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December 1, 2020

Choosing a Narrator for Sooner Safer Happier

By Jon Smart

“Would you narrate the book, Jon?” said Anna, Editorial Director at IT Revolution. “The intonation, the emphasis, is more natural when the author reads their own words,” Anna explained. 

I was in a dilemma. I wanted to read it for that reason, the subconscious passion that comes across when reading out loud the words you’ve written and have viscerally lived. Likewise narrating the words of the co-authors, where we have shared journeys and learnings together.

We discussed how long it would take, which was about forty hours as a novice narrator, including re-recording the inevitable mistakes. There was a distinct risk, not being a professional, of losing my voice and the recording taking even longer. Also, logistically, with a full-time job and client commitments, taking that amount of time off, at the right time, was tricky. 

Therefore, we decided to have a professional narrator for the audiobook. One thing I knew from the outset was that I wanted a female voice for the book. And specifically, I was keen for Jane Steel to read it. Why was that?

Invite over Inflict

A key message throughout the book is to not inflict change, to not mandate specific practices top down, with a command-and-control culture, forcing ways of working on people, with low levels of psychological safety. Instead, it is better to focus on a balanced set of outcomes (such as Better Value Sooner Safer Happier) with invitation, empowerment, and support. To nurture culture. Sooner Safer Happier articulates this in its patterns and principles.  

Research at the University of Glasgow, where 300 people listened to 60 people saying “Hello,” found that the female voices were considered the most trustworthy. Another research study with four narrators—male and female, professional and amateur—narrating an explainer video also found that female voices were rated as being significantly more trustworthy than the male voices. 

A Harris Poll survey of over 2,000 people found that when listening to an advert voice-over, female voices are more soothing while male voices are seen as being more forceful. 

When you consider digital assistants, such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, all have female voices by default, with three of them having female names. According to Daniel Rausch, Head of Amazon’s Smart Home division, in an interview with Business Insider, “We carried out research and found that a woman’s voice is more sympathetic and better received.” A company spokesperson added: “In choosing the voice, Amazon was careful to bring the most pleasing sounding voice into people’s living rooms—after many trials, Alexa’s was the one to come out on top.” 

It is recognized that this is not a binary thing, that different people have different responses, different cognitive biases, and that many people have no conscious preference. In line with the studies above, and currently unable to allow the listener to choose from more than one voice, our opinion is that, on the whole, a female voice is more in line with the principles articulated in the book—more trustworthy and less forceful, as the studies above illustrated. In an ideal world, maybe not far off, on the most popular audiobook platform people will be able to select from multiple narrators.

Be Unexpected

A part of our Sooner Safer Happier narrative is to be a bit unexpected, with positivity and hopefully a bit of humor (enjoy the journey!). 

For example, do you want to do an Agile Transformation? “Yes, of course we do!” Don’t. Try this instead. 

Do you want to scale Agile? “Yes, of course we do!” Don’t. Try this first. 

And our so-called Certified Really Agile Practitioner (CRAP) “training” is an intentionally tongue-in-cheek lightning talk. 

Therefore, as a book written by men, the expectation is for a male voice. If anyone was expecting that, we’re happy to be unexpected! Unless you’ve read this post before you’ve listened to the audiobook. In which case it won’t be unexpected. If you’ve not heard it, to set your expectation, it’s actually narrated by Alvin the Chipmunk. Don’t even think about listening to it on 2x playback speed. 

The Perfect Combination

As the authors are all British, we were also keen to have the narration feature a British accent. According to an article in the Independent newspaper, a poll of 11,000 people in 2 cities found that a British accent is the most attractive. A separate study by CEOWORLD magazine, with 96,000 people in 32 countries, also found that a British accent is the most attractive.

To achieve all of our requirements (using an unexpected female voice with a British accent),

I had a specific person in mind, Jane Steel. Jane is a friend. We’ve known each other for twenty years, the Steels and the Smarts having met at antenatal classes before journeying into parenthood together. It’s a pleasure to be able to invite friends to be part of an adventure. And Jane is a very experienced professional narrator, broadcasting to the UK many times a week on national radio. In addition, Jane is a part-time teacher, which means she is a professional storyteller too! 

I’m honored that Jane is the narrator for the book, and I’m delighted with the end result. I hope that you like Jane’s narration as much as I do. 

And kudos to Anna at IT Revolution for being willing to go with the authors’ wishes.

- About The Authors
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Jon Smart

Co-founder and CEO of Sooner Safer Happier, lead author of the award winning and bestselling "Sooner Safer Happier: Patterns and Antipatterns for Business Agility", and Programming Committee member for the DevOps Enterprise Summit.

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