I’ll start by telling you what it doesn’t mean, that being an artificial, booming, announcer-type voice, demanding that you buy this product. “Conversational” has nothing to do with that.
Voice overs have come a long way. They used to be about a type of voice and delivery that never sounded like anyone you knew in real life. At one time they used to call it “the voice of God”. It’s a type of read that you still hear occasionally. Certainly movie trailer reads have that kind of thing going on but there are other layers lurking in a good trailer read. Mystery, edginess and tongue-in-cheek humor just to name a few qualities. Network promos can sound amped up and artificial as well. It depends on the network or what kind of show is being promoted. I would say that promos and trailers don’t necessarily require a conversational read but there are always exceptions.
“Conversational” usually applies to commercial copy. For those of you who audition for voice over spots, I’m sure you’ve heard many times from a casting director or an agent or you’ve seen it in the specs to “make it conversational”. What does this mean? It means they want it to sound like it’s coming from you and not the page. How do you do that? It’s not always easy, especially if the copy isn’t written in a conversational way. And that’s usually the case. Again, there are always exceptions. Some copy is written in a way that feels easy and not hard to say at all. But just the mere fact that you are reading words written on a page can make any copy – natural sounding or not – a challenge to make conversational.
Despite that challenge, it is mandatory in the commercial voice over world to achieve a conversational read. You have to be able to SAY it, not READ it. Anyone can read words off a page but to take those words and make them sound like you’re saying them for the first time with a point of view and a certain attitude is the most important skill you can develop for voice overs. If a casting director or a producer hear you “just reading” the copy, you probably won’t be considered for the job.
Actors tend to have an easier time making copy sound conversational. They are taught (hopefully) in acting school how to make other people’s words sound like their words. But what if you’re interested in doing voice overs and you’re not an actor? One of the techniques I use for teaching someone how to achieve a conversational read is by exploring the MUSICALITY in the copy. I’ll refer to it sometimes as “the music of conversation”. You hear it all around you. You do it yourself in real life. People generally don’t speak in words, they speak in thoughts. There is a kind of cadence where the words are a result of the thought you are trying to communicate. When you see a line of copy that has 15 words in it, you say it as one thought. A dead giveaway that you’re reading instead of talking is when you start punching the words and overemphasizing things you wouldn’t normally emphasize at all. People naturally inflect when they’re in conversation. I teach my students to harness this and use it in their voice over reads.
If you feel like your reads are missing that “conversational” thing, come in to ABACUS ENTERTAINMENT. We’ll spend an hour just working on that.