Smiling while you narrate (Voiceover)
Voiceover professionals often recommend that you smile while you narrate. Smiling injects a touch of warmth and charisma in your voice. Just a few touches here and there can make the entire tone of your voice noticeably warmer.
I recorded three samples for comparison. In the first, I just read a paragraph in my normal reading voice. In the second, I actually scrunched my eyebrows down in anger. In the third, I smiled. Listen to the differences.
Just reading normally
As I listen to these three samples, I can hear something special in the last one. The first is all right, the second seems as if I'm tense and unforgiving, and the third has a touch of warmth and friendliness to it. It's simply the smile that seems to change the tone.
For more professional examples, click the Sample Commercial Demo link on this page from Such a Voice. You can clearly hear the way the voiceover artist's smile changes her tone.
Everyone says to smile
It may be hard to do at first, but smiling is at the heart of a voiceover person's art and is a technique recommended over and over by professionals. Catherine Marshall says,
Maintaining a smile while doing a voice-over changes the whole energy of your voice, and therefore the voiceover. It's one of the fundamental voice-over techniques to producing a believable voiceover that's enjoyable to listen to.
Susan Berkley says,
Your tone of voice is closely linked to your facial expression. A frown on your face will make your voice sound harsh and cold. But a smile will warm up your voice, making it sound warm and inviting.
Dan Levine says,
You need to put a smile into what your reading. In almost every voiceover you'll ever do, whether it be a commercial or a narration, you need to smile. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to be laughing. There are all kinds of smiles. There are smiles that represent happiness. There are smiles that represent reflection, and kindness, and thoughtful things. But you need to smile. .... The only way to make what you read sound as if you're smiling, or to make it sound friendly, is for you to actually put a smile on your face.
By the way, that Dan Levine quote comes from a video that's nine minutes long and covers a variety of tips on voiceover techniques. He also talks about being real, controlling pitch, adding variety, and so on. See the 4:15 mark for the section on smiling.
It isn't easy to smile
Although everyone recommends smiling while you narrate, not many address exactly how you do it. It's hard to smile. Try it -- while you're reading this post. Smile and keep smiling until you finish this entire post. It's no easier to do this than it is to smile while reading a voiceover. If you find it hard, remember what Levine says: You don't need a giant laughing grin. You can have a thoughtful or reflective smile.
Constantly smiling is hard for me because I'm used to being serious. I know people who smile all the time. They have cheery, bouncy personalities and exude happiness. But for some reason (unknown to me), I've just grown accustomed to acting serious. But maybe I can learn to change.
Brain is already occupied
Part of the difficulty of smiling while narrating is that you're often not reading a script when recording screencast tutorials. In my recommendation for sounding natural, I recommend not reading a script verbatim, but rather to use the script as an outline, or to only read occasional sentences.
If you're narrating somewhat freely as you record, your mind is more occupied. The advice to smile just kind of falls by the wayside as you focus on the application and the words you're forming in your mind. (By the way, are you still smiling, or did you forget?)
Levine says the smile is a facial expression you get used to making the more you practice. Like almost anything in life, the more you do it, the easier and more natural it gets. At some point, you'll be able to unconsciously smile while your mind is completely focused on the screencast you're recording. For now, I have to remind myself at almost each pause and resume.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.