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VOICE ACTING
No Joke: What Makes A Good Delivery?
Here's What You Can Learn And Control
August 26, 2014

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Talent & Author

I love jokes. Especially the ones that make me laugh. Seriously!

Every year, the public at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival votes for the funniest joke of the year. Comedian Tim Vine was declared this yearís winner with the one-liner:
"I decided to sell my Hoover Ö. well, it was just collecting dust.Ē
I donít know about you, but when I read that joke, I had to chuckle a bit. Thatís all. It wasnít one of those tears in my eyes Ė I canít stop laughing Ė rib-tickling moments.

Why is that? If 2,000 people polled at the Festival thought this was the funniest joke, why am I barely laughing?

THE PROBLEM WITH SCRIPTS

The problem with that joke is the same a problem I encounter with many of the scripts Iím asked to voice. Well-written scripts arenít meant to be read. They are meant to be spoken. Just like jokes.

I often compare the words in a script to musical notes. Theyíre dots on a piece of paper. Only when theyíre played, you have the beginnings of music. And only when theyíre played very well (and on a good instrument) do they have the potential to move you.

A great script can fall flat on its face due to a lackluster performance, but a great performer can still make magic out of a mediocre script. It has to do with that thing (voice) actors and comedians have in common with the Ob/Gynís and midwives of this world: Itís all about the delivery.

Yeah, baby!

Now, those last two words might not make you smile, but when I hear them, I hear Mike Meyers say them as sixties-spy Austin Powers, and I have to laugh.

KNOW HOW TO DELIVER


Delivery is the trademark of a pro. Done well, it sounds easy, but itís not. And thatís what many hopefuls donít yet get. 

Someone might have a resonant, pleasing voice, but as we all know, thatís not enough to have a career as a voice over. Believing that having good pipes is all it takes, is the same thing as saying that you only need good looks to make it in Hollywood. As far as I can tell, only Tom Cruise pulled that one off.

Having the goods is one thing, but you have to know how to deliver. 

STUDY ROBIN WILLIAMS


So, the next question is: What makes a good delivery? Whatís involved; can it be learned or does it come naturally?

I had to think about that when I listened back to a Terry Gross interview with Robin Williams for her show Fresh Air.

At first, Williams manages to stay himself, but it doesnít take him long to start doing all kinds of voices. The amazing thing is, Williams never sounds like someone pretending to be someone else. When he does an impression, he sounds like a completely different person.

One thing was immediately clear: heís a master of his instrument; a master of his voice.

'PLACING YOUR VOICE'

Trained vocalists would immediately notice his use of voice placement. Itís a way for singers and actors to focus their sound into a particular area (head, mouth, chest or nose) with a specific resonance, coloring the sound.

During the interview, I actually got the feeling that some of the characters Williams pulled out of his hat were sitting at different places at the table. Iím sure this also had to do with the way he worked the microphone.

If you listen to the entire interview, youíll understand why he must have driven the sound engineer crazy.

WHAT MAKES YOU UNIQUE?

Moving away from voice placement, what factors influence the way we come across, vocally?

If I were a college professor, Iíd say: Human speech can be broken down into several basic elements, and each of these elements makes the way we sound unique, very much like a vocal fingerprint. Here they are:

Pitch: the degree of highness or lowness of our tone, as well as our vocal range and inflection.

Tempo: the relative speed or slowness of the way we speak, and the way our speech flows.

Volume: the relative loudness or softness of our voice

Timbre: the color and quality of a voice, e.g.  clear, nasal, raspy, breathy.

COLORING OUR SOUND


These four elements can be affected consciously, and unconsciously.

For instance, our health - or lack thereof - influences the way we sound. We all know that we donít sound the same when we have a cold or suffer from a bad allergy.

Our lifestyle may color our voice, too. If youíre a heavy smoker or drinker, if youíre on a junk food diet, and if youíre not physically active, it will slowly change the sound of your voice. 

The way you are built and your posture have an impact too, as well as your facial expressions. Try saying something serious with a huge grin on your face.

Then thereís your emotional state. A sad person sounds very different from an angry or a happy person.

ENVIRONMENT AND AGE


Environmental factors may influence your voice, as well. If you live in a very dry or polluted climate, the way you sound will tell the tale. 

And finally, we should consider age. After a lifetime of talking, the vocal folds and surrounding tissue lose strength and elasticity, and our mucous membranes become thinner and drier.

Over time, menís voices become higher, and womenís voices will drop. We lose volume, endurance, and control. All of this and more will influence our delivery. 

PROTECT YOUR VOICE


Now, hereís the good news: even though we cannot stop the aging process, you can protect and strengthen your voice. That means investing in your health. A few tips:
  • Be critical of what you put into your body.
  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Avoid screaming and whispering.
  • Breathe deeply, and from the diaphragm.
  • Use good posture.
  • Manage your stress level.
  • Take singing lessons.
When you do all that, you will start to notice a huge difference in your delivery because you gain more control over your instrument.

Meanwhile, comedian Tim Vine told The Independent that his award-winning Hoover-joke wasnít even his favorite joke of the show. Tim tells about 200 one-liners in 60 minutes.

Vine also won funniest joke in 2010. Here it is:
"Iíve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. Iíll tell you what Ö Never again.Ē
Rimshot!
----------------
ABOUT PAUL
Paul Strikwerda is a 25-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. And he is author of the new book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.

Web: www.nethervoice.
Double Dutch Blog: www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice

Making MONEY In Your PJs: http://makingmoneyinyourpjs.com

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Comments (4)
Paul Strikwerda
8/26/2014 at 8:41 PM
Thank you so much for your kind words! If you enjoyed this article, I'm pretty sure you're going to like my book "Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-over and other solopreneurs."
Fred Humberstone
8/26/2014 at 6:33 PM
Wow, Paul. It's obvious why you are such a respected VO professional. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight.
Ken Budka
8/26/2014 at 12:16 PM
Thanks, Paul. Well written and relevant.
Pamela Tansey
8/26/2014 at 11:01 AM
Well done, Paul! We have the power.........great motivational review! Thanks!
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