My Voice or Yours?

No, I’m not suggesting you record your own commercials. Studies pretty clearly show that retention of the message just about doubles when it’s delivered by a trained voice-over artist. What I’m asking is if you want me to be part of your company as I deliver the message, be an authority talking about your company, or endorse you as I extoll the virtues of your company.

Imagine yourself listening to the following and “hear” the differences:

  • Here at the ABC Widget Company, we pride ourselves on delivering a product that exceeds all of our customers’ expectations.
  • The dedicated personnel at the ABC Widget Company take pride in exceeding all of their customers’ expectations.
  • This is Handyman Bob and I want to share my insight on the ABC Widget Company. I can assure you they take pride in exceeding all of their customers’ expectations.

Message ImportantWhen spoken in the first person, it’s a voice of experience. It’s as if I’m speaking for you. I understand the organization, the process, the skills – I’m part of your company.

Speaking in the third person, I have to be very authoritative to be believable, because I’m just the voice of the person nobody sees.

When it can be used, the endorsement is extremely powerful, because your reputation attaches to mine in the mind of the listener. Of course, this only has value if the audience for your message already knows and trusts me.

What sorts of projects lend themselves well to voice-over in the first person? If you produce a Power Point presentation for a trade show, talking about your latest and greatest widget, that would be a natural place to have me assume the role of company spokesman. My name is never spoken, but the script would make it clear that I am part of the organization and, by extension, I know what I’m talking about. The same is true for a first person video you would develop. On camera, I would wear your logo and, if off camera, the script would clearly intimate that I am part of your company. Even in radio and TV commercials or your telephone greeting, my voice can be your voice.

So, what about the third person voice? When do you want me to be a voice of authority telling about all those wonderful widgets. You notice I didn’t say “selling” those wonderful widgets. People have to believe I have reason to know what I’m talking about, before they will trust the message. Think about every commercial you’ve ever seen or heard; the person delivering it was somehow connected to the product or service. A model showing off her new hairdo, a guy talking about how easy the charcoal lit in his grill, the kid playing with the newest toy on the market – all of them have to be tied to the product or service or we don’t believe them.

Telling your story – pure narrative – doesn’t require trust for the listener to believe. Do you have any idea whose is the voice narrating that great National Geographic special you just watched? Me neither, but it sure didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

And, that brings us back to endorsement messaging. Every night on TV we see a football legend with prostate issues, a former senator talking about reverse mortgages, and yesterday’s recording artists selling music collections of the decades. Why does this work? We know these people. We feel comfortable with these people. In short, we trust these people. That’s the power of endorsement.

So, whom would Handyman Bob endorse? That’s been an easy question to answer for as long as I’ve been recommending products and services. I simply won’t endorse anything I don’t personally use and believe in. Apply this to your own experience. When asked for a recommendation about a restaurant, don’t you always suggest one where you’ve had good food and service? I submit the same holds true for a mechanic, a contractor, a movie, and even a dry cleaner. Honest people won’t recommend something they don’t use themselves.

Back to the original question. When I do your voice-over work, will you have me use my voice or yours?

But, What’s Your Message?

Question Mark Frowning FaceSo, you’ve decided it’s time to promote your business. But, what’s your message? We know that in the world of voice-over, you’re either telling (narrative) or selling (commercial). Presumably, you don’t want to tell the history of your company, so it’s safe to assume you want to make a commercial. But, again I ask, what’s your message? Do you want folks to know that you are a real great guy and someone they can trust? Or, do you have something you want them to buy? Sometimes this is expressed as “branding” vs “call to action”. Rather than going on and on trying to describe the difference, just watch two short videos and you’ll really understand which is which.

Kia is a well known automobile brand in the U.S. and a series of videos featuring hamsters, of all things, burned it into our psyche. Check this out for an example of branding at its finest: Kia national campaign. (Be sure to hit the back button, when the video ends.)  What came to your mind as you watched the commercial? Hip? Sporty? Futuristic? Cute? This was produced by Kia with the sole purpose of making you remember their automobile.

