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Finding a Conversational Voice in Video Tutorials

Nov 14, 2008 • general, screencasting, video

A voice over performer imagines who he is, who he's talking to, and where.
Whereas an announcer just reads a script, a voice-over performer imagines who he is, who he's talking to, and where.

A few weeks ago I tweeted about an interesting voice over site, and my friend Kevin, who runs the Short Cummings Audio podcast, replied that a local voice-over guru in Salt Lake, Scott Shurian, gives workshops on voice.

I wanted to improve my voice-based video tutorials, podcasts, training, and presentations, so I thought I'd check it out. Scott is a nice guy and was willing to trade a blog install/design for the cost of the workshop (which lasts several weeks).

A voice over is a voice narration from a performer whom you can't see, who reads a script in an engaging way according to the context of the script. For example, many commercials employ voice overs from professionals.

The difference between voice-over performers and announcers, Scott says, is that voice-over performers get outside of themselves, whereas announcers merely read a script.

To get outside of yourself, Scott said you must imagine who you are, who you're talking to, and where you are. When you can imagine this context, you read the script as a performance. It's the performance that engages listeners.

Hmmm, I thought, this no doubt applies to acting, but what about video tutorials, where I'm simply me talking to users? Scott encouraged me to imagine myself sitting in a café talking to a friend in a conversational way. He had me read a sample script imagining that I was having a natural conversation with someone I knew, in the context of a café.

Wow, you wouldn't believe what a difference it makes when you take your mind off the idea that you're merely reading.

As practice, Scott recommends reading a poem out lout every day. And of course not just reading the poem, but imagining a context for it –- imagining in your mind who you are, who you're talking to, and where you're located.

He also recommends reading obituaries, performing as if you knew the one who died, and as if you were familiar with all of his or her accomplishments. I haven't tried either of these activities yet, but I'm jazzed about the conversational context. I'm convinced that it has to be one of the key features of a good video tutorial.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.