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eLearning Voice Over Definition and Tips For How to do a Voice Over

In today’s technology-oriented world, eLearning has become the name of the game. According to an eLearning forecast report, eLearning spending climbed up from $35.6 billion to $51.5 billion globally from 2014 – 2016. Needless to say this trend is still booming and is expected to do so for a long time to come.

While eLearning courses are an amazing way of educating and training your audience, their worth is often determined by only a few factors, for one, their voice.

Read on to discover more about voice overs. We’ll cover the official voice over definition, the types of voice overs you can choose from, how to do a voice over, and much more.

The question isn’t “How do I teach this?” but “How can they learn it?”

  • Jane Bozarth

eLearning Voice Over Definition

A voice over is a high-quality voice recording for use in a professional piece of work. While it is commonly believed that the first voice over was done by Walt Disney for Mickey Mouse in 1928, you’d be surprised to know that the first ever voice over dates all the way back to 1900! It was a test done by Reginald Fessenden for reporting on the weather.

When it comes to the eLearning industry, course instructors often overlook voice overs. However, they are one of the most important and sensitive elements of your online courses. Giving your on-screen content a voice is a key to maximizing user attraction, engagement, and knowledge retention. Quality eLearning voice narration sets your course up for success for both you and your learners.

When to Use a Voice Over in eLearning?

There’s a lot of debate on this.

Many will say your learners will feel more connected and engaged with you if you’re on screen, but in my opinion, sometimes the emphasis needs to be taken off you and onto the material. Some material is very complex and having images on the screen that actually relate to the subject matter rather than a ‘talking head’ video is actually better for retention.

I consider a ‘talking head’ video where there’s a person sitting and standing presenting in the video with no other visual aids. Videos like this are a huge turn-off to the point where I know I cannot and will not watch them. There’s no reason for me or your learners to take the time to watch a video rather than review a transcript if it’s just a guy or girl talking with no visual aids.

For most of us, if we’re going to take the time to watch videos then we’d like the screen to show helpful images or a presentation that compliments the narration.

What Will Be Perceived as More Valuable to Your Learners?

Although live action videos are all the rage, which will be more valuable to your learners? You standing in front of the camera discussing your points or you narrating a script and then creating a professional presentation to go along with it?

Most people are going to feel like the presentation wins here.

I go to live seminars every so often and ALL the presenters have a visual presentation of some sort. They never just get up there on stage and talk with no visuals. They always have a presentation which is typically a slide show, they stand next to it, and they give their talk.

You can definitely film yourself or the course instructor going through the presentation just like what you’d see when you’re at a live presentation. Otherwise, I know I’d much rather view course material with a voice over along with a nice, professional visual presentation.

If you can model Brendon Burchard who speaks into the camera with minimal visual aids then that’s great. However, his material isn’t the most challenging (it is very valuable though). He doesn’t typically need diagrams and images to help explain the material and if he does he uses very minimal visual aids (sometimes just post-it notes on a board). But this style won’t work with all online courses.

Voice Overs vs Live Recordings

If you’re creating a course covering complex material you may choose to use screen capture software to create your videos.

Screen captures allow the recording of the instructor’s screen. Screen capture recordings display PowerPoint presentations or other visual presentations including those where the instructor walks you through the steps needed to accomplish a task online. They are often created with Camtasia which is screen capture software or Camtasia alternatives.

I know if I were to take your course I’d be OK with you doing a voice over and showing me visuals that relating to the material while not being on screen. In fact, I’d prefer it.

Sometimes watching screen captures or a presentation plus seeing you is a distraction. Seeing you doesn’t always add to the presentation.

I’ve viewed many screen-in-screen videos where the person is there on camera as they go through screen captures or some other visuals. I just don’t see what having them there adds. Often they may be doing something distracting and it takes away from the presentation. Sometimes they’re just talking, but I’ll find myself checking to see what they’re doing. When the material is complex then often I think it’s better to just record a voice over and add the presentation on top of it.

It looks professional and it works great for many different types of eLearning content.

Obviously if you’re teaching something where you need to be on screen to demonstrate how to do it (like giving CPR for example) then it will benefit your learners for you to be on camera demonstrating how it works. But even some of giving CPR is complex enough that it probably warrants a visual presentation along with a voice over after the presentation. In cases like those, you can do a mix of both.

Now that we’ve talked about when to use voice overs, let’s get into the different types of voice overs.

4 Types of Voice Over Narration

The following are four types of narration for you to choose from for your eLearning voice overs:

1. Elaborative

Elaborative narration refers to the explanation of written summarized content in detail.

2. Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is a stark contrast of elaborative narration. It involves summarizing the on-screen content in spoken words. It allows the audience to go through the written content while listening to the gist of the material.

3. Verbatim

Verbatim is when you repeat the words on screen exactly with no changes whatsoever.

4. Descriptive

In descriptive narration, you describe the images presented on the screen.

Which One Should You Go for?

There is a lot of debate on which narration type is better than the rest. However, the Redundancy Principle has made one thing clear: the verbatim style is the least effective.

Experts believe that repeating the exact words written on the screen only confuses the audience and makes it difficult for them to grasp the information. Moreover, it may also annoy them and give them them the impression that you don’t trust their ability to read the material properly.

To find out which type of narration will be the best for your eLearning voice over videos, you may have to experiment until you discover the perfect fit. That might mean you record a small amount and allow your web visitors to view it for free, giving you feedback on your video style.

As for my courses, I use paraphrasing. In fact, I usually write out the script for the voice over first, then create slides that summarize and hopefully help the learner further grasp what I’m saying. The voice over is the heart of the content and the visual presentation complements it.

How to Do a Voice Over

Being an expert on a subject and not a voice over professional, you may be wondering how difficult it really is for you to do a voice over for your eLearning course. You may have a strong command over the subject matter, but you probably have no experience narrating eLearning material. So you’re right to wonder, how’s that going to work out?

For some, creating eLearning voice overs may seem like a simple and uncomplicated task, but the truth is, it can be a tricky job for even the most experienced professionals.

If you want to gain your audience’s attention in a fraction of a second and keep them hooked, you should start giving due importance to your eLearning voice overs and focus on the quality of voice narration you’re producing.

I definitely remember feeling concerned about my voice overs. I did my first voice over around 2003 and it was tough to even get started. As I started recording, I thought I sounded dumb, my delivery was bad, and just listening to my voice made me cringe.

The thing is, just about everyone thinks this way about themselves at first.

Then you move on.

You become more confident the more recording you do and you realize you don’t really sound all that awkward. After all, it’s just you conveying information to your learners. If they’re interested in the subject matter than most will automatically accept you as the instructor and start learning!

The following invaluable tips will teach you how to do a voice over that is bound to impress your audience:

1. Lending the Perfect Tone

While you’re recording a voice over for your course videos, you want to sound serious without coming off as too instructive or formal. Depending on the content of your videos, you should consider molding your tone accordingly. This will not only add character to your voice overs but also keep the audience engaged. That being said, a conversational tone offering a sense of professionalism is typically preferred for eLearning voice overs.

Even if you’re reading, you want to make sure your script is written in a conversational tone and then feel free to ad lib a little throughout.

2. Coming Up with at Least a Rough Outline

The first thing that you want to do before you hit the ‘record’ button is create a rough yet detailed layout of what you’re going to be talking about in your voice overs.

At minimum you need to create a script outlining the key objectives, main ideas, and learning goals of your eLearning voice over.

Alternately, you can create a full blown word-for-word script. If you’re just starting out or the material is very complex, you may need a full script. This way you can determine the flow of the script making sure your narration makes sense and that your topics don’t overlap. You also won’t get confused or ramble on while you’re narrating the voice over.

With the microlearning trend as hot as it is right now, it might be best to chunk your material up into shorter videos (10 minutes or less) that cover a complete topic or result in the completion of a specific goal.

3. Figuring Out the Ideal Time Duration

Before you start recording your voice over, you need to keep in mind that 100 words takes approximately one minute to narrate. Planning your script accordingly will ensure that your voice over is concise and engaging and doesn’t drag on too long.

You don’t want your eLearning voice overs to be boring and stretched out.

It’s also important to note that your audience will require some time to review the on-screen content. You may want to break your voice overs up by slide or image so that each recording fits with your slides or visual aids naturally.

4. Taking Pauses at the Right Time

As important as it is for you to take short pauses, your audience also needs a few seconds to take in all the information and absorb the knowledge you’re presenting to them.

A no-pause voice over will not only make it difficult for learners to process the information but can also cause listening difficulties. You can allow short gaps and silence to let your audience know you’re going to make a shift to a new idea or perhaps emphasize something important.

I include pauses throughout my scripts and outlines. Often these will be designated by placing the text on a new line along with ** in the script. That way I already have the pauses in the right place and don’t have to edit them in with audio editing software later on.

You can use pacing and pausing to your advantage while recording an eLearning voice over.

If anything, my voice overs lean toward slow with lots of pauses. The content I’m teaching is typically complex; from digital marketing strategies to complicated professional test prep materials. If I race through it then my learners will be frustrated. As it is, I think most pause the videos and rewind them to take several passes through complex material so I could probably slow down even more.

