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Is Hesitancy Allowed in Voice Overs?

I have recently been following a conversation on a media site in which a radio professional criticises a presenter for using too many 'ums' and 'erms'. The exchange has divided opinion so much, the thread has been sizzling with lively comments for well over a month. 

For one contributor this style of presentation is best described as a 'curse' that needs to be eradicated with proper training. To be fair, they are referring to a broadcaster on a local community station and the poor radio presenter they are castigating is most likely a volunteer who gives up his spare time generously and freely. 

However, it does raise interesting questions about this type of speech interruption. Is it really undesirable and should we all be pursuing a silky smooth delivery?

Of course it's not just the 'ums' and 'erms' that cause speech patterns to be ruptured; punctuating our delivery with 'like', 'actually' and 'literally' is often regarded as unwanted sentence intrusion. In public speaking such jerky dialogue can be attributed to nerves, but the effect may be to diminish the authority of the speaker.

You may have noticed a lot of people start a sentence with 'so' and I know personally I have a bad habit of dropping 'I think' into my speech... usually when I am not thinking at all!

But, surprisingly, these linguistic tics can help improve your voice over delivery.

The good news is that in voice overs the words are there on the page clear as daylight, so aberrant terms and phrases are simply not on the script. The voice actor does not need to know which thought or idea is around the corner, because the sentences are there in front of her eyes. The difficult job is to bring meaning to those words in an interesting way. 

But voice overs are changing.

The last few years have seen a dramatic shift in what clients want from a voice over. No longer the mannered polished delivery of old, but rather a subtle, natural, more nuanced approach is often required. In short, conversational or un-announcery.  

Directors and producers eschew 'voiceoverman' or 'voiceoverwoman' in favour of the neighbour next door or the fellow parent we may chat to at the school gates. Not all voice overs are like this, of course, particularly where characterisation is required, but the mainstream has now seen a marked move towards an easy, 'normal' style of reading.

Ordinary is the new distinctive.

This begs the question - should we now be adding hesitancy into scripted copy, so as to reflect natural speech patterns?

Have you ever watched BBC News presenter Huw Edwards?  As he reads the teleprompter, he pops in the occasional 'ahm' or mini-pause. This loosens up his anchoring style, so it is less formal and more natural. He is giving the impression of talking to the viewer as an equal, rather than delivering the news in an announcer style at them. It is very effective, but the irony is you need bags of experience to sound 'everyday'.

"Ah" you will be thinking "that's all very well, but I can't really put ums and erms in an explainer video or e-learning script - the client will have a very dim view of me taking such liberties."

The answer is - it depends how you do it. 

Peppering your VO performance with ill-considered 'ahs' and 'ums' is not going to go down too well with your director, but judicially applied in a spontaneous way can enrich any prosaic copy. My advice is not to overdo the 'erm' intervals, but to let them out when you feel they will work. 

In fact 'feeling' is an accurate way to describe the process. Although I usually suggest marking up a script before you begin voicing, in the case of adding in these interjections, you should take a more organic approach: if you sense a 'filler word' coming on, let it out - if not, leave well alone.

Don't force it.

Not only do your spurious utterances have to sound convincing, they also have to be appropriate. A corporate project requiring precision and authority will not benefit from your ad-hoc vocalisations, so leave well alone. 

Experiment with these 'verbalised pauses'; as with many aspects of voice over, it is all about trial and error. Record, playback and listen - some hesitations will work, others won't, but if you are sounding false - leave out and stay fluent.

You don't want to lose your, er, credibility.

Gary Terzza has over 30 years experience in the business and runs voice over training programmes in the UK.

How Should I Describe My Voice?

Useful Ideas For Describing Your Voice. 

Now, it may seem like a minor thing, but in voice overs a voice description is essential. 

How would you describe how you sound to a stranger? I must admit I find it difficult to describe my own voice. In fact it's my agent who came up with the words for me. She suggested something along the lines of 

"Intelligent, factual reader"

You can see her full description here

Of course it does not mean I am an intelligent person (!), it is simply one person's perception of my voice. But it is a very useful handle to have.

