WC Fields is quoted as saying ‘Never work with children or animals’. While I can’t say I’ve ever worked with an animal in the voice over booth (although Lindsay Ayliffe does a pretty convincing Schnauzer:), I have worked with plenty of young voice talent and child voice actors, and usually with pretty good results. Using children for your voice overs can be very rewarding, but it does take a different approach to directing. In most cases, with a little patience and the right amount of positive reinforcement, you’ll get that cute-as-a-button take you’re after.
Make it Fun. The first key to getting great voice overs from children is to put them at ease. This is especially true for kids who have never done voice overs before, but even for seasoned pros (well, as seasoned as you can be for 7 years old). Start the session by finding out something about them, their interests, how they’re enjoying summer break, what grade they’re in, etc. – anything to take their mind off of performing. Try to make the session about having fun and not about work. Young children who do voice overs are in it because it’s fun, not because it’s their life’s obsession or because they need the money.
Avoid direction by committee. In fact, the less people involved the better. One on one coaching, preferably from someone who has built a good rapport with the child works best. A good approach is to get into the voiceover booth with the child and engage them face to face. Get the audio engineer to set levels and monitor the sound and then just hit ‘record’ and let it roll as you work with the child. Make them forget about the microphone completely and focus on what you’re saying, then you can be goofy, make them laugh, tell them stories or jokes – whatever it takes to put them at ease.
Don’t worry about in depth direction or too much back story. Kids don’t care that your target audience is women 25-34; They don’t care that your product is set to launch in Q4. Make your direction simple and relatable. If you’re looking for excitement and energy from the read, tell them to pretend like their talking about something really fun, like going to a water park, for example.
Try shorter passages. If the voice over script has long passages, try breaking it down into short chunks of copy and working on each small segment until you get what you need. By doing this, you’ll have a better chance of keeping a young child’s attention allowing them to focus on what you’re saying.
Play ‘Follow the Leader’. One of the best techniques you can use when directing small children is to have them mimic, or ‘parrot’ you as you deliver the read you want to hear. Read the line, then have your child voice talent repeat after you. Vary the read and have them follow your different inflections. Children will often listen more intently by making it a game of ‘follow the leader’, and the result is a great voice over.
Be quick. Long and tedious sessions in the voice over booth are hard enough for adults, but when children are involved, you’re more likely to lose their interest if the session drags on. If you have a large amount of material to cover, consider breaking it into multiple sessions or taking breaks. Aside from short edits to make sure you have what you need, save your mixing until after your child voice actor has left the booth.
Finally, be positive. Use patience and remember to give lots of positive reinforcement to keep your young voice talent’s confidence up. Make sure your child walks out of the voice over booth feeling good about themselves and they’ll be more likely to be excited about doing it again next time.