Pro Tips for Directing a Voice Over Session

by TalkShop | @talkshopla

So, here’s the scenario: after three months of struggle, you’ve got a product, and an actor, with just the right tone to voice it…

And only an hour in the booth to get the performance you hope to capture.

You expect your voice over talent to communicate your message to your audience most effectively.

And your actor expects to get some valuable direction from you.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Be as descriptive as possible. ‘Professorial’ is better than ‘helpful’. ‘Buoyant’ is better than ‘happy’. Feel free to reference well known celebrities if you get stuck, or to illustrate the feel you’re looking for i.e. Matthew McConaughey cool, or, Morgan Freeman wise, or, Tina Fey snarky.
  • There’s a difference between speed and energy.  If you like the read at 33 seconds but need it to come in at 29, ask your actor for the same read, 10% quicker. “Love the feel, just a little quicker pace so we make it in time, please!”
  • Use the A/V elements available to you. Do you have a rough cut of the reference video?  Send that over before the session, so the talent can watch it and get familiar with the material. Same for a music track. It’s a great way for an actor to get the mood you’re aiming to set.


In session:

Too serious?

“Try one a little more upbeat. Give us some smile.”

Too “announcery?”

“Can you try one that sounds friendlier, like you’re talking to a buddy?”

Sentences not flowing easily?

“Let’s drop the commas on the page. Just tell me about it…”


“Let me hear your interest. I want to believe you.”

And a word about first reads.

By the time your actor and engineer is ready to do the first take, he or she should have had ample – or at least enough – time to have read through the copy and make some personal notes.

Most good actors will practice out loud a number of times, just to be sure they have a good feel for everything on the page. This includes any challenging pronunciations, proper names or unfamiliar wording that might impact the flow of the read.

With good prep, they’ll be ready to perform when the engineer records the first take.

No matter what happens next – let your performer run through the full piece, or at least the entire first portion of a longer project.

And here’s why: Once in a while, you’ll get a remarkable performance that spills out naturally and cohesively that may be next to impossible to duplicate after you discuss various portions of the read in detail. While direction is a key element of voice over production, it still places conscious pressure on a performer to hit the marks you’ve requested, and that usually changes the read.

Another reason to let it flow is to get an overall impression of how the read is going to sound, coming from this particular voice. And you’re much better off listening through the first take, rather than interrupting two sentences in, because you needed to correct the vowel sound on someone’s last name.

And finally, getting a good performance from an actor is best done when you create a bond of trust and respect between one another. If you’re patient and allow an actor to settle in and get his or her bearings on how it feels to be performing in that booth for the first take, you’ve gone a long way in setting the tone for the rest of the hour.

By showing your respect for his or her efforts, you’ll be on your way to finessing a supportive atmosphere most likely to result in a great read.