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Conversational Corporate: A Case Study

You may have noticed over lockdown that commercials are favouring more

quirky, conversational, everyday person type reads. There’s less of the hard sell and a little more humility and humour to the spots which is reflected in the voice overs. I think this same trend is evident in the corporate voice over sector too.

People have had a hell of a year with many businesses closing, never to be reopened. When premises closed and many staff were furloughed, companies had to change the way they engage with their customers. Lots chose to do so via explainer videos on their websites/social media channels. But formal, slightly formulaic and bland corporate videos just didn’t seem the right fit in these trying times. People are bored of being lectured and preached at. They want more genuine social interactions. Like the kind we had before we all had to wear masks and socially distance.

That’s perhaps why I am seeing more and more briefs specifying things like

“We don’t want it to sound too corporate or clinical”

“We want a voice over that doesn’t sound too much like a voice over”

“We want natural please. Like a real person. No hard sell or announcer voices”

But what does this actually mean in practice?

I try to think of it like this. Instead of being the detached spokesperson for the brand, you are trying to sound like an actual employee of that company just casually telling the listener how great you are at what you do. That doesn’t mean companies should just get Kevin from accounts or Julie from marketing to do their corporate voice overs though, you’re still employing all your training and technique but making it look effortless.

Here’s an example of a job I did recently that showcases a more conversational style of corporate read. It makes perfect sense because it is a pitch video designed to get investors’ attention and we all know the old adage that ‘people buy from people’. Yes, a slick, safe, corporate read would do the job but would it stand out and showcase a company that are trying to do something new and different? Probably not.

So what specifically am I doing that is different to the more traditional style of corporate VO?

1) I am deliberately dropping my RP accent slightly, throwing a few words away rather than over enunciating. When I do this I notice the physical change in my mouth and face. So for the straight corporate read there would be more tension in my jaw and my lips and the voice is projected quite far forward right behind the teeth. For the more informal read my jaw drops a little, and cheeks and lips are more relaxed. I don’t feel like I am deliberately trying to project the voice forward through my teeth like a laser beam, I’ve kind of opened a window and am letting the sound flow out naturally.

2) There is more rise and fall in the pitch and rhythm. It isn’t so uniform. There are more contemplative pauses and the extending of some words or sentences and cutting short of others. However, when some people hear the direction ‘conversational’ they give too much rise and fall to the point where it can sound unnatural. I think a way of getting this balance right is to not imagine you are projecting to a wide audience but rather a single individual.

3) I try and deliver some lines in a way that’s a little unexpected to stop it sounding too uniform. Sometimes with corporate jobs you will deliberately over emphasise a key selling point of the product/service. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, we want to do it justice, but it needs to be done in a more natural way rather than sounding like you are on Dragon’s Den making a business pitch. To avoid this, you can try to read a line like it’s a thought that’s just occurring to you in that moment. After all, that’s generally how conversations happen.

4) With corporate it can be easy to get ‘stuck in a rhythm’ or use the same intonation points. To avoid this I employ some of my training from doing character work. For characters you are often asked to do an “ABC” of a line. That means three different takes. It’s then you realize how changing the emphasis on a word in a sentence can completely change the meaning of a line, often imbuing it with an emotion where there wasn’t one before. Obviously there’s not as much scope for creativity for a corporate voice over but it’s worth bringing that element of play and experimentation if you can. What’s the worse that can happen? The client might really love it.

5) I am making a conscious effort not to sound really happy, smiley and overly enthusiastic the whole way through. I save the smile in the voice for the key moments in the script where it feels natural and I want to make an impact or connect with the listener. Again, it’s a habit I am having to unlearn. Sometimes with these briefs I will do a take and worry I sound a bit ‘low energy’... but the client loves it. It's because I probably spend too much time in 'voice over mode' that I forget how normal people sound! When someone’s telling you a story or telling you about their day or a place they love to shop they don’t need to capture your attention with an overly enthusiastic, in your face announcer voice do they? Actually, a quiet, contemplative, nuanced read can be very engaging and much more authentic.

So that’s my take on “conversational corporate” but essentially, I am bringing a bit more of me and my personality into the voice over. Sometimes we try too hard to be the person we think they want us to sound like when we should really just sound like ourselves.


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