Advice from a professional voice-over artist

Wednesday 17th August 2011

I attended a lunch time talk by professional voice-over artist Con Dolmas. Con’s talk was of special interest to me as I have recorded my own voice-overs for online training (E-Learning) and I want to improve my vocal quality for my next projects.

Con kindly shared his experience in the corporate world and gave us tools, tips and techniques we can use in recording our own voice-overs.

About the Speaker

Con describes himself as a self confessed “Corporate Bunny” who traded in his suit and tie for a life behind the microphone. Professionally trained by some of the best voice-over coaches in the business, including voice and accent training at NIDA (Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art), his smooth and engaging tone, coupled with his “real world” experience as a corporate trainer for multi-national organisations in Australia and the United States, have earned Con recognition as an expert in the field of voice-over for corporate training, business communications and E-learning.

Voice over is a performance

Recording a voice over is a performance where you speak to an imaginary audience of one person. Con sometimes places a picture of his wife behind the microphone. Con said his wife is the best judge of him speaking sincerely. Always imagine the audience as you speak.

You convey meaning through your voice and this meaning is connected to the physicality of your body. Stand up when you record a voice-over as sitting down will cramp your speaking voice. Sitting obstructs your movement whereas standing enhances movement, but you still have to keep a constant distance between your mouth and the microphone.

A powerful stance will create authoritative feeling whereas a casual stance will create an informal feel to your voice. Try speaking while you are smiling – you will notice you sound much more positive.

You may want to take on the role of a character when you speak your performance. What is the character’s name? What is his or her back-story?

What is your message?

What is the purpose of the voice-over? You need to “lift the words off the page” and make a strong connection with the audience. Use the techniques of advertisting and ask What’s the product?, Who is your target audience?, Why is your product and why is it special? Why should your listener care? If you are making a voiceover for a training session on the new features of a product, think of why your listener needs to know the information.

Writing for the ear

Writing a script is a special skill, because the way we speak is different to what is written in a novel or article. Think of your script as a conversation. When you interview your subject matter expert, record the interview and transcribe useful expressions and sentences to use in your script.

Use short sentences and use the golden rule of “One Sentence, One Thought”. Think of the natural breaks in the text to allow breathing. You don’t want to run out of breath on a long sentence.

Microphone placement and sound deadening

Find the sweet spot in your room by clapping your hands and listening to the time of the echo. Use the spot where the echo is shortest. Sound can be deadened by placing sound absorbing materials behind the microphone of sound absorbing materials.

The distance between your mouth and the microphone should be slighly more than the deistance between the tip of your thumb and pinky of your outstretched hand.

Voice exercises

Relax the muscles of voice production by making a sighing yawn. Make a big yawn and let out a sigh. Pull faces to tense and relax the muscles. Say tongue-twisters like “Unique New York Unique New York”. Practice deep breathing exercises before the recording session. Place one hand on the upper part of your chest and another hand on your abdomen. Take a deep breath. The lower hand should go on and the upper hand only extend a small amount.

Water and Granny Smith Apples

Make sure you are hydrated and have a bottle of water available to sip from during the recording. If your mouth or throat is dry you may experience clicking sounds. Eating freshly cut Granny Smith apples can help. This sounds strange but it works. IN “The Art of Voice Acting”, James Alburger says to eat green apples (not red) to help reduce phlegm. Don’t try and clear your throat with the traditional method of loud noises

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