The Natural and Conversational Voice Over Conundrum

I can remember after about three years in the radio biz, I had a Program Director stop the tape during an aircheck session and say to me, “You know it’s a damn shame jocks spend the first 5 years of their career striving to sound like a disk jockey and the rest of their career learning to talk like human beings again.” Word. By the way, that PD was the late, great Ric Lippincott (AKA Dave Denver/Charlie Tiger), who passed away in 2016.

Let’s face it, getting a conversational read isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish in voice over. It’s right there, in the dichotomy, conversational and read. Reading and conversational are in diametric opposition to each other. Having spend over a decade in Talk Radio, after many years as a rock jock, I figured it would be a bit easier to completely nail the conversational “read.” After all, talk hosts are more personable, it’s about being yourself, being a personality. But talk hosts are ad-libbing, it’s all off the cuff. Bring the read into the picture, and well, it’s a read.

One of the amazing things about the conversation voice over, is the fact that no one can actually nail down just exactly what the hell it is. Pam Turlow, over on Voice Over XTRA nails this down pretty well. It’s well worth the read. The only thing we know for sure, is that it’s NOT a puking announcer.

Take the video below for example:

Troy Dean, an Aussie VO talent, does his best to explain the conversational VO read. Dean starts off just talking to us, headphones off, and is very conversational. He does his best puke at (headphones on) at :52. The headphones come off and he’s talking to us again, explaining what warm and natural is in a conversational read. Then the headphones go back on at 1:42 and off at 1:45. Despite giving us a lower key delivery when doing his conversational read you can really hear the difference between when he is just talking to us and when he does the read of the copy. Once those headphones go on and he pays attention to the mic, he’s no longer talking to us/me, he’s doing a read, and you can hear it. When he’s conversational, he’s conversational, when he’s reading, no matter how hard he tries, it’s still a read (a more conversational read, but a read none the less).

One of the ways radio Program Directors used to get talent to sound more like a human being and less like an announcer, is to have the talent take off the damn headphones, or at least turn them down to a bare minimum. Keep those cans hot, and you end up falling in love with your own voice. Take em’ off and/or turn em’ down.

Me, I’m still working on my ultimate conversational read. I think the bottom line is its about talking. It’s about pauses. It’s about not projecting too much. I think it’s about changing up pace. Most of all, I think it’s about nailing whatever the client has in their mind just what the hell a conversation read might be. Happy talking everyone.

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