Category Archives: business

5 Business Presentation Tips from a Professional Voice Over Artist

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:

Stair Step

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.

Random

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Is your Voice over business still in standard def?

 

I was watching TV the other day and still marvelling at how great high definition content looks, even when compressed by the cable company. The picture is crystal clear and vibrant, and the sound is in true 5.1 surround. 

I was even impressed with the commercials and how the commercial makers have really learned to take advantage of the improved color, clarity and sound.

That is, until I saw one in standard def. There it was. A dull, pixellated non-widescreen commercial with muffled sound. I don’t even know what they were advertising. Beside all of those glossy, flashy high definition ads, this one just looked sad and antiquated. It made me wonder what the marketing team was thinking? This is a hi-def channel so it isn’t like the had to worry about people watching in standard def. Only people with HDTVs would be seeing this ad. And here they were putting a cruddy ad on the air that they knew would be shown up against the new flashy HD ads. 

Why would you use standard definition marketing on a medium designed for high definition?

So of course, this got me thinking. Is my voice over business in HD or am I still marketing in standard? What do I mean by this? Here are some examples of standard def things you might be doing and the High def things you could be doing:

Standard Definition

High Definition

Do-it yourself business cards Professionally printed, inexpensive cards via Vistaprint, Kinkos or even Costco
Do-it yourself  logo and website Be honest with yourself and hire a pro, if you don’t have the skillz. Not cheap, but this is often the first (and only) thing your clients see.  
Free web hosting for your site Get your own domain and a web host. If your site says “hosted for free by xxxxxhost.com. Get yours now!” not only do you seem very amateur, but alsotemporary. And don’t even get me started on Myspace “hosting”…
Old scripts for your demo Get new ones, better yet, use real spots that you’ve recorded professionally. Haven’t recorded any? Well, proof positive that your standard def approach isn’t working so far, hmmm?
Cheesy music in your demo that may not match the spot. Either don’t use music, or pay for some good stuff. Use your ears and get some royalty-free music that sounds good for the spot.  A simple web search will yield a ton of results. 
Impressions on your demo Dump them! Look, no one cares if you can do a flawless Bugs Bunny or Marvin the Martian. Someone else already has that gig and he’s better than you. Original characters only.
<embed> OK, this one might be controversial, but the problems with this is that everyone has a different app associated with MP3 files so you have no control over the experience. With the abundance of web-based Flash players, embedding your demos in your site is so 2001.
Stick-on CD labels If you still use CDs, then a printer that prints directly on printable CDs. No labels to warp, no sticky residue, much more professional looking.
A tagline Unless you have a cool one like “The hip Chick Voice” and can build a brand around it, then dump it. Having a tagline with rhyming words like “Voice” and “choice” are silly and don’t do anything for your brand (EDIT: and Peter o’Connell thought of it before you did). You’re not selling shoes or perfume. You’re selling yourself. Let your demos do the talking.
Standard sized postcards Big ones.

I’m sure there are many more examples, and I’d love to see them in the comments. But the point is that the industry is more crowded than ever. And like ads on TV, you’ve got to keep up with those people using flashy high definition tactics to draw in customers. Old standard def techniques won’t stand out when surrounded by high definition flash.

Marketing changes and you’ve got to change with it.


5 things that Voice-over is NOT about

1. Your voice.

The biggest misconception people have about voice over is that it’s about your voice. It isn’t. It’s about your ability to use the voice you have to convey the emotion and message that your clients want. Ex-radio people, listen up. Take off your headphones! Seriously. If you have a home studio, you don’t need the cans! Can’t you hear your own voice when you talk? Do you wear headphones out on the town when you talk to people?  And if you wear them when recording, then you’re concentrating on the sound of your voice too much and not the message you’re delivering.

2. The Script

This one will be met with confusion. Isn’t the script what you’re being paid to read? Yes, but while the client is paying you to read the words, they hired you to deliver the message. Focus on the message of the script and and deliver that. If you simply deliver the script, the message will be lost and you will not have done your job. 