At the dealership level, however, it’s all about sales. They need to have you come into the showroom predisposed to buy. So, their commercials give you lots of reasons to anticipate getting a good deal when you do go to the showroom. Here’s a great example: Kia dealership commercial. (Be sure to hit the back button, when the video ends.) Did you pick up on the Calls to Action? Inventory goes fast – come in now! Our prices are the lowest available!

Few market segments are quite so dramatic with the difference between branding and a call to action as the automobile industry, but they do provide textbook examples of the difference. The two are not mutually exclusive, however. Unlike Kia, you probably don’t have a multi-million dollar ad budget. Perhaps you do want to tell folks that you are someone to be trusted and, in the same commercial, you want to give them a reason to buy from you right away. Here are two examples of how that might be done:

  • The Wall has been serving the folks of metropolitan Portland for nearly thirty years and offers a full five year warranty on all their work. They’ll build you a free fire pit if you order a new patio by June 1st.
  • Pyramid Heating & Cooling has received an Angie’s List Super Service Award four years running. Save $50.00 when you tune up your furnace by June 1st for only $89.00.

Advertising is something nearly all businesses have to address. But, before you hire someone to “do a commercial” for you, be sure you know what message you want to convey. Is it branding? Is it a call to action? Or, can you come up with a great compromise that helps build your brand while at the same time gives customers a reason to buy from you right now?




A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Auction

My largest project, to date, came about as a misunderstanding. While discussing the annual Black & White Gala with Ken Cowdery, the Executive Director of the Home Builders Foundation (HBF), he asked if I would narrate the video to be shown during the auction. The HBF leverages the money raised at the auction with the time and talent of members from the Home Builders Association (HBA) for building and renovation of dignified housing for the transitional homeless. Of course I said, “Yes” and then I asked if he would like for me to write the script. And, he said, “Yes”.

The misunderstanding? I asked, “Would you like for me to write the script [for the narration].” He answered, “Yes, I’d like for you to write the script [for the video].” Big difference!

Devon Lyon shooting B-roll for HBF auction video

Devon Lyon shooting B-roll for HBF auction video

The following week, I spent two days tagging along with the award winning videographer, Devon Lyon, as he taped interviews and shot background footage. Then, using Ken’s guideline of what he wanted the video to accomplish, I reverse engineered a script knowing what Devon had available.

Watching Devon Lyon at work is rather like watching a master artist laying oils on a canvas. With care and precision, he followed the script as he pieced the interviews together with other footage and then carefully edited them for maximum effect. Although I had written the script for the narration, he also directed my voice-over recording to achieve the effect he wanted there, too. It’s a collaboration I certainly hope to repeat on future projects.

But, would it work? Would it achieve the desired result? Would people be moved by the story being told? On April the 5th, following dinner and mid-way through the auction, and just before the paddle raise, the video was shown on two huge screens. The room which had been loud and raucus just moments before fell silent. People watched in rapt attention. As it ended, many were wiping tears from their eyes. It had worked.

I’m very proud of the video we produced and would like to share it with you; to view it, just Click Here.


Please, Don’t Waste My Time

The script came via email and I knew immediately it would not work. Once I recorded it, I was even more convinced that it would drive customers away in droves, rather than making it easier to work with my client’s company.

Doing it wrong.

“Thank you for calling the Widget Sales and Service Company. Your call is very important to us. Please hold the line. Someone will be with you in just a moment.”

How does your company answer the phone? Do you have a “live body” who picks it up every time it rings and then routes all calls to the appropriate person or voicemail box? Or, do you let the phone system answer and direct calls, thereby freeing up that employee to do more meaningful tasks? I have a client in the process of moving from the first scenario to the latter, which offered me an opportunity to do some voice-over and phone etiquette training all at the same time.

The initial script read as follows:

“Thank you for calling the Widget Sales and Service Company. Your call is very important to us. Please hold the line. Someone will be with you in just a moment.”

“If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. For a current staff directory, press ONE now.”

“Do you need to schedule a service or repair on your existing widget? Do you need assistance with discombobulator sizes, or how often you should replace them? Would you like to find out more information on tune up schedules and available maintenance plans, that will not only save you money, but can extend the life of your widget, while increasing efficiency?  Press ZERO now to speak to a customer service representative.”

“We thank you for the opportunity to make you comfortable in your home. Please continue to hold the line.”

