This post is about one the #1 top technique every voice over actor must master! It's the mother of all methods, which is simple on its surface, yet challenging to achieve. It holds one of the keys to connecting to the listener and making a lasting impression. It will help you sound less like an announcer and more conversational. It takes only a little imagination. What is it? You must speak to one person! So just precisely, what does "speak to one person" mean? The idea is as simple as it sounds. Imagine yourself speaking with a single individual and not to a broad audience. When you speak to one person, you create a conversation. You invite the listener into your world, which connects them at a visceral level. Because you're speaking with them, they inherently become receptive and become a part of the conversation within their mind. The result is engagement in what you're saying. Conversely, when you broadcast to a wide audience (or speak without anyone specifically in mind), it's often received as a talking point or a sell. You're NOT conversing with anyone, and instead are TELLING people what to do and think. This lack of empathy turns the listener off, especially in advertising! A useful mnemonic to remember is "Telling is Selling". You never want to sell. It’s better to inform.
Imagine this scenario for a moment. You're at a motivational seminar with a group of 500 other people. The speaker is on stage, professing that to achieve success, you need to follow nine specific, actionable steps. You listen intently and delight in the excellent advice and which you’re sure to follow. Once home, how many of those steps will you remember? Instead, if you were to meet with the same speaker at home, discussing those nine actionable steps in person, how many would you recall in detail? Significantly more because you're engaged in an intimate, one on one conversation. You’re personally vested in what the speaker has to say. When a person broadcasts to a large group of people, they unconsciously see the group as a single entity. However, the people within the group see themselves as individuals. A voice actor must reach out to the individual and not the group. Visualizing a single person with whom you're speaking creates this connection. It engages your mind and, thus, the listener also feels engaged. "Talk to everyone and speak with no one" is apropos. So, single that person out and speak with them! Here’s how.
Visualize with IMAGINTION! What you need to do is IMAGINE that you're speaking with a single person. Again, this is the number one technique every voice over actor MUST LEARN! Side note regarding language. "With a single person", rather than "To a single person" is the preferred vernacular because it is inclusive language that places you in a receptive mental state. You will start to "hear" the other person in your mind, which will help visualize them. Many voice actors choose a friend. The greater the detail you imagine, the greater the connection will be with the listener. Imagining both physical and mental traits is helpful to actualize the person with whom you're speaking. • Is your friend a man or a woman? • What color hair do they have? • Is she technical-minded? • How do they perceive me? • Are they knowledgeable about the subject? • Does he ride his bike to work or take the train? • How big of a bowl do they scoop their ice cream into? Notice how a few of those questions are action-specific and conjure distinct mental imagery? Asking action questions bolsters your visualization. Take it a step further and ask questions of action as it relates to the script. They can be actions taken upon your friend, or actions taken by your friend. Each creates a unique mental image.
It doesn't have to be just a friend. You can envision other people if it makes sense. For example, while you may never talk to your friend about an enlarged prostate (BPH), you may speak with your husband about his. This change with whom you're speaking creates a tactical shift to the conversation. Suddenly it becomes more realistic, which the listener will unconsciously pick up on. For example, let's say you would talk with a friend about an enlarged prostate. Your approach may be humorous because it's an uncomfortable topic and you wish to hide your anxiety. However, talking with your husband about it may elicit deep concern and empathy. Visualizing your husband is superior in this case because the emotional state is likely more appropriate for the subject. Take a moment to explore this idea now. Who would you visualize if performing a script about car care? What about a spot for the dry cleaners? One important note, don’t flutter through the work of this process. Take the time to really visualize! Even if the person is not real, imagine hard enough so that they become real. Your performance will benefit. Over time, this process will become easier.
Send in the Props!
If you're having difficulty speaking with one person, bring in a prop. Props are tremendously useful in creating a conversational tone. You have the best one in your pocket, your phone. Try this, grab one of our free voice over scripts and your phone. Now, read and record yourself while holding the phone up to your ear. Do the same, but this time without using the phone as a prop.
Did you notice how much more comfortable and at ease you sounded while holding the phone? Props not only help you imagine the person with whom you're speaking, but they also prevent us from overthinking our role in the conversation. We unconsciously relax, stop "acting," and rather "live in the moment." Great voice over acting lives in the moment! While not voice over per se, listen to Bob Newhart's comedic telephone bits. They are hilarious and a great example of using a phone as a prop. (The other thing he does well is pause and let the virtual person speak)
Let's Review. Great voice over acting lives in the moment, and you should strive to be in that moment as much as possible. Try to visualize and speak with one person. It's the #1 technique that all successful voice over actors must do! This technique invites the listener into the conversation and communicates on a personal level, creating a lasting connection. Mix it up by imagining different people to change your tactical approach. Use props to help you live in the moment and further develop a conversational tone. Remember, imagination goes a long way!