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Casting Voice Over Talent for E-Learning

By Peter Drew

You’ve integrated narration and role-playing into your instructional design. Now, you have to cast the voice talent and get the best reads possible out of them. This process starts, not with listening to voice-over demos, but with the course itself.

Casting starts with questions

To whom is the course targeted? Primary gender? Age? Financial status? What is the attitude of the course’s presentation? Formal? Light and breezy? Enthusiastic? Intimate? What method is used to measure a learner’s performance? Anything that has a bearing on not just what is said but how it’s said.

Use the answers to these types of questions to get an idea of the type of voice that would work best as the instructor/narrator. For role-playing scenes, create a simple persona for each character in order to reflect and reinforce what is being taught. For example, a female supervisor discussing a job performance review with an employee. How old is she? What is her personality? Is she demanding? Quiet, yet commanding? How does she dress? Is she feminine or otherwise? What about the employee? How old is this worker? Meek and compliant? Defiant and obstinate? Concerned and engaged?

Finding the right voice

Once you created these simple character sketches, you have a basis for casting the voice talent. So, where can you find the right talent for your project? The Internet has revolutionized the voice over business. Before the advent of the Web, a producer had to work through a third party, e.g., a talent agency or recording studio to locate voice over artists. Today, through the Internet, you can locate and contact talent directly, as well as through talent agents, recording studios, and voice casting sites.

On the Internet, voice-over demos are just a mouse click away. Most voice talents have at least two demos—one for commercials and another for narrations. For e-learning casting purposes, the more important demo is the narration demo. With the expansion of online learning and training, though, there are voice talents that now specialize in voicing instructional material. You can tailor your search to locate these specialists and their
e-learning demos. If no credits are provided along with the online demo and the voice over artist makes your short list, then be sure to ask if he or she has voiced an elearning project. Having experience in the category might be helpful in determining your final selection.

Script tips to help talents

Here are some tips to help the talent you cast do the best job possible for you. Be sure to format your script so it’s easy to read, keeping in mind it’s being read for the ear, not the eye. Two column script formats are popular, with visual cues and direction on the left half of the page and the voice-over on the right half. If you use this format, be sure to make the voice-over script as easy to interpret and read as possible.

Use 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced. Serif copy, e.g. Times New Roman is easier to read on a printed page. Sans-serif copy, e.g., Arial or Verdana is easier to read on a computer monitor, that’s why you see those two typefaces all over the Internet. Reading directly from a monitor is becoming popular with voice talents, but it’s probably best to use Times New Roman and assume it will be printed out as hard copy. If a talent wants to read another typeface, then it’s easy to simply highlight the copy and change it. Double spacing the copy gives the voice over talent a place to mark up the copy for pronunciations, pacing, emphasis, etc.

Try to not let copy continue over to the next page. It’s very helpful if the last line on a page ends with a period. It’s not always possible, but, if you can do it, this will make handling pages easier for the talent and probably will lead to fewer errors and pick ups that need edits. Also, be sure to provide a pronunciation key and an acronym key, if needed. Provide these keys separately instead of putting the pronunciation or acronym clarification next to the word in question in the script, which can be distracting. In the keys, indicate the first page on which the word or acronym appears and put an asterisk next to the word on that page, so your voice talent can locate and make note of it.

A little direction for directors

Use the left-hand visual column for specific direction to the voice talent, if needed. Bolded text will make the direction stand out and catch the talent’s eye. As for using bold text, underlines, and italics in the copy itself, use them sparingly, only for really key terms. Too many instances of emphasis will sound unnatural, even a bit strident.

Using the guidelines above to cast your project and provide a well-formatted script will go a long way to getting the best performance out of the voice over talents you hire.

About the author
Peter Drew is a member of eLearningVoices.com, the online voice-casting site that specializes in voice-overs for e-learning courses and linear audio and video training presentations. To see the roster of over 40 e-learning voiceover specialists, hear their demos, and the cost-efficient Price Per Produced Minute plan, please visit eLearningVoices.com.