to do the entire course in StoryLine (past e-courses have been done in AP with which I am much more familiar). The learning module will be a combination of narrated presentation mixed with scenarios and interactive exercises.

Based on some past experimentation we did, I find that I much prefer two people doing the narration as compared to either a single female or single male narrator. (Single as "one" not as in "not married").

There is just something much more engaging about listening to two people talking, rather than being talked to by one person. No matter how professional and good the narrator is, after 5 to 10 minutes, it is difficult to stay attentive and focused.

Part of this I believe is due to our experience with media, especially television. Notice that newscasts, sports events and other how-to shows typically have a couple of people. Have you ever watched a baseball game or soccer match on TV with only one broadcaster? It all seems very boring and unnatural.

The other factor is that the human brain is sensitive to changes in the environment (e.g., when another person speaks). Therefore it is easier to maintain your attention when the conversation goes back and forth. The other reason that I think that we find a conversation more interesting, is that we as humans are naturally snoopy. I, anyway, always like to listen in on other people's conversations.  

Going with a couple of narrators does mean more work and expense. However, I think it is worth it. I would like to tap the collective wisdom and experience of this community to help me answer several questions:

1. Has, or does, anyone use two (or more) narrators for their e-learning courses? If so what have your experiences been?

2. What should the relationship be between the narrators - teacher and student, co-anchors, broadcaster and color commentator, or team instructors?

3. What format should the narration take ... conversation, question and answers, formal presentation by the speakers taking turns, or a combination of all of these?

4. What should the tone of the narration be - serious, light-hearted, fun, mysterious, or what?   

I grew up in the golden era of radio shows. I grew up listening to such radio shows as Dragnet, the Lone Ranger, Gene Authry, Jack Benny, etc. I remember how interesting and captivating those shows were. Now if only I could make my e-learning narration (audio) as interesting. Or am I dreaming and venturing too far into the world of edutainment?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic. Thanks.


10 Replies
Bruce Graham


If there is a reason for the 2 narrators, (for example an appraisal situation), just get them to speak as though it were an appraisal!

I have just built an entire course that is a dialogue between 2 x people, (and then his "conscience" - done by echoing his normal voice).

Just try a few options, it works well, but get your voice talent make it real rather than stilted "acting". I had to turn down dozens of "Equity Luvvies" before I found voices that sounded real!


Clashing Dragon

Currently I am building a course with two voices. Male and Female. Initially when I drafted the content I made it single female voice but then I realised if i have to make this subject interesting and convey the message to the audience I can do well with 2 characters. So I am still building it. The two characters are colleagues and they greet each other on the intial slide and the converstation starts. the objective is described to audience as a concern or as a story. In fact I am trying to build this as  a comic character. The two characters take turn. Initially the female starts with good points and then the male character takes about the good points. I feel some content can be well described with two characters. Single character makes it monotonous and it sounds like a standalore presentation. I believe e-learning should be tought with lot of engaging options. since it is an alternate method of classroom and we dont know whether the audience is actually engaged or listening to the content. so to make it ineteresting we need to think out of box approach and tap the human mind and explain the subject in a crisp manner. I am yet to see how people react after my course is launched. I am excited hope the audience enjoys the new formula.

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Russ:

I guess it comes down to how interesting and relevant the content is. I listen to audiobooks, which have just one narrator, and if the content and performance are good, I'm engaged.

Having said that, two narrators can work well. Sort of like in art, make sure the voices contrast -- e.g., male and female voice. Two voices will make your "audio engineer's" job more labor intensive, but it sounds as if you think it worth the extra expense. Remember, that when you have to do retakes (which you very well may have to), you'll have to drag both VOs back into the studio.

As far as delivery style, I wouldn't overthink it. A natural, conversational style is usually best, unless the content call for something else.

Heather Beaudoin (Steckley)

I was surprised by the response we got to this in our project.  We used two narrators (internal to development team).  We did this during the first draft cycle because 1) I was working on the Storyline bits, and 2) my teammate was working on the software demo bits.  So, we each recorded our own parts... so it had nothing to do with having two different characters.

We assumed the internal reviewers would say it was distracting to have a voice change for no reason.  I was surprised to hear them all say they loved that... it helped hold their interest more.  So, we're going to release it to our customers that way and gauge their feedback.

Steve Flowers

I like the idea of multiple voices to signal changes. It produces a contrast that makes it clear a mode has shifted. For example, you might have a main narrator take on technical components and another provide procedural advice. Personally, I'd be hesitant to shift narrators arbitrarily. But if there's a strategy behind it, digging it. Especially if it's for different flavors of articulation or characterization.

Having the same narrator change their voice characterization can produce the same effect. Like Daniel, I listen to a lot of audio books. Last book I listened to was 15 hours long. I don't enjoy the single narrator stuff as much as the full cast (loved American Gods unabridged full cast) but it's still enjoyable because of the changes in pace, inflection, and intonation. 

Andy Bowyer

Hi Russ--

As an eLearning narrator (in addition to narrating everything else from TV commercials to audiobooks), being able to "bounce off" someone else can be a real joy, even if you're not in the same studio or even hear the other person's work.  But the success of such a task comes down to the way a script is written, and how that written script is marked-up for the voice talent providing the narrations. 

To give a VO person as much context as possible is always a good thing. Also, up front communication is always appreciated, for example, if you're not using two VO people in the same place at the same time (a luxury that is beginning to go by the wayside in many cases), be sure to tell your narrators in your initial emails or phone calls or whatever "Hey--in these sections you'll be 'passing off' the narration to another announcer, so make sure your inflections indicate this." Most professional narrators will be able to handle this without missing a beat. In some cases, you'll likely get a few takes of certain sections for "safety" to make sure the inflections match the other person as closely and appropriately as possible.

Hope this helps.

Oh--and I LOVE OTR. I really like the Bob Bailey era of "Yours Truly Johnny Dollar", the Gielgud/Richardson incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, "The Third Man" with Orson Welles...ah, I can't name 'em all.


Russ Sawchuk

Thank you all for your comments, feedback and tips. In the example I provided, I was fortunate enough to get two narrators (F / M) who had worked together before and were able to be in the same studio. I am hoping to do the same for this project. But it is comforting to hear that having separate narrators can also work with some planning.

Thanks again,


Rebecca Fleisch Cordeiro

Hi Russ,

I'm a bit late to the party, and you may have already decided on format and tone:

"3. What format should the narration take ... conversation, question and answers, formal presentation by the speakers taking turns, or a combination of all of these?

4. What should the tone of the narration be - serious, light-hearted, fun, mysterious, or what? "

...but just in case, Richard Mayer (and Moreno, I think, and undoubtedly others) recommend presenting in a conversational and informal style and suggest this is one method to foster generative processing.

I like the idea of a male and female voice, but regarding whether one narrator is "necessarily" boring, couldn't resist also throwing in a funny comment by my late mother in reference to remarks here about audio books by Daniel and Steve - and which I too love.

Anyway, my mother became legally blind in her 30's and was a voracious reader of "talking books" (beginning with LPs back in "the day") provided by Perkins Institute for the Blind. The narrators are often professional actors and/or narrators. She often said she'd be captivated by them even if they read the phone book to her