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How To Handle Negative Comments

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal 1 Comment

cyberbullyingDon’t be shocked.

Sooner or later it is bound to happen, and you will ask yourself:

“Was it something I said, something I wrote, or something I did?”

It doesn’t really matter.

The truth is: you probably annoyed someone in some way, and they’re letting you have it.

Online. For the whole world to see.

You wonder: “What do I do? Do I ignore it? Should I retaliate?”

A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Having an online presence is a blessing and a curse. It’s an opportunity to reach thousands of people instantaneously. Sane people, and insane people. Ideally, you don’t want your fans, readers, and potential clients to passively consume your content. You want people to react to what you’re posting. You want the “likes,” the retweets, the comments, and the thumbs up, don’t you? I know I do, and I’ll tell you why.

I purposely push the envelope from time to time, and stir the pot. I welcome and encourage a good discussion, because I want my readers to be moved in some way or another. I want them to be aware of the Emperors in our industry that aren’t wearing any clothes. I want people to think twice before they send their money to some demo mill, or to a casting website selling virtual cattle calls.

I know this doesn’t make me popular in some of the more established circles, but popularity has never been my goal. If anything, I want to empower my readers to become more professional, more business-savvy, and better equipped to run a profitable and ethical freelance business.

THE WIND AND THE TREES

In the Netherlands we have a saying that goes like this: “Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.” It means “Tall trees catch much wind.” In other words: if you choose to put yourself out there, things might get rough. You’re kind of asking for it. Let me give you an example.

You’re probably aware that I wrote a book called Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs. It has an average of four and a half stars on Amazon. Not long ago I noticed that I got my first (and only) one-star review from Jack Dennis, a colleague. I can use Jack’s name, because he chose to identify himself at the end of his review which I appreciate. Here’s what he wrote:

“Don’t believe what you read. Paul is not well respected in the vo biz. In fact, quite the opposite. He has successfully offended many major league elite vo actors and their representatives. He is everything you shouldn’t be to become a major league talent. He embarrasses me and shames the art of voice over. He’s an author, coach and does vo. The basic formula for success is to learn from the best in their respective fields. You can learn nothing from Paul. He is pompous, arrogant and brings nothing positive to the table. He will only take your money and discourage you from going after your dream. This sounds like a nasty review it is. I’m tired of the vo wolves preying on those with a dream. If you want to have any success in the vo world, avoid people like this.”

While I didn’t enjoy reading these words, I do want to thank Jack for inspiring me to write about handling feedback. If you feel hurt, or angry about some of the negative comments you may have received, here’s what I’d like you to keep in mind:

1. Don’t take it personally.

I strongly feel that most comments reveal much more about the commentators, than about what or whom they’re trying to critique. In three words: Perception is projection.

I also think that ALL of us are looking at the world through dirty lenses. Our vision is colored by past experience, and by our values, our beliefs, and our expectations.

Some people feel big when they can make other people feel small. Some are jealous, narrow-minded, vindictive, or simply ill-informed. Some people thrive on creating conflict. Some fall for fake news. Some have been hurt, wronged, or disappointed, and they’ve become cynical, sad, or bitter bullies.

All of this resonates in the background, and influences how people perceive the world and respond to it. Sometimes it takes one small trigger that provides the spark that lights the fire. Some days, you might be that trigger, and you get some dirt thrown your way.

Mind you: I’m not justifying bad behavior. I’m just trying to put it into context.

One more thing.

A person is much more than his or her behavior. The behavior is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as we don’t like to be judged based on one thing we said or wrote, it would be unfair to judge the commentators based on a single, not so positive comment.

2. Substantive feedback is valuable.

It is really hard for most people to have an accurate sense of how they come across, in person, and especially in writing. As you’re reading these words, you can’t hear my tone of voice, and you don’t see my body language. Yet, most communication experts agree that tonality, facial expressions, and posture are way more revealing and honest than the words we speak. That’s why the written word is easily misunderstood (and why some of us use emoticons).

Quality feedback (emphasis on “quality”) is a precious gift. It’s a mirror that teaches us something about how we’re being perceived. It can be a confrontation with a part of ourselves we’re uncomfortable with. That’s why some people become very defensive. They take critique of one small aspect of how they come across, as an attack on their entire personality.

When someone has a few harsh words for me, this what I want to know:

– Is the feedback based on actual observations and facts, or on assumptions and interpretations?
– Is it specific, or does it consist of a bunch of generalizations?
– What is it, that the commentator is missing in order to truly understand me, and what do I need to do better, in order to be understood?

You see, I cannot change my critics. If they’re intent on cutting me down because they have some chip on their shoulder I know nothing about, I cannot help them. Frankly, it’s their problem. Not mine. I can only change myself. I can choose to ignore feedback that has no basis in reality, and to learn from feedback that’s fair. This brings me to the next point:

3. Ask yourself: Is the critique consistent and recurring?

Now, here’s where I start paying attention. If the same substantive feedback is coming back again and again, that’s like an alarm bell. Action needs to be taken. Jack’s one-star review may be annoying, but it doesn’t really worry me. Apparently, he has some bone to pick with me and/or the world, but his review is overshadowed by many positive comments from other readers…. which leads me to my next suggestion.

When fellow-bloggers and writers ask me if and how they should respond to people like Jack, I tell them:

“Don’t.

Let others come to your defense.”

When others advocate on your behalf, it has a much stronger impact than when you speak up yourself. And if you’ve taken the time to develop a considerable following, people will jump in. I guarantee it.

4. How you respond to feedback, teaches you about you.

Just as most comments reveal a lot about the commentators, how you respond to those comments tells you something about yourself. If you’re a people-pleaser, you probably want to be liked, and you avoid conflict. A critical comment may feel like a slap in the face. 

A few words of advice:

– It is impossible to please everyone, all the time. It’s also unhealthy!

– You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be, to be liked and loved.

– Receiving feedback is different from being rejected. It’s information, and you decide what to do with it.

– Always consider the source of the feedback. You can’t reason with unreasonable people.

– You cannot control the comments, but you can control your response.

5. Comment carefully.

If you happen to have a sharp online tongue, bite it!

If you have something to say, don’t hide behind an anonymous online identity. Own your ideas. Be accountable. Only cowards operate in the dark.

Be aware of the incredible power of words. Using strong language to provoke a response is not a game. It is not funny. It is beyond rude, and it is dangerous. Cyberbullying has led to suicide.

Never respond when you’re angry or under the influence. Realize that what you say about others, says a lot about yourself. Do you want to be known as a considerate and kind person, or as a jackass?

Online comments have a long shelf life. Something you wrote in anger, might come up in searches years after it was written, and may even cost you a job.

If you have very strong feelings about a person’s opinion or actions, why not send him or her a private message? Be polite. Be thoughtful. Be reasonable.

As Patrick Stokes once said: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”

DEALING WITH NEGATIVITY

If you’re a fan of British television, you may have heard of Nadiya Hussain. She’s the most recent winner of The Great British Bake-Off on the BBC. Nadiya walked into the show wearing a headscarf, and became one of the most well-known Muslims in the UK. Now she stars in her own television series, she wrote a number of books, and she even baked a birthday cake for the Queen.

In a recent interview, Nadiya was asked:

Many Muslim women have to endure anti-Islamic slurs in the street – has that ever happened to you?

Here’s what she said: 

“From the moment I’ve worn my headscarf, that almost comes with the territory. I don’t feed negativity with negativity. I receive it with a smile and I say: “You know what? I don’t need to balance the scales.” For me that’s really important because my foremost and most important job is my children. I live in a lovely country. I don’t want my kids to grow up with a chip on their shoulder. Those negative people and those negative comments are the minority, and I don’t let that dictate how I live my life.”

I agree with Nadiya. Never sink to the level of the person you’re responding to. Don’t become what you despise. It’s a sure way to fan the flames, and it will stain your soul. 

Language can be used to help, heal, or hurt.

The choice is yours.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Have you ever received nasty comments? How did you handle it?



How To Sell Your Voice Online

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Money Matters, Promotion 9 Comments

Dog with reading glassesExhausted from Black Friday?

Done with Cyber Monday? 

Or are you still shopping on Santa’s behalf?

I’m not one to stand in line for hours to get my hands on a doorbuster, but being the frugal Dutchman I am, I love a good deal. Most of those deals I find online, and I’m not the only one.

According to the website PracticalEcommerce, spending in actual stores fell 10 percent from last year on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Compared to 2014, online sales on Thanksgiving were up by 25%, by 14.3% on Black Friday, and by 16% on Cyber Monday. 

Here’s an interesting development: for the first time, mobile shopping trumped the desktop on Thanksgiving, with a 57% share. On Black Friday, 33.2% of all sales were mobile, and on Cyber Monday 27% of all shoppers used their smart phones and tablets to make a purchase.

This change does not only affect the big-box stores and supercenters. If you are selling your services online (like most voice-overs do), this affects you too. In what way?

  • If clients can’t easily find you online, you do not exist;
  • If your website is not optimized for smaller screens, you will lose business;
  • If your website doesn’t instill confidence, people will shop elsewhere.

 

CASE IN POINT

Let me tell you about one of my most recent online purchases, and what I learned from that experience. I didn’t buy a big-ticket item. It was a pair of reading glasses. You’ll be amazed how many businesses are trying to sell readers on the web. Like voice-overs, these readers come in all shapes and sizes, but they basically do the same thing. 

The big problem with buying glasses online, is that you can’t try them on. You can look at plenty of samples, but how do you know that a particular frame is the right fit? Voice-overs have the same challenge. You can present a prospect with many generic demos, but how does the client know that your take on the script will be a good fit?

Therein lies the first lesson:

Selling is about reassuring.

Prospective clients need to feel comfortable, before they’re ready to buy. Reassurance is actually critical in three phases of the sales process:

a. Before the sale

You have to convince the client that your product or service meets their specific needs, and that your asking price is worth paying; 

b. During the sale

A client needs to be reassured when buying your product, or when hiring you;

c. After the sale

You need to reassure the customer that he/she has made the right decision. That way, they’ll be thinking of you the next time they need a voice for a new project.

REASSURANCE

Let’s break this down a little bit by going back to my purchase. How did the online vendor manage to reassure me? Here’s how.

By listing the exact measurements of each frame, I could easily tell which pair of reading glasses would be a good fit for my rather big head, and which ones were not. All I had to do was pick a pair I liked, and look at the frame dimensions. 

Secondly, I needed some reassurance on the return policy. We’ve all ordered items that seemed great online, but when we tried them on, they looked ridiculous. So, I needed to be reassured that this vendor had a no-hassle return policy. 

The next thing the vendor had to do, was justify the price of the item. These days you can buy cheap readers at the grocery store. You can put them on there and then, and there are no shipping costs. So why even bother ordering them online?

Well, the vendor made two value propositions. Grocery store reading glasses can be boring and poorly made. These online readers were stylish and sturdy. On top of that, there were plenty of testimonials from satisfied customers telling me how great they looked, and how long these fashionable readers lasted. These reviews were very specific, and seemed genuine to me. Fake reviews are often generic and are suspect because of bad spelling and poor grammar.

Never underestimate the power of a testimonial. I’ve said it before and I will say it again:

Nothing you say about yourself will ever be as strong as what other people say about you.

Bottom line:

Once I was reassured, I was sold!

The question is: How could you apply this to the way you do business online? After all, you’re selling a service instead of special spectacles.

SELLING VOICES

Think of it this way: just as the vendor of reading glasses, you are offering a unique solution to a particular problem. How can a client determine whether or not you’ll be a good solution?

First of all, your website needs to impress, and your demos really have to shine. Secondly, you need to make it crystal clear that you can deliver a custom-demo based on a portion of the client’s script, within a matter of hours. This gives the client an opportunity to try on your voice. That’s reassurance number one.

Next, you have to let the client know what your retake policy is. Clients don’t want to be stuck with something they’re unhappy with. On the other hand, they can’t expect you to re-record ad infinitum at no cost to them. My approach is based on the three F’s: Fair, Firm and Flexible.

Fair: I’m not going to charge a client for my mistakes. Firm: I will charge a client if he wants me to record a new version of a script after the first version was approved and recorded. Flexible: I am willing to be more lenient toward an established client, especially if that client pays exceptionally well.

THE COST FACTOR

At this point we have to talk about price. Selling used to be all about people. In the online world, it is increasingly about price because there is no personal, face-to-face interaction. As I said in the beginning, more and more people are shopping online, which creates certain expectations. One of those expectations is that buyers will know how much they’re going to pay for what’s being offered.

Whether you like it or not, sooner or later you have to answer the question: How much is this going to cost me? May I suggest that you better answer that question sooner, before your shopper goes to a competitor who is open about rates.

Telling prospects how much something is going to cost, may be scary to you, but it is reassuring to those who are thinking of hiring you. It also weeds out the low-budget buyers. I know that it’s often impossible to break voice-over jobs down to the dime, but a ballpark figure or a price range will suffice. 

Lastly, like the vendor of reading glasses, you have to justify your rates. You have to answer the age-old questions: Why should I buy from you? What makes you so special? Those questions are easier asked than answered, and that’s probably why so many voice-over colleagues fail to come up with a solid value proposition. A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. It’s the number one reason a potential client should buy from you. 

If you’re struggling with these questions, let me give you a hint: You’re probably not the best person to answer them. You’re too familiar with yourself, and you’re likely to make too many assumptions. What you need to do, is find out how other people see you, and how they perceive the benefits of what you have to offer. Next, you have to translate these benefits into headlines, paragraphs, visuals, and audio.  

If you need an example of what I mean, take a look at my home page. It’s by no means perfect, but I think it gets the point across. What do you think my value proposition is? Is it easy to understand? Keep in mind that for most of my clients, English is a second language. Do I address basic questions and concerns? Do you see a testimonial?

NEXT TIME

So far, all I have talked about is ways to reassure the online client before the sale is made. Why is this so important? Well, reassurance leads to trust, and -trust me- people will never buy from someone they don’t trust. 

Next week we’re going to dig even deeper, and look at ways you can reassure buyers during and even after the sale. It’s an aspect of selling that is often overlooked, but it is crucial if you want to get return business from happy customers.

Now, one thing I am often asked as a blogger is this: How do you come up with this stuff?

The answer is simple.

It is based on years of experience as a freelancer, first in the Netherlands, and now in the United States. 

And remember: this blog post started with a pair of glasses and a bad pun. Brought to you at no cost whatsoever.

Oh, the things I’m willing to do for my readers…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Dog Intelligence via photopin (license)


The Ciccarelli Circus

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play 19 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 9.24.24 PMSo, here’s the deal.

We all know that the CEO of Voices.com David Ciccarelli is on a charm offensive. He tried to do damage control by talking to fellow-Canadian Graeme Spicer of the Edge Studio. I don’t think that worked out so well.

The promised recording of the contentious interview was never released because (supposedly) the video version did not survive due to “technical problems.” Then Edge Studio and Mr. Spicer announced:

“We had every intention of releasing the recording of the event as originally stated. Unfortunately we are not in a position to post it at this time. I hope you understand our position, and that you will continue to support Edge Studio as we strive to advocate on behalf of voice actors.”

Some spoke of a falling out between “Edge” and “Voices.” Others suggested that possible legal action prevented Edge Studio from releasing the interview. Meanwhile, a SoundCloud copy of the interview has surfaced, and it is making the rounds on various VO Facebook groups.

Ciccarelli also did a webinar slash infomercial with Bill DeWees, in which DeWees solidified his reputation as Mr. Nice Guy. Some described the webinar as a “snooze fest”. Soon, the CEO of “Voices” will be on the Voice Over Cafe with Terry Daniel and company. I wonder: When will Ciccarelli be hosting Saturday Night Live?

But seriously, here’s the real question:

My blog post Voices.com: Unethical and Greedy? was published on September 3rd. Two months later Ciccarelli finally decides to tell us his side of the story. David, what were you waiting for? A Voice Arts™ Award for best Pay-to-Play?

VOICE TALENT HAS HAD ENOUGH

My guess is that he had hoped the turmoil would simply subside like it has always done. But he was wrong. This time, the voice-over community reacted like a ferocious pit bull. It just wouldn’t let go.

More and more people came forward with Voices dot com horror stories, and asked questions about the Ciccarelli way of doing business. Even voice-seeking clients started complaining, and experienced voice talent began to leave the site in droves.

Newsflash: Those with unpaid Voices-profiles are now asking to be removed from the site. Ouch! Something’s clearly wrong when people don’t even want your free service anymore. One of those talents is Mike Cooper. He told Voices dot com:

 “I see jobs for good money being intercepted by staff, with large percentages being creamed off the top – often without the client’s knowledge – and siphoned into the pockets of a company which I believe has become overly greedy. There is little or no transparency, and I no longer feel I want to be a part of that model.”

Connie Terwilliger was one of the original contributors to the Voiceover Experts podcasts on “Voices” back in 2007. This is what she asked Voices dot com to do:

“Please remove my two Voiceover Experts Podcasts from your library. I do not wish that my name be associated with Voices.com until such time that you recognize that your current business practices are simply not serving the professional voiceover community, nor helping the production community understand the value of the voiceover talent.

Frankly, you are acting as an “agent” and a casting director. Then you should act like one. Go ahead and charge a commission (the escrow fee) and even charge to coordinate large jobs (as long as you don’t undercut the rate to the talent in order to do so). 

However, since you are functioning as an agent, you should NOT be charging the talent a fee to be on the site.”

Connie’s podcasts have yet to be removed.

MONEY TALKS

Ciccarelli finally broke his silence, but don’t think for one minute that his recent interviews and articles were meant for you. The CEO of “Voices” needed to please two types of people: bankers and politicians.

Voices.com borrowed money, and received grants from the Canadian government to grow the business into a multinational. Lenders had to be reassured that everything was A-OK in London, Ontario. Politicians needed to know that their grant money was in the hands of a capable company, especially after the political landscape changed dramatically in October.

Susan Truppe, the conservative Canadian MP for London North Centre who handed “Voices” $900,000 in 2014, was badly beaten by a liberal candidate in the last election. Her successor, political scientist Peter Fragiskatos, might not be so generous. He actually wants small businesses to use crowdfunding to raise money and grow. Unfortunately, the crowd that is willing to fund “Voices” through membership fees seems to be shrinking day by day.

LOST LOVE

In anticipation of Ciccarelli’s appearances, colleagues have asked what I make of his campaign. To tell you the truth: it leaves me cold. My feelings for “Voices” are the same as my feelings for an ex-girlfriend. We had a good time for a while, but it’s over. We split up for a reason, and it’s pointless to try and change the other person when the relationship is dead. It’s hard enough when you’re together. 

Relationships that work have this in common: they are based on trust, and they meet the needs of both partners. Right now, it’s your turn to decide the following:

  1. Do I (still) trust Voices dot com, and
  2. Could a business relationship be mutually beneficial? 

I cannot answer those questions for you. What I can do, is give you information and opinion. In the past five years I have often blogged about Voices dot com, and I have written about them in my book. I think I’ve given “Voices” enough of my time, and part of me believes I could have spent that time in a more productive way. However, I must admit that it is thoroughly gratifying to see that more and more people are getting sick and tired of being milked by a greedy company that made double and triple dipping the new norm in online casting.

AMPLE AMBITION

A while ago, the website Success Harbor asked David Ciccarelli: “Where do you see “Voices” in the next 5 years, what is your ultimate goal?” This is part of his reply: 

“It comes down to this: we really do want to dominate the industry. Meaning, be that kind of dominant player for good but the one that everyone thinks voice-overs is synonymous with, like oh yeah, I go to voices.com for that. So that means speaking to every potential customer that’s out there, having every single voice talent that practices the art and craft of voice acting, they should be on the platform as well. It’s having that omnipresence is really what we’re aiming for.”

Right now, Ciccarelli is finding out that not everyone in the industry wants to help him achieve world domination.

In a time of increased global competition, the strength of a service is determined by the quality of what’s being offered. Voices dot com has to remember that the company is only as strong and valuable as the talent it has on tap. Without acrobats, contortionists, lion tamers, and clowns, a circus is just a tent. 

Ciccarelli will need to do a lot of juggling to convince people to pay in order to play under his roof. 

He’s certainly not going to charm his way back into my business. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

PPS Thanks to the inimitable Terry Daniel for the title suggestion.


Casting Pearls Before Swine

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 27 Comments

handing out adviceTo an ignorant outsider, the voice-over community I belong to may seem cutthroat.

Yet, if there’s one thing that makes it stand out among other freelance groups it is this:

Voice-overs love to share.

People with no or very little experience can expect a warm welcome, and a helping hand when they join an online VO-community.

Do you need advice on a microphone? You’ve got it!

Are you wondering how to soundproof your booth? We’ve got you covered!

I could easily spend all day answering questions from people I don’t know on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. However, those days are pretty much over. Why?

Because it is a thankless task that eats up time, and doesn’t build my business.

Perhaps I better explain myself.

LURING LURKERS

Here’s what I know about internet culture. Most online communities consist of lurkers. You know, the people who observe, and very rarely participate. These folks like to take, but never give. They want to play the game, but they never show their cards. Have they earned the right to pick my brain? I think not.

It also consists of lazy people who never learn; people who want you to do their homework. Sorry, but I’m not going to enable an attitude of entitlement. 

Can you imagine a teacher spoon-feeding her kids by giving them all the answers on a silver platter? I thought the purpose of education was to make children resourceful and independent. 

I’ve also noticed another trend: many members of online voice-over communities are simply not serious. How do I know? Just look at the basic questions people ask. If they had half a brain and a genuine interest in the subject matter, they would have figured it out for themselves. But no, they apparently need a pro to hold their hand. Poor babies!

“But Paul,” some people respond… “Don’t be so harsh. You were once a newbie. You had to start somewhere, didn’t you?”

Of course I did, but here’s the thing. When I embarked upon a career in radio, I had more questions than answers. I made it my mission to find as many answers on my own, before asking for help. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of a pro. I wanted them to know that I had done my homework.

So VO-newbies, if you want to earn my respect, do your research!

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

Thinking back to my start in radio, here’s what comes to mind: I was serious, I was committed, and I was willing to make an investment.

You see, that’s another thing that’s missing these days. This is the age of the free ride. Why pay for a song if you can download it at no cost? Why pay for Netflix if you can watch a pirated movie online? Why pay for expert advice if the experts are giving it away?

If we don’t value what we have to offer, we can’t expect others to find it valuable either. Those who are willing to make an investment, are usually invested in the process. Those who are not, have other priorities. 

“But Paul,” some people commented, “wouldn’t it be good for your business if people got to know you as someone who knows his stuff? You might even get some coaching clients out of it!”

Let me tell you something. In all the years that I have chimed in on Facebook or Google+, no one ever contacted me for coaching because they liked my answer to their question. Nine out of ten times I didn’t even receive a “thank you,” or other sign of acknowledgement. That’s why I call it a thankless task. People simply get what they need, and move on.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Some did ask about coaching, but as soon as I told them my rate ($125 per session), they said they were just “exploring options.” It is the epitome of not committing. 

Now, there’s another reason why I won’t be handing out free advice to every Tom, Dick, or Harry. I’ll explain by quoting a question I recently received from Mandy:

Paul, I read your article about your most embarrassing moment in your voice over career. You said that you used to use voices.com, but were only able to book a handful of jobs before leaving the site. I’m a voice actor as well and have been primarily using voices.com to find work. Now you said that you don’t really like the pay to play model and prefer to get work elsewhere. So my question is: what do you recommend for someone like me who is still new to voice acting? Are pay to play sites the only way for me to go being so new? I don’t have a demo or an agent so I don’t have people contacting me about jobs either. What options do I have? I haven’t really gotten much success with voices.com either, and voice acting is not my main source of income. I would very much like to learn and get better at voice acting too. Any knowledge or insight you can share would be great, thank you.

HERE’S MY ANSWER

Hello Mandy:

First off: thank you so much for reading my blog. I really appreciate that!

There are many ways in which I could respond to your comments and questions, but I have to say this first:

Without demos, industry contacts, experience, or an online presence, it’s virtually impossible to build a voice-over career, especially on the side, and especially in 2016. 

I haven’t heard your work, so I can’t even tell whether or not you’re uniquely talented. This makes it really hard to give you advice. 

Some of my coaching colleagues might even question whether or not you’re serious about voice acting. They’re definitively not going to give you any recommendations on a silver platter. Their time and expertise are worth something.

I will say this, though.

The only way to get better in this field, is by taking trainings, and/or by working with a coach. Very much like driving a car, you can’t pick voice acting up from a book. You can’t teach it to yourself either, because you’re limited by your lack of knowledge. 

Overall I’d say that it is unwise to put yourself out there when you aren’t ready. No one opens a restaurant without knowing how to cook, right? 

The voice-over world has too many home cooks who all believe they’re the next best thing since sliced bread, and they don’t stand a chance against professional chefs. 

So, please don’t put the cart before the horse and expect to get work. Put in your time, make the necessary investments, learn the ropes, and build a solid home studio. Then we can talk about attracting clients.

Does that make sense?

This probably wasn’t what Mandy expected to hear, because she never responded. 

When it comes to a VO-career, there are too many people with their heads in the iCloud, and all of them believe they could be the next Don LaFontaine. Someone’s got to tell them that that’s never going to happen. Otherwise they’ll fall for all the propaganda from demo mills, unscrupulous VO-coaches, and greedy online casting sites.

UNDERSTAND FIRST

I do want to point out one more thing I tried to convey in my answer to Mandy: it’s rather pretentious to give advice to people you know very little about. You wouldn’t want a doctor to write you a prescription without having fully examined you, right? Yet, with the best of intentions, colleagues dish out advice left and right without knowing whom they are talking to. Stephen Covey was correct when he coined the phrase:

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

I see a lot of people trying to be understood, without really understanding what the issue is. Do you know what I mean?

One last thing.

If all of the above is true, -and I believe it is… why am I still blogging? Isn’t that handing out unsolicited advice to people I don’t even know?

I suppose it is, but you know what? I pick the topics. I usually ask the questions, and I come up with answers. And most of the time, I feel very much appreciated.

Before I started blogging, very few people had even heard of this Flying Dutchman and his voice-over business. Now I am one of the go-to people when companies ask for someone with a European accent. Clients come to me when they need a native Dutch speaker. In other words: this blog has helped me build my business.

If people seek me out for my expertise, they have to come to my site, and not to someone else’s online platform. The amount of traffic this blog generates is worth more than any online ad campaign could give me. And the many friends I have made along the way… that’s simply priceless!

The way I see it, everybody wins, and that is why I will keep on sharing on my turf and on my terms. 

And yes: you’re welcome!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

photo credit: Pondering Bob’s advice via photopin (license)


A Quick Course In Blogging & How To Get Thousands Of Subscribers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 21 Comments

Paul Strikwerda = OutspokenThis week it finally happened.

My blog now has 35,000+ official subscribers!

To celebrate this milestone, I am going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about my blog, and about blogging.

Are you ready? Here we go!

Should every (freelance) business have a blog? 

That’s a tough one to answer. I can certainly tell you why I blog, and then you should decide for yourself if blogging could be beneficial to your business.

Here’s the thing.

You could own the best store in town, but if nobody knows who you are and where to find you, you’re not going to attract any customers. So, you need to do something to get people in the door. Once your customers have found you, you have to gain their trust. Nobody likes to do business with people they don’t trust. 

My blog does a number of things. It brings thousands of people to my website every month. That’s a big deal. It means that out of all the voice-overs sites they could have gone to, they go to Nethervoice.com, and they stay there for a while. 

Why do they do that? Because they find something of value that makes them come back again and again. That “something” happens to be my blog. And when they read that blog, they get to know me, and they learn about my take on the business I’m in. It’s a way for me to position myself in the voice-over market place as someone who knows a thing or two about my line of work. This builds trust.

I call this approach “under the radar marketing.” What do I mean by that? Well, I’m not putting up ads that say: 

“Better call Paul.

He’s the best!

If you need an international voice, Paul is your man!” 

People have become allergic to this kind of in your face, self-congratulatory marketing.

Instead, I write reviews, I give advice, and I tell stories. Most people hate ads, but they love a good story!

Does this approach work for everybody? Absolutely not. I happen to love writing. I’ve been doing it for most of my life. If you don’t like to write, then a blog is not for you. Perhaps you should do a weekly podcast. Others love making videos, or they put out a picture diary. 

The important thing is to do something that excites you, and that fits you. People can sense whether or not your heart is in it.

How do you become a successful blogger?

Before I answer that question, I’d have to answer another question. How do you define success? That’s not only important for blogging, but for any area in your life. Success is one of those tricky words. We think we know what we’re talking about, but we all have our own definition.

Personally, I like Deepak Chopra’s definition:

“Success is the continued expansion of happiness, and the progressive realization of worthy goals”

The next questions would then be: What makes you happy, and what are worthy goals? 

Money? Fame? Influence?

For some bloggers, success means having two hundred followers. Others want two hundred thousand. Some bloggers look at how much money their blog is making them. My blog makes me happy because it enables me to connect with people from all over the world. Clients and colleagues. And when they tell me: “What you’ve written really helped me today,” that is a success. That makes me happy. 

When people write to me and say: “I don’t agree with you, but you really made look at some things in a different way,” that too is a success. 

Now, if I would tell you that numbers don’t matter, I would be lying. I am proud that I now have over thirty-five thousand subscribers. For some bloggers that’s nothing, but I look at it in the context of our small voice-over community. 

If you believe that you have something that’s worthwhile sharing, you want to share it with as many people as possible. So, 35K is a nice start!

Now, back to the question. How do you become a successful blogger?

Three words: Content, Personality, and Promotion.

We all lead very busy lives. Every week I ask people to take a few minutes out of their day, and spend those minutes with me. They will only do that if they feel I have something to offer that is valuable and relevant.

My blog is a free service. It’s not a sales pitch, and I think my readers get that, and appreciate that. But there’s something else that I think makes it work. 

If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view.

Why do people watch the Daily Show with John Stewart? It’s not because he rehashes dry facts from the paper. It’s because he’s John Stewart.

Another reason why my blog has become a success is because I know a little bit about spreading my message. And thankfully, my readers are my best promoters. Without them, I would make as much noise as one hand clapping in a soundproof room. 

What should a blogger write about? 

If you don’t mind, I have to answer that question with a few more questions.

1. Who is your audience?

2. What are they interested in? What are they hungry for?

3. What do you have to offer that distinguishes you from other bloggers?

One of the things I like to do is to write about topics that are timely, and make them relatively timeless. News is outdated the moment it is published. Analysis lasts much longer.

If you want to give your content more staying power, I suggest you use specific examples to make a general point. For example…

Recently, I wrote about World Voice Day, an international event held every year on April 16th. I used it as an opportunity to write about vocal health. In the past I have written about the Voice Arts Awards. I used that story to talk about the pros and cons of competitions. I wrote about Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson who was fired after physically and verbally abusing a producer. I used his story to identify seven traits of successful colleagues, and the ways they treat the people they work with.

What things should you avoid as a blogger, and what are things you should absolutely do?

Here are a couple of dos and don’ts. Let’s start with a few don’ts.

1. Do not oversell yourself. People love to buy but they hate being sold. A blog is about offering value for free, and about creating a connection. Once people start trusting you, they will start trusting your product, especially if you happen to be your product.

If you wish to increase sales, don’t make it about selling.

2. If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. Show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. Focus on your readers.

Here are a few do’s:

3. Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all. The most compelling way to pack information is to make it fun and light. Make your blog conversational, as if you’re talking to one reader who is sitting across the table from you. Use stories to make a point. 

4. Always do your research. Make it easy for your readers to find and check your sources. If you want people to look at you as a reliable source of information, don’t spread rumors or make claims you cannot back up. It may take you years to get a decent following. It takes one stupid gaffe to lose your tribe.

Give your readers an opportunity to go one level deeper by giving them links to sources and resources. It will enhance your credibility.

5. Care about your readers, but don’t care about their opinions. If you feel like stirring the pot, then do it. Push that envelope. If you want to bring about change, you have to start pissing people off. Make a few folks uncomfortable. But be prepared to live with the consequences. 

I recently wrote a blog post about podcasting that didn’t go over so well with the podcasting community. People started calling me all kinds of nasty names, and I had to change my comments policy because of it.

A few weeks ago I rubbed a few readers the wrong way by giving them five reasons why they should never become a voice-over. With over 10 thousand views, it became the most widely read story I ever wrote. 

How much time does blogging take? 

Some stories come easier than others. On average I’d say I spend at least one day every week on my blog, but usually more. This includes prep time, writing, rewriting, and publishing. It also includes how long it takes me to respond to your comments, tweets, Facebook & LinkedIn messages, and emails. 

I also spend a considerable amount of time repurposing content. I turn some of my blog posts into booklets, and I turn quotes from my blog into pictures that I repost on social media. My book “Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for Voice-Overs and other Solopreneurs” is largely based on stories I wrote for this blog.

Can blogging really increase business? 

Absolutely, and this brings me back to the beginning. People don’t do business with someone they don’t know and can’t find. Years ago I was at a voice-over conference, and I did a presentation. At the beginning I asked people how they had heard about me. No one said:

“Because you’re on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+.”

Most of them said: “We know you because we read your blog every week.”

Now, you might say: “These people are your colleagues. Not your clients.” Well, I happen to get a lot of business through referrals from colleagues. But my blog is also read by agents, on-camera actors, producers, audio engineers, and other freelancers. 

What many people don’t realize is that I’m also a voice-over coach. Most of my students come to me because they’ve read my blog and/or my book.

So, in all modesty I can say that my blog did put me on the map. People visit my website because of it. They don’t go to a voice casting site or my Facebook page to find me. They come directly to me, and I can deal with them on my turf, and on my terms. To me, that’s huge!

How did your blog get over 35,000 subscribers?

Let me tell you: it didn’t happen overnight. It is the result of a lot of calculated small steps, and the support of my readers.

If you want to have that kind of success, the bigger question really is: Why would people come to your website? Why would they want to spend some of their limited time with you, week in, week out?

Here’s the answer:

You have to offer them something of value that is relevant to what they’re doing and thinking, and you have to present your content in a way that’s easy on the eyes. 

People also read blogs to find out where someone stands. My most opinionated pieces are the usually biggest hits. People like controversy, and a good rant. As a blogger I have made many friends, and a few enemies. 

In summary: content, relevance, value, personality, and a pleasant format is what brings people to a blog.

But there’s even more to it.

If I were to write for the VO-community only, I would never have gotten where I am today. If you wish to be successful, you have to widen your reach. How do you do that? Start by asking yourself:

What greater community am I a part of?

This is what I came up with:

– Actors & artists

– The self-employed

– The underemployed

– Freelancers

– Solopreneurs

– Small business owners

As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with:

– Linguists & translators

– Sound engineers

– Bloggers

– Writers

– e-Learning specialists

– Advertisers & Social Media specialists

– People in the entertainment industry

Looking at this list, I had an idea: What if I were to write a blog that would be of interest to all of these groups? That way, I could use the angle of the voice-over industry as an example of a much greater picture. This really brings us back to one of my most important content rules:

If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view.

Take fellow-freelancers for instance. They run into the same problems as I do as a voice-over professional:

• How do you put a price on your product?

• How do you handle challenging clients?

• How do you advertise your services?

• How do you overcome fear of failure?

• Where do you find new business?

Those are some of the things I write about every week.

Using Technology

Last but not least, you have to use technology to spread the word. My publishing platform is WordPress, and I let some of the WordPress plugins do part of the work for me.

A few tips: 

1. I optimize my blog for search engines, using the All in One SEO Pack plugin. This allows me to enter a title, a short description of the topic, and keywords to the blog. 

2. On the day my blog is posted to my website, I add it to relevant Facebook groups, such as Voice-Over Pros. I try not to post the blog to all groups at once.

3. I add it to relevant LinkedIn groups, to Google+, my Tumblr site. I add it to StumbleUpon and Reddit. Some of that is automated via the JetPack plugin. I usually write special Twitter links with shortened url’s. 

4. I make it easy for people to subscribe to my blog. Some bloggers offer an incentive to get people to subscribe. It’s usually a free book or link to a video. I don’t do that, but I’ve heard it works well. 

5. I encourage people to add my blog to Feedly, a content curator.

6. People can search for blog content by typing in keywords, or by category. 

7. I have a list of the most popular posts, and a list of the most recent posts.

8. I offer them related posts. That way they stay on my site a bit longer. For this I use the Related Posts by Zemanta plugin.

9. I encourage my readers to share my stories with friends and colleagues, and people do.

10. I reward interaction. I do my best to thank every commentator and people who share my content. I believe in the power of PR: positive reinforcement. First-time commentators get an automated thank you note, via the Thank Me Later plugin.

All these small steps combined create a nice wave of publicity, and it’s such a joy to ride that wave with you!

Thank you so much for your comments, and for your continued support.

It means more to me than I’ll ever be able to put into words.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please retweet.


Causing A Ruckus. Again.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion 45 Comments

Sweet watchdog.Oh dear, I think I stepped on some very sensitive toes, last week.

And I’m not at all sorry.

If you weren’t part of the now 8,500 strong group that has read last week’s story, click here to catch up on what you missed. It will take you to:

5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over.

Some of the folks who read it, kindly called me:

“Disheartening and rude.”

“Snarky, mean-spirited, and quite arrogant.”

“Negative, pompous and absolute.”

Another commentator wrote:

“Seems like a severe case of sour grapes and he/she really needs to seek out a career change…”

People know me so well, don’t they? They haven’t got the faintest idea whether I’m a man or a woman, but they sure know my deepest motivations, and darkest desires.

Listen up people. There are psychics among us, and they know exactly what drives us!

If you’ve read all the comments, you know there were other opinions:

“A little reality check is always a good thing. And, as Paul pointed out at the end, if you’re a fool and passionate about it, then you’ll love every lonely, frustrating, fabulous minute of it!”

“As one of the doe-eyed hopefuls making these same mistakes and assumptions, I respect his perspective.”

“Knowing these truths and being aware of the harsh realities of the business is what helped me survive and get work.”

IT COULD BE WORSE

Should you belong to the group that believes I was impudent and impertinent, you must read a blog post entitled:

Five Reasons You Won’t Make It As A Writer,” by John Hartness.

Here’s how it starts:

“I’ve decided to just embrace my role as the Simon Cowell of the writing world. I’m honestly tired of being nice and supportive to everyone who comes up to me with a half-baked idea or worse, a half-baked product, and asks what I think. Because they don’t want to know what I think. They want to hear how awesome they are. And most of the time they aren’t awesome. Most of the time I’d be better off trimming my toenails than reading their godawful attempts at a book or story, because at least that can get exciting if I trim a little too closely. So here goes – unexpurgated Hartness on why you’re not going to make it as a writer.”

And that’s only the beginning…

If, after reading that tirade you still believe I’m the rudest man in the voice-over universe, your skin is way too thin. That’s a serious problem, because -just as the life of a writer- the life of an average voice talent revolves around rejection. And if you’re not rejected enough, you’re not auditioning enough.

Now, is this me being negative and bitter again?

Hell no!

I’m not saying anything new. I’m merely stating a fact, and if you can’t handle that, you are being bitter. Not me.

RULES AND EXCEPTIONS

Here’s what most of my critics pointed out (and I paraphrase here):

While there is some truth to Paul’s five points, there are exceptions to his rules. Quite a few people are making a good living as a voice-over. Some are doing very useful work. It is possible to be social and productive as a VO.

To that I say: Big whoop!

I know a few actors who aren’t waiting tables in NYC or LA, but what does that prove?

Of course I’m generalizing. Anyone who has been in this industry for longer than a year recognizes that. But that doesn’t mean there’s no validity to my point of view. Here’s a quick recap:

– This world needs less talk, and more action.

