Before you open your mouth to utter your first syllable—before you even set foot in the booth—there’s already an internal monologue going on inside that head of yours. In fact, I can hear it all the way over here like a small child banging on a tin pan, and it’s editing your every thought and move before you’ve even had a chance to create a single thing.


Your thoughts are going to keep chatting away all through your performance whether you like it or not. Therefore, what you’re telling yourself demands discipline, because you can’t tell yourself how not to do something. Need convincing? Give it a try.

Try telling yourself, “Whatever you do, don’t think of a banana.”

What happened? A big, bright, yellow Chiquita just popped into your head, didn’t it? You pictured a banana. Why? Because your brain doesn’t register “don’t” when you’re telling yourself how-to, or not-to do something.

Have you ever worked with a director who only tells you what they don’t want? Welcome to the club, ‘cuz you’re not alone. It tends to sandbag you.

But why?

Because, hypothetically, it’s like walking into a Denny’s and placing your order through the process of elimination by telling your server all the items you don’t want, rather than what you do. It’s not productive.

While that may seem like a stretch, the very same principle applies to your performance. For instance, if you’re directed to “Keep the beginning just like it was, but DON’T go up on the word ‘pupil’.” You’re going to have to tell yourself to go down on the word pupil. You literally have to direct yourself to do the opposite, or reverse what you had done prior. However, if you’re unaccustomed to modifying your read on the fly, you’ll likely struggle to offer options at a moments notice out of sheer muscle memory.

On the average, voiceovers today are given precious little direction, and considering ALL of our auditions are done from the privacy of our own home recording set ups today, where they go unchecked much of the time, the degree of difficulty only increases when we book projects and suddenly discover just how unaccustomed to accommodating any direction at all.

Unfortunately, as actors, this generally comes across as if you either:

a) Disagree with the direction offered (regardless of whether you actually do or not) and you won’t accommodate the change

b) Or, you can’t deliver the direction, re-direct, modification, alteration, adjustment or change required of you.

Either way undermines your value as a professional and as a team player, so that’s ‘no bueno’.

Nevertheless, a majority of talent consider themselves “easily direct-able”. Certainly in a perfect world that would be the case, but honestly expecting to be directed in the first place typically backfires on talent, for the simple reason you’re probably assuming the people who hire us:

a) Know precisely what they want. (They typically don’t! Instead, they’ll “know it when they hear it!”)

b) And they know how to articulate what they need and want from you as a talent. (They rarely, if ever, can. Regardless of their experience level.)

You’re expected to offer a handful of suitable delivery options appropriate to the context, yet you should be creating with each take rather than attempt to only craft a single, solitary delivery. You’re honestly capable of a limitless number of remarkable deliveries, we simply need a few, because you’re rarely making only one, single solitary individual happy. It’s not immediately intuitive, it takes practice, but that’s what makes you agile and, therefore, valuable as a professional.

Accommodating direction, whether it’s self-direction or not, is a matter of conditioning. It just isn’t immediately intuitive. It takes technique training and practice to take a specific command and follow through completely in the very next take, rather than ramping up into 7 or 8 takes and boomeranging back to that original delivery again and again and again. You need time and attention dedicated to the best possible practices, without continually stopping and editing yourself before you’ve had the chance to create anything worthwhile.

This is why, as voice actors, we train.

Applying specific techniques that get immediate, extraordinary results is only partly why we train. Developing our most beneficial skills demands we apply our selves on a daily basis. Becoming seamless is born of routine, provided you’re applying the very best practices. That requires commitment, even when you’re busy. Perhaps, especially then.

But, if you instead wait for, or expect Academy Award level direction, before you’ve so much as lifted a finger to shaping a credible performance, then you’re expecting the people who’ve hired you to craft your performance for you. That’s a lot to ask!

How exactly would that make you a valuable talent? It doesn’t.

No one wants to micro-manage you. That’s a novice move, whether that inexperience is coming from the client/producer or from you as the talent. You’re expected to rise to the occasion, regardless of your experience level. Provided you’re manned with practical self-directing techniques that stoke your imagination and elevate your abilities will ultimately serve to improving your confidence and other’s confidence in you.

How long does it take to master self-direction? That really depends on you. How well you allocate your time and attention to making a few key techniques second nature takes due-diligence if you hope to make them seamless skills.

If you have experience, but little or no training, or maybe it’s been a year or more, and you’re unsure where or how to proceed, you’re probably long past due to invest in yourself, so click here:

Keep in mind a recording booth can become something of a sensory deprivation tank if you’re not careful. We often fool ourselves as to what’s inspired and what’s tired in our performance. This is why we have directors and producers, and coaches, for that matter. No one’s an island. We all need inspiration from time to time to stoke our imaginations and sharpen our skills.

Besides leaving our craft to go unchecked isn’t an option. And, as the saying goes, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” It takes practice. Literally.

Your career and professional reputation depend on it!

Copyright © 2021 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.

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