There is a steady stream of robots doing everything for us these days. I have one that opens my garage, another that operates a few lights, one that turns on my fireplace, and even one that can dig around Disney+ for that episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse my daughter wants to watch. It only makes sense that they'll get better and better at talking for us too.
Or talking in place of us.
And it's easy to feel a bit disheartened when you see what happened to Bev Standing or articles with titles like "We're Losing Voice Over eLearning Jobs to AI Voices". AI is getting better and more prominent, but people have been using text-to-speech in eLearning for a long time. So, what should we do?
Well, the first step is to avoid narrating like a robot.
Too often on eLearing demos and in projects I've seen, the voice talent is doing what sounds like a bad impression of the eLearning voice in their head: rigid, overly precise, and impersonal. If you sound like a robot already, why not hire one?
Get some personality in there!
I've heard eLearning narration treated like a read-aloud of a technical manual, without the depth and empathy that needs to be included in the training experience. Think of the learner and who they are. What are they going through with this change? Change brings stress and every training is some sort of change. Where are they in their careers? What do they already know? Who are you to them (as the presenter of information, not the VO)?
Some eLearning scripts read like a technical manual because they essentially are, but you can make it a better experience for the learner and maybe avoid giving them a reason to hire robots.
For now, I'm not worried. Robots can't feel excitement, empathy, or sympathy, so they can't add those emotions to their read. Plus, the folks ditching us and hiring robots are very budget sensitive and those are the clients I try not to keep for long anyway.
Talk to me again in 5-10 years and maybe I'll have a different opinion.
Since we're on the subject, I wanted to bring up Bev Standing's GoFundMe again. If you have the means, throw a few bucks at it to help the fight. This is different from the robots simply taking our jobs, this is literally taking someone's voice and leveraging it in ways that weren't agreed upon.
You like me have probably been tempted to tinker with a service like Descript. They take a sample of your voice to create a pretty decent avatar of it. Once they can do it, what stops them or someone else from doing this to you later on down the line. For the meantime, I'd suggest keeping your voice to yourself.
Sometimes we're more mind reader than voice talent. I know I've booked stuff and then after a directed session the final project sounds NOTHING like the original audition. In the space of an hour and after passing through SourceConnect "Come down to the racetrack this Sunday for a great time." ends up as "SUNDAY! SUNDAY!! SUNDAY!!!!".
That said, we're in the business of interpreting direction in the moment, letting go everything we've done or holding on to everything. The only way to be able to do that effectively is to keep taking direction from multiple sources.
4:45pm, last Friday. (6:45pm client time): "Just some minor client feedback. Could you get this back to us ASAP?"
What does ASAP mean to you?
For me, as I was walking up my stairs to start cooking some dinner with the family, it meant a quick email from my phone to tell them I was off for the day, but had planned on doing some work over the weekend, so they'll have it by Monday. I knew this guy, he works late and on the weekends, so I definitely felt a pull to head back downstairs and into the booth. But I resisted (it helped that I could hear my daughter running to the stairs to greet me).
The job wasn't lost, no deadline was pushed, but I absolutely felt the guilt and fear of potentially disappointing my client as I hit the send button.
My wife is a teacher, so she's home a lot of the summer. A few years ago I realized that this created some unexpected issues for me when she heads back to school in August. In 2019, a few weeks into her school year, I got hit with a weird bout of mild depression which I've since attributed to loneliness.
I had spent the last few months with her always around during the days, so I fell into a habit of skipping my local meetups and coffee shop work sessions. When she went back to school my interactions with people dropped significantly. It took a month or so to set in, but I hit a major funk in late September that year.
Knowing this, I now go out of my way to keep up my outside relationships, even when I don't feel that pull.
Grubhub - "We Serve Restaurants"
The VO in this spot has a really cool, understated delivery (with a nice touch of vocal fry at the end of a few lines). He keeps it subtle and doesn't get in the way of the visuals.
Lots for me to learn here. For example, I would have probably waaay overplayed the "Bacon-stuffed lobster" line, but I think the way he lands it is just enough.
I'm a bit of the way through Sanford Meisner on Acting and am really enjoying the fly-on-the-wall view into a class of one of great acting coaches.
The main thing that's hit me so far is thinking about what came before you entered the scene. You're coming from somewhere, you are carrying with you the emotional baggage from that experience, how do you bring that into the scene? Definitely something that could be translated into your VO performance.
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