Best Practices for Voice-Over

Studio microphone and pop shield on mic stand against gray background

Studio microphone and pop shield on mic stand

If you are designing and developing eLearning, you are most likely going to need voice-over work. As psychologist Richard Mayer points out in his book, Multimedia Learning, combining narration with visuals will help to increase learning and long-term retention of content.

Here are some key principles related to creating multimedia content that Mayer shares:

  1. Redundancy Principle – People learn better from graphics and narration than from graphics, narration, and on-screen text.
  2. Modality Principle – People learn better from graphics and narrations than from animation and on-screen text.
  3. Multimedia Principle – People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.
  4. Personalization Principle – People learn better from multimedia lessons when words are in conversational style rather than formal style.
  5. Voice Principle – People learn better when the narration in multimedia lessons is in a friendly human voice, rather than a machine voice.

Using professional voice-over is expensive and time consuming, so many projects opt to use “in house” voices. Oftentimes, the subject matter experts record audio themselves. Here are some tips for creating great voice-over.

  1. Start with a Script – Before you begin, write a complete script and have it edited. It is not enough to list speaking points, and assume the narrator can record it “off the cuff.” Two hundred words typically equals 1 minute of produced audio, so if you are trying to keep the multimedia clip short, you may need to trim the script.
  2. Subject Matter – Know your subject matter and any idiosyncrasies that may be involved in the narration. Consider including phonetical spellings of words that may be difficult to pronounce if the narrator is not a subject matter expert. For example, someone who is recording a world history presentation will most likely not know the correct pronunciation for Hagia Sophia or hegemony.
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice – Be sure that the narrator practices the script aloud before recording it. Any words that are difficult to pronounce (e.g. sixthanemonecolonelruralWorcestershire) should be practiced or changed.
  4. Environment – Choose the best possible environment for recording the audio and be sure to do a sample test ahead of time.  Try to minimize any external noises, such as air conditioners, fans, cars, computers, etc.
  5. Technology – Even if you don’t have an expensive microphone, consider using a simple pop filter to help reduce the popping sounds of words that start with “p” or “b”, or the hissing noise that comes with “s”. There are many free audio recording tools on the market that can be used to record voice-over, but Audacity is our favorite one. We also recommend to compress the file to an .mp3 format. Even though .wav files are much higher sound quality (which is not necessary for most eLearning courses), they can potentially slow down the bandwidth.

4 thoughts on “Best Practices for Voice-Over

  • A few other tips to help include the obligatory water drinking to get the mouth moist. If the narrator is nervous, chances are his/her mouth will be dry.

    Also, nerves might cause the reader to go a little too fast. Many people find it painful to read slowly, but with eLearning in particular often what we perceive as too slow in our regular speaking is just perfect for someone listening with the intent of retaining information.

    Finally, if it’s a short project and it’s possible given the environment, see if your narrator can stand up while reading. That’s the way we do it in the studio and there’s a reason… it allows you to put more of body into it and get better breathing.

  • Comments on Tips 2: Subject Matter – Know your subject matter and any idiosyncrasies that may be involved in the narration. Consider including phonetical spellings of words that may be difficult to pronounce if the narrator is not a subject matter expert. For example, someone who is recording a world history presentation will most likely not know the correct pronunciation for Hagia Sophia or hegemony.

    Many folks outside of language or communications fields would not have training in the International Phonetic Alphabetic (IPA). Additionally, the schwa symbol /ə/for phonetic spelling is the most prevalent vowel sound (not spelling) in the English language!

    Katie’s examples are great. We recently recorded a content video where the word “hegemony” was actually part of the audio, and YES it was a problem!! What worked after a few go arounds was instead of using the phonetic spelling found in the dictionary: həˈjemənē, I added the following phonetic spelling to the transcript for the audio production: ha jem a knee and we synched an image of the word “hegemony” with the video audio.

    Tip 2’s importance is not just for voice over audio production; it is also extremely valuable for non-native English speaking participants who have difficulty distinguishing vowel sounds in words, let alone the spelling of the schwa sound (as a,e,i,o or u) in difficult words for taking notes.

    (Instructional Designer, former international English language teacher)

  • I really very like your information. you information is very useful to me. I am impressed to read this great information about best practices for voice over. Thanks for sharing this interesting information.

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