Voice over work as something intuitive versus something learned is a concept i often ponder. As with any type of acting, there are so many elements to consider that it gets complicated. Since i can’t help you with the intuition, let’s focus on the skill, and how to vastly improve yours.
First there’s the script, which means you have to now be an English major among other things. Deeply understanding the meaning/message of the script is your first stop. When we talk in “real life” we of course know the message behind what we are saying. This gives way to us emphasizing the correct words in each sentence that really point to the meaning. It also gives way to understanding the way we feel about the message. All this happens automatically in real life, but when faced with a voiceover script we need to now indoctrinate ourselves to fully feel and sound like this is our message, our attitude, our words. It’s the only way it will sound authentic. A breakdown of your considerations therefore, when looking at any script at all, is your bullet point list of questions:
1- What is this about? (message/meaning)
2- How am i supposed to feel about it? (tone/attitude)
3- What are the keywords in every single sentence to support the meaning? What are the tools i can use to support the tone (inflection, volume, pacing, etc.)
Next to consider are the other details that all relate to – yup, how we talk in real life. We are almost always talking to just one other person all day long if we are conversing. Unless you are a teacher, or give TedTalks for a living, this is a fact. We rarely talk to very large groups of people. Therefore, number one on your list is to first check your volume. Are you “announcing?” I know! So fun right?! Stop it. When you hear someone that sounds like they are talking to a massive number of people, do you ever feel like that information is personally relevant to you? Nope. You don’t. But when it sounds like the person is talking the same way they do when they’re having a personal conversation you definitely do…so you lean in. You want your audience to lean in right? You absolutely want the produce or writer or director to lean in during the casting session! So unless the script calls for something high energy or very excited, try tapping in to that exact volume you use when you’re talking to one friend. And then lower it another decibel. There is your sweet spot for intimately connecting with your listener. While you’re at, actually visualize the friend in your head. Pick the one you like the most, feel the most comfortable with … because imagine if someone was taking to YOU in a voice that felt like they trusted you and really liked you? You’d eat it up. Basically, who do hang out in your sweatpants with? Talk to them. Um, for me that just might be everybody. Next, put yourselves in a room. Yes, not just a cloud bubble in your head. Where are you? A living room? The couch? Glass of wine? Or a slow walk on a sunny Sunday in the park? Believe your scene and you will stop performing scripts. You will just be TALKING. And that’s good.
Know what else i would consider a voice-over skill? Taking it WAY less seriously. Here’s the truth: the number one mistake i hear voice actor beginners make is to try so hard at sounding so Good, Perfect, Blah Blah, etc. that they forget the one thing that makes us more likable than anything else, a smile. Think back to when you used to play video games as a kid (or think back to yesterday?). Remember that serious intensity on our faces? Trying to win, to do something challenging, to SHOOT THAT SHIP DOWN MOTHA F—A! Whoa, ok, ahem, i did like my video game dramas. Well, that is what we are unconsciously doing when we are reading a script. Trying to do it soooo gooood. And that backfires. We are concentrating too hard. We sound too serious. Let it go. Be a little sloppy. A little easy. Smile. Don’t make it sound like you’re giving a lesson in advanced physics.
Unless you’re that TedTalker. And even then, at least throw one joke in 😉