Sound Off

Using Sound Effects to Wow Your Learners

Steve Austin, astronaut: a man barely alive. Gentlemen we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before…Better, Stronger, Faster.

Opening narration from The Six Million Dollar Man, 1973 to 1978

Growing up in the 1970s, I had a fascination with heroic TV characters. Ranging from Bill Bixby as The Incredible Hulk, to David Carradine playing a Shaolin Monk in Kung Fu, to under-the-ocean adventures with Patrick Duffy in The Man from Atlantis; I was fascinated by these larger-than-life icons. But my favorite was Lee Majors as Colonel Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man.

Steve Austin was an astronaut who had a terrible accident and was rebuilt using a technology called “bionics.” He could run incredibly fast, had super strength (in one arm), and a telescopic eye. To help us, the viewer, know that he was acting “bionic,” the action would be presented in slow-motion and (in later episodes), a special sound effect “dit dit dit dit” would play.

Bionic Sound Effect

A similar thing occurs in the TV series Wonder Woman (1976 to 1979). Whenever Wonder Woman would use her special abilities (jumping, bending steel bars, lifting cars, etc.), a variety of special sound effects were played, calling attention to the fact that “hey, something super heroic is happening here!”

Wonder Woman Sound Effect

Both of these shows used sound effects to bring us closer and make us a part of the action, to enhance the experience, and overall, just add to the character and atmosphere of the week’s episode. What these shows may have lacked in budget, they often made up for in sound effects!

Sound Effects in Training

We live in a world of sound, and like using music to set a mood or tone, sound effects can enhance, call attention, and add to the overall experience — and not just in TV shows or movies. Training is the perfect media in which to use sound effects. You just have to use them appropriately.

If building custom e-learning, you can include appropriate sounds sprinkled throughout the course. You can add sound effects to simulations, add a cheer to correct feedback, include mouse-clicking sounds in your demonstrations, and the list goes on. You can do the same for instructor-led training — add sound effects to your slides and wow your learners!

Just don’t overdo it and distract the learner. Sound effects should be used as accent notes, adding to the overall experience. Like seasoning, too much of a good thing can ruin a dish — and a learning experience. Add your sound effects at the right moment and draw your learners in.

To find these great additions, you can turn to resources, such as FreeSound, BBC Sound Archive (free for personal, educational, or non-commercial use), and Sound Bible. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or just feel adventurous, you can always record your own sound effects. To get started, all you need is a quiet space and something to record with, such as your laptop or even a cell phone with a recording app, as well as a way to create the sound. Use your own voice, dust off an old instrument, or make use of a variety of objects to create sounds, just like they did back in the early days of radio!

The Six Million Dollar Man bionics don’t seem as exciting without that sound effect. Wonder Woman needs her special sound when she jumps up high (so you don’t realize that they reversed the film on the stunt double jumping down). Don’t deprive your audience of the special, heroic experience that comes with sound effects. Use those sound effects appropriately and wow your audience. They’ll have a WOW, BLAM, ARUGAH, time!

One Response

  1. Susan Fisher

    Great information, Walter… And I enjoyed the trip down ’70s TV memory lane!

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