5. Saying No to Background Noise

Choosing the ideal setting for recording your eLearning voice over is crucial. I record in a home office and try to do my recordings when no one else is home.

Even under those conditions I know I still have at least a little background noise in the room and so will you. This might include noise from your fan, an air conditioner or furnace, or perhaps even your computer or laptop.

There’s not as much you can do about noise coming from your computer since you’ll typically need it turned on to do the recording. You can get a better voice over microphone and try angling it away from your devices. Run as little equipment as possible and if you’re using a desktop you’ll want to put the machine on the floor with your microphone up higher (where it’ll naturally be if you’re recording standing or at least sitting).

You can also put your desktop machine under your desk and that should cancel out some of the noise. If you’re using a laptop you’ll want one that doesn’t run a noisy fan every so often or try to put something between the microphone and your device.

I’ll frequently have to stop for a lawn mower, airplanes flying overhead, a motorcycle, or a dog barking. There’s not much you can do about unexpected noises like those. Even if I were in an office building, I would have similar problems as noisy people would walk down the hallway, a loud air conditioner or furnace may come on periodically, or other types of background noises may crop up. With unexpected noises there’s not much you can do other than stop and take a break.

Even if you record in a quiet room, you’ll probably have to edit out some white noise.

6. Don’t Forget the Test Run

After you’ve taken care of all the above, you may think you’re 100% ready to record the voice over. After all, you’ve spent so much time and done plenty of hard work fine-tuning your script! However, you should always do a test run first.

No matter how many times you’ve gone through your voice over script, there are always some minor changes you realize should be made only after practicing the whole piece out loud.

A test round allows you to exclude any irrelevant material that might not fit with rest of the content. It’s way easier to add it in before you do the voice over than to have to edit it later on.

Hiring a Voice Over Artist: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

It’s possible to offer an online course or online training with videos and never record anything. But that’s only realistic when you hire a voice over artist.

I’ve hired voice over artists for some of my content. I’ve never hired a voice over artist for my subject matter content as it would  have been way to costly. I have hired them for sales videos and short tutorials showing how to use one of my online courses. At this point, I’m planning to stick with doing my own voice overs. But hiring it out is definitely an option for you.

When it comes to hiring a voice over actor for your eLearning courses, here are some pros and cons for you to consider:

Pros:

  • Professional voice over artists have extensive experience with voice overs that you don’t currently have.
  • They tend to have polished narrative skills and better abilities so the finished product will probably sound more professional.
  • They know how to build and maintain a connection with the audiences.
  • If you use a professional voice over artist then you won’t have to buy the equipment.

Cons:

  • There are affordability issues. The more experienced the artist, the more you may have to pay. In addition, the longer the material, the more you’ll have to pay. If your course is going to be several hours worth of videos then you’d probably have to pay thousands of dollars to have a professional record all that for you.
  • You will have to take time to supervise the artist. For example, they’ll probably send you a test run you’ll need to review and then give them further direction on. You’ll also have to review everything they send over to you to determine if you need any edits. It can be stressful to manage all the abbreviations and mispronunciations since they’re not usually experts in your subject matter. So you really do have to stay on top of the project.
  • Voice over experts will likely not have as strong a grip over the subject matter as you.
  • You’ll have to go through the hassle of getting the revisions done.

Further Voice Over Considerations

Cost can be hard to factor because if you do it yourself, you’ll need to buy the equipment; which will include a voice over microphone, an audio interface or mixer, and audio editing software.

You can go with less expensive equipment like a cheap USB microphone and use free software like Audacity. You may be able to get by with that. But if you want decent sounding voice overs, invest in better equipment.

Most courses need to be updated over time so you would end up using your equipment time and time again. Hopefully the equipment will pay for itself many times over.

If you’re never going to get around to creating your voice overs (maybe because you don’t want to deal with the equipment, you don’t have an appropriate place to record, or you’re too nervous about it) then your best bet is to go with a professional.

If you can afford to hire a professional voice over artist who understands the subject matter to a decent degree, go for it.

But the best bet is to do it yourself, since you know exactly what you want. You’ll also likely save money in the long run. Doing the voice over yourself really puts you in the driver’s seat and helps create a connection with your learners. You can do it, I promise!

Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you make sense of eLearning voice overs.

If you’re creating a video based online course then you’ll likely need to use voice overs for your videos at some point. Either you’ll use them sparingly or possibly for the entire course. Invest in a home recording studio package (which can range from a few hundred dollars to almost a limitless amount) and the time to practice. You’ll be ready to record your first voice over in no time!

Let us know how your first voice over went in the comments below …

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