5 Ways to Loosen up your eLearning VO
"Make it conversational!"
"We DON'T want an Announcer."
"Casual. Laid Back. A Guy You'd Wanna Hang Out With."
These are just a sampling of the specs that voiceover talent get every day when going through our list of auditions. The predominant direction in almost all messaging (commercial, narration, training, etc) over a decade or more has been, essentially, "Don't make it so formal!"
Makes sense, right? The old school announcer is seen as synonymous with advertising. And advertising is hopelessly entwined with B.S. You don't want someone to sell you. You want a 'trusted friend' telling you about a product they love. If you want your brand to be perceived as authentic, the voice delivering your message better sound authentic right off the bat.
The same general concept is true in eLearning, but the vestiges of old, staid tutorial tones are still hanging around. There certainly has been a huge movement to transform training into something less traditional and more fun, but click around the Internet enough and you'll find that many eLearning companies (and the voiceover talent they hire) are still creating content that's pretty flat.
So how can we shake things up? There's no way around the fact that lots of training covers serious topics. I just did something about life insurance the other day and let's face it, there's few ways to lighten the mood around accidental dismemberment. But-- no matter what the subject matter-- I came up with 5 basic things for developers and voice talent to think about to make your next set of eLearning courses more conversational.
#1. Break the fourth wall.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I'm sure the conceit of speaking to the camera in a feature film had been done before (in fact: Annie Hall comes to mind), but when I saw Ferris in 1986, it was new to me-- and the gimmick of taking directly to the audience took an already compelling character and made him even cooler! Sometimes I think what eLearning needs is to be a little more meta--crack the facade of the disembodied training voice now and then. When you have 5 acronyms in a single paragraph for a sales training course: make a joke about it! "We sure do love our acronyms around here." Almost any quick aside to the listener will stand out and make them pay closer attention.
#2. If you want your script to sound casual, make sure it reads that way.
One of the best ways to make sure your script doesn't come off as overly stiff is to read it out loud. Sometimes, it isn't until we verbalize things that we realize what is... or isn't... working. Yes, it's the voice talent's job to say technical jargon like they use it all the time (I'm looking at you, Medical Scripts) but the writer can give the VO a huge leg up by writing in a flowing, conversational style.
#3. Speaking of which--(pause for emphasis)-- Punctuate Properly.
I can't tell you how many times I've been tripped up by missing commas or run on sentences. At these times, profanity tends to pop out of my mouth (later to be edited). Dashes, ellipses, and colons are the road signs of your script-- and they help the VO talent to navigate all those tricky phrases immeasurably.
#4. Make contractions whenever you can.
This is a simple trick both writers and voice talent can employ to make scripts more conversational. "Today we will be learning about LMS" sounds much more casual as "Today we'll be learning about LMS." About the only time a contraction shouldn't be used is when emphasis is called for.
#5. Voice talent: if a writer is going to read their words out loud, make sure you are regularly monitoring yourself, too!
When I listen back to eLearning stuff I did years back, I admit I cringe. Too stiff. Too sing-songy. Too enunciated. When rolling through an eLearning module, stop recording and listen back now and then to make sure you're keeping it loose. A good reference for me are radio shows or podcasts like This American Life. Ira Glass and his correspondents are maybe a bit too off the cuff and garbled sometimes, but there's a flavor there that works. It may be scripted, but it doesn't sound that way, and that's a goal to aim for.
If you have any tricks or tips to share, feel free to leave them in the comments!