Conversations in an Empty Room
The house was empty. I was alone with my cup of coffee. Standing in a padded room, talking to myself. Yup it might sound like I’ve gone nuts, but please believe me when I tell you this is normal. I’m not crazy. I’m a voice actor.
Being a voice actor is a very social job. The only strange thing is that often times you have to be social by yourself. The conversations that go on throughout the day only include one person, but if I want to be a top notch voice actor I’ll need to become passionate about having small talk with myself.
One of the most common things a producer or director will say to a voice actor is to ‘be conversational’ or sound like ‘the everyday guy’ or the ‘guy next door’. But how the heck can I do that if I’m the only one in the room? The trick that I’m understanding more and more is that you have to learn to talk to people, even when they’re not there.
At first, when I would audition for voiceover jobs that asked me to be conversational I would just try my best to act normal and talk how I always talk. This sounds really easy to do; I do it all the time in my everyday life. But when you’re in front of a microphone with no one around you, that simple task becomes incredibly hard to do.
So what I’ve learned to do instead is ask myself some questions before I start reading the copy for the audition or job. Each question brings me closer to sounding conversational and natural.
Who do I know that would be interested in this product/service?
The first question I ask myself helps me figure out who I should tell about the product or service I’m talking about in the voiceover. In other words, who will I have a conversation with? The closer the relationship, the better. Choosing somebody that I’m completely comfortable with makes sounding conversational really easy. If I can talk to the audience about a product the same way that I would talk to my dad or my sister, I’m headed in the right direction.
What would they love about this product/service?
Once I know the person I’m going to talk to, I think about the project I’m voicing and how it relates to that person. What would my sister love about this shampoo product? Why would I tell her about it? If I can find a real reason that my sister would relate to the product then I can tell the audience about it with total confidence.
Can I imagine them standing next to me?
The last question is simple: can I imagine my sister standing next to me while I’m recording? Once I’ve answered all of these questions, I can start recording. Now that I have a person in mind, I don’t have to fake being real. I can just be myself and talk to my sister. I might even add a line before recording the script to make myself feel even more comfortable with the conversation. You can say the person’s name and tell them something about the product/service you’re talking about in the voiceover.
For example, if I was telling my sister about a new shampoo I would say: “ Hey Melynda, remember yesterday when we were talking about how annoying it is to use shampoo that dries your hair out?” After that, I would go straight into the voiceover. Since I started by talking to Melynda, the whole voiceover will sound like a conversation with someone I’m close to rather than me trying to tell a stranger about a new shampoo product.
These questions have made the direction of being conversational and natural much less intimidating. I’ve developed strategies that work for me and I use them before I record.
Every voiceover is basically a conversation. It’s just a matter of knowing who you’re talking to. No matter how nice your microphone is...it’s just not a good conversation partner. Choose a person that you know and like - and talk to them. I’ve had lots of conversations with family members in the last couple of months without them actually knowing about it.
I really recommend trying this if you’re a voice actor and you struggle with those ‘guy or girl next door reads’. Like anything else, this will get easier and easier the more I do it. I’ll become comfortable having conversations in my studio and eventually, it’ll start to feel like they’re actually in the studio with me all day. Let’s just hope for my sake that I don’t start having arguments with my imaginary friends and family!