“Did you know that on average, people spend 65% of their time in the home? Why not be comfortable? If you’re interested in setting an appointment for a quote on new equipment — framistats, thingamabobs, electronic snuffleups, natural gas pie bakers, two wheeled unicycles, front loading back doors, shovel cases, and more, please press TWO now.”

“Thank you for holding; someone will be with you in just a moment.”

How long would you have stayed on the line, listening to this, before simply hanging up and calling a competitor? I might have made it to the question about discombobulator sizes, but no further. So, what’s really wrong with this script?

It actually got off to a pretty good start. The caller hears “Thank You” immediately, along with the name of the company, so she knows she dialed the right number. She also knows that if she is just patient, someone will pick up the phone and help her.

Now, she is given an option to speed up the process by direct dialing the person she wants to talk to. And, if she knows who she wants to talk with, but doesn’t know the direct dial number, she is offered a directory. So far, so good.

Now comes the fatal flaw – the point at which the customer says, “NO”, literally and figuratively. My client forgot that the Main Greeting is only supposed to route the caller and is never used for selling anything. In a previous blog post, I discussed Telling vs Selling. The Main Greeting is used simply to tell the caller how to reach the right person.

With a little coaching, my client revised the script to read:

Thank you for calling the Widget Sales and Service Company. Please hold the line for the next Customer Service Representative to assist you. If you know your party’s extension, please press it now. For a staff directory, press ONE, now. If you would like information on a new system or to schedule an estimate, please press TWO, now. Thank you for holding. Someone will be right with you.”

Short, sweet and to the point. That’s the way to answer the phone.

My client’s phone system upgrade is a work in process. Once we have established that all the calls are being properly routed using the revised Main Greeting, we’ll turn our attention to recording a message for the caller to hear while on hold. Should that one be used for Telling or Selling? Stay tuned for updates as we work through the process.

Voice Over Is…

It’s the voice of the person you never see and it’s either selling or it’s telling. That’s the way I always answer the question, “What is Voice Over?” As you sit outside Portland International Airport (PDX) waiting to pick up an arriving passenger, you’ll likely hear, “There is no parking allowed in the passenger pick-up area.” That’s a voice over recording telling you to keep moving. As you’re driving away from the airport with your passenger, another voice over recording on your car radio tells you to “Stop by Coffee Romance tonight and get a grande’ drink for the price of a tall.” The difference between the two? The second one is trying to sell you on the idea of stopping by for a cup of coffee.

Don't come between the microphon and  Handyman Bob

Voice over recording has two basic forms. Nearly ninety percent of all voice over is in the form of narration. It’s the voice you hear on the Travel Channel as the ship wends its way through the ice field or the flock of birds begins their southerly migration. And, it’s the voice on the How-To-Install DVD you just received with your new Sunsetter Patio Awning. In your business, it might be the recorded narration that accompanies a Power Point presentation for the sales staff describing the roll-out of your new product line. Narration is always telling.

Nearly ten percent of all voice over recordings are commercial in nature and are always selling. They may be ads on radio or TV, or a message-on-hold, but they are designed to get someone to part with money in exchange for goods and services.

The Strong Voice of Handyman Bob has been used for both of these formats. By visiting, you will see and hear specific examples of narration vs commercial – telling vs selling. For example, on the Telling page, you’ll find a video, narrating the ribbon cutting ceremony at a very special home. By contrast, on the Selling page, you’ll find a video extolling the virtues of a specific home designer as he walks us through key elements of livability in his homes.

There is one small, but growing, segment of the voice over community that really doesn’t fit into one of these two categories – voice actors. This is a highly specialized form that includes audio books and movies where the voice over artist truly makes characters come to life. Many of the movies actually employ the highly recognizable voices of well-known actors like Paul Newman, Larry the Cable Guy, George Carlin, and John Ratzenberger, all of whom were voices heard in the Disney Pixar’s 2006 movie, Cars.

In summary then, nearly all voice over recordings do one of two things. They either tell us something or they try to sell us something. We hear them in the grocery store and the hardware store, in the movie theater and the amphitheater, on radio and on TV, on the phone and on the Internet. Voice over is everywhere.