5 Things to Try When You’ve Been Given Contradicting or Confusing Directions

I had a really good – and frustrating day – yesterday. I welcomed three new clients to the True Voice Productions family. That was great! And, as chance would have it,  all three of them reference the same selection in my Commercial Demo as the style read they preferred. It was the luxury car commercial. I completed the first job on the first try the first client. I completed The third job on the first try for the third client. But the second client… that took four takes.

I wish I could blame it on the script, but it is rarely the script’s fault. The script was long, and it recited a lot of facts; but a good voiceover should still be able to take that material and deliver it in the style read requested.

The difficulty I’ve come to understand is in how the style read was described. And this gets to the heart of the matter – perception. How are our messages (i.e., the script) end voice (i.e., style read and delivery) perceived?

“Perception is not just subjective, it’s individualized.”

Perception is not just subjective, it’s individualized.

The first client sent me the script and left the delivery to my discretion. Upon reviewing the delivery they commented that they were very glad that I did it like the car commercial because that was their favorite. So this was dumb luck on my part, the client hadn’t provided any direction or guidance on tone.  Not an uncommon practice in the voiceover business.

The second client asked for the script to be done in a “cheerful, hopeful, storytelling tone …a little more like the car commercial.” This is where I struggled because the direction seemed at odds with itself because the car commercial was not done in a cheerful, hopeful, or storytelling style.

The third client requested the script be read in the same style manner yes the car commercial. And then they went on two say, “the calm, cinematic voice.” This turned out to be very helpful to me. 

My perceptions:

First, the script was long and dare I say dry. It was a lot of recited facts.  The only storytelling elements were in the first and last paragraph. I am not offering this as an excuse, it was by no means a bad script. It wasn’t however intuitively leading me to the desired tone and delivery. 

Second, “cheerful, hopeful, storytelling” were – in my perception – in opposition to the style read of the car commercial. I went back and listened to the car commercial and looked at the production notes from when I recorded the car commercial.   The direction given at the time was to read the car commercial in a “sincere, warm, wise-mother tone – with a touch of melted chocolate mixed in.” 

Third, who were the audience and what was my role in this script?  I had been told how the script was to be used, but the audience had been described as anybody – adults, teens, children from all walks of life, all backgrounds – a variable congregation of public consumers.  All of whom where to hear me speak in a “cheerful, hopeful, storytelling” tone that was “sincere, warm, wise… with just a touch of melted chocolate mixed in?”


5 Things to Try When You’ve Been Given Contradicting or Confusing Directions


Write Down What You Think You Know

Write down what you think you know about the job. 

  • Who is the Buyer?
  • Is there any significance (product launch, upcoming event, etc.) to this order being done at this time?
  • Who’s the audience? 
  • What action/emotion is the author trying to get the audience to feel? 
  • How is the end piece being delivered to the audience?  Are their time constraints?

Get On The Phone With The Buyer

Nothing beats a real conversation.  Get on the phone, or on Zoom and have a conversation.  Text messages and emails do not convey the subtleties like voice.  That’s why we have a job!  Do what you can to talk to the Buyer and ask questions.

Kick Your Assumptions to the Curb

Go over your understanding of the job and make sure your perceptions, your own biases, haven’t snuck in.  I had just come off of 2 hours in the booth reading children’s books.  My head said “storytelling” was animated, colored with inflection and warmth.  Not what the Buyer had in mind.  The Buyer thought “storytelling” was a catchall style that applied to everything.

Know Your Audience 

The audience for this job was very broad – everyone.  Adult, teen, child alike.  But the audience got more narrow when we started looking at the desired response (emotion or action) from the audience.  While children would hear the audio, they were not the active listeners.  Adults in the group who were interested in the history of the organization would be.   

Build Connections

You form connections to people you talk to face-to-face every day.  Through a smile… a wave.  Through body language, touch, etc.  Alone in your booth, behind the mic, you need to do the same thing.  Whether you stand up and mime it out or imagine it in your head.  You have to connect to someone when you talk.  Here are some tips and tricks to getting that connection into you voice:

  • Pop a picture of your best friend up on your screen and talk to her.
  • Have a doll or stuff toy in the booth that you can talk to.
  • Read your line, close your eyes, and say it again.  You’ll be surprised at how this can add a natural, conversational tone to your voice.
  • Start the read with a false conversation.  Hey, Jessie…  “Brand X is the best selling product for …  It beats the competition 5-to-1!”  or Did you know… “In 1977, the Trans-Alaska pipeline pumped its first barrel of oil.”

Published by qfunck

Voice Over Talent

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