Let's have a look at some adjectives that could be useful for describing your own voice











Mellifluous (perhaps a  little overused)



I've just tossed a few ideas in there to see if you think any of those match your voice. 

One of the problems of doing your own description is it can end up sounding like a cheese or wine! On occasion, the attributes end up like a restaurant menu!

It's very easy, also, to use cliches. Sometimes you have no choice to use one in order to accurately describe your voice, but try not to if you can. 

My pet hate is....


A lot of people like to describe their voices as sexy, but  I'm never quite sure what that means exactly. It conjures up different images to different people of course. It is too subjective, value-laden and hackneyed.

The other overused adjective is 


What does that mean? To me professional means not being an amateur. Things like turning up to the studio on time or crafting your work to a very high standard and getting paid for the job. I don't quite know what that means in terms of of describing a voice. It's too vague really and very subjective.

The other thing is to think about is age. What age is your voice? Remember, your real age and your voice age may be two totally different things. You could be 30,  but your voice may sound, 20s or teens, or it may sound, 40s or 50s. 

It's important to try and get an objective opinion. For example record a few spoken vocal samples and then ask friends and family to sit down, put your recording on the speakers or smartphone and then make notes. They can then scribble down some useful adjectives.

I think that's a really good way of getting ideas about your voice from those who know you best.

If you really want an objective opinion what you could do is use social media. Post your recording on to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Just say, "Hey everyone. What does my voice sound like?" You might get some interesting views. The important bit about that of course is you're getting people who've never heard you before. Never seen you. Also, it's better if you don't put your face on, because that always colours and tarnishes how they might perceive you.

It is important to get a voice description. You don't need too many adjectives -  it's about honesty, but at the same time there is a promotional element. Obviously don't be negative, you need to be positive about it and give your voice a good thumbs up. 

 Be as accurate as you can  

Make sure that a potential voice over client does not have a nasty shock. If they read a description saying the voice is"elegantly British" and when they listen to the showreel they hear a regional accent that's not going to do the voice actor much good. In a way you have deceived the listener.

You voice description needs to match the reality of what your voice actually sounds like. How do you describe your voice? Please let me know in the comments below.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, you may like to see the video version here. 

Gary Terzza has spent over 30 years in the business and teaches voice over technique at his VoMasterClass

Royalties or Flat Fee? What's Best for Voice Overs?

"What an insult! I've been an author for years and I don't intend to tell you how many books I've sold!"

This was the response of a writer to one of my voice over students who had made an enquiry as to the number of likely downloads her audiobook might achieve.

My student was merely doing the groundwork for a book the author had asked her to narrate. There was to be no upfront fee, but instead payment would be in the form of a fifty-fifty share of the royalties - half for the writer, the other half going to the narrator. Such a deal could result in a nice little earner, or a complete waste of time depending on how many copies of the audio version were bought.

In this case my student was taken aback by the brusque response, but came out with the perfect riposte:

"You've just answered my question, thank you". 

In other words it seemed this particular author was reluctant to divulge the sales figures of her back catalogue for the simple reason she was selling very few books and that would mean poor earnings for the narrator. Not a good investment of time and effort thought my student and she resolutely walked away from the project.

So what is it with these royalty payments and how do they impact on a voice actor's earnings?

Not that long ago I wrote an article about how traditional TV commercial royalties had been replaced by a one-off buyout; the desire for a more transparent pricing structure and loss of union (i.e. Equity) influence here in Britain was changing the way voice actors were being paid as far back as the 1990s. But recently something strange has been happening: the royalty payment is making a comeback.

However this time it is different.

Instead of a way to reward voice over artists for repeat airings of television adverts, the new wave of royalty payments has shifted to audiobooks. The more downloads, the more money the voice over artist gets.

But beware....

..... you could end up with less than you bargained for.

Here are few steps you can take to help you secure the best deal if you are offered a royalty payment scheme for narrating an audiobook.

 Check to see if the book is on Amazon. Has it garnered favourable reviews? Has the printed version achieved consistently high star ratings? If so, this is an indicator it may be a good seller.

