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VOICE ACTING
Medical Narrations: Are You Boring?
Good! That's What The Doctor Ordered


By Alan Sklar
Voice Actor

Click below to hear the inspiring audio version of this article, read by the author ...



Over 20 years ago, when I first started studying voice over craftsmanship, I had weekly sessions with coach Wendy Dillon, who taught in her apartment at 55th Street and 8th Avenue.

I was a big mouth know-it-all in those days, but Wendy didn't take any crap from me.

She was in my face all the time with comments like:

"Will you forget that you're a college graduate and just talk to me!"
Or,
"Will you please lower your IQ by 50 points and just talk like a regular person!"

She hurt my feelings sometimes. But I was determined to thrive in this new line of work.

MEDICAL ATTENTION


We finally reached a point in my training where we worked on narrating medical or pharmaceutical videos, often slide shows - with doctors as the audience.

The more sophisticated among us call them "physician-targeted projects."

I had difficulty adopting the proper medical narrator attitude. I read with excessive energy and enthusiasm.

You can't stop a cat from meowing and you can't stop Sklar from selling. It was in my DNA.

YOU'RE NOT THE STAR

Wendy would lecture me. I'll always remember her words.

"With a medical narration, you are not the star of the show. The visuals, the video is the star. The doctors in the audience aren't even listening to you. They are more interested in what they're seeing on the screen. They know what they're looking at and often do not need to hear your explanations. You are like a pianist at a cocktail party. No one's really listening. You are just background music."

How's that for an ego deflator!

I wanted to be the star, the center of attention.

THE PAIN EASES

But after thinking about it for 24 hours I accepted her insights. The pain dissipated.

I worked at assuming the proper attitude.

No energy. No selling. No smiles or warmth.

JUST THE FACTS

If a narrator starts selling, the doctors will probably scoot out the back door.

You are acting a character. It's a clinical read. Just facts, facts, facts. With an attitude approaching boredom.

It's almost as if the narrator is looking out the window as he speaks, rambling on with zero emotion, just rattling off each statement of fact.

FOR EXAMPLE ...

Here, try some of these statements:

1. Safety and effectiveness of the product have been established in patients 3 years and older.

2. Allergic or anaphylactoid reactions to the active or inactive components of the product can occur.

3. In clinical studies, the most common local reactions were erythema (71%), blanching (12%), and edema (12%).

4. Product is not for home use by patient.

BECOME FLUENT

Practicing the above samples brings up another point: Medicalese is a foreign language and the listeners must believe that you speak it fluently.

Practice, practice, practice the multisyllabic and/or occasional Latin words so that they "flow trippingly off your tongue."

PRONUNCIATION HELPERS

I have two medical dictionaries on the shelf, Merriam-Webster's Medical Desk Dictionary and Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. I use 'em all the time.

Even better pronunciation resources are two websites:

Merriam-Webster Online
Merck Manual Pronunciation

On these sites, actors pronounce the word for you. It's a terrific resource for VO folks.

GET PHARMACEUTICALS, TOO

The pharmaceutical industry never heard of a recession. With growing populations, manufacturers keep increasing sales.

And the industry keeps cranking out projects that require a voice. Their web sites often require narration.

Of course, you'll have to offer producers a VO demo that shows your stuff.

SO BE BORING

Keep practicing until you lock in the clinical sound of a "bored doctor."

Go to other voice actors websites and listen to their medical demos - and steal, steal, steal all the good ideas you can.

They say Will Shakespeare was the greatest thief in the history of English literature.

ABOUT ALAN ...

Alan Sklar has been a freelance voice actor for more than 20 years, voicing radio/TV commercials and VNRs - and narrating everything from audiobooks and documentaries to thousands of corporate and medical video projects. An award-winning narrator of more than 150 audiobooks - including A Civil Action and Black Hawk Down, he is also an on-camera and in-person spokesperson for major corporations.

Email: alan@alansklar.com
Web: www.AlanSklar.com

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Comments (10)
Alan Sklar
2/1/2012 at 6:19 PM
I've had jobs where I looked up the pronunciation in my dictionaries and there were two ways to pronounce the term. Then when I arrived at the session and asked the client/producer which they preferred, the bastard states: No, the way we pronounce it is like this...and he gives me a 3rd way.

But...as long as the check clears...I'm delighted. I want clients to recruit me again and again. No ego here. I love the work and love pleasing customers.
Randye Kaye
2/1/2012 at 4:55 PM
The extremely generous and talented Alan Sklar does it again!

How's that for your ego ? :)
Thanks for an accurate, helpful article.
Randye
Peter Katt
2/1/2012 at 4:06 PM
Thanks, Alan, for such great advice! Each week I read science articles for a radio service for the blind, and the medical/biological terms are a challenge -- I view it as batting practice with weights. (I didn't have to look up "erythema" or "edema".) Of course, that's a different approach, as I have to make otherwise dry material interesting for the listener! (Next week's show has, I kid you not, an article about dust.)

Debbie, sometimes I can find pronunciations for products or proper names by searching NPR's site in case they aired a report about them, or searching Google and YouTube for videos where the product is mentioned.
I M
2/1/2012 at 3:05 PM
Thanks much for the enlightening words and advice...would definitely stand a noobie---and/or 'oldie'---in good stead!
Wayne Thompson
2/1/2012 at 10:09 AM
Alan,
Occasionally, I find it really difficult to maintain the neutral tone so craved in medical when the producer says "Could you pick up the pace to make it a little more lively?"

'Subarachnoid hemorrhage' lively! Really?

By the way, thanks for the Merck pronunciation resource. What a treasure! Consider it stolen. No wait. I can't steal a website. Consider it appropriated.
Debbie Irwin
2/1/2012 at 8:42 AM
Great article;
Love the audio version!
Appreciate the online pronunciation resources as well.
These are invaluable!
Sometimes, though there's a name of a product (usually with x's and z's galore), which you can't find online!
But when you get those 10+ letter words to roll off your tongue like butter, there's such a sense of accomplishment!
Paul Strikwerda
2/1/2012 at 8:34 AM
Alan, thanks for writing a thoroughly un-boring piece about medical narration.

Your matter-of-fact prescription is just what the doctor ordered!
Roy Wells
2/1/2012 at 8:26 AM
Really good advice Alan, if I were to sum up your article I would say..think Jack Web in the old Dragnet TV series..Wednesday, February one, Just the facts please.
Rebecca
2/1/2012 at 7:27 AM
Thanks Alan - great notes & references. I agree and do a ton of pharma work myself.
Lisa Rice
2/1/2012 at 1:02 AM
Thanks for the great article, Alan. I've seen an increase in medical narration work the last few years. I appreciate your practical advice and resource suggestions.
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