Natural Voice Over Delivery Tips You Need to Know
You’d think after thirty years, I’d be used to innocent and perhaps naïve, party questions like, “But Kim, I don’t understand. You have a normal voice. What makes you so special?”
In that guileless comment, lies the crux of the voice actor’s world. You don’t have to have an especially silvery or chocolatey or any other specially flavored voice to get consistent voice work. You do need to be able to sound natural when doing the unnatural. That is, reading someone else’s words and performing them to the point where they seem like your own.
How does one accomplish this?
I’m glad you asked. While practice makes proficient, (I’ve studied and have been practicing for over a couple of decades), voice-over work depends on managing your mental and emotional state. My family has often heard me say, “I have to work now, let’s get into it later.” The so-called “it” being whatever drama is currently on the hot plate. The voice is the barometer of one’s emotions. Whatever you think or feel is instantly transmitted in your voice.
When you’ve been on the phone, has anyone ever said, “You sound tired” or “Is something wrong?” Others can tell. Your voice is the mirror for thoughts and emotions.
Here is a cheat sheet for sounding more natural. More conversational. More genuine.
1) Slow down. We tend to rush if we think we’re running out of time or that people might lose interest in our topic. When you’re doing a narration, you’ve got the floor. Assume people are interested, or they wouldn’t tune in.
2) Articulate the message, but soften your diction. A voice-over narration is the vehicle for the message. It should transport the listener. Not call too much attention to itself. The listener should be engaged not distracted by your presentation. Enunciation that is too crisp comes off as false.
3) Stay true to your pitch. Changing the pitch or tone of your voice, means you are not being true to yourself. You’re being un-natural. Plus, your delivery (how you say it) will probably suffer because you are concentrating on the sound of your voice rather than the message you need to convey.
4) Stand Up. Sit Down. Switch it up. I stand for high energy or short reads and sit when recording long form. Most of the time. If it doesn’t ring true, I switch it up. For long form, I find the key to consistent energy is to sit straight, slightly toward the edge of my seat, knees wide to maintain my airway and chin parallel to the desk. (or floor)
5) Temper your smile. A constant smile smacks of the used car sales stereotype. Too much erodes trust. Too little cuts warmth. Explore your catalogue of smiles when you’re with friends. Think of what kind of smile you want to use. A half-smile, A whimsical smile. A smart-alec smile. A humble smile. Watch the volume control on whatever smile you select.
6) Water is your new best friend. Drink it before, during and after your voice-over session. The mechanics may stray into the realm of yuck, but when we talk, we use and expel saliva. A dry mouth is a technicality which takes you out of your performance.
7) One to one. Most voice over is meant for one set of ears at a time. Never make it a random person. Picture someone you know who would be interested in what you’re saying. Speak as if you are having a quiet conversation in a coffee shop or at a table or desk. Too much projection leads you into “perform” and “announcer” and takes you out of the content.
8) Check over your text before recording. Some people like to mark up the script underlining words to emphasize and places to pause. I like to try it a few different ways to explore the rhythm of the words and mark it up as I get feedback from the director.
9) Break your read into chunks. If it’s well written, natural breaks and transitions in the script will float out in front of you. To keep the read natural, sometimes I’ll drop in my own words or adlib transitions – which I edit out later.
10) Breathe from your diaphragm and not your chest. Another piece of technical work that has its place in helping you achieve a more natural sounding read. Chest-breathing will not allow you to get enough air to make it through longer passages. Diaphragm breathing also makes your voice sound fuller and richer and does not have to be loud. That comes with control.
11) Vary your pitch at the ends of sentences. This is another great place to focus your observation of yourself and others in natural conversation settings. Upspeak, or pitching up at the end of a sentence denotes a question, a lack of authority, perhaps a bit of uneasiness. A down pitch often closes your sentence, sometimes conveying finality, authority, or being too smooth, bordering on not-real. Pay attention to this.
12) Relax. Holding tension in your body can be heard in your voice. Your breath will help you with this, but so will your head space. You are an artist painting with words. Lose yourself in the script.
13) You are Enough. You don’t need to be more than you already are. Sometimes that’s difficult to hold on to especially if you haven’t booked in a while. But no one else can be you. And that may be exactly what they’re looking for. So, be. You.
Kim Handysides loves VO almost as much as she loves her dog, Kiwi the Dedicated Dachshund. With roots in theatre and film, decades in voiceover and several stints in journalism, most days she can be found in her padded 4×6 mainlining the message between sender and receiver.