Sounding natural is by far the most desired style in voice-over today. Yet, surprisingly, it can be the most challenging delivery to achieve, especially in front of a microphone. I still chuckle sometimes, listening to a recording of myself, after “trying” to sound natural – even with the amount of experience I have in this industry! So what’s the problem? It’s in the word “trying.”
It’s easy to “be” ourselves, but nearly impossible to “try” to be ourselves. Do this fun exercise as an example: pick a simple activity you do every day, like getting up in the morning and making coffee. You do it without thinking, right? Now try re-creating that morning routine as if you are doing it as a scene in a movie. Do you notice the awkward feeling of self- observation kick in? Watching ourselves doing what we do naturally actually stops the natural flow of events!
We are only truly ourselves when we are not thinking about our actions.
In the same way, the moment we start “listening” to ourselves, we stop being natural. That’s why many voice actors have stopped using headsets, which by their very nature would force us to listen to ourselves.
So, what is the answer to this voice-over conundrum?
Use your head to read the copy…then use your heart to deliver it. We live in a society that values thoughts over feelings – which makes it even harder for us to get out of our heads. To be great voice actors, we need the courage to show how a script makes us feel, because people respond to feelings, not words.
In your quest to sound natural, start working on exercises that get you more connected with your heart and feelings. When you get a piece of copy, ask yourself, “Do I care about what I am saying?” If you find that you do not care, find a way to make yourself care. When you begin the process of making yourself care about the copy, you are getting connected to it.
The more connected we are to the copy…the less we are thinking about ourselves. As in real life, we are living the story instead of playing it.
Another great script immersion exercise is the backstory. Read through the copy to get a complete understanding of the storyline, and then begin improvising a backstory on the fly. Don’t think, don’t edit yourself, just start talking with the goal of connecting yourself in a personal and specific way to the story. At first, this process will feel weird, even scary, and some very strange things will come out of your mouth. But that’s ok! Stay with it, and you will start to feel your connection take shape. Intuitively, you will know when to jump right into the copy!
Perhaps the most important exercise we can do to cultivate our natural delivery is to record ourselves and listen back. I am always surprised by how few students are practicing this easy and effective technique. In the end, we are our best teachers! We are all experts in knowing what sounds natural and believable.
The next time you get a piece of copy, take risks; ask yourself, “Am I connected? Am I revealing who I am?”
As acting coach, Anthony Meindl, recently asked his class, “Are you brave enough to share who you are? That’s your calling in life – not an acting calling.” When you do this, your delivery can’t help but become more natural!
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Nancy Wilson is a Producer and Coach. She will be directing the SAG/AFTRA Radio Players in the upcoming performance of the old time radio broadcast of The Whistler, at The Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles.