As a child, I dreamed of being invisible. Did you?
It seemed so much fun to be able to sneak into any room and listen to what people had to say about me, especially my parents.
At age 17, my wish came true, and I didn’t even need an invisibility cloak to make it happen.
The day I started working for a national radio station, I became a disembodied voice. At the flip of a switch, I could enter thousands of living rooms, kitchens, cars… and even people’s minds.
What I loved about radio was the relative anonymity. I had exposure without being exposed. On many days, my listeners were lucky they couldn’t see me behind a Neumann at the crack of dawn, looking like a zombie presenting a current affairs program.
There was no need to go to make-up and nobody ever said a word about my wardrobe or hair. All was well, as long as my vocal cords were working and my brain was semi-active.
The studio was a safe place. The outside world didn’t dare penetrate the soundproof walls and heavy double doors. I could question dignitaries and grill cabinet ministers without having to look them in the eye, unless they came to our station, which rarely happened.
As a journalist, I never risked my life on the front lines to get a story. I covered earthquakes, explosions, famines and other misery from the comfort of a warm recording studio, where the coffee was always fresh and leaded.
When my day was over, I would simply blend into the masses without ever being recognized or followed by a horde of hungry paparazzi.
So far, so good… or so I thought.
A PRE MID-LIFE CRISIS
One day, something happened that had never occurred before. The moment I woke up I knew something was wrong. I could feel it in my bones. I wanted to stay in bed. For a very long time.
Mind you, I wasn’t sick. I just didn’t want to go to work. This was not like me at all. I was always full of energy and enthusiasm. I loved my job. When we were on the air, I was on fire. That particular morning, all that was left of my passion for radio had turned into a fading column of sad smoke. What the heck was going on?
A few days and some soul-searching later, it finally dawned upon me:
I was stuck in a rut.
Radio had gradually lost its magic. It had become a routine. I felt that I wasn’t building a career. I was simply coasting and I was bored. What I needed was a new challenge, a new direction, and I already knew what my next move would be.
I wanted to move up to television; to the excitement of the bright lights, the cool cameras, the expensive sets and to a world in which I would be recognized.
No longer Mister Anonymous. I wanted to be seen!
MAKING MY MOVE
Of course this was easier said than done. I needed to get my foot in the TV door. My plan was to make a move at the Christmas party. It was one of those rare occasions where the radio and television departments of our station would be together in the same room. I knew some of the key TV people, and I could already see them walking up to me as I was getting a drink, saying:
“Hey, aren’t you the guy that does our morning show? Man, I’ve got to tell you… you’re doing a fantastic job -the way you nailed that last interview. Did you ever think of getting into television? You’d be perfect!”
A few weeks later I was wearing my nicest holiday sweater as I walked into a buzzing party room filled with holly and ivy. Immediately, I noticed something peculiar.
All my radio colleagues were gathered in one corner, talking quietly among themselves. It looked like they had almost as much fun as the occupants of a reading room in a convent. All the action seemed to be happening in the other corner, where faces familiar from television were the life of the party.
One network. Two different worlds.
The moment I entered that room, there was no doubt to which camp I belonged. Nobody was paying any attention to me. Why would they? I was invisible, remember.
You should have seen the crowd’s reaction when one of the TV game show hosts made his grand entrance. He just finished taping his holiday show, looking all glamoured up in his Armani suit. The man had impossibly white teeth and a million dollar hairpiece. Wherever he went, he was followed by a hopelessly devoted circle of fans, ready to lick the floor beneath his size fourteen feet.
Whereas my radio friends looked painfully uncomfortable and very much out of place, most of my TV colleagues seemed to relish the limelight and take it all in. The more attention they got, the better.
Later on in my career I noticed the same phenomenon in a different setting. Whenever I went to a studio to audition for a voice-over part, there were always two types of people in the waiting room. The outgoing, chatty, we’re-here-to-have-a-good-time crowd, and the quiet, reserved, I’m-in-my-own-bubble-please-don’t-disturb-me people.
Both groups seemed to be attracted to the same line of work, so what was going on?
Here’s what I found out.
A TALE OF TWO TALENTS
The lively, talkative bunch almost always had a background in the performing arts, theater, film, dance, music and television. They were trained to entertain and were focused on the outside world. They were the people-people. The more the merrier!
