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Using emotion in vocal delivery is one of the areas I get the most questions about.  How much emotion? How often? When should I use it?  These questions are very important whether you’re a broadcaster or a voiceover artist because your voice can actually get you into court!  In fact, there have been court cases that were based solely on vocal intonation.

In one case, a television reporter was accused of sounding incredulous and skeptical when talking about the plaintiff  in a live shot.  It was felt this prejudiced listeners and possible jurors.  The reporter was totally unaware of the vocal tone he was using.  So it’s possible for emotion to creep into your delivery when it shouldn’t.

I use one guiding principle when I talk about emotion in broadcast news delivery:  The only place to use emotion is when there is a “universal emotion.”  That means that no one in the universe has a differing opinion about the statement.  This principle helps you stay away from editorializing with your voice, which is what you’d be doing if you spoke with emotion about a controversial topic as described above.  Most reporters are paid to report and not to editorialize.

So how do you stay aware of when to use emotion in a story?  Run it through the “universal emotion” filter.  Most likely you’ll find the only topics that are safe to show emotion on are things like natural disasters, tragedies that involve children, animal stories, and happy stories like lottery winners and people overcoming great odds to accomplish something.  There are probably others, but I’ll let you figure those out by putting them through your “universal emotion” filter.

Voice-over artists don’t have to limit emotion in the same way broadcasters do, but they can misuse their voices in other ways that can get them sued.  Celebrity impersonations are just one way this could happen.  There’s a great new book that just came out, Voice Over Legal, by attorney and voice over artist, Robert J. Sciglimpaglia Jr. It covers voicing pitfalls and how to manage them. This book contains helpful information for voiceover artists and broadcasters.

And BTW, the court case I cited above was settled in favor of the reporter and television station but not without more legal hassles than you want to encounter.





{ 4 comments… add one }
  • fritz faerber May 11, 2012, 10:36 pm

    I learned this without a court case. It was the second story I voiced for a public radio business show. I was trying to match the somewhat irreverent tone I’d heard from other reporters on the show, but ended up sounding a bit condescending toward the folks I’d interviewed. After the story aired, I called each person I’d interviewed and apologized. I felt horrible.

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. May 12, 2012, 1:37 am

    Fritz, you really had good insight and a good ear to know that the manner in which you voiced the story was not good. And you truly went the extra mile to call the people and apologize for it. Well done! You taught yourself in a way that has stuck with you, I’m sure. Thanks so much for sharing this with me and my readers.

  • Ron Altman May 12, 2012, 11:25 am

    Great advice. I had the pleasure of meeting Ann in the 1980s or 90s, when I was working as a Television Broadcast Technician at the U. S. Information Agency. One of my semi-official duties was the voicing of news stories and documentaries produced by the Television and Film Service. Ann gave me a lot of very useful tips for improving my delivery, during her “workshop”. Listen to this lady; she knows what she’s talking about!

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. May 12, 2012, 11:34 am

    You made my day, Ron! I’m so glad the information helped you in your career. That’s what I’ve loved about my career. When I can make someones workday better, it makes my day!

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