AUDIO SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS
Using Audio In Your eLearning Project
By Dan Hurst, eLearning Voice Talent
The longer I am in this business, the more I learn about the emotion of audio.
Think about it. You have a favorite song, perhaps a favorite band or style of music. Why? Because it invokes a certain emotion in you.
You love certain sounds of nature. Perhaps ocean waves, or wind through the pines, or birds singing. Why? Because those sounds connect with you and focus you on a place you love.
The same thing is true with voices. Certain voices bring comfort, trust, and connection. And while the opposite is also quite true, this speaks to my point. Using audio in your eLearning projects can enhance or ruin the effectiveness of your work.
I’m an audio guy. Voiceovers, to be specific, but audio nevertheless. And sometimes clients will ask me to help them add music or sound effects to their projects, which I am happy to do. After doing this for a several years, and researching what works and doesn’t work (often from my own mistakes), may I make some suggestions on how you can vastly improve the audio of your eLearning projects, whether you plan on doing the audio yourself or use another company?
1. Use the audio to connect.
Although there is certainly an emotion that can be invoked by audio, whether it be with music or voice, the purpose of the audio is not to create an emotion but to create a connection. Whatever emotion it produces is entirely up to the participant.
Music or voice that attempts to create emotion just sounds dramatic or silly.
Connect. Don’t emote.
2. The quality of the audio is critical.
We live in a day and age where all of us are bombarded by highly developed and technically astute audio productions. When we suddenly hear some audio production that is less than perfect, we notice it right away. And not only do we notice it, but we form an opinion about it.
For example, I just got off the phone with a company from which I ordered some supplies. The auto attendant voice was fine, but had recorded the announcements and instructions too far from the microphone, which created a hollow, “echoey” effect. Then on top of that the background music and the voice were fighting each other for my attention. My immediate reaction was, “Didn’t these people listen back to the very first thing a customer hears when they call them?” Not a good first impression. Imagine an entire eLearning project like that!
If you’re going to do audio production for your eLearning project, don’t cheapen the project by making it sound cheap. Use some decent equipment. It doesn’t have to be super expensive, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by taking a let’s-do-this-for-as-little-as-we-can attitude. Compare your audio production with the production of a competitor. Or several. Which sound best? Why?
Let’s face it. A USB microphone into a laptop isn’t going to sound as good as a Condenser microphone through a decent interface into your laptop. And even if it does sound good to you while sitting at your desk, what is it going to sound like to the end-user?
3. Let it breathe.
eLearning is education. It takes time to absorb the material. A voiceover that is too fast, or moves from one thought or concept to another too quickly loses the learner. It’s just plain ineffective. If you are doing the voiceover yourself, quit thinking about reading it, and think about speaking it. Speak it to someone standing or sitting there in front of you, or as I prefer to think of it, someone sitting on a park bench with you.
4. Remember your audience.
This seems pretty simple and superficial, but it is astounding how many eLearning projects fail to connect the audio with their audience, even if the teaching content is spot on. Let’s face it, if you are targeting an audience that is primarily urban, it’s probably not a good idea to use a rural sounding voice. No, I know you would never do that. But would you use a 2nd generation Mexican voice talent from L.A. to voice a project targeting sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic? I mean they both speak Spanish, right?
Seriously, one person cannot decide alone which audio sound works for the general audience.
It takes a diversified group with a vested interest in the product to decide which voice and which music is going to work best for the project. One person cannot decide for the entire audience. And if you still aren’t sure, make the decision based on some legitimate research!
5. Simple Is Better.
Every layer, every element of your project is something else the end-user has to absorb and process. And the more things you throw into the mix are more things that will contribute to learning fatigue. More words, more color, more sound, more motion all compete for attention and processing. Keep your audio as simple as possible. Don’t let it distract.
And speaking of distracting, if you are going to voice your own project, make sure there are no distracting noises in the background, no distracting mouth noises, no distracting plosives, no distracting sibilance, and no distracting speech habits.
It occurs to me that I’m being kind of negative. My apologies. I just want your next project to shine! And with a little attention to these details, your audio certainly will.
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Dan-daniel eduardo-Hurst is an experienced bilingual (English and Spanish) voice talent operating out of the Kansas City area. His eLearning voice clients include Boehringer Ingelheim, British Petroleum, Kimberly-Clark, United Rentals, Volkswagen, and numerous universities and government agencies. When he’s not working, he spends time cheering for losing sports teams and getting kicked off of golf courses. Find out more at www.DanHurst.com.