The subdued, quiet folks loved to read and write and research… by themselves. They were focused on their inner world, and it usually took time and effort to get them out of their shells. It wasn’t easy for them to approach people they didn’t know. They would prefer it if someone else would make the first move. If you wouldn’t know any better, you might think they were terribly shy and withdrawn.
Now, lets get one thing straight. There’s nothing inherently good or bad in being more extroverted or introverted. In certain contexts, one type of behavior is just a bit more useful than the other.
CONTRAST AND COMPARE
The outgoing extroverts are often better at schmoozing and networking. They look for and respond to cues from others, which is important if you need to take directions. What other people think of them, influences what they think of themselves. It can boost their self-esteem or -in extreme cases- crush it.
The introverts hate to have to work the room and engage in what they see as superficial small talk. They need personal space. They have an internal frame of reference. You don’t have to tell them they did a good job. They already know. They’re not seeking attention or the approval of others. And when it’s time to recharge their batteries, they prefer to be alone or with a small group of people they feel comfortable with.
In this day and age of home studios, there’s no need to be super social anymore. It’s an introvert’s dream and an extrovert’s nightmare. Extroverts need events like Voice Over Mixers, Faffcom’s and other gatherings. Introverts will come too, but you have to drag them to these things. They prefer dial-in seminars and Facebook exchanges. At an event, the extroverts enjoy a wild evening of karaoke, while the introverts will hit the sack early to “rest their voices”.
Yes, I know I’m generalizing, but it’s my blog so I can be as black and white as I want to make a point.
WHO AM I?
To which category do I belong, you may wonder? If you’ve met me in person, what do you think?
Well, to be totally honest with you, I am a reluctant extrovert. I very much enjoy the peace and quiet of my own studio. I love having the ability to talk to you by putting my virtual pen to my virtual paper. Paper is patient.
You see, when I was watching that hyper animated TV crowd at the Christmas party of my radio station, many years ago, I suddenly couldn’t see myself becoming one of them.
These people enjoyed talking (especially about themselves), but they had a hard time listening. They openly critiqued other people’s appearance and behavior, without showing any interest in the actual person. They were loud but not necessarily deep. In short, I never made my move to Televisionland and transitioned out of radio into a more therapeutic career.
Years later, I came back to my radio roots to become a professional voice-over. I emigrated to a new country (the U.S.) where nobody knew me. I quickly found out that it isn’t very helpful to stay under the radar, especially in America, where people like to be loud and gregarious (although they don’t see it that way because most of them have never been across the border).
PROACTIVE PAYS OFF
Being a voice talent is not a wait-and-see career for the ever so shy and always so modest. This type of work is for enterprising go-getters who can quickly make connections.
People have to know that you exist. They expect you to take the initiative. If you don’t knock on their door, it will never open. I really had to get used to that concept, and that’s why my rise to “meteoric fame” is a tale of hard knocks. (I hope you caught the sarcasm)
If you were to get to know me a little bit better, though, you would find that the introvert side of me might have gone undercover, but it’s still there. I don’t mind being by myself. I also find it beneficial in this business to have an internal frame of reference with an external check. What does that mean?
It means you have to believe in yourself AND stay open to feedback from others. You have to be able to direct yourself in your home studio, and you have to be flexible enough to let someone else direct your session as well.
Working in the media, it is good to make the rounds and mingle with the crowds. Yet, as voice-overs, we also have to be fine with spending many hours a day in solitary confinement, speaking into a microphone. We have to learn when it’s time to talk and when it’s time to shut up, listen and focus.
It took me a while to get that.
Today I can finally say that I’m thoroughly enjoying the best of two worlds. I like the company of colleagues. Being social is not so bad.
At the same time, I can go back to my home studio, shut the door and no one will even notice what I’m doing. It’s a minor miracle.
I have become visibly invisible!
Happy Holidays, my friends. May the new year bring you peace, prosperity and many positive changes!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Last week, UK-colleague Helen Lloyd interviewed me about voice-over marketing. You can read the story by clicking on this link. Peter O’Connell asked me to answer his 5 Questions. I tell him how my career behind the mic began.