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Take Off Your MENTAL Headphones: How To Stop
Listening To Yourself While Performing Voice Over

By Sally Clawson
Voice Actor, Teacher
& Owner, Voice One

Many voice actors choose not to wear headphones while practicing or auditioning at the mic.

Hearing themselves as they read the copy places them in the external role of audience rather than the internal role of product or company promoter.

Yet still, some voice actors continue to rely on mental headphones – listening to themselves read – which disrupts the natural flow of communication and makes the actor sound inauthentic.

Here are three steps to stop listening to yourself.

1. Be Curious About the Product

Every commercial script has a product. Whether it's an item or a service the company is promoting, ask yourself several questions:
  • What is it?
  • What does it do?
  • In what area of our lives do we use it and how?
  • Is it new to the market, or is it established?
  • What makes it unique?
Research the product if you need, because your knowledge will connect you mentally and emotionally to the product's story and purpose.

Then you can focus on your newfound expertise and not your sound.  

2. Start at the End

At the end of every commercial script lays the soul of the message. The tagline. It's the condensed nugget of branding that the client wants banging around in the listener's head long after the commercial is over.

Once you've asked and answered questions about the product, go straight to the end, and read it.

This one small phrase will illuminate the company's personality: funny, serious, humble.

It will indicate where the product lives in the market: food, home, auto or elsewhere. And it will reveal how the client wants to impact the listener enough to take action and purchase the product.

This is where you, the voice actor, enter the picture. Armed with your understanding of what the tagline has revealed, you can speak with confidence, personality and a targeted message that will circumvent the need for your mental headphones

3. Read the Script, Then Make a Decision

You've fleshed out a story about the product. You've pondered the personality of the company.

Now read the copy with these guideposts in mind, and decide, based on the words and your own discoveries, the one feeling you want the listener to experience.

Maybe you want them to feel delighted, inspired or astonished. Maybe motivated, prodded or judged.

Whatever your goal feeling is, hold onto it, and keep it foremost in your mind as you read.

This intention will stabilize and prevent you from listening to yourself. You will be striving to get your intention across, which is what we do in everyday communication.

Focus on how the message is being received, not on how you sound saying it.

Understanding the product, reading the tagline, and deciding on your intention will shut off your mental headphones and allow you to focus on the client's message.

Once you've done that, you can put on actual headphones and play back your gorgeous, smart, and intention-soaked performance.  
Sally Clawson is an award-winning voice over, on-camera and theater actor, as well as certified executive coach through the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. She has over 20 years of experience as a voice teacher, and in 2018, became owner of Voice One, the leading voice over school in San Francisco. Voice One offers a comprehensive voice over training program, both in-person and online, for everyone from the novice to the professional.    

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Comments (2)
Bobbin Beam
2/9/2021 at 2:54 PM
This is wonderful input, Sally. It's all about connecting to the copy, not listening to your own voice. I especially resonate with the mental imagery of "your gorgeous, smart, intention-soaked performance."
All the Best,
Bobbin Beam
Randye Kaye
2/9/2021 at 7:11 AM
Great advice! Genuine curiosity and learning are useful antidotes to the shackles of self-judgment...or judgement in general. It’s the difference between your “inner director” and your “inner judge”... and pretty good advice for life, too!

Thanks for a terrific article.
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