Integrating the perfect voice into an online course, video or slide show enhances the audience’s perception and enjoyment of the program. On the other hand, choosing a voice that doesn’t fit can sometimes feel like fingernails scraping across a blackboard.
It takes lots of talent and skill to be a professional narrator. Voice actors must sound knowledgeable even when they don’t understand the subject. They must emote a variety of moods to fit the script. They also need disciplined voice control and excellent enunciation.
Sifting through talented narrators to assess all these skills and selecting the right person can be an overwhelming task. Here are some things I’ve learned that might make the process easier for you.
Determine where the session will be located.
Before you can select a narrator, you need to consider where the recording will take place. You’ll need regional talent if it’s in a local studio and national talent if you’re willing to use a narrator with a home recording setup. The recording expertise found in a studio with an audio engineer will typically produce a higher-quality result. It will also be more expensive.
Look for high quality demos.
Professional narrators will have high quality demos that show off their range and styles. Listen carefully, imagine this person reading your script and pick out the top two or three people to analyze in more detail. If the narrator does not have a good demo, I would recommend looking elsewhere. He or she may not be well-trained nor serious about this as a career.
Use a voice that fits the audience.
Select a voice that will work with your audience. Consider whether a male or female would be most appropriate (though often, it doesn’t seem to matter). Consider whether a regional accent is required. Also, think about the type of voice that will draw your audience closer. A sophisticated audience might prefer an elegant voice; children might prefer a bright and enthusiastic voice.
Use a voice that fits the subject.
Some narrators are best for motivational and upbeat treatments and can’t seem to sound serious. Yet some topics require a solemn voice. Other narrators just can’t sound light and playful when it’s needed. Make sure your narrator can perform well in the mood and style your content requires. The best professionals are versatile and can adapt to a broad range of styles.
Appreciate the subtle qualities of the voice.
Tune in to the subtle qualities of the narrator’s voice. Make sure the pitch and tone are easy on the ear. Notice if the voice sounds unique, with a special quality that distinguishes it from others. Pay attention to the narrator’s rhythm. Does the reading flow or is it stilted? Also, listen for clarity in pronunciation. A professional and distinctive voice with excellent diction will carry your message effectively.
Make sure the talent is credible.
As you listen to the demos, determine whether the talent is capable of sounding believable. Can this person sound sufficiently caring to narrate a course about cancer treatments? Does this talent have what it takes to sound like a technical expert? If your narrator isn’t credible, your program will lose some of its authority.
Look for character voices.
Some narrators can portray several distinct voices. If you need multiple voices for scenarios and other treatments, finding one person to cover several characters provides a huge time and cost savings. One narrator I worked with wore his baseball cap in a different position for each unique voice!
Check previous experience.
If your project is instructional in nature, make sure the talent you select has experience with long narration sessions. These take an excellent reading ability and lots of stamina. Some voice over artists specialize in short commercials. I once mistakenly hired a commercial talent to read four hours of technical content. We had to retake almost every paragraph and the experience was grueling for all of us.
In addition to searching for voice over talent online and through talent agencies, don’t forget to seek out recommendations from recording studios, producers and other multimedia types. This way, you can ask whether the individual is flexible and takes direction well. Although a recording session involves give and take between the director, the talent, and the audio engineer, the script owner steers the show. A flexible narrator will be happy to take direction to change intonation or emphasis. It’s just part of the job.
Get approval from stakeholders
If you work with outside clients, it’s often a good idea to get their approval of the talent you’ve selected. Clients usually appreciate this gesture and this way you know they’ll be happy with the results.
What criteria do you use for choosing talent? Have you found specific audiences prefer one type of voice over another? Comment below.