For voice-over success, know – and trust – yourself.
May 17 2018
The Greeks said, “Know thyself.” Sometimes they meant it in a way that we modern folk might not realize – namely, to know your place in the scheme of things. But most people today probably understand the advice in a more positive sense … to know your own nature and why you act and think as you do. That seems a sensible idea, especially for the actor. In fact, Plato (it says here in our Classics crib sheet) professed that by knowing one’s own human nature, a person is better able to know the nature of other humans.
With regard to voice-over, we would add a further angle. At some point, it is also important to “Trust thyself.” To illustrate that point, here is a brief fable, ripped from the pages of a personal history:
Once upon a time, a college student got to DJ for a couple hours each week on the campus radio station. Throughout each week, he put a lot of effort into the show, planning jokes and patter, and intros, all kinds of material to cram into that scanty timeslot. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was hardly worth so much effort. He had no experience at working a live audience, everything sounded much, much too “rehearsed,” and he was like the cocktail party guest who’s so full of small talk that you wish he’d pause to let you settle your nerves, let alone get a word in edgewise.
He wasn’t even funny. To illustrate, do you know that scene in Good Morning, Vietnam where Robin Williams (as Adrian Cronauer) follows a really straight-laced Armed Forces Radio announcer guy who says stilted things like, “Greetings and felicitations”? Our hero sounded like that announcer guy.
Then, one day, our hero happened to walk into the station to do some record filing or whatever, and the Program Director said, “Our 4 o’clock DJ is sick. You’re the only DJ here. You’re on the air in 5 minutes.”
“But I have nothing prepared,” our hero stammered, ready to steadfastly refuse.
“You have a choice – fill in, or you’re fired.”
So he slumped, slinked into the studio, and filled in. It was the best show he had ever done.
The reason was simple: Finally, he sounded like himself. He played to his engineer, and the off-the-wall, freewheeling spirit that he had always wanted to bring out … came out. His ad-libs were far funnier than any shtick he might have prepared. Instead of overthinking it and listening carefully to himself, he used conversation skills he had developed over a lifetime.
That show changed the rest of his life.
Now, contrary to what you might expect in a fable, he did not go on to become a great radio DJ. But partly on the strength of that aircheck, he did get a job in radio production, where he worked with a talented voice actor who became his mentor. The additional experience and daily practice led to becoming a voice actor himself, and then a career in advertising.
MORAL: Knowing yourself is one thing. An important thing. Our hero knew he had it in him. But having it in you does not necessarily mean that you’re able to bring it out. That takes confidence – so trust thyself.
And just as important to successful performance on a regular basis is this: training, practice and experience.
Put it all together – knowledge, trust, training and practice – and you very well might find things in yourself you never knew were there.
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