The Performance Pocket

Updated: Jul 15

"Seeing is believing, but hearing is knowing."


This is a piece of VO wisdom one of my most trusted vocal coaches shared with me not so long ago. This truth, in my eyes, should be embraced when doing voice over!


But what does it mean? Well, simply, when we see a performance it is easy to believe it based on visual queues alone, but when a performance is limited to voice the ear judges truth. Think about it, when you are performing it is natural to move your hands to your forehead when portraying stress, shake your head slowly when showcasing doubt, and clench your fists when representing anger. These mannerisms add a layer of truth to a performance that is seen, and make it more believable.


We do not have the same luxury in VO, without the additional visual layer, a performance cannot utilize the visual as an asset to make the performance real. The entire truth of the performance, the knowing of it, is found in hearing. So knowing how to express truth via voice only is critical!


The performance pocket is the realm in which truth can be found in voice over. It is the range between 'character subtlety' and 'message push' that comes across as believable to the listener; where character subtlety is the traits of the role and message push is the emphasis on the message. And most interestingly, this differs dramatically dependent on the genre of voice.


In my eyes, and based on my experience, following is how I view the performance pocket across a few different genres:

  • Animation = little character subtlety, big push = over the top and explosive characters.

  • Video Game = moderate character subtlety, medium push = unique and believable.

  • Commercial = high character subtlety, low push = guy next door and natural.

Its hard to express this in words, so I have visualized the concept basically below. Essentially the space that the border contains is the performance pocket you must stay in for a believable performance in each different medium.


There is a lot to conclude by this chart, but rather than me do the analysis for you, take some time to look over the chart, and let me know your personal observations about what this tells us about each medium in the comments below.

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