Voiceover talent is often subcontracted toward the middle or end of an e-learning program. As they are often outside of a project, the managers may not be aware of all the things that they can gain by working with a voice talent. I’ve been an e-learning voiceover narrator for 25 years and highly sought after to coach hundreds of talents interested in working in the field. Here are some of the essential things I’ve learned that can help improve the eLearning voice over experience.
Important Lessons About Sound from Film and Video Production
Although we think of film and video as primarily visual mediums, their producers know that without sound, visuals have less emotional impact and fall flat. Perhaps because sound is our first experienced sense, but content creators in these mediums say sound is more important than you think. Emotion is informed by sound and that sound is a fast track to accessing a viewer’s memories – perhaps because both sound processing and memory stores are located in the same part of the brain.
The audio adds context to visuals and therefore brings an experience to life. A professional voice over talent sees their role as a critical element that can bring together all learning elements such as script, interaction, slides, and animation. It has the power and potential to impactfully teach on an emotional and intellectual level.
What To Look for When Working With Voice Talent
A professional voice artist understands and appreciates your goals in transferring knowledge and changing behavior with your eLearning programs. A well-trained talent knows that learning happens best when emotions are engaged and will appropriately lean into that component of your text. This also means they need to understand why your content is important to the learner and to the person who created the content.
If your program is full of animation or static slides, a voice over artist may be the only real-time human element in the presentation. So they have a critical role in helping to find and transmit the passion, the importance, the inspiration, the humor, and all other elements you wish to communicate.
Apart from price, when working with voice talent, consider these factors:
- Their performance & experience
- What studio specifications they use
- Any recommendations or reviews they have
- How quickly they can turn files around
- If they subcontract their editing to a sound engineer or do the editing themselves
- If file splitting and labeling are included
- What their policy is on pickups (new lines or changes to text after delivery)
New Roles to Explore with Your Narrator and Voice Over Characters
Happily, educators have unleashed their imaginations in recent years and are exploring the roles that best get their info across. Characters in scenario and narrative-based instruction are more realistic. Actors are encouraged to bring real emotional depth to their roles to heighten the experience and increase retention and engagement in learners.
Happily, narrator roles are expanding beyond “instructor” “professional” or “manager” as well. Recent roles I’ve explored with content creators include a commander-military type narrator, a detective, a coach, a game show host, a rally race leader (that one won a Gold Brandon Hall), a quirky sidekick, and a Marvel-inspired superhero.
Poor Audio Quality Confounds Learning
Poor quality audio is very distracting for the learner. For two years, while he was engaged by a major university to create eLearning content, an instructional designer buddy of mine lamented this fact. No amount of education about the impact of poor audio quality could convince professors to come and record their material in the on-campus studios.
Invariably my friend received poor quality sound files with lots of sound reflection (echoes), distracting mouth noises or bursts of distortion from improper mic techniques. His sound engineer could only fix so much. Sound is truly an area where an ounce of preventive care in its capture is worth a pound of cure.
Passionate Subject Matter Expertise vs Quality Voice Actor Talent
I admit a great subject matter expert (SME) who understands audio technique and has presentation skills can give a good voice actor a run for their money. Unfortunately, most SMEs are not educated on presentation skills. And some voice actors hold the outdated notion that narration needs to be without passion. The best case is a SME who has presentation training, or a voice actor who can effectively portray the role of a great subject matter expert (both things I coach).
The main point is, you want someone who respects the art of sound recording, is passionate about the subject and engages with the audience. Ideally, they will read the text as if they talk about this subject with authority every day.
Supporting eLearning by Working With Voice Talent
My particular passion is making complex concepts and ideas very relatable. Perhaps it comes from reading out loud on behalf of others for most of my career. I enjoy the challenge of transmitting complex text and am drawn to medical, technical, and financial industries. My goal is to help make dense material easy to understand and retain. Over the years I’ve honed my skills on how to best present other people’s words as my own, and I’ve created lesson plans to teach this method. If you’re interested in finding out more about eLearning voice over narration, contact me today!