There are several challenges to overcome in e-learning narration for both the e-learning developer and the voice actor.
In the first instance, e-learning clients don’t often communicate their expectations clearly to the voice talents.
Moreover, many voice actors neglect to prep properly. Opting to wing it on the day, they might not review the given script for the e-learning narration nor take time to understand the target audience and the desired delivery style.
The result? Oodles of costly revisions or an e-learning video that’s well below par.
And yet, there are some simple ways to overcome the challenges in e-learning narration.
All it takes is a willingness to consider the needs of the client and the talent, and a readiness to apply both to every project in an efficient, professional manner.
In this article, we’ve highlighted 4 of the most common challenges in e-learning narration, with suggestions on how to overcome them.
Learning modules are often developed using PowerPoint or other programs combining text, images, and flow diagrams.
However, just as in live presentations, the narration typically doesn’t involve reading the entire text.
Yet, with that said, e-learning developers often send over the presentation graphics and slides instead of a trimmed-down, targeted script. Their expectation? That the hired voice talent will be able to shape a script from these assets during the recording.
A professional talent who is seasoned in long-form narration can, of course, present an e-learning narration at the right pace and intonation, delivering the implicit message the developer wishes to convey within the tutorial, be it a marketing-oriented message or an informative one—But only if they’re provided with a well-structured, properly formatted script, complete with direction on key areas of the learning materials.
For example, check out how smooth the flow is in this Voicecrafters’ video for SalesForce’s CRM – E-learning module:
As noted above, developers need to present the voice actor with a clearly formatted script.
When the narration script is formatted such that it is divided into clearly named individual files (and there could be more than one per slide), it is much easier to synchronize the audio with the visuals, regardless of the software used to ultimately produce the module.
If the e-learning developer pops direction notes into columns alongside the script’s text, that will help the talent even more. They’ll be able to instantly visualize where more emphasis is called for and which phrases need to be recorded in what style.
You say tomato, I say tom-ay-toe!
But while, in this instance, we still likely know the regular veggie we’re referencing, it’s not always so easy with technical terms. Add proprietary labels and weird abbreviations into the mix and we’ve got pronunciation mayhem.
As voiceover experts, we get it, though.
E-learning professionals are sometimes so deeply immersed in their material and accustomed to bandying about industry terms that they can forget those same words, phrases, and abbreviations are like another language to industry outsiders.
Therefore, when it comes to crafting the narration script, they rarely include directions on the pronunciation of specific technical and other terms.
Of course, the best voice talent will typically research correct pronunciations. But what if time is a factor (spoiler alert: it usually is) and they have to deliver ASAP?
Additionally, what if there’s no public information on the proper way to pronounce particular proprietary terms and the client is not available to provide clarification?
The most efficient way to overcome this challenge is to include a style guide. Just as writers use different writing style guides—generally based on the AP Style Book, Chicago Manual of Style, or their own in-house template—so too will voice actors benefit from a similar manual.
It could be an audio manual with recordings of exact pronunciation. It could even be something as simple as a separate column in the text as outlined in the second table of this article.
The point is to create an asset with clear guidelines on how to pronounce everything important to the developer.
This should include unique names, geographical locations, products, numbers (i.e. is “1,300” “thirteen hundred” or “one thousand three hundred”?), and any other words with questionable pronunciations.
And sure, creating a VO style guide may initially take some time and effort. But in the long run, it’ll actually save on both.
Why? Well, if every script for a new e-learning module or course is accompanied by a relevant style guide, it will greatly aid the talent in delivering a quality product.
It’ll also ensure e-learning companies aren’t left red-faced because their online courses are peppered with mispronunciations of the top terms they’re teaching!
An e-learning developer typically has a vision for the look and sound of their video courses. Depending on the tutorial topic, they may be imagining a friendly, conversational voice or a more authoritative tone.
Yet even with a specific vocal sound and style in mind, they can easily end up lost when sifting through countless voice samples.
Moreover, even a quick email to an agency with basic details about requirements jotted down, may not yield the results they’re looking for.
Choosing the right talent for the job is a critical step in the creation of any video. Voice Talent Agencies should be willing to provide voice auditions from select talents based on detailed criteria delivered by the developer.
This criteria needs to include basic requirements such as:
It would also be beneficial to the developer if they provided aural references of the kind of narration style they want–e.g. A voiceover from an earlier e-learning tutorial, a segment of the talent’s voice demo that they liked, or even a VO that resonated with them from a podcast or audiobook.
The more information the developer can provide on their desired narration, the more likely the agency will be able to meet their requirements for the voice auditions.
Following that, when it comes to audition time, the developer will get a real sense of how their final product might sound, and be excited to get going with the project.
Developing a learning module is a multi-step process involving not only the developer, but expert content providers, the end client, and possibly other stakeholders.
During the process, the module’s script is modified endlessly until ultimately the end client approves it. But does that mean there won’t be changes after the recording? Not by a long shot!
Unfortunately, script changes after the fact are out of the control of voice actors and voice talent agencies. Many times a client will view the learning module after the audio has been embedded in, and decide that script changes are necessary.
The only thing to do here is to make sure well in advance that the voice talent who originally voiced the narration is available for a pickup session if needed.
Add this into contracts and, depending on the nature and size of the project, state the number of revisions the talent will be obligated to undertake. That way, everyone’s on the same page about rewrites and any other further work needed.
These are just four simple steps towards a smoother and more successful collaboration in e-learning narration.
Ultimately, it all comes down to clearer communication, better formatting, and an acceptance that the aim of everyone involved, from the developer to the voice talent, is to achieve the best possible, quality product.
Did you find this article helpful? Please let me know and feel free to share your own experience!