When your marketing team is creating an explainer video or training program, you may be tempted to use the nearest “good voice.” The guy in sales who used to be a DJ. Your sister, who sings for the orchestral choir. After all, they have fantastic voices, they’re nearby and known to you, and they’ll work cheap. You might even have them do the scratch track, and decide that sounds good enough.

But when an agent, creative director, or production manager wants to include a pro VO, or voice over,  in the budget – they aren’t trying to pad out the numbers. They’re trying to make sure your video is on par with the best content already out there. Content with which your customers are bombarded every day. Because frankly, given our information-overload world, “good enough” just isn’t.

It’s hard for me to be objective, of course. So let’s have the sounds speak for themselves.

Check out this short video. The VO was done by a well-read, clever woman with strong singing credentials and a very nice voice. She was careful with her mic placement and did multiple takes with direction to ensure a clean read at a good pace:


 
Not bad, right? There’s some good tone variation, the sound engineer cleaned up a bit of hiss between the words and punched up the volume, and the deadpan delivery sort of works. Here’s what happens when that same script is recorded by a professional VO:
 

Hopefully you can hear a difference. That difference you’re hearing has five components:

  • Sound Quality: Anyone can own a good mic and be careful with placement. But a pro VO has a dedicated room or studio that’s been conditioned to make sure the recording sounds “polished.”
  • Speaking to the audience: Does one video sound like someone is speaking straight to you? Making a script sound personal takes effort, training, and know-how.
  • Emphasis: VOs have years of experience spotting the essential parts of a script. They can make a listener react and remember, but not feel hit over the head with the message.
  • Pace: Every script has some cruft – small print, legalese, exposition – a necessary evil that eats precious time. A pro VO can glide over those parts (or fly through them) while still being clear. And if the whole script needs a slow or fast pace to match the tone of the video, they’ll give you consistency.
  • Personality: A listener likes to hear a real person behind a script. And like the bed-head look, coming off casual actually takes time. The VO you hire can infuse your script with humanity.
  • Extra Credit: Behind the Scenes: You won’t hear this one, but you’ll feel it. Pro VOs have hours of every day set aside to record, so turnaround is quick and predictable. Need to change a word? A pro will be able to match the tone of the original so the edit doesn’t stand out. They’ll ask the right questions: about the audience, the script, the file format, etc. These little details are worth a lot in time saved and hassle avoided. And almost certainly in sales created and impressions made.

Yeah, I’m biased. I’ve seen and heard many videos that make me wince, knowing that the message is being hampered by amateur VO. But hopefully, after this little compare-and-contrast, you’re inclined to be a little biased too.

 

Kendra Hoffman renounced her engineering ways to become a voice actor specializing in making copy sound smart. Her studio is based in Minneapolis, though she’s been heard around the world. Her geek cred is substantial. Read Kendra’s other blog posts.