Directing a voice actor so your project is better than best!

3 min read

In this age of social distancing, home studios, and self-direction, have you ever given a thought – as a client – to the importance of directing a voice actor?


Well, the argument that Voice123‘s professional voice actors know what they’re doing is certainly valid. But the difference between a good and a great voice over can also ride on your direct involvement.

Consider this:

Your ability to extract the best performance from the voice actor you’ve booked for your project by giving them subtle and effective pointers they may not have thought of.

You’re much closer to the project than they are. Providing them with insight that can inform their interpretation of your script might just be the secret sauce that sends your sales into the stratosphere!

The script?

Now that we’ve mentioned it – the script. It is more than a sheet of paper full of words. Sure, some of the words are bolded, and some italicized — but there’s a whole lot more to the business of creating voice over magic than that. 

image of a hand holding a pen over a script
Image: Shutterstock

Think of the voice over script as a treasure map. The map seems simple to read; follow the red-dotted line until you reach the treasure.

It’ll tell you how to get there, but there’s no instruction on the pace of your walk, the bumps and hills on the way, how the weather is, and so forth. That only manifests when you plot your trail properly. Similarly, you’ll only find the treasures of voice over when you understand the art of directing a voice actor.

Voice overs are nuanced, sometimes detailed, and if the director or the voice actor don’t know what they’re doing, very expensive.

Know thyself

By “know thyself,” we mean to know your project’s purpose. Who is the voice actor talking to? Is it: companies that provide a product or service? Is it consumers?

A helpful distinction to make is to think about whether your business is business-to-business, (B2B) or business-to-consumer, (B2C). If you think about talking to your customers as a business versus talking to them as a consumer, you may realize that you use different language, a different style, and a different tone of voice. Make sense?

When it comes to B2B communication, for example, we’re immediately drawn to more technical language, jargon, and industry-specific terms. Generally, sentences are purposed for practicality. 

As for B2C communication, the language is much more direct, simple, understandable, and designed to both effect and affect emotion. So, when it comes to B2B or B2C operations, you’ll want to use the desired language-elements.

Know the voice over

You’ll want to know clearly whether your voice over is something like an ad-read, or an explainer video. Depending on the type of voice over, there will also be a difference in the tempo of delivery.

If you’re explaining something that’s extremely technical, you won’t want to use the high-paced, high-intensity voice over from something like the next Die Hard movie

Well, there’s hardly any voice there, but the setting is too intense to explain the details of the car battery Bruce Willis is holding!

Similarly, an emotional ad requires the delicacy and flexibility of vocal intonation. You’ll want to hear sincerity and storytelling in the voice. You won’t want a robot punching out 1’s and 0’s for a product demonstration.

Consider inflection, tone, color, pacing, tempo — all these things are relevant to a voiceover. When directing a voice actor, you’ll want to know how the voice will manifest with each of these qualities. You can then use that knowledge to better the impact of your voice over!

Know how to communicate

Okay – so you have an idea of how you’re approaching the script, and you know exactly how you want it to sound. If we’re still on the treasure hunt, you’ve picked your equipment, you’ve plotted out the landscape, checked the weather, and you’re ready to go.

Image: Shutterstock

But what’s a treasure hunt without friends? You are not alone in this. To succeed, communication is key. Communication between you and the voice actor, between you and the ultimate client if you’re an intermediary, and so on.

As far as the actor goes, you’ll want to use practical language they can understand and implement. Avoid vague suggestions like “it should be happier.” Be specific: “Can you inflect more on (word)?” Use lots of adjectives – descriptive terms. The easier you make the process for the voice actor, the sooner you’ll get your treasure.

Another thing you can do is to use the same language. Yes, voice actors have their own language. Don’t worry, it’s not hard to learn. Basically, you’ll want to understand what voice actors need to hear during the creative process of producing the best voice over they can..

If you can follow their trains of thought — as wild as an artist’s can be — you’ll know how to put a voice over on the path to success, instead of blowing up the tracks. Once the voice actor is confused, you’re in trouble. You need to know what to say and when to say it.

Above all

If something isn’t working while directing a voice actor, try to keep calm. Be patient. Be supportive. Accentuate the positive, not the negative. Remember there’s a human being behind the mic, not a machine.

Try not to interrupt voice actors while they read, and don’t be mean or judgmental. This is a team effort.

So be kind. After all, being kind builds and preserves relationships — a true treasure in voice acting!