How Tos

The Emotional Voice

What makes a listener perk up their ears to receive a message?

Is it the sound of the voice that captures an audience or the motivation behind how the voice over artist paints their words and delivers the copy?
Let’s explore this topic together in greater detail in today’s VOX Daily.

Infusing Words With Shades of Deeper Meaning

Language and the voice are uniquely human gifts. When we speak aloud we are characterized by gender, age, geographic region and emotional state.
Maya Angelou once said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.”

Beautiful words. Did you read them aloud? If you didn’t you should, you will see how much more the statement resonates with you. I’ve been exploring the emotional significance of the human voice. What I am specifically interested in is how we react to different voices and is it the voice itself or the emotion behind the voice that causes a reaction.

I didn’t have to look far to understand that it is the emotion behind the voice that elicits a powerful reaction from the listener. Though it may be true that we find certain types of voices more attractive to the ear, which plays a role in the mating game, we empathize with any and all types of voices whether they are scratchy, hoarse, clear, high or low. The emotional state behind the voice is what we connect with on a deeper level.

One example of this is audio books. When you read a novel you can imagine in your mind’s eye the emotions the character is feeling but when you actually hear the emotional voice of the actor it can send chills right up your spine, make you cry, comfort you, or make you laugh out loud; allowing you to experience the book in the way the author intended.

Vocal Paralanguage

Vocal paralanguage is the thousands of ways in which any given word can be interpreted and the subtleties that we may not get in language until spoken aloud such as inflections, pitch, regional dialect, sadness, anger, sarcasm, happiness, etc. Unless heard, many of these things are not clearly grasped by the reader. Vocal paralanguage is our interpretation of what words really mean.

Voice talents are experts at deciphering this. They use their voices to deliver the emotional subtleties behind language. This is true in any niche of voice over. Whether it is the voice of a call centre IVR keeping you calm until a representative greets you or the character brought to life in your favorite audio book, voice talent are experts at captivating the listener with the power of the human voice.

Need Help Bringing More Emotion Into Your Performance?

Studying with a voice over coach will help you figure out how to inject more emotion into your reads. You can also check out the Voice Over Experts Podcast for some free advice and performance tips from industry professionals.
If you have anything to add to this, please jump in and leave a comment!
Looking forward to hearing from you,

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  • Howard Ellison
    March 15, 2011, 11:18 am

    Hello, Lin. What a crucial topic! Paralanguage, eh? Learn something every day from you guys.
    Printed copy has to grab attention in the first seven words, I think. The onus upon us is even greater. I have a friend who summons attention at the dinner table by clearing his throat very loudly. It is indeed short on emotion… and, unfortunately, what generally follows does not sustain interest! However you could say he does what it says on the label.

  • Michael
    March 15, 2011, 12:39 pm

    I am just starting my VO career, but I am a professional actor of 40 years experience and I teach acting. For me, words don’t have any meaning until we speak them and give them meaning. Or more accurately, the emotional content of what the character is saying is only apparent when the words are said. “I really like that,” when spoken, could be telling the audience that, “yes, liked it”, or, “that’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!” I first look for what the emotional need of the moment is, and then the words can be said with meaning.

  • Lin Parkin
    March 16, 2011, 10:23 am

    Thanks for commenting Howard. I love the concept of paralanguage… that there is a language behind the language giving depth and context to every word we say. Even the way in which one clears their throat could have many different meanings depending on where the emotional emphasis is! 🙂

  • Lin Parkin
    March 16, 2011, 10:31 am

    Well said. Thanks for adding your two-cents, Michael. Your vast acting experience will certainly go a long way in your VO career!

  • Paul Hernandez
    March 21, 2011, 8:48 pm

    Susan Blu in her book “Word of Mouth” suggests focusing, visualizing and committing to an idea or interpretation of the copy by going deeper behind the words. What time of day is it? Are you the father, son or neighbor? What is happening in the scene? Why are you doing this? I try to ask these types of questions no matter what the content of the copy. I recently met James Alburger author of “The Art of Voice Acting” and he brought this concept to life for me in one statement. “Be the character, live the voice”. The more you become the character, the more believable your read will become.