Voice-over is really quite simple…as simple as flying a plane. All you need to do is follow relevant voice-over guidelines that include;
Determine the purpose of the voice-over
Write a killer script
Choose the right voice talent
Set up a professional recording environment
Edit and polish the final voice-over
But this will not be one of those articles that provides a step by step guide on how to create the perfect voice-over.
However, what works for one person might not always work for another.
As the message in the voice-over changes, the delivery technique also changes.
Which is why the most important voice-over guideline is to create a roadmap that guides you. You should always create voice-overs with one audience, message, and intention in mind.
This post has been updated in August 2021.
Voice-over Guideline #1: Start with a Creative Brief
You know when you hire a professional scriptwriter and they have you fill out a creative brief? This is where you should start.
The voice-over process doesn’t begin with writing the script. Preparation takes you a long way in this game.
Don’t sit back and think ‘the voice talent can figure this out themselves.’
Define what you want using a guideline that helps you narrow down what really matters to your business and your voice-over project.
Some of the questions you should answer in the guideline include:
1. What is your target audience?
This will help you shape the tone of your voice-over, and consequently, select the right voice talent.
2. Describe your product/ service in 1 or 2 sentences.
This is so you can clearly define what you are selling. Such information is vital both in writing the voice-over scripts and developing visuals for your video.
3. What are the 3 major benefits of your product/ service?
Don’t make the mistake of listing features of your product instead of the benefits.
Your audience doesn’t want to listen to the latest technical features of your product, they want an emotional connection. The voice-over should make them excited to explore what you have to offer.
4. What tone should the voice-over take?
This should be easy after you define your audience. It also depends on the message you want to send. You can choose a friendly, authoritative, warm, or excited tone for your voice-over. There are no guidelines on this, it all just depends on what your end goal is.
5. What will motivate your audience to act after watching the video?
This is where you come up with the call to action. What makes your voice-over so good that they will be motivated to act when they hear the call to action?
Remember, you can’t just place a ‘CALL US NOW’ at the end of the voice-over and expect your audience to act without a reason. Your voice-over needs to be good enough to elicit a response.
It’s good to have a checklist before you start because you can always refer back to it when you feel lost as you move along. Remember who you are creating the voice-over for (your audience), and keep them in mind until the end.
The creative brief is not just for voice actors and scriptwriters; its an essential road map that even you, as a client, should have.
Are You Sure You Need Voice-over Guidelines?
There are many types of videos you could make, and not all of them require voice-over. Some scenes are better when acted out on the screen.
If you’re going to use voice-over, make sure the voice adds something to the narrative.
Does it elevate the video’s emotion or enhance the connection with the audience? Is the voice providing any useful information or merely describing what’s happening on screen?
Before you go hiring a voice actor, re-examine your script and make sure the narrator’s voice adds value to the video.
This is a common mistake especially when celebrity voices are involved. Brands hire famous voices but fail to consider how this voice fits into the company narrative.
If you follow the relevant guidelines, voice-over can elevate your video in multiple ways:
Voice-over can fill in the gaps in your video and give the audience a deeper and more developed message.
Depending on the choice of tone, voice-over can humanize your brand by presenting a friendly or helpful image.
Voice-over can also persuade people to take action. The voice acts like an all-knowing guide and inspires trust in the audience.
But don’t force any of this to happen.
If you’re still unsure about whether your video needs a voice-over or not, here is another helpful voice-over guideline to consider:
Pick One Important Thing, And Emphasize It
We don’t mean to emphasize the most important words in the voice-over script (although you should also do this).
We mean you should choose, between your video and your voice-over, the most important part of your project.
When you prioritize the elements of your project, it will force you to consider the purpose of each one of them.
Are the visuals more important in communicating your message?
In this case, the purpose of the voice-over (as in script) becomes to expand on the visuals and provide more context to the audience. Knowing this, you can hire a voice talent that is better suited to the project.
Similarly, if the script is the most important part of the project…
Then the visuals should enhance the words.
Just a side note: When it comes to radio commercials, the goal is to create images in the minds of the listeners, so make sure the script is descriptive.
It’s been argued that visuals are always secondary to audio when it comes to voice-over. This may or may not be true, but too much visual detail (as well as unprofessional or unnecessary audio) can be distracting.
And if the video can work without the voice-over, get rid of the voice-over.
What Comes First: The Video or The Voice-Over?
There is no right answer to this question because either order can work.
A lot of voice actors prefer to record the voice-over first as it leads to fewer problems along the way.
What problems, you ask?
Well, syncing audio to video is not as easy as you might think. The truth is it’s just easier to adapt the video to the pace and speed of the voice-over (as opposed to adapting the voice-over to the pace of the video).
That being said…
There are no voice-over guidelines explicitly stating that the voice should be recorded first. In fact, you can do the live shooting of your video before you hire a voice actor…
Never edit the final video without recording the voice-over.
And if you absolutely insist on making the video first, follow these voice-over guidelines:
1. Ensure the video’s timing is precise.
What happens if you allocate 2 seconds to a scene in the video yet the matching line in the script takes 4 seconds to read?
The voice talent will be forced to read quickly to make up for the error. Either that or you’ll have to change the video. You might even end up adjusting a perfectly written voice-over script just because you failed to account for timing. To avoid this inconvenience, read the script out loud (not too quickly and not too slowly) while watching the video.
2. Provide the voice-actor with information on the video’s content and timing.
Again, you have to be on the same page with the voice talent. Even if it means recording a rough draft of the voice-over to act as a guide for the voice-actor.
Forget the Voice-over Guidelines and Have Fun
Consistency isn’t just important when recording voice-over, it’s also necessary when you are trying to build an audience. You might think, ‘this one is a no-brainer…’
But it can be hard to stay consistent with the voice of your brand, especially because consistency can be boring.
A wise voice doesn’t have to be old, and an authoritative voice doesn’t have to be male.
Play around with your voice-over, depending on what your audience wants, and see what you can come up with. These voice-over guidelines are not all there is to the process. Try different things and find out what works for your videos and your brand.
As long as you maintain the message and tone of your brand, there is no harm in changing a few things here and there to make the audience more interested in your content. People respond to funny, engaging, and daring content, so give your ideas a chance.
Bonus Voice-over Guidelines
1. Sound quality will make or break your voice-over.
The voice talent you hire needs to read the script clearly. Other than this, they need to have high-quality recording equipment.
Viewers will not want to listen to bad audio, even if the visuals are breathtaking. Make sure every part of your voice-over project carries its weight, and the best way to do this is by having a professional edit your work after everything is recorded.
Speaking of which…
2. Should you hire a professional?
There are pros and cons to hiring a professional voice talent, but if you can afford it, it’s the safest choice to make.
If you really don’t want to hire a voice talent, then at least swing for a voice coach (director). Voice-over looks easy until you start doing it and realize that it takes more than your voice to bring words to life.
Besides, doing it yourself means being the voice actor, the producer, the engineer, the director, and the editor. This is a lot to handle even for an expert. Outsourcing some of these tasks might seem expensive, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run.
3. Aim to be invisible
When recording voice-over, the goal is to blend the voice into the video so that the audience doesn’t notice any disconnect between the two.
A sense of humor is a good thing in voice-over, the guidelines are just there so you don’t stray too far away from the line.
All the best.
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