Voiceover Gurus has been misunderstood as a name since the beginning. The lesson here is that we should never assume, and there is always more to a story here. When naming the company, the intention was to imply that everyone can be their OWN guru, their own teacher…..by way of – a teacher. You know what they say, I open the door, but you must be the one to walk through. This was/is always part of the voiceover coaching philosophy employed here – slowly and patiently, through many many questions asked to the student, to have them FIND the answers on their own, as opposed to spoon-feeding them. It’s an incredible process to watch unfold, and every student who found the answer for themselves can be rest assured they will never forget it. Learning that way can be way more powerful than memorization/regurgitation. Back to the reason for the company name – Voiceover Gurus…..what I didn’t realize at the time was that not only do I consider the students themselves to be the gurus because they will in essence be teaching themselves to some degree, but also because they are teaching ME. Every single student I work with shows me a new way of approaching a concept, a new way of communicating an idea, because if I didn’t that student might not get it any other way. This is turn has taught me how to “teach” in so many different Thank you gurus, and in turn, with names changed, I’d like to share some of the voiceover training stories so that the lessons can continue to be passed on.
ANNA – Anna came to me full of strength and intelligence, and best of all confidence. She exuded the delivery style of a powerful CEO who you could actually relate to, while still keeping them up high on their pedestal of authority. She had a lot going for her technique, but I kept getting stuck on how much she still sounded like she was “reading.” Now to be fair, there are many reasons you can sound like you’re reading a script – speaking too fast or too slow are big ones, but speaking with little to no inflection in a flat, robotic way is another, as are unnatural pauses between ideas that shouldn’t require a pause, or at least not one so long. I finally identified, with Anna, that she was just having trouble making it through the script, or through very long sentences. This was causing her to run out of air at awkward and unnatural moments in the dialogue. A simple breathing technique was all it took to correct her problem. Two techniques, actually. The first asks you to breathe in through your nose and count how many beats it takes you for a full inhalation. The exhale is through your mouth and has you double the amount of beats it took you to inhale. Not only does this voiceover/breathing technique relax your entire nervous system, but through the controlled timed exhalation through your mouth, allows you to practice using your breath and extending it for the exact amount of time you will need (for the sentence.) I had Anna use this technique before every single read. She would do a full inhale/exhale sequence two times, and then start her third, but after just the inhale she would simply begin reading the script. She also practiced this technique for a good five-ten minutes each day, to build up strength and endurance in her lungs in general. If I checked in with her today, and if she has continued this practice, I bet we’d see a good example of voiceover yogi in front of us. The second technique utilizes a quick cheat in those precise moments where you specifically need help. It’s what we call in voiceover terms a “quick sip” of air. If you find yourself in between sentences needing to gear up for the next sentence you can use it. If you find yourself running out of air during a very long sentence, simple notice where you are running out of air and go to the nearest place right before or after that where a brief but natural pause would make some sense, and employ that quick sip of air. Breath is the essence of life. If you need it, take it. The alternative is pretty grim. Anna chose well, and her reads went from sounding tight and “read” to off-the-cuff and conversational. She also managed to keep the command in her voice even though her overall read was more relaxed. Anna was now serving up the perfect voice over cocktail, if you ask me.
VICTOR – When Victor walked in the door we had a nice long chat. We talked about cats, plants, cooking….basically I must have bullied him into my interests. Nonetheless, I got to know his conversational style pretty well. I always like to engage with new students on a casual level before we begin, because it helps me to point out to them later, when they are doing all sorts of “voiceovery stuff”, that they spoke to me just PERFECTLY when they walked in the door, before a single script was looked at. Victor was no exception. In conversation with me he was relaxed, animated, warm, personable. With a voiceover script he was polished, perfect, smooth, over-enunciated, emotionally detached. Humans have a pretty good sense or intuition about whether someone is being “fake” with them or not. It’s no different in voiceover. That “perfect” performance will go against you in so many ways, but mostly, it will not be believed. What’s believable? Messy, imperfect, stuttering, under-enunciating some of the time, not smiling ALL the time. Much of this is covered in a previous article on the biggest aspects of Voiceover Technique, and is always worth a review. Victor just needed to get back to that first conversation we had and bring it to the script. When I reminded him to use his lower inflection more he sounded like a mid-tempo guy trying to do the big and booming “in a world” voice, and it was quite amusing. We both had a laugh. He eventually found his own footing with his inflection placement…..not too high as to sound like your being “fake nice” and trying to convince someone or sell to someone, and not too low like your putting on a “voice” and announcing, or worse, sounding overly cocky or serious. Yes, it’s a splitting hairs thing, and all the best voice actors know this after being directed by only a few people a few times. We want it not too hard, not too soft, but juuuuuust right. Goldilocks had it easy. I also reminded Victor how great a “talker” he was when he first walked in the door and how the biggest difference was he had a human audience and not a microphone. Normally for this reason I don’t even use a microphone with new students. I had him visualize the person he might share this information with (in this case it was Pyrex cookware so he chose his wife) and look into her eyes. I reminded him that just his connection with her, his true connection to his own imagination, would carry him through it. He did great. It also helps to let go of any and all “techniques” when the struggle is truly to connect to the human believability aspect. I was surprised to find out just how right-brained Victor was, how he responded so well to this type of suggestion. Now, we were 95% there, mind you. The last step was connecting Victor to his message(s) even further. Victor knew from previous work we did that if he didn’t sound convincing, if he wasn’t CONVINCED HIMSELF, there was no point in going for the job. An actor’s greatest skill is suspension of disbelief, and that he could and would find a way to feel that better cookware would make a difference in someone’s life! As a small cheat, just add a drop more smile and a dash more energy. Sounds like a recipe for a booking.
BRETT – Once again, going back to those conversations when students walk in the door, Brett was a ball of lightening. Energetic, vibrant, and just plain happy. His reads were slow, dry, and stiff. We had our work cut out for us. Brett confided that it was really hard for him to believe in half the stuff he was supposed to be saying, and that it made it that much harder to pretend. We went through the basic tenets of acting but he needed more. Now, I always let me students choose early on whether to sit or stand. I’m not concerned with the diaphragm at this stage in the game, I’m going for authenticity. But Brett had to stand. And what we found was that instantly his energy “stood up” too. He was free to move his arms around, sway a bit, and basically just be more open and present. Brett was a physical guy and this extra level of expression made such an incredible difference. The next layer to this was reminding Brett how his face could manifest his words into a truer expression as well. If what he is saying feels sarcastic, to remember what that looks like on someone’s face. If the line called for warmth, to soften the eyes, tilt the head slightly. Brett found his cheating angle through his body and was then able to “act” the part. You never know which is the cart and which the horse….
There are many more students, and many more lessons, so until next time . . .