There’s been a lot of discussion over the past couple of years about how clients want more “conversational” reads and delivery.  As voice talents, we are constantly asked to do something “conversational” like Dennis Haysbert, or Denis Leary, or Morgan Freeman; or the one I get all the time, Sam Elliot (How come women are never asked to sound like some female celebrity?).

Well, what do clients really mean when they ask for conversational? 

I’ve started asking new clients to give me several words to explain how they would explain the delivery style they are looking for.  It’s been an eye-opener.  What I’ve come to realize is that “conversational” is just an adjective, not a defined style. Often words like relatable, enthusiastic or friendly are actually more important that conversational.

I almost lost a client today who had told me he wanted a very conversational delivery. “Very conversational.”  I did several jobs for him, and I could never quite put my finger on it, but there was something that just wasn’t quite right.  He never seemed completely happy.  Today, I figured it out when he told me he felt like he might want to check out some other voice talents because what he really wanted was something a little more polished and authoritative.

Apparently my idea of conversational was very different from his. To him “conversational” was his description of what I would call warm and friendly, yet still professional.  It finally came out.  He was looking for “more polished and authoritative” but not “announcery.” And then came the explanation that threw me for a loop: “You know, like you’re talking to your mother.”

I still have the taste of blood in my mouth from biting my tongue.

I think we’ve confused “conversational” with “casual.”  Conversational is a delivery issue. Casual is an attitude issue. Conversational involves cadence and expression.   Casual is about intonation and energy.

The bottom line is it’s all about perception.  Not yours, but your client’s.

Earlier this week I submitted an audition for a new client. Usually for an audition I give a couple of takes of what I think the potential client is looking for.  Occasionally if I think the copy lends itself to something completely different, I will submit that also. So this particular audition was one of those that I heard in my head with a completely different delivery. 

The client had asked for “simple, genuine, conversational with lots of gravitas and a sense of fun.” Huh?  Look up gravitas.  This just didn’t make sense.

I gave the client a couple of takes of what I thought he was asking for.  Then, just because I thought the copy lent itself to it, I gave him a take of an old, western voice with a bit of a smile. 

Within 15 minutes he called me and said, “That 3rd take is exactly what I was hearing in my head. Nice and conversational.”

Who knew?

So, what should you do when your client asks for a conversational read?

  1. Ask him to define what he means by “conversational.”
  2. Read the copy like you are talking to a group of your friends.
  3. Pretend like there is a joke at the end of the copy.
  4. Above all, read it like “you know, like you’re talking to your mother.”

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Comment by Jeff Nelson on February 23, 2012 at 9:31pm

Very well put. I've been looking for a way to explain that to our dj's.

I could only say, "Say it like you mean it." Now I can tell'em to, "Say it to your mama."

Urban radio...all emcee's no voice pros. Thanks for the tip.


Comment by Dan (Daniel Eduardo) Hurst on January 26, 2012 at 9:00am
HA! Good point! Major good point!
Comment by Philip Banks on January 26, 2012 at 8:33am
Nice piece, thank you. Of course a conversational read starts with conversational writing, EVERY writer, director and producer knows that ...Don't they?

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