If you create multimedia training, you might use voice actors to bring it to life. Whether you need someone to narrate a video or an elearning course—or even audio-only reinforcement training—the quality of the narration can mean the difference between engaging and distracting.
But chances are good that, as a learning developer, you don’t have that much experience with those who make a living behind the microphone. So, finding and directing voice actors to get the best possible narration can be a daunting task. Because hiring and working with voice actors is so complicated, we'll look at each part in detail. First, here are some tips to keep in mind to find that perfect voice talent.
1. Start early
Too often, the decision of who will provide the narration for a project is low on your priority list. So you might take the easiest (but rarely the best) option; that is, either using the same person on every project or hiring the first person you find. The result of either approach could be boring, stale or unprofessional narration.
To fight the temptation of taking the easiest option, start your search for voice talent early. As soon as you decide on the style of the training, begin your search. If you don’t know where to look, try websites like voice123.com or voices.com, which are dedicated to helping you find the right voice talent. Or you can even try searching on a general contractor website like upwork.com or fiverr.com.
If you have a preferred voice actor whom you use frequently, make sure the project is appropriate for their style before you hire them again. Think about the style that will match your project needs: straight narrator or personable character, casual or professional, younger or older, male or female; that is, the one that would be more relatable to your target learners. If you don’t have someone who matches the project, starting your search early gives you time to look elsewhere and maybe even add someone new to your go-to list.
2. Know the lingo (or at least be able to Google it)
A good voice actor should be able to tell you more about their craft than you understand…unless you already have a substantial background in the subject. Ask them what software, hardware and other gear they use. Ask what their studio is like, and if they have backup equipment. This step is especially helpful if you’re searching for someone online and need to comb through multiple leads.
Even if you don’t understand the answers someone gives you, they should be able to readily provide all the information you need. Like any professional, voice actors know their equipment. They've likely spent months researching microphones before they bought the right one, and they've probably been setting up their "dream studio" for a long time. If you want to be overly cautious, you can Google what you don’t understand to at least get a sense whether or not a candidate has professional-quality equipment.
(But, hey, if equipment isn’t important to you, I have a pair of refurbished Beats by Dre earbuds with an in-line microphone I bought on Groupon for cheap, plus a voice-recording app I downloaded to my phone. Even I can be a voice actor…but nobody wants that.)
3. Listen to samples and check references
This is a two-part step for hiring on a contract basis, after you've narrowed your list of potential voice actors. But if you perform both these steps together, it makes the final decision much easier. Before hiring anyone for the first time, ask for their samples and references. Even if a candidate is just starting their career, they should at least be able to provide samples of narrated text and give you references who can offer insight into what it’s like to work with them. Then listen to the samples and contact the references.
The sample clips they provide should be free of background noise, humming, pops or odd filters. The clips should be clean and sound as much as possible like the narrator is in the room talking to you.
When you check references or even read reviews, look for things like production timeliness, script accuracy and clear communication. Working with voice actors should be an easy and headache-free experience. And checking references can help you avoid having your project be delayed when you're waiting for the final clips.
Stay tuned for more tips on getting the best narration possible once you've found and hired a voice professional.