• Peter Baker

Recording telephone prompts

In this blog, I'll talk about IVR or Interactive Voice Response work, Voice Mail, or simply “Telephone prompts”. For this kind of work, you need to go as slow as you possibly can be without sounding like you are a broken-down record player, or extremely patronising! The reason is that people are quite often listening to phones with noisy backgrounds or in a distracting environment, so clarity is absolutely key. You must move your mouth and tongue to get every word perfect. The quality of your recording, every syllable, must be absolutely right. And leaving clear gaps between sentences as well can also help the communication process of telephone prompts, and in edit you must clean the breaths up, by reducing the volume of breaths. How you’d do this is by highlighting the breaths you can see on the waveform, and clicking the volume reduce or fade key, and about minus 15dB is usually optimum. Then after recording, decent dynamic processing, or compression helps make the messages punch out of the phone receiver.

So what voice style should you use? It’s all about determining the relatability. Your voice should sound professional and relate to the caller and the situation they are in. If they’re calling a theme park, a leisure centre or a sports shop, you’d think you’d need to be very upbeat and smiley. But what if people were calling to complain about something? Unless you get told otherwise from the client, I feel it very important not to be too chatty or upbeat with phone prompts, particularly for companies or organisations where people will be rather upset to hear your voice at all. We’ve all been on the phone to utility companies, or banks or insurance companies where we are put on hold, so the last thing we want, when we don't want to waste time holding a phone, is to hear some smug chirpy patronising voiceover in our ear. So - be respectful of the listener, be sympathetic and think you are actually speaking to someone who is rather upset by the conduct of the organisation they are calling. Maybe they want to make a complaint, or find out what has happened to their delayed order or whatever, and that should give you a good start as to the type of voice you should put on for this type of voice work.

As I say, this advice may get overridden by the client, who just wants you to sound as if everything is fine and there are never ever any problems with the organisation, but I think this is wrong and will annoy the caller to be honest. Be warm, but rather than be “happy”, think more “understanding”. So talk with a smile on your face, but an “understanding” and “we’ll sort this for you” type of smile as if you were facing the caller at a reception desk, and that will come out as a great tone for many voice mails.

Even though phone prompts seem to be quite short, many jobs also include on-hold advertisements. So for example, you may say the section about “thank you for calling, your call may be recorded for training purposes” and so on, which is a requirement of data protection, and once you've done the short prompts “Press 1 for sales, 2 for accounts….”, you may have extra scripts which could get edited in. Maybe you’d be talking about their services or that the caller would be better off putting down the phone and checking out information on the website, and so on.

As well as narrating, quite often companies want you to edit together everything with music and export the files in a certain type, as many phone systems need to have specialised types of file for their system to work. In a programme like Adobe Audition, anything can be converted into any other kind of audio file, so don't worry about it. Just record your phone prompts in the best quality possible, as usual, and then afterwards worry about converting it into “8-bit u-law” files or whatever. How to actually do this conversion process, and also how to add and mix music in the multitrack function of Adobe Audition or similar audio software programmes can be found out in my Audition course on

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