3. The Money

But I have bills to pay! Not while you’re in the booth. Worry about the accounting later. Your job as a voice talent is to deliver the message. Deal with the finances later.

4. Your equipment

I always get amused by people who proudly list their studio and equipment front and center on their website. It really doesn’t matter if you use a TLM103 or a Neumann XYZ followed by a Digidesign whatever running Pro Tools 8. Your equipment is simply a means to get your voice in. Obviously you want pro level equipment and if something makes your voice sound how you want it, then by all means use it. but I don’t think any clients care about what kind of equipment you have. They care about the end result and your ability to deliver their message. If you give Itzhak Perlman a $200 violin, I guarantee you, he’ll make it sound like a Stradivarius.

5. You

I mean this in the nicest possible way, but you are a tool. You are a means to an end. The client has hired you to deliver a message. The client is paying you so the client and their message are what’s important. The client doesn’t care that you’re ill or hungover. The client doesn’t care why you can’t meet their deadline. So when you’re dealing with clients you need to make sure that you are speaking in their interests. There’s nothing wrong with getting what you need, but to quote one of Dale Carnegie’s golden rules, “Always speak in terms of the other person’s interests.” Voice over is about them, not you. At least it is if you want them to return.

So those are 5 things that voice over is not. Agree or disagree? Comment! Want to add to the list? Comment!


Is your Voice over business part of a flea market?

This holiday I took a cruise to Mexico with my family. Of course, we stopped at all the usual spots like Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo. And of course, once you get off the ship, there are hordes of shops for you to patronize.

And as everyone knows, the price on the item you want to buy is not the price you have to pay. You can haggle with them and usually get a few bucks off, depending on what it is.

At the ship terminal, there are large warehouses where people have set up shop. Rows and rows of vendors offering mostly the same stuff: fake Rolex watches, fake Oakley’s, Cuban (maybe) cigars, trinkets, clothes, and the like. Basically, they all offer the same thing, and if you want a particular item, you wander around and haggle to the price you want. And of course, the shop owners will try to pull you in telling you they have the best prices.

After a while, I felt bad. Here I was trying to talk some guy down to 5 dollars on handmade thread bracelets with my kids’ names on them that he originally wanted 12 dollars for. I finally got him down to both bracelets for 8 bucks. But I knew that he was willing to drastically reduce his prices for the sale. He knew he was being taken advantage of and he let me, just to seal the deal. I didn’t really have any respect for him as a business owner.

Then I went into another shop for a cigar to enjoy later. The woman was pleasant and I pointed to the cigar that I wanted, priced at 8 dollars. I said, “how about $5.” I knew that $8 was a fair price for this, but you can always haggle, right?

“no, 8 dollars. I don’t change my prices.”

I replied, “I saw this elsewhere for 6. ”

She smiled and lifted her hand toward the door. “Then you may go buy it there.”

I was taken aback. She was willing to lose a sale over $3?

No, she was willing to lose the sale because she had enough respect for herself not to lower herself. She had already done her research, knew her prices were competitive, and set them accordingly. I knew that buying the cigar from her, I was getting a good deal and her prices weren’t inflated in anticipation of a haggling American.

Needless to say, I bought the cigar from her for full price. And I was happy to do it. I respected this woman.

So what does this mean for the VO business owner? Respect your business. Do your research. Know what the going rate for comparable services are. Know what the value of YOUR services are. Set your prices accordingly. Offer your clients a fair rate from the beginning and make it clear to them that these are your rates and here’s why they’re a good value for them. And don’t be afraid  to show the customer the door if they don’t value your services. 

The good customers, the customers you want, will respect you for it.


Voices.com presents the State of the Voice over Industry paper

David Ciccarelli of Voices.com alerted me this morning of the availability of his newest version of his annual State of the Industry paper. It’s a good overview, with some interesting highlights. While it makes some sweeping predictions about several different industries without much supporting evidence, I think the paper is pretty accurate and I commend David for writing this up in a way that isn’t just a marketing device for Voices.com.


