You may be looking at the above headline and wondering what the business person can learn from a voice over artist. After all, the voice over artist is a person who sits in a booth and does funny voices, right?
There’s actually a lot more than you think. Without going into the details of my job as a professional voice talent, my primary purpose is to make a genuine connection with the audience. When I put it that way, it sounds more relevant to what you do, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is. And if it isn’t, then you’ve probably been missing something in the way you’ve been delivering your corporate or business presentations. So whether you’re pitching a new project to your boss, presenting a proposal to a large room, or showing off the latest tech at SXSW, here are some tips to help you connect with your audience.
Tip #1 – Slow Down
This is the single biggest thing I see and hear in business that makes you fail to connect with your audience. Most people who get up in front of an audience are not professional speakers. They are business people. Take someone out of their comfort zone and they’ll finish up as quickly as possible so they can return to that comfort zone. And rushing through your script will achieve that. But it won’t achieve the goal of having a dynamic presentation that connects with the audience.
If you’ve ever watched a baseball game, you’ll often see batters warming up by swinging two or three bats. This is to train their muscle memory to get used to swinging multiple bats at once, so that when they swing a single bat, it will seem much easier. You can do something similar. Take your script and read it achingly slow, slower than you’d ever actually give it. Don’t lower your pitch like you’re imitating a slow record player, just read the words much, much slower, as if there’s an imaginary comma between the words. Once you’ve done that, read your script again without intentionally slowing down. You’ll find your brain has retained some of the muscle memory and your reading is slower.
Tip #2 – Learn to love the Whitespace
Script analyzers will tell you to pause in key places to let the audience clap or to build some sort of suspense. Actually, they can look at a script and tell you precisely where to pause for clapping at your amazing list of newly announced product features. But that’s not the kind of pausing I’m talking about. I’m referring to the pause in your narrative. Take this for example:
Jim went to the store to buy some milk and he never came back.
Sort of dramatic because of what’s being said, but not off the charts. Compare it to this:
Jim went to the store.
And he never came back.
Big difference, right? The drama is in the pause. Respect the whitespace. Use it to build drama, to leave your audience hanging on your words, wondering what you will say next or how you will complete your thought. How do you know where the dramatic moments are? Here’s a silly exercise that works: Pretend you’re the late, great Don LaFontaine, the movie trailer voice artist. This will sound ridiculous to anyone around, so it’s best to do it in the privacy of your office. Read the first few lines or paragraphs of your script in the over-the-top movie trailer style (“In a world…. Where magic was real….”). If you do it right, you’ll naturally hit the dramatic pauses in the script. Make note of them, then try the speech in your natural delivery. Some of the pauses will remain, others won’t. But you will have a more dramatic speech.
Tip #3 – Make the script your own
If that sounds like some soft of Method actor-y thing, that’s because it is. And it’s what you need to learn to do if you want to have any kind of real believability and connection. So how does one achieve this heightened state of credibility? In your prep, toss the script and do a practice run or two off-book. Don’t even have it in your hands. You know the product. You know the gist of the presentation. Just talk about the product in your own words and highlight the features. Talk about the call-to-action and why it’s important. In your Own Words. Now do the whole thing again off-book, but pretend your audience is different with different needs, say a group of grandmothers. Again, in your own words. Just talk to them. How have the bullet points changed? Did you speak differently? Now go back to your script and give the written speech. It will be different because you’ve processed the ideas of the script in different ways and have internalized them.
The point of this exercise is to make you connect with the script so that you can better connect with the audience and simply tell them a story. The idea is to be conversational and the only way to do that naturally is for the script to be a part of who you are.
Tip #4 – Believe what you’re saying
This is often the hardest thing to really nail, especially if your product is, perhaps, a version 1…. But if you want to get to version 2, you’ve got to sell version 1. Which means you need to believe in the product. Again, this can be done in the prep stage. Do a little whiteboard work as your prep. Write down the highlights of the product from your script. Then detail why they are so great. Skip the corporate speak. There’s no “synergy” or any of that nonsense. Simply write down what people will get out of your product or service. How will it honestly make their lives easier/better/faster/whatever. Find the good.
Once that’s internalized, your presentation will take on new believability because you’ve analyzed the good and believe it yourself.
Tip #5 – Handle lists with finesse
Bullet points or lists are often the most important parts of any speech. After all, the are the digestible bits of info that listeners will take with them. And they need to be hit with style. There are two ways voice talent attack lists:
This tactic starts low and then builds from item to item in pitch or enthusiasm, like a series of stairs. Then it ends on the high note, with the best item in the list capping it all off. Using the other tips above of making the script your own and loving the whitespace, you can create a sense of escalating drama by building your list until the grand finale of bullet points. Boom, you’ve taken it home in grand style and credibility.
This is a great way to provide a list if there’s no obvious pattern of escalation. The tone, pitch, and enthusiasm in your voice changes randomly, but always ends on a high note. Like stair-stepping, this is done to build drama, and is achieved by making the audience wonder what’s coming next. Instead of expecting an escalating build up, they feel the pattern of randomness. I know, that sounds really esoteric and touchy-feely. But think of it like a bingo game. The game wouldn’t be very dramatic if the balls came out in sequential order. The very randomness of the ball draw is what makes the game exciting. You can achieve a similar excitement, by randomly mixing the way you give the items in your list. Keep them on their toes, hanging on your words.
Building a connection with your script and your audience is what every presenter attempts to achieve. It’s also what every actor must do to build trust with the audience. Think about it. If you’re a presenter giving a speech written by someone else to an audience who you hope will believe what you’re saying, you’re acting! So take some lessons from an experienced voice actor. You can take your presentation to the next level. Find the truth in the script, make it dramatic. You have it within you.