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Like many arts, voice over narration appears simple and sounds attractive when done well and is complicated or bland when done poorly. In its basic form, narration is simply storytelling. The process of telling how certain events unfold. Inherently we are all storytellers. Some of us are better at it than others. Professional voice over actors (those who make a living at it) practice storytelling. They study the elements of good narration that break it down into voice and acting skills.

Do You Need a Good Voice to be a Voice Actor?

Many people are drawn to the voiceover industry because some well-meaning – but uninformed, a.k.a. amateur  – layperson has complimented that person’s voice. But as a voiceover coach, I tell my students the actual instrument (your voice – raw or cultivated) only accounts for about 10-15% of a voice actor’s skill, whether we’re discussing good narration or acting that happens to be captured by audio equipment.

Learning to use or cultivate your voice is critical to good narration. Voice actors study breath control, vocal placement, and other embellishments (accents, rhythm, pitch, cadence, etc.) to better access what they need to tell their stories.

What Acting Skills are Necessary for Voice Over Narration?

Essentially, the better the actor, the better the voice over narration will be. There’s a reason we love the voice over narrations of critically acclaimed actors like Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand, Patrick Stewart, and Sigourney Weaver.

As a prolific voice over artist with over 40 successful years in the industry, I have found the key to great voice over narration is to recognize that the role of the narrator is like any other acting role. So, how do you approach narration as an acting role? Essential skills for voice actors are script analysis, connecting with the script, and connecting with the audience.

How Script Analysis Leads to Great Voice Over Narration

A voiceover narrator rarely tells their own story in their own words. The art involves working with other people’s words, a script per se, and making them sound like your own. Understanding speech, from its grammatical parts to its colloquial use and all the choices behind the words the writer has selected, strengthens your understanding of what is critical to imbue to another. A good voiceover narrator works on this skill until they can analyze scripts on the fly.

Finding Yourself in the Writer’s Words

To paraphrase Meryl Streep, acting is about finding yourself in the role (or script). This involves opening yourself up to the possibility of examining and imagining in what situation you might find yourself actually saying the writer’s words. Accessing your imagination helps create the bridge between the content you will narrate and yourself.

Good self-knowledge is also critical to finding yourself in the writer’s words. Actors will often do a discovery read of a script with a gentle pass just to experience emotions and connections that may come up in their first response to the script. When in this discovery phase, note your own feelings. Any alignment, connection, attraction, or aversion will help unlock deeper areas to dive into.

Great Voice Over Narration Keeps the Listener in Mind

It’s not about you. You are the channel through which the story flows. From the writer, through you, and to the listener. Bad narration happens when the narrator stays in their own head. Great voiceover happens when the narrator talks to the listener. This is where performance enters the narration equation.

The Basics of Voice Over Narration by Kim Handysides –
Kim Handysides is a SOVAS Award-winning voice artist, a coach, and thought leader in her industry. She has voiced over twenty thousand projects in every voice over genre. Kim’s narrations have been heard on Discovery, Netflix, and the major networks, in iMax, the White House, and the Smithsonian.