 Despite my student's bad experience detailed above, don't be afraid to ask the author that direct question: has he or she any idea how many downloads they are expecting? Not everyone is like Mrs Snippy. One of my other students was given a very encouraging estimate (based on previous sales) of six thousand units; at £3 per download royalty share (the quote in this particular instance) this would yield a surprising £18,000 in earnings.

 Work closely with the author. It is in both your interests for the audiobook to sell well. Seize any opportunities you can to promote the work and increase sales. For example could you both do radio interviews? These could even be done by Skype or on the phone.

 Calculate what your hourly rate is in real terms. Always bear in mind there is a substantial ratio of time to record compared to the finished product. So a typical eighty thousand word novel would take approximately eight hours to listen to, but from your perspective as the reader it will take four to five times this length to record, correct mistakes, edit and review. That's around forty hours work!

Therefore if you pencil in a modest £25 per hour, you want your royalty payments to at least yield £1,000 for all that hard work you have put in.

At the end of the day, any voice over work involving a royalty share payment is a bit of a punt.

The question is whether you are willing to take the risk.

One of the ways to increase your chances of a decent royalty payment flow is to choose books that are part of a series. This is for two reasons:

  • You have a better opportunity for a steady(ish) income stream, because of the number of audiobooks being recorded.

  • If the writer likes your voice on one book, there is a fair chance she will pick you for subsequent works and perhaps even for the back catalogue. 

Proving the point perfectly is my voice over student Sarah Evans  who is three quarters of the way through a quartet of children's audiobooks. She is the narrator on a series of publications for girls aged five to eight, called Witch Trouble by Charlotte Bloomfield.

Sarah's voice and delivery are a perfect fit for the stories and you can hear how she develops the characters and storytelling across the collection, ensuring that her voice becomes synonymous with the tales.

She is creating a strong bond with the listener and developing a deep relationship with the author. In fact some writers often report that they have the narrator's voice in their heads as they tap away at the keyboard.

Which other genres pay royalties?

So if repeat fees on commercials have fizzled out, but royalty payments for audiobook narration are now commonplace, it begs the question do other categories operate a similar remuneration system? 

Interestingly just last week I received an email from a start up company who were exploring the idea of creating self-help guides. These would not appear in written form, but just as mp3 downloads on their site; every time a customer bought a training lesson the voice over artist would receive a payment. 

It is an intriguing idea, but again there is risk involved - what if these guides do not sell? If you are not being paid a flat fee, you are effectively investing in that start up. Your voice talents and time are valuable, so you have to decide whether you want to speculate to accumulate.

Conversely, becoming an early adopter with this company could produce significant results if they are successful. If they like your voice, you will be the voice of choice and that bounty scheme (for effectively that is what it amounts to) could pay handsome dividends. 

At the end of the day, you must decide whether you want to invest your voice talents into an unknown quantity; do as much research as you can beforehand to minimise risk. Only then can you make an informed decision.

Oh, and if it is on the table, accepting a one-off payment may still be the most sensible and profitable route to take.

What is your experience? Do you feel cheated by royalty payments, or is it a good way of avoiding low rates? 


Gary Terzza has been in the business for over 30 years and has been running his successful Voice Over MasterClass since 2005.

A Voice Over Journey: Ten Years of Lessons to be Learnt

Anniversaries are not only a time for celebration, but also reflection.  This week marks the tenth year of my voice over training course - and what a learning experience it has been. 

I would like to share some of the highs and lows of my journey, which I hope will provide a few useful pointers on what to look out for if you are considering hiring a trainer or mentor or even becoming a VO teacher yourself. 

Of course this a personal look from the inside out, so if you are booking a voiceover coach make sure you check out what their students have to say as it will provide much needed balance.

You also need to take what I say with a pinch of salt - I'm biased! My students are the best in the world (there you go, see what I mean?).

In the beginning

I didn't just fall into coaching - I had been tutoring on an occasional basis at Channel 4 since the 1990s. As a continuity announcer I would be asked (along with my colleagues) to train the newbies as they took their first nervous breaths behind the mic. It was a role I enjoyed, not least because I could identify with the sweaty palms and slight tremble in the voice; it was all too familiar.

