By Stephanie Ciccarelli
April 22, 2009
Have you ever visited an online medical site?
Many health care related sites are now providing useful, reliable health information directly to patients to help them manage their conditions and make treatment choices through interactive presentations involving voice over.
Learn more about this opportunity for voice over talent and also hear from Shelley Baldiga, the voice of the Information Therapy Conversations presented on the Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare's website.
While not replacing consultations with medical professionals, these interactive avenues, such as the resources offered by Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare, provide people with access to information that will help them to take better care of themselves to solve age-old problems.
To enrich these presentations, and better engage potential customers, voice over is being used more and more in this field.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare, a nonprofit health plan in New England, recently began offering on its Web site one of Healthwise's coaching programs called Information Therapy Conversations.
The site, open to the public at harvardpilgrim.org/conversations, guides consumers through issues such as dealing with sleep problems, depression and lower-back pain. Using soothing voice-overs and animations, it asks questions to determine the extent of the problem, suggests the types of doctors or health professionals who might help, and provides information based on the patient's answers.
I had the opportunity to talk with Shelley Baldiga about her experience recording the voice over and have included our interview for you to read.
VOX: How did you get the job narrating these conversations for Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare?
SHELLEY BALDIGA: I actually narrate the conversations for a company called Healthwise, an organization that provides health information and programs for major hospitals and insurers like Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare as well as Internet sites like WebMD. I auditioned with Healthwise for their first conversation back in 2006 and have been voicing for them ever since.
VOX: Thanks for clarifying that detail, Shelley! When taking one of the guided conversations about sleep, I noticed that there are a number of variables presented, which I'm sure translated to a lot of voice over work having to record accounting for each possible scenario in the survey. How many prompts did you record for each conversation?
SB: I believe it's around 350 individual audio files per conversation. The whole recording session is totally fragmented -- from doing partial sentences to single transitional words, like "okay", "great" or "hmmmm." And, as you would expect, each response varies depending on where we are in the conversation. We also have to consider what someone has already told us as we travel down different paths. For example, on the sleep conversation, we ask how long they've had sleep problems, do they need an alarm to wake up, what do they do right before bed, have they been diagnosed with sleep apnea or depression, etc. Then, we refer to that information when giving advice down the line. The producer is constantly reminding me who a particular response applies to. "This is for someone who says he doesn't have sleep apnea but does have anxiety about lack of sleep..." You have to consider those variables when reading the lines.
VOX: How long did this project take for you to complete?
SB: We're more efficient now than with our first conversation. These days, it takes about 4-5 hours to record a single topic, start to finish.
VOX: Have you yourself found these conversations to be useful? Did you learn anything from them when recording?
SB: I've learned a lot! It has helped me to better understand diabetes, which is helpful since my dad was recently diagnosed with type 2. I could tell you all kinds of interesting facts about heart health and the medications for it, when to have surgery for low back pain, things like that. I learn something new every time we record.
VOX: You got to keep your own name for the character you recorded. Was this something that was decided from the start or were you able to make a suggestion that your first name "Shelley" be used?
SB: Healthwise wanted to use my name. I believe their reasoning was "to keep it real." The whole concept is that this should sound like an actual conversation you'd have with your doctor or some other medical professional, not just automated responses from your computer. That's what makes the product so compelling. It really feels personal, like you're talking with someone who wants to help. And I have to think that helps people take away more information, and in a much more fun way.
VOX: As a voice over talent, it is rare to record a script using your own name. Did narrating as "Shelley" make a difference in how you interpreted the script? How did it feel? Were you recording as you or did you develop a new character with specific qualities who happened to bear the same name?
SB: I think narrating as myself has made a difference. I see the character as me... but in a medical role. As long as I remember I'm wearing that hat, there's never any question about how the character will respond. And I find myself focusing a lot more on who I'm speaking to, rather than who my character is supposed to be.
VOX: Your work got some nice coverage in the Wall Street Journal and I was wondering if you had heard additional commentary, perhaps even from users of the site? Have you heard much feedback regarding the conversations?
SB: The feedback has been great! People seem impressed with the fact that they get specific health advice based on their specific symptoms, not just a generic speech. Plus, it's fun and different. When asked about the voice, we hear comments that run from "she sounds like a nice, older lady" to "she sounds hot!" I have to laugh. I guess it depends on who they want the character to be.
VOX: What has been the biggest challenge in a project like this?
SB: For me, it's finding that balance between being too laid back and too preachy. The conversations are interactive and they're supposed to be fun! But we're talking about serious stuff - sometimes life-or-death health conditions. It's a challenge keeping things casual without offending anyone or turning someone away. It helps to remember... just keep it real.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
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