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Voice Actor: Know The Triggers

Voice Actor: Know The Triggers

To Really Communicate / Part 1

By Ron Knight


“Doctor, I don’t think I can stand it any more. My wife thinks she’s a chicken.”

“Hmm. Okay. So why don’t you leave her?”

“I can’t … I need the eggs!”


It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. Seems obvious. We know that. We’re VO people.


But recently, what I’ve learned from a “couples therapy and communications skills course” seems to also apply to the world of voice-over.


Within every communication, people tend to dance on many levels or layers of thought, and we’re aware that the verbiage involved or spoken creates “soft triggers” in the listener.


In voice-over, we may think of this as the multi-level plane of communication on:

Yet the intent you think you have implanted may well not be the one interpreted by the listener.


You have seen how in the hands of a producer the line you read that was so lovingly and caressingly delivered, became a line from “Mommy Dearest” – with a simple change in the M or E track and the flick of a mouse.


In the real world, you don’t know if a trigger is also affecting a listener, who might be reflecting on a personal issue.




Okay veterans of VO – you’ve been doing this for how many decades now? You’ve seen plenty of issues come and go.


While the beginner VO talent may be trying to figure out How to Win More Auditions, others who’ve endeavored media production for a while have seen the flavors, trends, media fashion, style and the inherent changes in personnel who make casting, buying and direction decisions come and go.


We’ve seen this ebb and tide of media trends – and once in a while we come to think about what We May Have Done Differently, as we look at What it Is that Lands us Where We Are.


And we reflect on what we’ve done to continue not only hitting the nail on the head for the audition, but also for delivery on the buy, and the aftermath of client relationship.


This does not go into the category of giving everyone a Kewpie doll for letting you win a gig.


It touches more directly on being insightfully aware at all times of the issues that may or may not be going on in the room during a session, over the ISDN, or following up with your agent, the director or the talent buyer.




Example: in a session, you read the word green. You know what green means.


And there you are, having read copy after copy, taken every possible training course. You know how to score your copy, and yes, you can sell your shoes off!


You underscore the USP. (Remember when you learned about USPs after eating donuts, donuts and more donuts in a hotel conference room where you studied voice-over and now you’re ready to go?) You even move into the Grid of Emotional Expectancy to play the Color Words and Graphic Visualizations Chart in your mind, to interpret How Green is Green.


You play the innuendos and quadruple double entendres, and what you think green is – or what the writer means, or what the producer and the client may mean or want. So all is fine and good.


Then you find the director in the room. Perhaps the client. Why is this not working?


First, you don’t know what kind of morning he or she has had. You really don’t know what green means to them.




Does it sound like money? If you’re hitting the branding for Scott’s Turf Builder, doing Kermit, Gumby, Pine Sol Fresh – or for the young PA who’s been out last night and thinks it’s a Wintergreen breath mint – maybe green is the environment or saving the planet?


You don’t know if the director is going though a divorce, or if his or her best friend – who was the local chapter chairperson of Greenpeace – has just taken their previous “significant other” out to dinner. And so now green is sounding like Someone’s sautéed spinach soufflé. Sizzled.


The point is, you can’t know if what you’re saying is hitting soft triggers for the decision maker, or what they may be thinking the imagery is doing for the client.




In many cases, you would have nailed it on Take One or Take Three. But here you are on the grid for Take 54 – mentally gasping for mercy when you know you nailed it back on Take Two, which was better than One, but they’re still debating Take Three, which was taken for safety just because someone should have taken Two and then called you in the morning.


It may all be because someone is not letting the cinema of the moment happen. It’s the Control Factor. You’re being directed up, down, sideways, or right into the trash bin on the desktop. All from reactions to soft triggers.


Here’s what’s happening: 

This releases all sorts of potential for personal issues. And opening that Pandora’s Box can slow down any session.

When you voice copy in a way that opens a Pandora’s Box of emotional triggers in your session’s director, producer or client, it can indeed slow things down (Part 1).  

This is why a study of the Emotional Shading Color Wheel and that class you took in Acting Interpretation is so very important to what you do as an artist, or with your craft.


