A high-quality, effective voice over is a powerful tool in video production: it brings your video to life, quite literally telling your narrative. Yet voice over sometimes gets overlooked as busy video makers become absorbed with getting the visuals and story right.
Thousands of videos are made on Videopixie each year so we wanted to share a few tips – with examples – to help you avoid this situation and make the most of your voice overs.
1) The effective voice over: know when to use it
Something amazing happens in our brains when voice over and visuals are combined: the cognitive load becomes less and our brains process information faster. This is called the dual-channel hypothesis and has been the subject of rigorous research in multimedia learning (Mayer and Moreno). It was brilliantly popularized in this video: https://vimeo.com/75924498 for those who would like to learn more.
For video makers, this means that the choice of a voice over mostly depends on the nature of your message. For simple concepts that people are already familiar with, a voice over may not be necessary. In fact, the absence of voice over can convey a feeling of simplicity and ease as seen in these Gmail video or this Chicken Waffle Recipe videos.
That said, most videos typically attempt to deliver complex messages in very short amounts of time. This is when a voice over is so crucial. You need voice over to explain brand new concepts and deliver rich information. Basically, voice over is necessary any time a message is not quite self-explanatory.
2) Sound authentic and genuine to win the audience’s trust
When opting for voice over, make sure that the artist is pleasant to listen to and sounds trustworthy. An unprofessional or obnoxious voice is the fastest way to lose an audience.
Humans are wired to make split-second judgements based on voice tone alone. It’s a phenomenon that Malcolm Gladwell described in Blink, and that scientists researched in depth before him. Just from the voice over alone, your audience will infer if your brand is honest and respectable, i.e. worth their time.
For most videos on the web, this translates into choosing a voice that feels genuine and authentic, unless you are going for comic or dramatic effects. You’ll want to stay clear of exaggerated intonations and perceivably fake excitement – in particular avoid sounding “marketing-y” (as in this video).
Ask yourself the “presidential candidate” question: “would I have a beer with this candidate [resp. narrator]?” If the answer is no, then don’t expect viewers to vote for your product.
3) Do more with your voice over: create emotions
Voice overs play a big role in creating emotions for your audience. Depending on the voice over, your video will be perceived as funny, serious, light-hearted, endearing, dramatic, offbeat…
Consider for example this Tea Consent video where the voice conveys a feeling of quiet anger and deadpan humor. Paired with the over-simplistic graphics, it makes for a particularly effective video capable of engaging a broad audience on a very serious topic.
Big brands understand this aspect very well and they carefully select their voice over to set the right mood for the entire video:
- Approachable: Lisa Kudrow voice in this Yoplait video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUU7dwsqi3U
- European Sophisticated: the voice in this Channel video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3QAxtE1L20
- Hard-working everyman: Jeff Bridges in this Duracell ad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj_Ap5LmRMs
- Solemn and momentous: Morgan Freeman in these Visa ads https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QB4irt7XotE
Have a listen to our best explainer videos of 2015. Most of them include remarkable voice overs that are much more than just audio-subtitles. Regardless of your budget, big or small, make sure that you are using voice overs for more than just delivering messages.
4) No Yada Yada: Sound original
The choice of a voice over will influence how viewers perceive the originality of your video. Sounding different will help your video stand out and will keep viewers engaged.
The voice in this ITMan video is caricatural but perfectly different. It makes the whole video sound like no other explainer video. Combined with the pixelated graphics full of 8-bit computer references, it makes for a video perfectly designed for its target audience.
Gradeleap chose a kid’s voice for their video. Very relevant since Gradeleap is an education app and also since children voices are not very common in explainer videos. Overall the video is quite memorable even though the graphics aren’t particularly novel.
Some explainers will use two voice actors to add variety since a dialogue is always more engaging. Others will have the voice actors actually sing, instead of speaking.
Whatever the situation, it’s important to say that “originality” is rarely random: it starts from a precise understanding of the target audience, and what will relate with them.
5) A good voice won’t make up for a mediocre story
Just like oscar-winning actors can’t save a bad screenplay from bombing at the box office, voice artists can’t be expected to save a boring or confusing script. It is your responsibility to make your voice actor shine, and it starts with a great script. A great script is a huge step towards success.
The famous RSA Animations are a great example. They all started from successful public speeches before animations and visuals were added. Try your script on a few friends, see if it can sustain their attention. Is it concise enough? Free of fluffy marketing jargon? Does it flow well? If not, then your voice actor may find themselves overplaying or exaggerating intonations to create rhythm and pace, which in turn will make your video less genuine.
6) A good voice won’t make cheesy stock footage and stock designs look any better
We’ve all seen videos with eerily familiar graphics that don’t quite fit with the story and leave you with a feeling of deja-vu. These videos tend to not perform very well. Millions of years of evolution have made our eyes and brains extremely efficient at filtering out the noise. We are wired to give more importance to the new than to the common.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t use stock footage or stock designs in your videos, it’s just that the work doesn’t stop here: your animator/editor needs to reshape and recompose stock assets to create something new that fits your story. Here is more on how to use stock footage in videos. For animations, and when selecting an animator, pay special attention to the quality and originality of their work. Look through sites like dribble or on videopixie until you find the style that fits your story best.
7) Plan your voice over early in the video production process
Too often video makers jump head first into script writing and production, leaving voice over for last, and limiting the positive effect it can have on the finished product. Instead, you can get your voice over recorded sooner in the video production process, right around the time when the script and the storyboard have been finalized. A stable voice over makes the animation and editing processes much more efficient. It ensures that your video is story-driven and that the visuals fit the voice over like a glove.
Sometimes the script gets tweaked late in the production process, in which case you can ask your voice artist to make small revisions for the sections that have changed. Your editor will splice old and new tracks together, and no-one will know the difference.
8) Your video should still make sense with the sound off
As helpful as voice overs are, there is no guarantee that your video will be watched with the sound on. Mobile viewers often have the volume turned low for discretion purposes. Facebook uses autoplay with videos but mutes them by default – all the more reasons to create videos that work both with and without sound.
This means paying attention to the attractiveness and originality of the visuals, using large fonts when text is used, zooming in on the action and building an engaging pace in the editing process. More broadly, this is a reminder that in video, success often means getting many aspects right: script, graphics, voice over, music, sound FX, animation,…
There is much more to say about using effective voice over in video but I hope this serves as a good starting point. In short you’ll want to use voice over anytime you need to deliver messages that aren’t self-explanatory when you want to inspire trust and set a distinctive mood for your video. Original voices are a big plus as long as they stay pleasant to listen to. And of course, your voice artist will need your help to succeed and that starts by providing a great script. With these objectives in mind, you should be on your way to an engaging and memorable video!
Written by Thomas Escourrou, co-founder at Videopixie – Videopixie is a community of 3000+ videographers, video editors, animators. We help people hire the best video professionals for their projects.