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5 Ways of Spicing Up Your eLearning Narration

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Student Sleeping - 33344410ClipartcomIn creating eLearning, I face a challenge that the majority of users do not face.  I have to listen to the same audio again, and again, and again, and again while I edit and build different sections of my modules.  This is fine.  In fact, its an expected part of the process.  However, I do notice that there are times where I begin to go to sleep almost immediately.  Yeah, that could be a compliment or maybe its not.  There are some Barry White-style voices that are soothing and relaxing. But likewise, there are some voices that, while reading, can become almost monotone.  Once I have heard these voices a screen or two, I almost begin to tune out.  Worse than that, if I am watching a module where not much else is happening on the screen or I am not interacting with the module in any way, I am forced to listen to the voice.  So what do I do?  Zone out…go to sleep….daydream.

OK.  So, now it’s time to put yourself in the seat of the learner.  Get rid of the ego for a moment.  Yeah, I know you put your blood, sweat and tears into this thing and it’s hard to hear criticism, but listen for a moment.  Don’t worry.  I have to pay attention to this myself so I’m not preaching at you.  But, put yourself in the learner’s chair for a moment.  What would you want to hear?  What would keep you interested?  What would keep you awake? Some of us have the liberty of hiring professional voice talent while others are forced to cost cut and do certain things themselves.  Just because the word “professional” is before the name does not always mean the voiceover artists don’t need feedback either.  So there are some basic things that can be done to help bring a little more life to your elearning.

1. Change voice tone.  There are naturally going to be some areas that cause your natural pitch to vary.  But, in looking at a script, you may need to purposefully mark areas that your voice pitch will need to be higher or lower.

2. Change emotion. Many elearning narrations sound dry, read, and emotionless.  In creating the modules, there are probably certain things you are excited about.  Make the VOICE sound excited.  There are probably things you want the learner to stay away from.  Yes, the all important DON’T-DO-THIS list.  Well, make the voice sound like it’s important for them to pay attention here or even a bit sad in some cases.  Whatever the case, make sure there is an audible difference.

3. Change the rhythm.  No, not the beat…the rhythm.  There is a natural cadence to the way most of us talk or read.  Many rhythms can be hypnotic and the same can be painfully true as we listen to a narration that sounds the same all the way through.  Be sure to regularly and specifically take pauses and even speed up a couple of areas.  The voice narrator may have done everything else perfectly and forgot to do this.  So, there are times, where the developer may have to get dirty with some audio software (Sound Forge, Audacity, Sound Studio, etc) and create some pauses themselves.  This may be especially necessary when animations or lists are taking place.

4. Add other sounds.  Have you noticed that things sound a bit more interesting if there is music playing underneath it?  That’s done for a reason.  Because it works!  Think about walking down the aisle in the supermarket and hearing the daily specials announced over the system.  This is almost always done with music in the background.  Music rarely uses one note all the way through.  It uses a range of notes and gives your ears something else to listen to.  Music does not have to be your technique or your only technique.  Other sound effects or sound beds can make a difference in how the learner interprets or receives the presented information.  As a disclaimer, I take no responsibility for use or rather, overuse of the 1984 Powerpoint sound effects that some are fond of.  But even the “cheesy” sound effects (used in moderation) don’t put you to sleep.

5. Stop talking. There are some times, some screens, some activities that just do not need a voice.  Stop talking.  Let the learner look, explore, discover.  Give them an instruction and watch ‘em go.  Quiz? Assessment?  The narrator does not necessarily need to read over all the questions.  Yes, section 508, I know.  While, I will not get into 508 discussion in this particular post, there are things that you can do, such as providing a extra link to hear audio for this question or having an audio on or off option.  My point is that having the audio off in certain areas by default sometimes provides a different perspective for the learner who is assumed to have minimal physical challenges as well as those that have challenges.

These are just basic techniques some of which you may already use and others which are so simple you may not have paid much attention.  There are also some that I may be missing.  What techniques do you use to “spice up” your narration and keep learner engaged?

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7 Comments to “5 Ways of Spicing Up Your eLearning Narration”

  1. I would add to “Add Other Sounds,” add a second narrator, including have a conversation between the two. I have done this in webinars and it worked well. I have not tried it in e-learning WBT courses, but I bet it adds some flare and keeps the audience’s attention.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. Excellent post! We say this to our clients all the time when creating audio and narration and for them…. Unless, you want to sound like the droning “wa waa wa waaa” like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon, add items of interest. Different narrators, music changes (or on/off), and yes create some enthusiasm…all great ideas…because when you are creating high excitement topics like “Correct Hard Hat Use”, you have to keep the learner awake some how :)

    M. Bruce Abbott

  3. Very handy tips..

    At AVELING Online, we tend to use professional voiceovers for the narration. This is not as expensive as one might expect given these people know how to modulate and interest the audience; resulting in less re-work of audio.

    I also agree with Jeff about using more than one voice. We have two courses; a four hour course with one narrator and a three hour course with two narrators. Our feedback indicates that people definitely like the variety of different speakers through the course.

    Feel free to try these on our website (no payment on completion so one can listen as much as they want and we don’t bug people if they don’t finish) for practical examples.

    Mark King
    Manager AVELING Online


  4. Perhaps the most important way to spice up, or liven up, the audio is often the most overlooked. It’s the writing. The majority of our clients want a ‘conversational, engaging, every-man’ kind of sound. But 99% of the time the script is not written that way. There will be no contractions, perfect grammar, and of course a lot of step-by-step or technical material. When the goal of the course is to have a natural or conversational feel, one has to write with that in mind. People don’t speak in the same way that we are taught to write.

    • Rafe,
      That is absolutely true. It gets even more difficult when you have different people taking part in the process, SME’s writers, ID’s, developers, and then the voice talent. It can get VERY complicated indeed.

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