Why Your Facial Expressions + Body Language Matter in Voiceover Work

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Believe it or not, body language and facial expressions are two key ingredients of a stellar voiceover performance. If you’re not engaging your body and face, your blank stares and straight arms are probably holding you back from giving your best performance.

In everyday life, body language is the unspoken element of communication we use to convey feelings and emotions. Facial expressions, gestures, and posture all play a big part in emphasizing the words we speak. And even though voice actors are behind the microphone—as opposed to in front of the camera—these elements of communication are just as important in voiceover work.

Be it commercial, e-learning, or any other type of voiceover work, your body and face have everything to do with conveying a message or telling a story. As a voiceover coach, I want to hear your smile or feel your tension. I want to hear your shoulder shrugs or feel your surprise. I want you to be comfortable with your smile and learn how to express yourself when you’re all alone in a small, padded room.

Facial expressions are how we display emotions, of which there are six, long-recognized basics: happy, sad, fearful, angry, surprised, and disgusted. (There are many more expressions when combined. For example, a person may show that they feel happily surprised or angrily disgusted.)

Body language is just as important as facial expression. How would you stand if you were playing the role of a rugged cowboy? A high-energy cheerleader? An elderly person? Each of these characters requires something very different in terms of body language and facial expression. Standing still with your hands in your pockets won’t cut it.

READ: How to Find a Great Voiceover Coach

Now, let’s put your facial expressions and body language to the test. Stand up. Perform the line, “I don’t know where it is,” several times, each with the different sets of basic directions below. Exaggerate your body language and your facial expressions.

  • Innocent. A subtle shoulder shrug. Eyebrows drawn.
  • Angry. Body tension with clenched fists. Tight jaw.
  • Matter-of-fact. Wide open arms. Straight-faced.
  • Defensive. Arms crossed across your chest. Eye wide open.
  • Sad. Slumped shoulders. Eyes down.
  • Sarcastic. Eyebrows high.

The better you can express yourself physically, the better your listeners will hear your message. Did you notice that your tone, volume, inflection, cadence, and emphasis changed with each new direction? Good! Those are the first few pieces to the voiceover puzzle.

Emphasizing certain words can also change the meaning of a sentence or highlight certain details. Inflection is the melody and movement of your voice, the highs and lows. Tones signify emotions. A soft, caring tone can suggest compassion or pleasure, while a forceful, curt, lower tone can suggest anger or aggression. Speaking in a monotone manner suggests disinterest.

An easy way to check if you’re moving your body and putting your face to good use is to record yourself on video. Stand up. Position the camera so you can see your face and body from the waist up and record several types of reads: one with high energy and excitement, one serious, one sad, one angry, one guy-next-door, one storyteller, etc. As you watch the video back, pay attention to your body language and facial expression. Were you able to maintain a smile and energy? Did your hands move above your waist, or at all? Are your eyebrows moving like two caterpillars? If so, good! If not, practice, practice and practice some more.

It’s okay if you feel silly—it’s all part of the journey. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Get that gorgeous face of yours involved. Smile. Frown. Talk with your hands. You’ll be happy you did and it will make your client happy, which will make your bank account happy, which will make you happy again.

Check out Backstage’s voiceover audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Rhonda Phillips
Rhonda is a voice actor, coach, and creator of the online course Introduction To Voiceover.
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