Voice Over Styles: Little Less Announcer and A Little More Conversational

Ding, dong, the announcer style is dead. Or at least on life support. In fact, I can’t remember the last commercial voiceover I did with an obvious announcer read.


Wait a minute.

Yes, I can. It was about five years ago and it was for a pharmacy chain. One I had been the brand voice for, for about twenty years. Me, as the voice of their brand was still not totally a “straight announcer”. Far from the Gary Owens and Casey Casum variety. My reads were friendly. Possibly perpetually perky. And had that unnatural uppy-downy quality to the music of the delivery. Perhaps better described as sing-song? There was character. Warmth. A wink or a nudge. But they were definitely announcerish.

Losing that regular long-term gig was a blow. Weekly work for a year is rare for a voice actor, never mind a couple of decades. But the brand was shifting. The son took the marketing reins from the father-creator of the chain, and while I did not like being ousted, Junior had been smart. With his fingers firmly pressed on the radial pulse of a new form of my craft.

My replacement read those pharma spots with an unpolished, almost flat technique. In fact, she didn’t sound like an announcer at all!

And that, my friends is the point.

The eery death knell of the old style about to expire echoed across radio, television and reverberated throughout new media. The crown landed on a new type of voiceover delivery. The conversational style swaggered onto the throne as the new king.

Now the prominence of this new favorite in the voice actor’s realm is the result of a combination of reality platforms on TV to You Tube, the virtual ubiquity of media and the emergence of the millennial into the marketplace. These tech savvy young adults have been sold to since birth and tune out as soon they hear the tiniest tinge that smacks of advertising or anchorman.

How did that impact voice actors? Well, our breed generally spawns out of two pools. There are those who emerge from the Ocean of Radio-Television and others who surface from the Sea of the Theatre.

Voice actors with roots in dramatic art have it easier in mastering the conversational read. Because it’s acting. And actors have a better understanding of how to take someone else’s words and make them real. How much to world-build to help come off as genuine. How much spice to blend into the read to keep it believable and entertaining while still getting the message across.

It is easier for actors because they are well-grounded in story-telling. And the conversational voiceover style is all about telling, not selling.

What’s that young Wolf Blitzer-Wannabe? You say radio and TV personalities tell stories, too? Weeeell, sort of. That genre is changing too, but by and large, news-weather-sports-dj-host are still pretty stylized, and the ‘stories’ are told through a veneer of polish. And that particular gleam, that luster? Smacks of falsity.

Therein, Padawan, lies the rub.

To serve the king, (remember him? King Conversation?) you’ve got to be honest. Authentic. Unaffected.

So, what’s the best way to lose your Announcer-Speak accent and tell it like it is? Take acting classes. Your local college may be a good starting ground. Check out a theatre or film school. Hunt up workshops or take classes at conferences.

Work with an acting coach. Talk to other actors for recommendations re: who they’ve learned great things from.

Read about acting. Check out the classics. Meisner.  Hagan. Stanislavski. Caine.

Learn how to make ‘adjustments.’ An adjustment is actor-speak for variations in delivery from medium to medium. For example, volume, gestures, and performance choices between theatre and film are very different. This variance is an adjustment. And if you came from Radio-TV, in essence, what you will be doing to master the conversational read is an adjustment.

Next, practice.

Record yourself having a conversation with someone – let them know you’re recording them first – and then play it back. Listen to your rhythm. Listen to their rhythm. Try reading a commercial or a piece of narration with the same rhythm, the same feelings, the same pauses while you search for the right word and the same steamroller phrasing as you push to get an idea across.

Ideas to take to the booth?

Involve your senses.

Use visuals. Keep a picture of someone you want to talk to near your mic. Or make a (silent) video of them listening to you that you can play while you’re recording.

Use sound. I mean the made-up sound in your head. Pretend your text is a dialogue. What would the other person say? Hear them. Then, say your lines.

Use smell. Have a couple of mini Ziplocs with cinnamon sticks, pine needles or ginger inside. I have a couple of scented candles in a jar in my booth that I uncover and sniff occasionally. Yes. I know what it sounds like, but these little bits of sensory stimulation help get you out of your head and into reality. Into the moment.

Use props. I find doing something with my hands keeps me grounded and real. I keep an arsenal of tiny tactile objects in my booth. Touch occupies the ‘judge’ in my head and helps me voice my copy like I’m talking to my best friend/kid/supervisor/husband.

You can get a lot more tips from a class or a coach. If you want to make the conversational read your default and book more work, I’d highly recommend it. In fact, even though I’ve been a successful voiceover artist for long than millennials have stalked the earth, that’s what I did. Shortly after the pharmacy chain-bye-bye event.

Worth. Every. Penny.

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.




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