But on an enhanced level, you also need couples therapy to be able to feel and be present – intuitively and psychically. To know in the eyes of the person on the other side of the glass – in everyone in the room, or even if conferenced over the phone patch and ISDN – the power struggles, the status differential, the give-and-take of what’s really being said and not said.


Not only between you and director, but between the entire dynamic made up of all the “couples” in the room or online.




This craft isn’t about you and your performance. It’s about making your VO an OEM part that fits exactly into their manufactured product – the audio or audio/visual piece. 


So you must learn to look, feel, read the eyebrows and understand what’s happening in the room between everyone. Why? To counter-balance the entire spin, even when “the talkback button” has been switched off so the talent can’t hear what’s being said behind the glass en route to the next take. (Gee! That’s helpful, isn’t it?)


As you get the entire dynamic, you can nail it, using all the triggers going on with all of the “couples” in the session.


By taking command of the emotional color grid, and knowing the innuendos and how to touch them in “delivered layers,” you can jolt ahead to weave the issues of what everyone may, or may not, be expressing in the room.




Now you know you’ve hit green!


You can’t make green any more or less green, but suppose there’s a conflict on the interpretation. Someone is happy and someone is not. A concession must be made.


Making everyone happy each and every time is the goal. But sometimes you just get a client with an issue.


Since you get to read for many of the same casting people again and again, and memories die hard, it’s best to leave issues where they belong. Outside the door.


But it can happen.


So remember this: being civil and nice to people, even if you do eventually get the blessing of an opportunity sometime to sit, explain and clarify for anyone who has an issue. Note the triggers that move people into unknown soft issues that will lead them away from crystal-clear and concise communication.


This is especially helpful if you hope to turn a one-time client session into “repeat dating” or repeat recording business.




I remember once in the very early ’80s talking with Denny Delk.


In those days, I was a young producer doing radio spots and TV soundtracks, and I recorded Denny quite a bit as one of the dominant VO guys, Monday through Friday, as was the wont of our studio business in San Francisco.


This was way before my time in Burbank or Orlando, and a long time before my almost two decades in New York. During those days, the Bay Area supported a volume of voice-over business like no other market.


Denny had a voice that was built to launch like a thundering missile.


I had the job of tracking in a way to lift that voice into isolation, so that it would cut with presence cinematically against the music and SFX tracks. I’d learned that an Orban Parametric equalizer and compressor would force even the casual listener into a Subliminal Command.




One day, Denny’s accountant advised that it was time for Denny Delk Inc. to buy a new car. Denny replied, “Okay, maybe I’ll go look at the new Honda.”


His then-accountant replied, “No, you need to write off an entire new Mercedes.”


These were the days when voice-over was a consolidated market of high-volume productivity for the brave, the proud, the few.


But what sticks in my mind is what Denny told me one day as we stood together over the Kaypro-era computer at Horodko Sound:


“Be nice to people on the way up. It’s a long, long way when you drop all the way back down.”


Well, That’s Entertainment. That’s the media and what happens to people and their employers when “the times, they are a changin’.”




On a similar note, I recall going on my Generals auditions at a major animation studio, which happened to be behind schedule on a TV production crunch. Being over deadline, it was extremely busy there.


Sitting and waiting, I got a call at the desk to cancel my audition. The casting director became a little perturbed with me. (Backstory: her boss had granted me a favor chip by cordially calling the CD to remind her of my scheduled time.) 


Nice barrier to overcome, huh? How about digging your own hole before even opening your mouth?


I’m warm to know that, decades later, we’ve become friends. Yet what I take away from this experience – along with what I’ve learned from a “couples therapy and communication skills class” – is to always:

Especially when you’re only as good as your next job.


Ron Knight is an advanced media voice-over communications coach and producer. He’s been the voice of Nickelodeon, The Travel Channel, Sirius Radio, ABC Networks, Disney and Universal Resorts, as well as many regional and national accounts. His Knight Mediacom studios produce cinema advertising, production for soundtracks, interactive media “trigger spots” for national cable media, plus projects with new production techniques for Avatar Animation. Voice-over career consulting is available by appointment, and Advanced Market Voice-over Workshops are offered twice annually – as a preliminary Teleclass, then in-studio in Southern California.

Email: info@knightmedia.com

Web: www.knightmedia.com/vo


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