So…what’s your story? Or rather what is your relationship with story? Chances are it’s tight. We humans love story. We swim in it, soak in it, eat it up daily. Hourly, even. But have you stopped to consider your relationship with story as a voiceover artist?
Levar Burton, (Reading Rainbow guy, Geordie from Star Trek:Next Generation, Kunta Kinte in Roots) as the key note speaker at DevLearn 2017, stated that story telling is our super power as human beings. Intrinsic to that power is the ability to project ourselves in a moment outside this one. Speaking to a few thousand eLearning developers and creators, he recommended habituating the gateway to story, using the ubiquitous chestnut “What if” to better engage their users and learners.
How voiceover artists use “What if”?
By bringing it to everything you read. If you’re trained in acting, you recognize this as incorporating Meisner technique or Practical Aesthetics. If your background is broadcasting, think of it as finding that personal angle to hook the 6 o’clock supper hour news story on. But make it personal to you. The copy is a retail radio spot for a weekly special about cheap chicken and toilet paper? Use “what if” to imagine those prices really making a difference in your life. Maybe you’re a millennial who’s just left home, you’ve got a new family and all your money is going toward diapers, or you’re on a fixed pension. If the copy doesn’t provide it, build your backstory to better present it. Your “what if” world-building will help your message connect on an emotional level.
Emotion Amps Up VoiceOver Storytelling
Settled around the crackling fireplace, the smells of Sunday pot roast lingering in the air and your grandfather tap, tap, tapping the tobacco in his pipe as he launches into a story about his youth. How did you feel? Lit up like a Christmas tree? Our brains are actually wired to process info best through storytelling. We have an eons old history of passing everything on aurally. Whether legend, cautionary tale or recipe on how to live life, we figured out over millennia the kids would get it faster, deeper, better if sewn together in story. In fact, three times more areas of our brains light up when we bake info in a story cake than if we just slice it up into naked factoids.
Persuasive Voiceover and Influencing Action
Your story (i.e. commercial ad, corporate narration, explainer video, etc.) if told well (i.e. with emotion, with enough world building and an appropriate “what if”) will prompt your listener to action (which is what your client wants) and fill out their time cards appropriately or sign up for the corporate baseball team or go and put that brand of frozen pizza in their shopping cart next time they need groceries. What we do is powerful stuff (when done well). Our clients entrust us to tell their stories to their clients. It’s a big responsibility. We are the Hermes of humanity. The messengers. To ply our trade well, we need to understand both the needs of the message maker and message receiver.
Morphing a Memorable Message
A story told well stays with you. Romeo and Juliet. A Christmas Carol. Harry Potter. Yes, these are all written stories which we’ve read at one time or another, but the same holds true for stories told in spoken word. Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Kate Winslet in Titanic. Great stories, but also, really great voiceover narrators. Those voices, telling those stories stick with you. Same with ads. The Alka Selzter man from the 70’s moaning “I can’t believe I ate the whoooole thing,” the tiny grandma from the 80’s shouting “Where’s the beef?” or more recently, Matthew McConaughey rubbing his fingers and musing, “That’s a big bull” in the Lincoln ads. Story makes the message stick.
Tell Your Voiceover Story
Back at the DevLearn conference, LeVar Burton wrapped up his speech on storytelling to the eLearning crowd by telling us what we imagine and what we create are inextricably linked. So true. Everything man has ever created existed first as an imagining, shared with another in, most probably, story. It begs the question, whether copywriter, voiceover artist, producer or “other” creative, what will your unique contribution be? What are your stories? And how will you tell them from your singular perspective?