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When Receiving Voice Over Direction,
Listen, Learn And Be Tough-Skinned

Note: On Wednesday night, April 10, the author presents a new VoiceOverXtra webinar, Breaking Out of the Announcer Mode - a valuable how-to lesson if your announcery side sneaks into your reads. Includes live coaching. Details here.

By Deb Munro
Voice Talent & Coach

The director says,
"OK, great. Now can you try it with less of an announcer and a bit more realistic? But can you also push the price and be really big about the fact that it's on sale. And just be a bit more authoritative and flat at the same time, OK?" 
The hardest part about taking direction is listening and understanding the direction offered. Much like marriage, listening isn't always our strongest trait, and the person we are listening to doesn't always know what they're talking about!

There are many forms of direction, and being able to adapt to each person's unique style is key and much easier said than done. The challenge is that just because someone is put in the position of directing doesn't mean they are good at giving direction. 


Let's face it, clients who make great hamburgers are put in the director's chair and forced to learn on the job. In fact, most directors learn by happenstance or time on set.  

If you are lucky, you may get to work with someone who used to be an actor and therefore truly understands how to give direction in order to get your best performance.  

Unfortunately, this is rare. More typically, your directors will be clients or people who don't really know what they want, and who do not understand how to tell you what they want. 

They will even go so far as line reading you, reading every line to you with the feeling that they are looking for. However, their read may not be exactly what they want. And even though you mimic them perfectly, you still might not give them what they want. 


Typically, the smaller the budget the less control the clients will want - or the less they understand. They don't realize they can direct the talent, so they trust the talent to direct themselves. 

They may have you voice it your way, have you send it to them and then make suggestions or changes. You re-voice it and send it back for their approval. This is time consuming.


And even though you might feel less pressure when directing yourself, you can save yourself a ton of time and editing if you suggest that your client listen in during the recording by phone patch, Source-Connect or ISDN. 

The challenge for you as a home-based talent is that you may be eaten alive if you don't have  experience working with clients and directors. 

Stories about nightmare sessions abound. Pros will admit that no matter what they did, they either couldn't give the director what he wanted, or they had six different directions and just didn't know who to listen to, or they were so confused by the direction that nothing worked. 

This is normal. But it will be easier on your ego when you get experience.. 


Be tough skinned. Every take you do - even take 45 - must sound like the first time. Even if they hate the project, clients, directions etc., professional talent will never ever let on that the session is bothering or getting the better of them. 

Most of us like to get it right the first time, so it's a real blow to the ego when we can't get it right. And if you're not careful, it will get the better of you. 

Clients/directors forget that you're human, with a ton of feelings. They can seem heartless at times, but just try and think of it this way: They are focused on their work - and how to look good in front of their peers/clients at all costs, including yours. 


It's also extremely important that you know your footing in the room. Because of my variety of training in this industry, this has been one of my hardest lessons. 

Learning that I am "just" the actor wasn't easy. I'm a people-pleaser and I love people, so I want to be myself in the room and get to know everyone I work with. But this isn't always wise. 

So I keep my chit chat to a minimum and speak and involve myself only when invited, to learn my place, not try to be their friend. This is a business and there is nothing personal here. 

It's also extremely important for you to know that you are not the director, the writer, the decision-maker or even the production assistant, so make sure not to overstep your role.  

For example, if the script is written poorly or contains poor grammar, no matter how much of an expert you are, it is not your place to fix it or correct it. Believe it or not, you are now taking away someone else's job. 


Once you get to know your clients, the relationship may change. Perhaps they'll allow you executive decisions like grammar and script adjustments. But remember that the writer may be the room! In fact, in many cases the writer is the client.

Your job is to make the words work, whether you like them or not.  


And the most important thing you can do is to listen. 

If you don't understand the direction, ask for clarification. Don't pretend you understand. When you go to perform, it will be obvious you didn't understand, and that makes you look much worse. 

The bottom line is to listen, do as you're told, don't second guess their expertise - even when they are wrong - and stay tough skinned. 

Make each directed session fun - even if you don't give them what you want. Trust that you did the best job you could based on what you're given, and stay confident in that.  
Deb Munro is a leading voice talent, coach, and owner of Chanti Productions, in the Vancouver, B.C., Canada area. She offers private voice over coaching by phone and Skype, and MIC 'N ME and Double Divas workshops on voice acting, business and demo prep in many Canadian cities.


April 10 Webinar, Breaking Out of the Announcer Mode: Details here

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Comments (3)
Judy Fossum
4/10/2013 at 2:03 PM
How true. Thanks so much, Deb, for the great article.

Then in those moments and opportunities when we are fortunate enough to work with a good director, it makes us that much more grateful.

-Judy Fossum
Bern Galat
4/9/2013 at 10:48 AM
Great advice Deb, especially about listening and realizing that these situations are business not personal. I've been in the life sciences industry for more than 25 years. Selling to scientists and physicians can be tough because many of them have outsized egos and lousy interpersonal skills. Learning to suck-it-up is hard but I've been successful largely because I am a good actor. Now that I’m transitioning to VO, I suspect my acting ability will be as important to the business side of the industry as to the creative.
Ron Whittemore
4/9/2013 at 10:39 AM
Solid advice from a pro...thanks Deb!
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