A strong, clear voice can give us incredible guidance and comfort. If it weren't for Susan Bennett, we wouldn't be able to use Siri to confidently navigate and learn new things. If it weren't for Don LaFontaine, we wouldn't know what to expect from basically every movie produced in our lifetimes. Heck, if it weren't for James Earl Jones, Ray Kinsella never even would have built that field of dreams and we would have had to listen to this guy as Darth Vader.
In e-learning, finding the right voice is key. It can help focus your attention. It can make dry subject matter come alive. It puts a human touch on the training experience, which drives our engagement and helps learning stick with us longer. Hiring the perfect voice talent for your e-learning makes a big difference, so it's worth getting right.
I've been thinking a lot about this recently, because just a couple of weeks ago, I visited a voice acting class taught by my friend, Deb Doetzer. All of the students were naturally curious, very attentive, and crazy talented. We talked about what sorts of things an e-learning vendor looks for in voice talent, and we even read through a sample audition script, with Deb offering notes and retakes along the way. It was a blast, and I wanted to throw the conversation open here.
There is no hard and fast rule on what makes for the best voice actor. You may need someone with an impressively diverse range and 20 voices up their sleeve, or you may just need someone who does one thing and does it perfectly. You may be working on a shoestring budget, or you may have money to burn. You may even find a voice actor you think is absolutely, full-stop, dream-come-true perfect, only to have someone else on the project cut them in favor of someone else. You win some, you lose some. What matters is doing your best to find a talented pool of voice actors who you can turn to whenever you need professional, high-quality audio. So let's talk about how you can do just that.
CAST A WIDE NET
Don't limit your options with a narrow search. If you go back to the same talent over and over again, you're doing your learners a disservice. When we fall back on old habits, we end up creating the same kind of work over and over again. You want new voices, trust me. They amplify the writing, they add new shades of character, they challenge assumptions, and ask new questions. Even if you think you've found the greatest voice actor of all time, don't put all your voice eggs in one basket.
There are a lot of ways to do this. You can check out voice sites like voice123 and voices.com. You can ask for references from existing talent or from friends--that's how I ended up in Deb's classroom, after all. You should always be growing your roster of talented voice actors, so your audience can hear your work from a diverse array of voices. Sometimes, you don't even know what voice you need until you hear it. So keep your options open.
REQUEST AN AUDITION--OR TWO
When you're first looking for voice talent, demo reels are great. That's a quick way to assess the quality and tone of someone's voice. But to really know what you're getting, you'll want to have them record a brief clip of your copy. Once you hear a fresh take of your words in their mouth, then you can make the call. Try to provide a representative clip that has the same tone as the rest of your piece, and try to be very clear by providing any necessary direction upfront.
If you don't like their take and your schedule allows, ask them to try something different. Be specific about what adjustment you'd like them to make, so they know what you want. As with any kind of acting, a lot of first takes are far from perfect. Even if your talent's first guess is way off the mark, pay attention to how well he or she can take direction. That's what matters most. So give good feedback and get great results.
The last thing the world needs is more bone-dry narration that sounds like it could have been generated by a text-to-speech synthesizer. Your audience deserves better. Try to think about how your voice talent can help tell the story of your training experience. Maybe you want the learner to feel like they're hearing from a confident, conversational colleague. Or maybe you want a cool, professional tone that conveys information calmly and effectively.
It's pretty common to cast a voice actor in one of those two modes, but don't stop there. Help guide your voice actor by thinking about exactly what sound you're looking for. If your training were a movie, what genre would it be? If it were a commercial, what would be the product? Try to think about your training from a new angle. The more specific and nuanced you can be in describing what you're looking for, the better a voice actor can tailor their performance to liven up your e-learning and help engage your learners.
PUT A PREMIUM ON PROFESSIONALISM
Professionalism is a big factor that some people regrettably neglect. This is often (though by no means exclusively) an issue with inexperienced voice actors who haven't had the chance to see the impact that their behavior has on their professional relationships. I think it's easy to lose sight of why it matters. If you're a voice actor who focuses most of your time and energy on the quality of your performance, you may feel like it doesn't really matter how you communicate. But as we all know, that's far from true. You could be the second coming of Morgan Freeman, but if you're rude, uncommunicative, or high-maintenance, I'll be thinking twice before I choose to work with you again.
There are thousands of voice actors looking for work, and many of them may not even be aware that recording voiceover for e-learning courses is a viable option. Start looking now, and you'll see how many options you have available. The perfect voice for your next project may be just around the corner. Oh, and when you find them, I recommend giving them a sweet soundtrack.