New Voice over Instant Rate Request available

As I promised in my last post, I’ve removed a barrier to client entry by making my rates available online. This isn’t just a standard rate sheet in .pdf form, this is a tool that asks you no more than 3 questions and tailors the quote to your project. Why did I do this? Because I believe that most people shopping for VO don’t want to wait for their question of “How much will this cost me?” even if the wait is less than 15 minutes to get an email reply. Instant gratification.

It’s also another way of filtering out lowballers and those who are not serious. When someone realizes that a 9000 word narration can’t be done for $50, then neither my time nor that person’s time is wasted by a back and forth exchange.

There’s another benefit. In order to get the rate quote, the requester is asked for their mailing address. Now, certainly I expect that a good portion will give bogus info. But there’s the chance that someone will give me their real info and I can add them to my list of contacts for promotional mailings. Leads, baby.

I’m happy with how the tool turned out. I’m hesitant to encourage readers to try it out, because I get an email everytime someone does, but if you really are curious, then stop by http://JeffreyKafer.com and click the Rate Request form. Put something in the script field indicating you’re just a looky-loo so I don’t follow up with you.

Unless, of course, you really want to hire me. In that case, you know how much your project will be!


Is your Voice over business a corn maze?

I meant to write this post a month ago, but I didn’t know exactly how to formulate my thoughts. But since it’s still fall, then it still applies. Because fall is the time of the year for corn mazes. Why in the world anyone would pay money to get lost is beyond me. And that’s when I realized the same idea could be applied to your business.

Are your customers paying you to get lost? If so, then they won’t come back again. Or they won’t hire you in the first place.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This year, when we got to the corn maze, we paid our money, went in and got supremely lost. We absolutely could not find our way out. So we backtracked to the beginning to get out. This wasn’t much fun for us, so we went to the place where we paid our money and asked if they had a map. She said no. Did we go back in? Heck no! We also didn’t get our money back and we felt a little disappointed by the experience. 

So what does this have to do with your business? You may be inadvertently throwing up barriers for your customers, much like a corn maze blocks people from progressing to the end. And if you’re throwing them up before they become your customers, they may go elsewhere.

I had a client recently hire me and they were fairly new to using VO. So once we agreed on the rate and such, she said “OK, so how do we do this?” There’s never a reason the client should ask that. If they are, then I’m not doing my job. I’ve not given them all the facts they need to know if it’s something they want. I’ve not given them a map to my corn maze.

Here’s an example: What is the first thing clients want to know? How much it’s going to cost. And yet, we rarely post our rates on our websites. Sure, we have all kinds of reasons for not doing so, and most of them are kind of silly. Worried about a competitor undercutting you? Don’t be, unless your business model is to be the discount VO. if that’s the case, then someone will always be priced lower. Another reason for not posting rates is so that the client has to tell you their budget so you can base your rate accordingly. It becomes a game of who mentions price first. If you have fixed rates, all of that doesn’t matter. Your rate is your rate and these games become yet another corn maze barrier.

Remove the barriers to entry! Do not give your client a reason to go elsewhere!

While I’m guilty of not posting my rates, that’s something I’m working on changing. I expect my rate request tool to be working and live in a few weeks. My rates will be available on my website.

Some other corn maze barriers:

  • Delivery method and timeframe: Are you sure your potential clients know what FTP is?
  • Pickups: Do you offer unlimited pickups? how do you charge for script edits?
  • Editing: is that included in your studio rate? Do you charge extra? Will your client get dry voice, mistakes and all?
  • payment terms: Are you net 30, net 15? Paypal and check?

If you think the client doesn’t need to know all of this until they hire you, you may be wrong, especially clients who may not be that experienced. If the client has all the information in front of them to make an educated decision, then they’re more likely to choose that talent.

While part of the fun of a corn maze is the satisfaction you get from finding your way out, your clients won’t get the same sense of satisfaction if they have to figure your business out.

Agree or disagree? Discuss!


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