genderThe other day, one of my agents said “it’s been very boy-centric over here,” pointing out that there had been a run of scripts with specs requesting male voices.

On the other hand, I’ve picked up some jobs recently because clients are “switching to a female” after years of using a male voice for training.

So what’s in the gender of a voice that matters for your explainer video? Oooh…that’s a question that’ll start some debates, isn’t it? A topic this juicy shouldn’t be tackled in a single serving.

So I contacted a delicious assortment of voiceover (VO) pros and industry professionals, male and female, and asked them a few questions about gender as it relates to their work. Their responses have been boiled down to steps you can keep handy for the next time you’re hashing out an explainer video with your production consultant. We’ll cover the first in this post:

Step 1 – Know your tropes

Try some stereotypes on for size (or don’t!)

Love it or hate it, there is still a tendency to go to a particular gender when a particular type of delivery is needed. Sometimes a client doesn’t even realize that they’re asking for a gender when what they really want is a tone.

By being consciously aware of voice stereotypes, you give yourself options: familiarity that sounds “normal,” or novelty that adds a pinch of zest.

My fellow VOs and I pooled the last few years’ script specs. Here are the most consistent adjectives per gender:

  • Male
    Authoritarian, Fatherly, Gruff/Gritty, Powerful.
  • Female
    Warm, Motherly, Caring/Nurturing, Soothing/Reassuring

 

Looks like the 50s are alive and well in VO land, doesn’t it?

Because these are still the ideas that most come to mind per gender, they’re the voice types that won’t raise an eyebrow in your video. This can be a good thing. It gives you a base, an idea of which gender to tap if you have a message going out to an audience that wants something they’re used to – comfort food, if you will.

But luckily for us, we live in a time where the audience has a refined palate and a taste for novel ideas. So if you choose to flip these lists and use a gruff female or a reassuring male, you can make your video pop but still keep your audience at the table. Some Jane Lynch, anyone? Or a bit of Patton Oswalt?

The appetite for “professional” and “determined” women is getting stronger, as it is for “calming” men. And let’s not forget that the ever-popular styles of conversational, hip, quirky, and/or friendly are gender neutral and can be applied to a cornucopia of products.

Being well versed in the gender-adjective connection can help you plan for your audience and the direction you want your video to take. In my next post, we’ll check in to our second course: getting those ears involved.

Sincere thanks to my charming and fabulous VO colleagues Karin Allers, Todd Ellis, Paul Kraimer, Mike Laponis and Kristin Lennox, whose insight will be continuing throughout this series. Stay tuned for part two soon!

 

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.