Allison Smith

What Won’t You Say

It’s generally well known by clients of mine with whom I’ve worked for awhile that I am game to voice pretty much anything. In fact, in the sea of ordinary, run-of-the-mill telephone prompts I voice on a daily basis, I welcome it when offbeat, parody, and joke prompts come up. It’s especially fun when some of these oddball prompts are wedged in between serious ones. In the midst of serious prompts might be a prompt that says: “Are you still listening?” I love it. And I hope callers find it to be a much-needed moment of levity in the otherwise tedious task of waiting  on hold.

However, there are limits. I have backed off a few projects that brought up such feeling of discomfort that I respectfully passed on them (I’ve blogged and spoken at conventions about being approached by a call-girl to voice her information line – I respectfully passed on that project). Here is a list of other areas in which I’m just not comfortable lending my voiceprint:

1. Profanity

A well-placed expletive in humorous copy where it makes sense and carries some comic weight — no problem. An excessive amount of gratuitous potty-mouth — not interested in doing it.

2. Religious Content

Everyone’s personal beliefs and convictions are intimate and should be a private thing. I’m always taken a bit aback when I voice a very straightforward and business-like phone tree, and the last line says something like: “Thank you for calling, and go forth with the Light of Jesus!” I struggle with the appropriateness of introducing that into a clearly business context.

I also voice a large amount of conference intro prompts, and many are from religious groups — not problematic if they simply wanted me to welcome their callers and instruct them on how to mute and unmute their line; instead I’m actually often asked to evangelize and quote scripture, almost like a warm-up act for the minister or church leader hosting the call. Let’s just say I am religiously….neutral. I would prefer to not be put in the position of imparting rhetoric for which I have no strong feeling.

3. Slandering Groups

This seems pretty self-evident, but I found myself in the midst of a conference call a few years ago with an ad agency in one city and the client in another, and all I knew about the project was that they needed an extensive national auto-dialer recorded for a political bill they needed passed. My daydreams of what Louis Vuitton bag I was going to purchase with the windfall from this latest project was cruelly disrupted by the client talking about “making sure this gay marriage bill didn’t get passed!” Yep, I was smack in the middle of having committed myself to voicing a dialer that would drum up support for squashing the gay marriage bill —  a project that I absolutely could not voice with any conscience. After the call, I spoke with the ad agent and recused myself, to my detriment. I haven’t heard from them since.

4. You Using My Voice

This one surprises many people, but if copy is written in the first person: “Hi, this is Theresa, and welcome to my conference,” I will automatically change it to: “Hi, and welcome to Theresa’s conference.” Theresa is not me, and may not create the image that she has my voice. I’m totally OK with me being “cast” in a character: “Hi, this is Liz from Victoria’s Secret, and if you have a second, I’d like to follow up on your last purchase.” But I will not “impersonate” or “personify” a real person with my voice.

The list is pretty short. There’s a greater sense of appropriateness now than there used to be; years ago, I voiced a radio spot for a fast-food chain that was so sexist  the male voice in the spot stopped the session and complained about the content to the ad agency, while I—all of 22 years of age—stood mutely, secretly hoping he wouldn’t blow the job for both of us. Hopefully, we have a greater awareness of what’s kosher and what likely isn’t and I do a better job of listening to that “no” voice that tells me to pass.

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, having voiced platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Bell Canada, Vonage, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom, and the Asterisk Open-Source PBX. Her Web site is www.theivrvoice.com.