But what about those not in the industry?

"How do you get into voice overs?" 

People would ask me this at dinner parties (not that I went to many) and to be honest I could not really provide a succinct answer, so in 1999 I started to explore the possibility of starting up some sort of course to help complete beginners. 

My reconnaissance took me to a corner of Hertfordshire and The Cream Room studio secreted on a working farm in the village of Dane End.  The team there were very welcoming and interested to explore the voice over side of audio production. However as my own personal VO workload had increased dramatically, not to mention the arrival of two baby sons, it was a full six years before I pursued my nascent project fully. 

So it was in 2005 that the Cream Room played host to my first master classes under the expert ear of producer and guitar virtuoso Rob Clydesdale , closely followed by the opening of a London location (Uptown Studios) to meet demand for a capital-based option. 

Working with Uptown's owner Anthony Galatis has been an enduring relationship that lasts to this day and it is here that the vast majority of my students have been put through the voice mill. In fact well over a thousand mouths have been coaxed, nudged and cajoled into performing those fiendishly tricky scripts of mine.

But this has also been a learning decade for me too. 

All training courses are about people and I have quickly discovered there is no one size fits all. Just because one person wants to voice videogames doesn't mean everybody does.  Hard sell commercials can make new talents quake, whilst the thought of narrating a children's story leaves some reaching for the cringe off switch.

What I quickly uncovered was the need to balance listening and teaching -  taking on board what a student is saying, but at the same time showing them the benefits of trying something new. Leaving the comfort zone is an essential part of the learning process.

Exceptional Expectations

I am often asked what the hardest part about teaching voice overs is; the answer is managing expectations. Last year one of my students secured a voice over job within just eleven days of completing the studio session - a very pleasant surprise for him and me.

From that point he assumed, wrongly, that it was relatively easy to get the work; he would be quite happy with a couple of hours of graft a month earning £300 or more, he thought. Of course no more tempting offers dropped into his inbox and he became frustrated; an emotion I could detect in his voice as he submitted audition after fruitless audition. Eventually his annoyance turned into full blown resentment and he threw in the towel.

My failure was to not manage his expectations fully... I should have warned him that an early triumph did not guarantee future success. Hard work, learning your craft and persistence are essential in order to yield positive results over the long term.

Just as difficult to manage are the VO apprentices who refuse to believe in themselves:
"my voice isn't marketable", "there's too much competition" and "my voice is too... old/young/deep/high/posh/common (delete accordingly)"

My job has been to dismantle the obstacles, put their fears in perspective and persuade them that voice overs are fun and well worth pursuing.

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” 

           - Galileo Galilei

Then there are the high fliers whose achievements have left me in awe. When an eager young guy came to see us and asked how he could get into animation, I told him (half jokingly) he needed to swap Northampton for Hollywood.

He did.

Jay Britton's visits to California have since resulted in a prestigious Voice Arts Award in 2014, along with stacks of work.

You don't even have to travel that far. From Inverness to London was enough for Kelsey Bennett who is now not only the main female voice on youth broadcaster E4, but a creative continuity manager for Channel 4.  If I still worked for the station she would now be my boss!

And proving that age is no barrier to voice overs and that you don't need to travel anywhere to do voiceovers, my septuagenarian graduate Michael Andrews is currently narrating an audiobook from his home in Cornwall.

None of this success has much to do with me you understand; I merely lit the spark and helped keep the flame going when other forces threatened to extinguish it. Their accomplishments are theirs... and theirs alone.

I have come to realise that learning is a two way street - I am sure I gain as much from my students as they do from me.

To all my students, past and present I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you for the last ten years - I hope you can join me for the next ten.

As you might have gathered, Gary provides voice over coaching at VoMasterClass.com


Resistance Is Useless: Why Embracing Change is Essential for Voice Over Success

Are you a go-getter or a stick in the mud? Is your lack of knowledge about technology, computers and social media holding back your voice over career?

