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Dial Down the Intensity of Your Delivery

We’ve been living in a world where political events dominate the news, and tragedies, like the bombings in England, can happen at any time.  This can create some delivery pitfalls for broadcasters, and the stress of what’s happening can affect anyone in front of a mic.  Voiceover artists may find themselves a little too intense for lots of reasons as well.  Let’s look at how this can have negative effects.

Take a second and imagine you’re at the emergency room with a loved one.  You’re tense waiting for someone to tell you something.  Do you want the doctor to run out to talk to you and sound like he or she can’t control their own excitement and panic about this medical crisis?  Certainly not.  I feel the same way about what I hear on television, radio or the internet.  I want a clear, calm delivery that lets me decide how excited or agitated to be.

I was working with a television reporter the other day who had ramped up the intensity of her delivery to a level that was clearly too high.  When I asked her why she had done this, she said it was because the events of the story were so exciting she had gotten caught up in the excitement.  Does this ever happen to you?  If you’re a reporter, you might be covering a riot or an explosion.  Any story that gets the heart pumping.  If you’re a voice over artist, you might be pushing your delivery to get more excitement about a product or you might get directed to sound overly excited.

The problem is that if your excitement bleeds into your delivery too much, you’re doing a disservice to your listener.  Let me give you an example I always cite when I’m talking about this.  On 9/11, the only network I could watch was ABC because Peter Jennings had such a calm delivery.  (Listen to this clip of Peter Jennings on 9/11.)  He wasn’t adding to the crisis in the way he was reporting it.  Other anchors were.  All I wanted was to hear what was happening.  That day certainly didn’t need any drama added to it.  I wanted a calm, steady voice that did not portray hysteria.

Keep this in mind the next time you have the feeling you should ramp up your delivery.  Ask yourself, am I letting my emotions take over my delivery?  And remember, often it’s the calm, steady voice that we want to hear whether we’re in the emergency room or listening to media.

Want to read more on this topic?  Check my recent post, “Rapid-Fire Delivery Can Get You Fired.”


{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Dave Cupp March 6, 2012, 4:00 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Ann.

    I’ve been a life-long NBC fan; but for my money no anchor ever connected better with viewers than Peter Jennings.
    Tragically, to a certain extent Jennings became a victim of 9/11 himself. The pressures he faced covering that tragedy drove him back to cigarettes – and four years later the cigarettes killed him.
    These links go to a clip of Jennings at work on 9/11 – and to what became his final broadcast:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vRfdgU2Q4E Jennings Final Broadcast

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYGWPd0Ky6I Jennings Covers 9/11

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. March 6, 2012, 4:51 pm

    Thanks, Dave. I totally agree with you. We lost one of the greats when we lost Peter Jennings. The clips you added are good ones for us all to see.

  • Gary Terzza July 20, 2014, 5:31 pm

    I recognise elements of myself in this Ann. Back in 2001, as an announcer on Channel 4 TV here in the UK, I was introducing a brand new chat show with two big British stars – Richard & Judy. It was a big deal for the broadcaster, so I gave it 110%.

    This was probably about 30% too much as the next day The Guardian newspaper remarked that I should “drink less caffeine in the afternoon.”

    I have since toned down my enthusiasm!

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. July 21, 2014, 4:33 pm

    Thanks for the great example, Gary! Sometimes we confuse vocal energy with urgency of speech and an overuse of pitch changes. Caffeine can do that, too 😉 My advice is stay away from both!!

  • Tommy G Griffiths June 8, 2017, 6:34 pm

    Such a great post, Dr. Utterback. I’m a former broadcaster, now VO actor, and can tell you from personal experience that these live emergency news situations make and break careers, depending on the broadcaster’s demeanor.
    Example: During Hurricane Andrew, WTVJ Channel-4 Weatherman Brian Norcross, chose to stay on the air for two days straight days to forecast the storm and provide life-saving information from a closet, when most of the other local Miami TV reporters shut down their operations. He remained calm, reassured and self-possessed during his broadcasts. Brian Norcross remains a legend more than 25-years after the historic hurricane. An unnamed local Miami TV anchor lost his job because he was not in command, and left the broadcast in a panic.

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. June 16, 2017, 3:32 pm

    Tommy, you give a great example here. The true professionals have learned to stay calm during the worst of times. And how you handle those situations can, indeed, make or break your career!
    Thanks for your comment and good luck with your VO career.

  • Randall Rocke June 21, 2017, 6:04 pm

    Though I have done some Intros and announcements for broadcasting, my concern for intensity has crossed over into my audiobook voicing and production. I had been taught by my VO coaches to be very dramatic in acting out the stories – so… I was. This led to mixed reviews. Thank God for a couple of respected audiobook industry pros, who ironically told me the opposite… tone it down!

    I am now transitioning to a new style where I let the authors’ words handle the drama. It’s not easy, but there is a fine line btwn acting out the story and being a good narrator. This also impacts the technical side of producing, as we can’t be applying the same levels of compression and expansion that we use for a TV commercial to a book narration which will run for hours, not just a few seconds. We’ll give the listener a headache fairly quickly!

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. July 3, 2017, 3:05 pm

    Randall, you said it!! Voiceover work requires a voice that can be enjoyed for hours. Too much intensity can kill that. Great points! Thanks for your comment.

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