If someone told you “I’d like you to sound a bit warmer” – what would you do?
Run in place? Imagine a pile of down comforters? Relax all the muscles in your face?
If you want to become a full time voiceover artist, a huge part of your job will be responding to just this type of vague feedback.
Here’s a recent, real-life example from my own career.
On a 90-degree day last summer, I trekked through the subways of New York to an audition. After my first take, the casting director said, “Great… but can you warm it up?”
It’s 90 degrees and you want me to warm it up?!
What did he mean? Did he want me to sound more nurturing? More welcoming? Sexier? More approachable?
I had no idea because vague feedback is just that – vague.
Over the years, I’ve learned to be less literal (and less annoyed by this unhelpful direction) and figure out what general directions like “be warm” or “soften it up” mean to me.
Here are 10 ways I deal with vague feedback as a voiceover artist
1. Just say “Got it”
When a director gives you any kind of feedback, what they’re really saying is “I’d like you to try something different.” Show that you understand that. Back off the mic, clear your head, and try something new.
2. Compartmentalize the feedback
It’s important to remember that feedback on your read of a script is not feedback on your talent, your skills, or your value as a human. It is feedback on the way you’re using the muscles in your mouth and one very specific area of your brain.
Don’t get too in your head. Remember that this is input into how you’re saying a few words. That’s it.
3. Direct yourself
If your director isn’t being as helpful as you’d like, make the choice to direct yourself. Where do you think you can improve? How can you make this phrase more evocative? When you think of the word warm, what do you hear? If they’re not giving you the guidance you’d like (or understand) give yourself that guidance.
4. Imagine that you’re talking to a different person
The way I speak to my husband, my mom, my best friend, my boss – all different. You can hear that difference in my voice. When a director gives you vague feedback and you’re not sure how to change your approach, envision this conversation with a different person.
How would I talk to my husband about Arm & Hammer’s new laundry detergent? How would I talk to a stranger in the elevator?
5. Add a trigger word or phrase at the beginning of the copy
The first few words of a conversation can set the tone for the entire thing. Imagine a conversation that starts with “Can I be honest with you?” Now imagine a conversation that starts with “You will not believe what just happened to me!” Those phrases can affect how we communicate everything else we say.
If your sound engineer is willing to edit it out, you can add trigger words like this to the beginning of the copy. They can help you mentally set the tone for everything else and find that ‘warm’ feeling the director is looking for.
6. Change your body
Your body influences the way you speak. Your voice will sound different (and your message will sound different) if you change the positioning of your body. What if you hold your hands above your body? Or in front of your body? What if you stand with perfectly erect posture? All of these tiny tweaks will change the way you sound.
It’s the oldest trick in the book because it works. People can hear a smile in your voice. Smile when you’re speaking and it will warm up the copy immediately!
8. Ask for an example of something similar that’s on the air
Are they looking for something like that AirWick commercial? Or that Wendy’s ad? Or that Hyatt radio spot? If they can point you towards an on-air example, you can decipher what they’re looking for.
9. Ask for a character reference
It can be incredibly helpful to hear “We’re thinking along the line of Claire from Modern Family,” or “Do this like Debra from Everybody Loves Raymond.” When they can reference a well known character, it’s easier for you to give them what they want.
10. Be present
Almost all feedback equates to ‘connect with the copy’ and it’s a lot easier to connect with the copy when you’re present. Step back from the mic, take some deep breaths and roll your shoulders. Clear your mind and recenter on the scenario you’re describing. Really envision what’s happening. Say to yourself “be here.” Sometimes, I even take my shoes off to ground myself!
Lean into your storytelling. Be present for the story you’re shaping.
Vague feedback is frustrating, but an incredibly common part of voiceover work. Don’t let it get to you! Just take a deep breath, step up to the mic, and begin again.