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What Makes A Great eLearning Narrator?
Acting The Part Of The 'Subject Matter Expert'

By Kim Handysides
Voice Actor & Coach

When you learn something new the most important muscle you're using is your intellect, correct? Well, yes and no….

Your emotional connection is as important to your learning.

Think back to when you were a kid in school. Do you remember your favorite teacher? Why did you like them so much? What makes them stand out in your memory?

Chances are it wasn't because they brought Twinkies to the classroom, but rather it was because they were passionate about the subject they were sharing and about you learning it.

They probably made it fun – and encouraged you to love it as much as they did.

Passion. Emotion. Excitement.

These are the elements of great teaching, and therefore great eLearning narration. 


First, I have to say, a rocking eLearning narrator has a solid understanding of the various types of eLearning.

They've learned about what gamification is because learning is easier when fun and games are employed. 

They have a solid foundation in storytelling and trends like podcasting and how they impact learning.

They also have at least a fundamental understanding of how eLearning is delivered – the software, platforms and delivery mechanisms of getting education to a screen in front of a student or employee.

Knowing about how the information is being delivered then informs their acting. For me, depending on the subject, target, and goals, my voice over choices range from friendly, quirky and conversational to professional, genuine and medical, to name just a few. 

And understanding where eLearning is being used, from academic institutions to the corporate world, can help you find out where you fit in best.


Next, when I coach voice over actors on how to best narrate eLearning I always say, "Be the SME."

The Subject Matter Expert is just that – an expert – and is inherently passionate about their topic. They look at the world through their particular lens.

The medical doc sees it from her perspective, the historian from his, the compliance expert from theirs.

As you become an expert in something, everything that you encounter - from the food you eat, to the media you consume, the people you interact with, and the hobbies you engage in - are filtered through the lens of your expertise. 

The professional voice actor knows this, and takes on this role when narrating eLearning.

So when a spec comes in with the words "the material is dry, please do your best to make it engaging" it's my favorite type of work. Because I know that this material, though dry to others, is very exciting to whoever was consulted (as the SME) – and it is their voice that the voice actor needs to inspire to bring it to life and engage with the learner.


Great voice over narration is not just reading – it's performance. Which finally leads me to ta-dah…performance.

An office clerk with a "nice" voice is not going to be able to do near the job of a professional voice over actor, because great voice over is not about reading words on a page. It's about performance.

Which means connecting with the text, knowing what's important to get across and what's extraneous.

When you are explaining how to do something – butter toast for example –  and you're showing your kid – the words you use are in perfect sequence with the right cadence, rhythm and emphasis on certain words to be able to transfer this knowledge to Junior.

Easy, right? That's because they are your words. When you are reading someone else's words it's not so simple. Making them sound like your own requires a different skill set.


It requires knowing the role you're playing and understanding and connecting with the person you're talking to.

And though it's true of all eLearning narration that you need to sound like you know what you're talking about, in more specialized eLearning narration areas, you are going to need to speak to people with highly advanced degrees and experience, and they need to trust that they are learning from a "peer."

There is a specific skill set eLearning narrators must master. Because good narration is good storytelling. And good storytelling is good acting. Not just understanding the words being read, but getting into the head of the SME, being the SME, truly acting the part, is essential.

Don't get me wrong, you also have to have consistent sound, be able to read accurately, analyze the text and understand the vocabulary - and be able to embody your role (teacher? manager? character?) and connect with the listener.

Kim Handysides is a top voice over artist in commercials, eLearning and narration. With a background in theatre and film and a thorough grounding in radio and television, she's a 2019 Voice Arts Awards winner and five-time nominee, and "loves sharing advice, tips and experience with anyone who asks." She is also a voice over coach, offering private coaching and group study classes - and loves dogs, mountains, beaches and story.

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