“Nothing…I’m feeling nothing…” this sentiment from that song in “A Chorus Line” is not what you want to be thinking when you read through a script as a voice-over artist, nor what you want your listener saying when they hear the finished product.
Connecting with your listener and making them feel something is job number one for a voice actor. If you fail to do that, they are unlikely to really hear or absorb your message.
So how does a voice actor connect emotionally with a script?
Sometimes it happens naturally. If you’re doing a public service announcement for the American Cancer Society and have recently lost a family member to cancer, you’ll likely feel a punch to the gut immediately. Likewise, if you’re a huge animal advocate, and you’re hired to voice a narration on combating elephant poaching in Africa, you’ll probably connect pretty naturally Even a commercial for Miracle-Gro will bring a smile to your face if the product has recently helped turn your backyard into an oasis of greenery.
But what if none of that is true? What if you have no apparent connection to the product, service or narration topic?
That’s where imagination, visualization, and acting skills come in.
First, try imagining you’re chatting with a friend or family member who you know would have a strong reaction to the script. Maybe your Aunt Emily has suffered with painful arthritis for years, and would love to find relief from the Advil or Aleve you’re pitching. Or perhaps your neighbor, who tragically lost their teenage son in a drunk driving accident, would have a visceral reaction to a PSA from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Second, come up with a scenario in your mind that WOULD make you have those strong feelings.
Take this PSA:
Above the Influence
I thought I respected myself. That is, until I saw myself get high. It’s just an ugly side of myself that I didn’t recognize. Saying and doing things that just weren’t me. I do respect myself. That’s why I don’t do drugs.
The scenario could be that as a teenager, you fell in with the wrong crowd and started using drugs. But you pulled yourself out of it, either through rehab or on your own. You are one of the lucky ones, who did not end up dead, in jail, or with any permanent damage. Now as an adult, you feel that one of your missions in life is to stop other young people from going down that road. You are on a tour of schools in your area, speaking to high school juniors and seniors. Speaking from experience, you’re advising them to stay away from drugs, since it was not a fun time for you. That backstory could help give this script the drama and intensity it needs.
Now let’s look at a commercial script:
Does peace of mind have a name? Can confidence and trust be summed up in one word? Can innovation really mean security? In 90 manufacturing centers in 27 countries, Goodyear scientists and engineers are working every day to answer these questions. And to ensure that your family is riding on the safest, most durable tires we can make. Peace of mind does have a name – it’s Goodyear.
In addition to selling tires, this spot is pitching the idea of keeping your family safe. Even if you are single and have no children, we can all relate to that idea. We can all imagine putting four Goodyear tires on our SUV, driving our family around town and not worrying about blowing a tire and careening across the highway just because we drove over a nail. Having that image in your mind as a VO artist can aid in coming up with the warm, fuzzy, reassuring tone needed for this spot.
Acting skills are crucial, of course. In the voice-over business, it’s not enough to have a nice voice and to read well. Strong acting chops are one of the main things that separate average VO artists from really good ones. If you are serious about a career in voice-overs and have no theatrical training at all, taking an acting class is an excellent idea.
One definition of acting is “behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” That is what we’re doing when presenting a voice-over script.
If you are in touch with your own emotions, have a vivid imagination and empathy for others, you should be able to connect emotionally with any voice-over script. All it takes is a little time, a little creative thought and perhaps some soul-searching.
Whether we’re selling aspirin, asking for donations to the Red Cross or narrating a piece on how to write a business plan, we have to connect with our listener’s heart and soul, not just their brain. To make them feel something when hearing a voice-over script, we have to feel something about it first.