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VOICEOVER

Video Techniques for Effective Science Communication

This is the fifth part of a short guide for researchers on simple and effective techniques for making compelling science communication videos. It’s based on a two and a half day workshop organized through the ASU Risk Innovation Lab, and is provided under a CC-BY-NC Creative Commons License. Written and produced by Andrew Maynard.

The guide provides step-by-step instructions for producing sketch-style (whiteboard) videos, using a smartphone and basic editing software. It’s broken down into 8 sections:

  1. INTRODUCTION & OVERVIEW
  2. FOCUS
  3. SCRIPT
  4. STORYBOARDING
  5. VOICEOVER
  6. FILMING
  7. EDITING
  8. FINISHING TOUCHES

INTRODUCTION

Having a well-recorded and engaging voiceover is essential to creating effective sketch-style videos. I’d go as far as to say if you get the audio right — and by that I mean a clear, high quality recording of an animated narrator who tells a compelling story — you can get away with an awful lot of deficiencies in the rest of the video!

There are three key aspects to getting the voiceover right, assuming you have a kick-ass script:

  • Use a top-notch recording device/microphone;
  • Stand close to the microphone in a room that isn’t very reverberant while recording; and
  • Be animated!

Equipment

Fortunately, smartphones these days come with great recording apps and microphones that are OK (the introductory video on Science Showcase was recorded using the built-in mic on an iPhone 6). You can get even better results thought using a smartphone with a plugin microphone.

For instance, in the Science Showcase workshop, we use iPods as substitutes for smartphones, and a range of different types of plugin microphones made by Shure, RØDE and Apogee.

Using a connected stereo (left/top — Rode XY) and a free-standing mono (right/bottom — Apogee MiC) plugin microphone with the iPod

Positioning

Microphones pick up more of the ambience of the space you’re in than you’d imagine, and as a result, recordings can easily turn out sounding like they were recorded in a tin can. To avoid this you should try and find a space that is acoustically dry. Large spaces, or offices with plenty of books and even soft hangings on the walls work well.

To reduce unwanted ambience, it’s important to stand as close to the microphone as possible while recording — ideally with your mouth just a few inches from it. Because this then leads to the problem of the mic picking up noise from your breath, you should try and use a windshield.

Mount the iPod on a tripod to make it easy to position yourself close to the mic while reading from the script.

Getting this close or even closer (with the desk mic on the right) can help increase clarity and reduce the “tinniness” or reverberation on recordings.

Recording Apps

Voice Memos: This is the built in audio memo app. I haven’t used it much, and so don’t know how good the audio quality is. This is one of the simpler apps to use. However, unless you have a Mac, exporting the files is a bit tricky.

Recorder: This is also designed as an audio memo app, but the quality is pretty good (make sure you select “high quality” in the settings before recording). Files can be exported to DropBox with a wireless connection, but are otherwise a little tricky to export.

RØDE Rec: This app is designed to go with the RØDE XY microphone, although it works with some other mics. Before recording, you need to adjust the gain so that the recording levels are sufficiently high. The quality is good with this app, but you need an internet connection to transfer files to your computer.

MetaRecorder: This is the app that goes with the Apogee mic, although it should work with other mics. As with other apps, exporting recordings isn’t that straight forward. There’s a DropBox sync option, and also an AirDrop option if you have a Mac.

Getting ready to record

Before you start recording for real:

  • Make sure the iPod and microphone are correctly set up, and the appropriate app is open.
  • Make sure the mic is working – we’ve occasionally had problems with mics not functioning properly.
  • Make sure the recording levels are set right. At your loudest, the recording meter (if there is one) should be just in the orange – if the levels are too high, the sound will be distorted. Make sure the levels aren’t too low, or the voiceover will be too quiet.
  • Record a test section, and make sure it’s loud enough, it’s clear enough, it doesn’t sound echoey, and it isn’t distorted.

Recording an engaging voiceover

Voiceovers need to be engaging to keep listeners interested. We all know how deadly a monotone lecturer is — this is also the kiss of death with voiceovers.

If you’re not used to recording yourself (more on this below), you’ll need to be more animated than feels natural. Make a conscious effort to change the pitch of your voice and the pace of your delivery, and place more emphasis than you think is necessary on parts of the script you want to emphasize.

When reading the script, think about how to convey the meaning of each sentence and paragraph and the story as a whole with the variation in your voice — there’s a reason this is called voice-acting!

If you’re not used to hearing yourself on recordings, you’ll most likely think you don’t sound like yourself, and you may well be embarrassed. Trust me here — you will sound like yourself to others. This is one of those things you just need to get over and trust others on.

This is really important, because if you’re embarrassed or hesitant, this will prevent you from recording a voiceover that is engaging to viewers.

One thing you’ll have to experiment with is pace of delivery. Conventionally, voiceovers used to be recorded at a steady pace so that listeners could keep up. However, there’s a growing trend in rapid delivery in voiceovers. Both work, but both have to be done right to work.

It’s worth watching a few videos (for instance Hank Green on SciShow and Henry Reich on Minute Physics, as well as me on the example video for the workshop). This’ll give you an idea of what you like, and what might work for you.

Ultimately though, finding your groove with voiceover deliver comes down to practice — repeatedly recording and listening, and asking others what they think.

Next up: Filming …