You had better change your ways... fast.

When I first started working in television, over thirty years' ago, I was called in to see the Director Of Programmes for a 'chat'. The big cheese was Charles Denton , a powerful telly man even in those days, though later his star was to shine even brighter as the BBC Head Of Drama. 

"Young man" he said, as I wondered what I had done wrong, "what are you doing here?"

I thought he was questioning my employment, even though it was only my second day. I explained I was a trainee continuity announcer  learning to link the station's programming output both on camera and as a voice over.

"Let me tell you" he said with authority "television is changing rapidly and 10 years from now your role will have disappeared, so think about doing something else."

He was both right and wrong. 

Television was changing, but today the demand for announcers and voice overs has never been greater. Back then in 1982 there were just 3 TV channels in the UK (although there were numerous regional opts) and a clutch of radio stations. Fast forward three decades and there are approximately five hundred TV channels and six hundred licensed radio stations, and this figure excludes internet based platforms.... and the thousands of international outlets.

In other words, today there are plenty of broadcasters in need of content and voices actors.

But the metamorphosis hasn't just occurred in broadcasting. Today audiobooks are booming, clients want their explainer videos voiced and app developers often require fresh new vocal talent. All inconceivable back in the good ol' days of analogue tape and UHF.

The important thing is that we recognise change as a fundamental part of the voice over landscape. Even more importantly we need to embrace change in order to keep our careers on track and move forward.

What happens if we stand still? 

This blog post was partly inspired by Woody Allen's comments this week about working for Amazon. The famously neurotic director has signed a deal with their  Prime service to make a groundbreaking TV programme. Interviewed in Cannes by Deadline Hollywood  he is reported to have said

"I don't own a computer or understand what a streaming service is; all I know is,  I regret a deal that has taken me out of my comfort zone"

Is this the same Woody Allen who set a new bar for filmmaking with the sweeping opening for Manhatten in 1977, with its vivid black & white cinematography and evocative Gershwin soundtrack, or the futuristic silliness of Sleeper back in 1973? These movies were pushing the creative boundaries at the time.

His work was fresh and contemporary. So what happened?

Most probably Allen blinked and the world changed overnight. This is what happens to many of us of a certain age. A few years' ago, my agent requested a fresh showreel from me, so I said I would send her my latest cassette montage straight away.

"Cassette?" she enquired incredulously. "Ok" I replied, wanting to show I knew a thing or two about modern media "I'll record a CD"

"CD's are old hat darling. These days everyone's using mp3".

I had no idea what she was on about and so began my journey on a new road of discovery.

Of course Woody Allen will have plenty of highly qualified people to guide him through the technological labyrinth, but you and I do not. We need to do it ourselves.

The good news is that there is plenty of help for the technophobes out there. YouTube videos allow the experts to take us step by step through the complexities of recording software; online shows such as the highly entertaining East West Audio Body Shop  make creating a home studio a lot less daunting and the numerous voice over groups on sites such as Linkedin provide invaluable help and support to voice over newbies.

Scaling the walls

It is very easy to become overwhelmed by the voice over industry. To outsiders it seems like an impenetrable fortress, perhaps even a closed shop.

I can you assure you it isn't. 

Everyday new voices are coming on the scene. Clients are constantly on the look out for the next big thing. Freshness and enthusiasm sometimes trump experience. One of my former students (who came to see me in 2011) has now become a creative voice over manager at E4, Channel 4's youth brand. Not only did she reach the same level as her coach, but she far exceeded it. 

And her humble beginnings? As a worker for the British health service, the NHS.


Keep an open mind and learn, learn, learn. Don't be daunted by change; instead use it as a springboard to develop new skills and open doors. 

Technology is merely a means to an end - reel to reel tape was superseded by CD, which in turn was replaced by mp3 and now streaming is the latest buzzword. But these are merely vehicles for your voice... how you perform and promote your talents is of far greater importance.

The future is bright, so don't be dim. 


Curious about voice overs? Try my online Voice Over Training For Beginners.

 Gary Terzza runs the Voice Over MasterClass VoMasterClass