(This recently published article that I wrote/voiced can also be found here)
“Casual and conversational; not announcer-y or character-y”
“The tone should be conversational…”
“Voice shouldn’t be too commercial-y or sales-y. Should be you in your normal voice not your polished VO voice. Should feel natural.”
Ok, variety of casting specs, we got it. Conversational it is. But, um… how do we actually do that? How can we take (often unnatural sounding) commercial copy and make it sound… natural? Perform but not perform? Act but not be acting?
For anyone who has been asking themselves these questions, here are a few tips and techniques to help you nail that natural, conversational commercial read:
1. BE HERE NOW.
If acting is allowing oneself to truthfully respond to imaginary circumstances, then the more we actually allow ourselves to be present in those circumstances, the better and more natural our work will be. What does it mean to be present? Well, it means to be here. Right now. Not thinking about the future. Not thinking about the past. Not thinking about how good or bad your lunch was or how good or bad you are as a voice-over talent. My favorite thing about acting is that each script provides me with an opportunity to forget about my own worries and to lose myself in the moment and in the “character” I’m playing (even if that character is a spokesperson for Neutrogena or the latest blood pressure medication). It can be an incredibly freeing and spiritually transcendent experience to play in this manner.
Kids do this naturally. And yet, as adults we often forget how to play and “make believe.” We can let our own self-consciousness, self-criticism, and performance anxiety prevent us from letting go and focusing on the script circumstances. One way to find more presence in your work (and in your life) is to create a daily warmup routine that includes some breathing practices and meditation. If you’re intimidated by the prospect of meditating, just think of it as deliberately placing your focus on something consistent outside of you and your own racing thoughts. It can be anything really! A ticking clock is my personal fave. If your inner critic’s voice is still too loud, then heed the advice a teacher of mine once gave: “If you get nervous, focus on service.” Meaning, if you get anxious or self-conscious, take the focus off of you and your performance and instead place it on the person you’re speaking to and the product/cause/message you’re serving.
2. THINK OF TELLING, NOT SELLING.
Remember that in voice-over work, you’re not just reading words on a page. You’re speaking words OUT LOUD to another person or to a group of people. You’re sharing some message and making some point. So just get clear on what you’re sharing and why you’re sharing it. Instead of concerning yourself with what you’re selling, focus on what you’re telling. Actually, don’t worry about selling anything at all! Think of what you’re saying as a commentary or a casual recommendation between you and another person, like, “Sunny Daes? OMG, they have the best mint chocolate chip ice cream.” No sales pitch necessary.
3. GET SPECIFIC.
Know who you’re speaking to and why. The more specific you make the reasons for your words, the more natural your reads will sound. That’s because our lives are specific. We have opinions and reactions to everything we encounter, even if that opinion is one of complete irrelevance. If I asked you to describe the best place you’ve ever lived and why, you’d search through your memory bank until you landed upon a favorite location. You’d visualize yourself in this place and remember the way this home and/or neighborhood looked and felt. You’d uncover a bunch of associations: people and objects and sights and events. And most importantly, you’d have emotional reactions to these recalled memories and your words would have a certain tone and reflect a certain mood. You would know exactly who you were talking to (me) and exactly why you were describing this residence (because I asked you to).
As a voice-over talent working on a script, you can create your own justifications for why you’re saying what you’re saying. Make it up! Make it fun! Your listeners will never know the secret motivations you choose, but your read will be full of nuances. Getting specific with your script circumstances is also helpful if the script has some choppy or unnatural language.
4. ACTIVATE YOUR SENSES.
Because our nervous system can’t quite tell the difference between something that’s happening right now in front of us and something that we’re imagining or remembering, we can have real sensory and emotional reactions to imaginary events. For instance, if the script you’re working on is supposed to elicit a tone of warmth, comfort, and nostalgia, you might want to imagine yourself somewhere that activates those particular feelings within you. What might you be seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching? Perhaps you’re sitting by a fireplace chatting with your loved ones and drinking hot chocolate out of your favorite mug while wrapped up in a cozy blanket. Or if the script calls for a sense of hope and wonder, perhaps before starting your script read, you imagine that you’re floating peacefully in the clouds or flying through space amongst the glowing stars.
5. SHOW YOUR WRINKLES.
Once during my on-camera acting days, a casting director informed me that I needed to get new photos taken because the airbrushed glamour headshot I handed him looked like my “much younger sister or someone else” and that I’d “lived life and had experiences” (aka sun damage and wrinkles) and “we want to see YOU!” I think his blunt but helpful comment actually translates well to voice-over. All we’re working with is our voice, our eclectic accumulation of interests and life experiences, and our own personal take on things. So, why not bring more of the real, unique you to your reads? Sure, there are scripts that call for a more polished and perfect sounding VO. But sometimes, it’s our vulnerable, messy, quirky, truthful humanness that wants to be heard.
How I Got Started In Voice Acting
Tips & Techniques For Commercial Voice Actors
More Acting Tips For VO
Four Things To Remember When Beginning Your Voiceover Career
You Are What You Practice
The Call Back
Leaving Los Angeles
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