Directing Voice Talent


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Directing actors and narrators is one of the most effective–and fun!–ways to up the quality of your e-learning and serious games. In this podcast, veteran producer Jenelle Boucher interviews narrator, director, and voice coach Noelle Romano about the best techniques for finding and coaching great performances.

Websites like Voices.com or Voices123.com allow you to find talent from all over the world who meet your needs. Many professionals on these sites have their own home studio and can record a script on their own or patch you in so you can direct them remotely during their performance. Here’s how it works:

  • Post a sample of your script on the site and explain what you’re looking for. The more specific you are about what kind of voice and performance you want, the better.
  • This will be sent to all talent on the site who match your criteria.
  • Anyone interested in the job will record themselves reading the script sample and post it to you. You can have hundreds of auditions in an hour.
  • You can hire someone right away or contact your top candidates for follow-up phone auditions.

Once you hire someone to voice your project, send the script in advance, along with information about the character they’re playing, the context of the scene (where are they, who they’re talking to, how far away is that person), and any inspiration for the tone you want to achieve. You can use italicize, bold, or underline any important words or phrases that need emphasis.

If you’re directing the voice talent yourself, break the script into numbered, paragraph-sized chunks and record each one separately. Record each chunk at least twice, providing feedback before each new take. Don’t worry about getting one perfect take, since you can edit the good parts together later. Just make sure you get at least one good take of each line.

When providing feedback, explain what you want the voiceover artist to do and be specific. You may have feedback on their tone (emotion), tempo (speed), volume, or pitch (highs/lows of the voice). Here are some industry terms that will help you communicate with your voice talent:

  • Hit / punch — emphasize (for example, “This is the first time users hear this word, so we need to hit it.”)
  • Throw away — de-emphasize, usually a phrase or sentence (for example, “Throw away the end of that sentence.”)
  • Add/remove comma — add/remove a small pause, as if a comma was or was not there
  • Put those words together — voice them together and with equal emphasis, as with a compound noun (for example, “Put ‘instructional designer’ together as one word”)
  • Go up / down — go up or down in pitch (for example, “Go up at the end of that line”)

Professional narrators know the importance of using their body to achieve the right tone in their voice. For example, gesticulating, counting off list items on their fingers, and smiling all have real effects on the tone we hear in their voices. But feel free to remind talent to do this. For example, if the character should sound like she’s smiling, ask the narrator to “put a smile in it.”

If you want a particularly conversational, or natural, performance (like the “NPR voice”) here are some ways to get that:

  • Tell the narrator you want a very natural feeling, almost like they’re not reading the script.
  • Give them permission to paraphrase or put some lines in their own words.
  • Encourage them to add extra words to make it feel more natural, like a “so” or “you know.”
  • Ask them to “discover the words,” “find it,” or “search for it.” In other words, read the script like they don’t know what’s going to happen. This may mean pausing, hemming and hawing, and acting like they may not be able to find the right word.
  • If the actor is having trouble making a line sound natural, ask them to turn over the script, look at you, and paraphrase it in their own words.

A line reading is where you perform the line yourself to show the narrator how you want them to say it. Professionals can find line readings disrespectful, so use them sparingly and try to ask permission before doing so. If you find that you need to give a lot of line readings, you may have the wrong talent for your project.

If you have questions about directing voice talent, want your e-learning or serious game analyzed by our other-industry experts, or have a suggestion for another podcast topic, email jenelle@notmyniche.com.

Jenelle Boucher has produced games, simulations, and interactive training for 12 years. She has a BA in documentary journalism from LSU and an MS in e-learning from University of Waterloo.

Noelle Romano teaches voiceover through Edge Studio and is a voice talent for organizations like AT&T, Hilton, CVS, BlackBerry, and PBS. You can find Noelle’s work and contact her at norovo.com.