So what’s the big deal about Voice Acting?
Is it really an art?
I happen to think it is. And here’s why:
Voice acting is different to acting for the stage or screen. The most obvious difference is that stage and screen actors use their entire physicality to portray their character. Face, body, gesture, costume, make-up and voice. Voice actors only have their voice to work with. Placing the credibility of your character or the success of your communication on the way you sound, is a very tall order indeed and requires a particular set of skills to pull it off successfully.
Voice Actors – The Essentials of Communication
#1 – Firstly, we need to get into ALIGNMENT!
If we look at how we communicate in our normal daily lives – using our body language, facial expressions, gesture and tone of voice, we can see that in order to communicate effectively, we need to have all these critical elements in alignment.
If they are at odds with each other, then a mismatch occurs and the person with whom you are communicating will sense this and the purity of your message will be lost or diluted – or in the worst case – disbelieved. In other words, a total communication failure.
Good visual communication requires the messenger to be in perfect physical alignment with the message
If you are physically present and attempting to communicate a happy idea or message but your body language is closed and your tone of voice is flat and un-modulated, a mismatch occurs and the receiver will be focusing on that rather than the message, with the result that some of the detail your message will be lost.
Likewise, if you are intending to be taken seriously and are in front of someone attempting to communicate a formal message, but you are waving your arms about and gesticulating wildly while grinning madly, the message gets completely lost. In order to communicate effectively, your physicality and your vocal tone need to be in alignment with the message. I think most people would agree that is a bit of a no brainer!
#2 – You need to get in line!
In communicating using the voice alone however, experienced voice actors as a matter of course will adapt their vocal tone, pace and prosody to be in alignment with the message. A really good documentary narrator for example, will deliver his or her lines so unobtrusively and in total alignment and sympathy with the subject, that the viewer should be totally unaware of the narration itself, but instead be focused on the subject.
Similarly, if you are voicing a radio commercial commercial for an upbeat youth oriented product, your projection, prosody and pace will be very different to the approach required for say, a luxury brand aimed at a more mature, sophisticated audience. The good news is that all this requires something, which we all have naturally in abundance but which some of us have lost touch with completely. It’s called:
The 6 secrets of a great vocal performance
As a voice actor, bringing your emotional intelligence to bear upon a piece of work is possibly the most crucial thing you can do. Used effectively, it will ensure that a bunch of elements critical for flawless communication, fall into perfect alignment. Which leads us to the 6 secrets of a great vocal performance:
- You understand the copy
- You understand your audience
- You are 100% engaged
- You are committed to the copy
- You are in the correct emotional state
- You approach the copy with love, focus and intention
So, in order to deliver your copy with maximum impact, you need to do the following:
#1 – Understand the Copy
Read the copy (silently) from start to finish at least three times. At the end, ask yourself: Do I understand this completely? Is there anything I do not fully understand? If not then seek clarification from the author of the copy. This may well involve some re-writing of the parts of the text that were not fully understood and more often than not require some additional punctuation. Once you are happy move onto the second element.
#2 – Understand Your Audience
Ask the question
Who is this communication aimed at
Knowing your audience will inform your delivery and is the second most important thing you need to understand. Narrating – a business to business project aimed at an informed, professional audience or single listener as opposed to business to a consumer audience for example, will require a totally different approach in tone, emphasis, pace and prosody. So before you begin, always ask the question; “Who am I talking to”? I sometimes find it helpful to visualise the person I am talking to. This tip alone, if practiced regularly will add authenticity to how you sound.
#3 – Be a 100% engaged
When you read your copy out loud for the first time, be very present and focused on the words. Feel the meaning of the words deeply. Acknowledge the power of the words and allow your physical body to react to them. Be aware of how your body reacts to the copy. How does it make you feel? Believe 100% in the words you are saying.
If you do this, you will be amazed at how much more believable and authentic you will sound. You will no longer simply be reading a bunch of words on a page, while a part of your brain is in neutral and thinking about lunch! You will be the message and the message will be you.
By being fully immersed in this way, each and every performance you deliver will be imbued with the truth. Truthful storytellers are the ones people listen to. Listen to Morgan Freeman’s narration in The Shawshank Redemption. It is utterly effortless and totally spellbinding.
#4 – Be a 100% engaged
Commit to the copy. I can always tell when a VO artist is not fully committed. You can hear it in their voice. There is no passion, no truth. Feel the power of those words and make them your own. The secret to a truly great delivery is commitment. A word of warning here though – do not misinterpret this as suggesting that you have to wring every last ounce of meaning out of every single word, like some ghastly amateur dramatic production. With every sentence there will be parts that you can skip over lightly and others (usually the main point) you will need to point up or lean on slightly. The best vocal deliveries have subtlety and nuance within. Leave the ham acting to someone else.
#5 – Check you are in the correct emotional state
It’s natural for our mood to swing during the day as we react to external stimuli. In our personal lives, we may be addressing problems or reacting perhaps to good news. Whatever is going on in your head as a result of your thinking, must never impinge on how you sound professionally. This is easier said than done – but once you are aware of the negative impact our thinking and consequent emotional state can have on our vocal delivery, the more likely you are minimize or even eradicate it.
I can easily tell if someone is masking their true emotional state in a vocal performance. You can hear it in the tonality of their voice and the way they deliver the lines. So, before you step into the booth, take a moment to perform a quick audit of your mind. If you are feeling annoyed or anxious about some issue, allow yourself to “put it in a box” and tell yourself you will deal with it later. Then, address the mental state you need to be in to deliver the lines of copy effectively and authentically. The answers to points 1 and 2 above will be your guide here.
#6 – Approach the copy with love, focus and intention
If you have complete understanding of the copy and your audience, you are fully engaged and committed and in the correct emotional state – you will now be in the correct state to deliver the copy with love, focus and attention. These last 3 things are what separate the amateur from the pro and getting there takes a lot of time and practice. When you hear it, it is a beautiful thing. The power of the spoken word is amazing. It can move a single person or an entire nation.
As voice actors if you use this approach wisely people will forever beat a path to your door.