Once a person has a background in teaching, they will see the need for engaging and effective educational material everywhere. That’s exactly how Chris Black, founder and Managing Director of Energy Industry Academy, got the idea to create higher quality and more accessible online training material for the nondestructive testing (NDT) industry.
But how would he take dry, highly detailed content… and actually make it interesting? For Chris, the answer is to use his own voice to give an approachable and personal touch to the material he creates. The courses he created with his own voiceover were well-received and he quickly saw high demand for more.
Chris turned to WellSaid Labs for a custom Voice Avatar of his own voice to help him deliver an incredible product for his growing audience.
An Industry Ripe for Innovation
The nondestructive testing field has been around in various forms for over a century. It encompasses a wide range of techniques for ensuring the structural integrity and accuracy of any manufactured product. The field has evolved with technological advancements that allow NDT companies to help ensure the public’s safety by inspecting everything from bridges we drive on to pipelines and wind turbines.
Many in the industry were slow to adopt online training, and those that did were stuck with most of the training material being incredibly dry and tedious. Additionally, there are levels of required certifications in the industry that all technicians must acquire.
Chris already had a background in teaching when he was introduced to the nondestructive testing business through his in-laws. This was a lightbulb moment for Chris.
“I was working in the nondestructive testing business, and suddenly it dawned on me that with my background as a teacher, someone needed to bring this antiquated industry into the ’90s! Our approach is to try to liven up the material as much as possible.”
With a passion for innovation and improving process efficiency, Chris decided to take on the challenge.
Conventional Voice Recording Wasn’t the Answer
Initially, Chris was a single-person operation with no paying customers. He knew the demand for online NDT courses was there, but the initial production was a significant investment. He got quotes from professional voice actors and quickly concluded that he would need to do the voiceover himself.
With his approachable Texas accent and more casual delivery, his own voice was a great fit for the material.
“Customers just like my voice. I have no idea why, since everyone hates the sound of their own voice. But customers like someone who sounds like them, who doesn’t sound like a professional actor. They don’t want to hear someone who they can’t shake hands with.”
Unfortunately, creating all his own voiceover was difficult and not sustainable. First, to get better sound quality, he installed a mattress pad in a closet as a makeshift recording studio. After a few weeks, Chris started to get sick from the fumes off the adhesive on the padding! Then, he bought an actual recording booth.
However, recording his own voiceover was incredibly time consuming and started to hinder the course development.
“I would have all my recordings with all my mistakes. Then, someone would have to edit it, which was incredibly tedious. After that, there was post-production to make all the recordings sound similar. We could create at best five to ten hours of finished audio per month.”
With most required certification courses being about 40 hours of instruction, this production schedule was unbearably slow for Chris’s timetable.
“I was spending the better part of the week in the recording studio. I was getting the work done, but it still felt like there was a mountain in front of you when you have post-production to get it to a finalized format.”
Chris needed a way to increase the narration he could produce and put that time toward other parts of the development process.
Looking for a Better Solution
It would take Chris about 90 minutes to record an hour of voiceover. There was then about two hours of post-production and editing. He had heard some of the existing artificial voices included in the eLearning authoring tools, but the quality wasn’t what he needed.
For one of his modules, Chris had intentionally used a robotic AI voice from one of the major tech companies. He needed the voice to sound artificial, so that voice worked well. But he knew there were only so many times that a computer voice like the one from “War Games” was going to work within their courses.
“I thought, man, if they could get these to sound lifelike, that would be so incredible.”
He wasn’t sure how to search for that kind of a solution, since the terminology was just emerging. Finally, he was literally watching a fictional TV show that talked about the technology and gave him the words to put into a Google search. He researched multiple AI voice companies, including WellSaid Labs.
“I spent weeks and weeks researching each of y’all, getting samples and everything. I wish I hadn’t spent that time, because WellSaid was it. It’s as close to a human voice as you can possibly get. WellSaid is a cut above everyone else.”
Building His Custom Voice Avatar
Chris had already recorded hundreds of hours of courses in his own voice. His customers were not only used to hearing it, but they loved his delivery style. Rather than switch to a new WellSaid Studio Avatar, the logical choice was to create a custom Voice Avatar of Chris.
“The process was so painless. The WellSaid Voice Team would email me every few days to tell me how many hundred thousand training points (of the voice model algorithm) had been completed and how many were left to go. I just said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, but glad we’re progressing along!’ It was that easy.”
At first, the result came out slightly distorted, due to the post-production that Chris had done on his recordings before sending them. The data of his recordings had been compressed and the voice team needed the most raw recordings possible.
“They said to give them the original audio files and all the distortion went away.”
The resulting custom Voice Avatar is virtually identical to his actual voice. Now, not only does Chris not have to personally spend hours recording all the voiceover, but other people on his team can create with his voice, too.
Indistinguishable from the Original Voice Recordings
Equipped with a custom Voice Avatar made from his own voice, Chris was curious how the new training modules would be received.
To date, EIA has built approximately 400 hours of online NDT training, 100 of those using the custom Voice Avatar. They have yet to receive a single question regarding the consistency of their course narration.
“Not a single person that I haven’t told has ever thought it wasn’t me, which is a crazy bar for Well Said to have cleared. With half a dozen subject matter experts reviewing it, nobody has questioned the narration.”
It’s one thing for people taking eLearning courses to not notice the difference in a voice they heard over a few weeks or months. But Chris has even sent his family and those close to him snippets of audio from his avatar, and even they don’t know the difference.
“I sent my family, like eight people, messages in my avatar’s voice. In a blind test, none of them heard any inconsistencies to know it wasn’t me.”
Can you tell the difference? Which one is Chris, and which is his avatar?
(Answer: The first sample is his avatar and the second clip is his actual voice recorded.)
WellSaid Exceeds Expectations
Before finding WellSaid, voice production was 60% of Chris’s course development time for an eLearning chapter. He needed three hours to create one hour of voiceover. Chris had to spend hours in a recording studio, and even then, the results could be inconsistent.
He had to go out of his way to create scripts that minimized future updates, because he knew those would be a nightmare to get right.
“We haven’t even started to realize the ROI on updates to our narration. As our subject matter experts correct and update our material, we will have it right there and be able to edit it in a few clicks.”
Now, with his Custom Avatar, anyone on his team can create using his voice while he is handling the many challenges of running a growing business.. What used to take three and a half hours now takes 90 minutes.
“WellSaid labs has been a game changer. I could not be more thrilled with the return on my investment already.”