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Get Better Voiceover: Stop Judging and Start Using Positive Reinforcement

With so little time in a recording session, is it necessary to tell talent they’re doing a good job?

If you are wondering whether or not to include positive reinforcement as part of your directorial strategy then this post is for you. Over my career as a voiceover artist working with hundreds of directors and directing hundreds of voiceover talents myself as a voiceover coach, I have come to develop insight into the role positive reinforcement plays in fostering a successful voiceover recording session. While I’ve written a fair amount about the qualities that characterize good direction as well as what kind of direction to avoid, I wanted to delve deeper into the role of positive refinement as it pertains to direction in order to better understand whether or not it is a necessity to include it in your directing sessions. That is exactly what we’ll discuss here today. In this post, we’ll go over the impact positive reinforcement has on a voiceover talent’s performance, as well as the effects of not positively reassuring them. My goal is for you to understand why it is important to include positive reinforcement and how to use it appropriately to your advantage and find that sweet spot balance of criticism and praise.

Voice actor recording in studio while being directed by copywriter

Understand the difference between judgement and direction

Judgment and direction are often confused with one another, but in order to give good direction, it is vital to recognize they are not the same thing. Of course, judgment does have its place. In the recording room, you must judge whether or not the voiceover works for the project in order to sign off. You need to be able to judge whether it fits with the client’s vision. To judge whether it is going to achieve the desired outcome and ultimately bring the whole project together. This is where it can be easy to stay in a judgemental mindset when giving direction because you do need to be able to judge if the voiceover is a good or a bad fit.

Where judgement has its place, and where and how to transform it into direction

Judgment is also necessary when selecting talent. You need to judge all of the submissions to find the best fit. And your judgement is important to listen to during the recording process as well so you can ensure you got what you needed. But from there, you need to be able to translate your judgment into constructive and supportive directions. Labelling a read or a talent as good or bad is essentially meaningless. It provides no solution to being good or bad.

What is meaningful, is giving talent a specific and precise direction they can use to pivot from. Avoid labelling a voiceover talent’s voice, performance, or capabilities. This puts them in a box, and lessens your chances of getting the voiceover you need. Compliment the actor on what they are getting right, what’s working, and what you liked about the performance. From there you can shift to your direction or constructive criticism. Critique is always better received when it is accompanied by flattery. And make sure you use productive encouraging language instead of labels or judgment when relaying your direction.

Criticizing or judging the talent hurts their performance

People need to hear that they're doing a good job in order to trust themselves. We are all our own worst critics, but it doesn’t help to have others layer on their judgment. When you direct from a place of judgement you can actually end up causing the voiceover talent you’re directing to begin to question their ability — even if at a very deep subconscious level. This WILL hurt your results. Good acting and voiceover performances require an actor to fully trust themselves and stay connected to their intention and clear in their heads and hearts in order to give a genuine performance. Throw some doubt into the mix and functionally you are throwing mud on the work they’ve done to get to that place of clarity to give you a genuine performance. This is why it is crucial to encourage the talent by reminding them that they are more than capable.

Positive reinforcement is a tool for empowerment in collaboration

Using positive reinforcement is a game-changer in direction because not only does it not disturb the voiceover talent’s creative clarity, but reinforces it. Nothing is more motivating to us than someone telling us we are doing a good job. We love that stuff. People overlook positive reinforcement because they think it’s inherent and less productive than criticism, but they’re missing out on the fact that the two go hand in hand. Criticism and positive reinforcement are complimentary. Either one without the other is incomplete. The recipe for real improvement and outstanding success is criticism and positive reinforcement as a packaged deal.

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Josh Alexander
Josh Alexander

All good info and tips, Lisa - thank you for going to bat for talent and educating clients! There are definitely some directed sessions that can be more challenging than others, where either the client doesn't know what they want, or there are far too many cooks in the kitchen, or the director isn't quite as diplomatic as they could be. It all takes some careful navigating as voice talent, doesn't it? We sometimes don't see the flip side, and I'm sure there are reasons for conducting sessions the way some directors do, but I love that your blog really helped to shine a light on some great ways to keep it going well, incorporating positive reinforcement, etc.. Thank…

Lisa Suliteanu
Lisa Suliteanu

So true, careful navigation is a great way of putting it. It's my absolute pleasure. I'm happy my points are resonating! 😊


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