– VO rates have been steadily eroding.

– Being a voice-over can be unhealthy, and lonely.

– Finding the work often takes more time than doing the work.

– It may take years before you make some serious money.

WHAT’S MY OBJECTIVE

Let’s be honest. Are these really the statements of some disenchanted, fearful soul, meant to scare newcomers off his lawn? Or am I simply restating a few arguments countless colleagues have made for many, many years?

If you have a problem with these conclusions, why shoot the messenger? Why not write to that online casting site you paid good money to, and ask them to raise the minimum rate, and to do some decent quality control? You’re an esteemed member. Shouldn’t you have a say in these matters?

And to commentator Scott Spaulding I’d like to say this:

You claim that there is money in voice-overs, and that’s fine. Your profile on Elance/Odesk tells me that your minimum hourly rate is $38. You voiced an animated infographic for $82! And you’re telling me that you’re “not working for beer money?”

Are you serious?

You wrote:

“(…) just because you work as a voice talent, doesn’t mean you don’t have any interaction with anyone. You can still pick up the phone and call a client directly to try to build a relationship that way. As well as cold-calling potential clients and try to build a report with someone other than through email.”

Yeah, let’s cold call a client to break the social isolation, and build a relationship. I’m sure that’ll go over really well. We all know how much people love to get a cold call. I haven’t had one in a while, and I really miss it.

WHO’S HYPOCRITICAL

I do have to commend you for your honesty, Scott. You said:

“I did find your comment about the voice conference speakers a little bit hypocritical though. You make a snarky remark about the VoiceVIP’s talking about themselves and plugging their own books at these conferences… when you’re doing the same thing on this blog! You have a link to your book on this page that says “Buy the book!” They’re using the conferences to help advertise and sell their book and you use this blog to help advertise and sell your book. You even plugged your book in one of your replies to someone who posted a comment.”

Are you saying that I shouldn’t promote my own work on my own website? What school of business did you go to? You’re on my turf, and the number one goal of this site is to generate an income. How is that hypocritical? You have samples of your work on your website, don’t you? 

There’a big difference between landing on my site, and going to a VO conference. The 5,000+ people who visit my site every month pay zero dollars. What do they get for that? Over 120 blog posts that many visitors find informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Unlike some VO-conferences, I’m not asking people to pay a hefty fee for my privilege to plug my products.

BEING PRODUCTIVE

Scott, I totally disagree with you on your definition of “productive.” You said:

“Whatever you’re doing that is helping build your VO business IS being productive. Whether it’s looking up places to contact, working on a new demo, emailing potential clients, looking up new marketing ideas… it’s all part of working towards your goal of getting business!”

Being busy does not equal being productive. 

In any business, input leads to output. Input can be anything used to produce a product or a service (such as writing newsletters and emails, producing demos, making calls). Productivity is measured by the result of those actions. It’s the output that matters.

When you’re delivering services at a more rapid rate than before, you’re being more productive. Not when you’re making more calls, or when you’re doing market research.

MY MOTIVATION

As an envelope-pushing, pot-stirring blogger I accept the fact that people will criticize and ridicule me. Different opinions and dialogue are welcome, as long as we can have a civilized discussion. 

I also realize that not everyone gets my tongue-in-cheek style. People tend to take the written word more literally, and snarcasm is not for everyone.

I never ask my readers to agree with anything I’m suggesting, but here’s the thing. I don’t provoke for the sake of provocation. The aim of last week’s piece was to provide a counterweight to all the propaganda from companies that are still trying to sell the same old story to a new, naive audience. If anything, I had expected a firm response from those companies. Instead, some colleagues accused me of dissuading newbies to join my club.

“If you don’t have anything positive to say, then perhaps you shouldn’t say it,” is their advice.

Sorry, but that’s not how I was raised.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I do more than complain and campaign. And when I spot things in my industry that seem unfair or downright wrong, I speak up. I don’t care if that makes a few people uncomfortable. As long as things are comfortable, nothing will change.

So, allow me to be that self-appointed watchdog. I may step on a few toes here and there, but my bark is worse than my bite.

You see… I told you so:

This industry is going to the dogs!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet. 

photo credit: Miss Olive via photopin (license)


The Window To The Soul

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media 6 Comments

Young mother & babyThe person who coined the phrase:

“Eyes are the window to the soul”

was wrong.

If anything can offer us a unique insight into someone’s soul, it is the human voice. The voice tells us something about someone’s mood, someone’s mind, and someone’s history.

Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes it cries out to you.

The voice is an example of how mind and body are clearly connected. Our tone and texture changes when we’re in love, when we’re angry, when we’re feeling insecure, and when we’re sick.

The way someone speaks can tell us where he or she is from, how (and where) someone was educated, and it reveals something about someone’s (desired) social status.

By listening to someone’s voice, experts can diagnose certain health problems. A croaky voice may indicate acid reflux. A head cold voice can point to chronic sinusitis. A hoarse voice could be a sign of laryngeal cancer.

But there’s more.

We can change the meaning of words, simply by changing our tonality.  When our body language, the words we speak, and our tone of voice don’t match, we won’t be taken seriously. 

People can hear we’re not sincere. In fact, sincerity is so hard to hard fake that only pros can pull it off.

EMOTIONAL IMPACT

You and I have been touched by certain voices. For better, or for worse. Can you think of a few?

As kids, we’ve all experienced that when our mom or dad called us with that special tone of voice, we knew we were in trouble.

Certain teachers had the uncanny ability to terrify us, because of what they said, and how they said it. So much so, that years later, we can still recall their voices, and get an instantaneous physical reaction.

Someone’s voice can also induce a very positive mood.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I could never fall in love with someone who has a horrible voice. When our beloved whispers our name in that very special way, our heart melts, and we’re almost hypnotized. 

When a charismatic public speaker rallies the troops, we feel energized and inspired.

That first word from a child we brought into the world, is something we’ll always remember.

Our sensitivity to tonality comes from the time we were infants, when we learned to attribute feelings to certain words through the way they were spoken. 

UNIQUE OR UNIVERSAL

Now, there’s one thing I’ve always wondered. With so many cultures, languages, and dialects in the world, are certain vocal inflections universal, or limited to one geographic area? More importantly, do they mean the same thing?

Take the tonality of love, for instance. Is that something we have in common with every person on this planet? Does “angry” sound the same, wherever we go?

Yuval Mor and Yoram Levanon spent eighteen years researching more than sixty-thousand test subjects speaking twenty-six different languages. What they found was surprising: language and culture make little difference in what they call “emotion analysis.”

Emotional Analytics is a new scientific field that focuses on identifying and analyzing the full spectrum of human emotions and personality. Yuval and Yoram’s company Beyond Verbal, has developed a way to decode vocal intonations into their underlying emotions in real-time.

It’s all based on the notion that what we say is not as important as how we say it.

THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT

In 2013, Beyond Verbal launched a free app called Moodies to extract, decode, and interpret human emotions from voice samples that are as short as twenty seconds. The app claims to give information on the speaker’s mood, his or her attitude, and on someone’s personality.

Here’s how it works.

The software examines how we speak, and listens for specific patterns. It analyzes things like pitch, tempo, pauses, and the volume of the voice. It then compares these patterns to a database of research. The ongoing analysis on the screen, is presented in clusters as the subject speaks. 

To see this in action, here’s a short clip from an interview with whistleblower Edward Snowdon. Be sure to select HD in the YouTube settings before you start watching.

Beyond Verbal has an interesting YouTube channel with voice analysis of people like Steve Jobs, Jeb Bush, and Winston Churchill. 

It’s important to note that analyzing emotions is very different from detecting lies. That is something the software cannot do.

Currently, the program can recognize about four hundred different emotions. The makers say it’s about eighty percent accurate.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

If Beyond Verbal’s method is correct, we now have a way to find out what people really feel, in spite of what they’re saying. That information could be useful in at least three areas:

1. Person to person interaction.

Beyond Verbal software is already used in call centers. It helps market researchers to find out how people genuinely feel about products, promotions, and… politicians. Researchers can get past the socially acceptable answers, and go with the emotional response.

Voice analysis is also used in job interviews and sales meetings. It can answer questions like: “Is the client truly receptive to our offer, or merely being polite? Is this applicant really confident, or is he putting on a show?”

It turns out that it’s easier to fool people than to mislead computers. 

2. Allowing machines to understand us better, and improve interaction.

At the moment, virtual assistants such as Siri and S Voice base their response on what we say, and not on how we say it. If they could read our mood, this could influence their answers. Beyond Verbal has already made their platform available to other developers to make the devices of the future more intuitive.

Let’s say we’d use voice control for a service like Netflix. Based on our intonation, Netflix could recommend movies that would fit the mood we’re in. iTunes could work the same way. Some video game controllers already respond to subtle pressure and body heat. What if they could hear our fear, and change the progress of the game accordingly?

What if voice analysis software in a car could pick up if a driver was under the influence of alcohol, or suffering from road rage? Based on that, it could start making adjustments, and e.g. slow the vehicle down.

3. Self-improvement; getting a better understanding of ourselves.

This is particularly interesting to me as a professional communicator. Quite often, there’s a disconnect between how we think we come across, and how our communication is perceived. Let’s say you have a piece of copy that needs to be read in a friendly, but convincing way. How do you know you hit the nail on the head? Do you call your coach, a friend or a colleague?

Moodies app

click to enlarge

I took my iPhone, opened up the Moodies app, pressed the mic button, and started reading the script. After about fifteen seconds, I got my feedback in three layers (see picture on the left). The app keeps refreshing, so you can see if your adjustments have the desired effect.

When you’re done, and you concur with the analysis, you can click “Agree,” helping the software to be more accurate in the future.

I have to admit, before I tried Moodies I was very sceptical. I mean, can a machine really detect emotions? It’s hard enough for us, humans. But when I started using it, I was surprised by the results. Whether I was speaking Dutch (my first language), or English, it was quite accurate.

Moodies didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, like horoscopes do. It told me what I needed to hear. Based on that, I changed my tonality to match the specs of the script. Getting this type of instantaneous feedback was refreshing!

LOOKING AHEAD

Beyond Verbal was launched in May 2013, with a 3.8 million dollar investment, and has about twenty employees. 

Examiner.com named Moodies the best iPhone app of 2014, and Forbes listed it as one of the five innovative marketing solutions that can help a business grow.

This Tel Aviv-based company is definitively onto something, and it seems they’ve only scratched the surface. 

Even though I believe a computer can never penetrate the depths of the human soul, it can certainly open a window to our emotions.

Today, it seems that one of the best ways to unlock that window, actually speaks for itself.

Our voice.

Paul Strikwerda

Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Mother via photopin (license)


Poisonous Pens

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 33 Comments

Intimidation“When you step into a boxing ring, expect a few punches.”

That’s how I would paraphrase a well-known Dutch proverb.

I had to remind myself of that saying quite a few times last week, after publishing a critical blog post on podcasting.

Last time I checked, over 2,500 people read it, and many felt the urge to respond. Here’s what some of the fans had to say:

“I LIKED the article specifically because it addressed many of my pet peeves (long intros, crappy audio, self-aggrandizing hosts).”

“Your story basically said: “Try harder, and don’t put out sh*t.” To which I wholeheartedly agree.”

“This article is SPOT ON. And the industry is suffering because most podcasters are not paying attention to opinions like the one expressed there.”

“I’m going to print this out and remind myself to read it once a week for a month. FANTASTIC! I couldn’t agree more!”

But not everyone was as pleased with what I had written:

“The central point of this article is pretty ridiculous, and contains a very “get-off-my-lawn” sentiment that I believe is incredibly harmful to the industry of podcasting.”

“I think people need to step off of their high horses.”

“Wow this is insulting. Was this written by a radio dj threatened by podcasts?”

“The author, hilariously enough, made his article about himself by injecting snide attempts at humor.”

“New podcasters don’t deserve to be mocked or shunned.”

These reactions were pretty innocent, compared to what a few others shared with me after I had published my story.

UNLEASH THE BULLIES

Some angry, resentful readers told me to “stick it where the sun don’t shine.” They accused me of being an arrogant son of a gun, who should just go and “F” himself. One person suggested that I go back to the Netherlands, if I didn’t like what I heard over here (as if podcasts stop at the border…).

I’ve gotten some nasty comments before, even from my own voice-over community, but this podcasting piece seemed to have hit a raw nerve.

One thing separated the more graphic commentators from the rest. The vitriolic ones responded anonymously. Quite a few used an online identity like fartface5 or bigwillywonderman.

That’s not surprising.

Last year, assistant professor Arthur Santana of the University of Houston found that 53.3 percent of anonymous online comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. Only 28.7 percent of non-anonymous comments were found to be uncivil. 

This is often attributed to the online disinhibition effect. It’s the idea that people’s inhibitions drop when their identity is hidden, and their actions have no visible consequences.

INVISIBLE ENEMIES

In the days before the Internet, when someone spoke in public, the audience would be able to see who was talking, and they could hold that person accountable, right there and then. In the virtual world we live in that’s not always possible.

Some people believe that because they’re invisible online, they are safe, and they can say whatever they want. There are no authority figures to stop them. Free speech is free speech, right? Besides, they weren’t even serious. It was just a joke. The online world isn’t “real life.”

Well, tell that to the victims of cyberbullying, and their friends and families! I think they have a different story for you. Personally, I’ve never believed the children’s rhyme:

“Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.”

Words can have a profound effect on someone, in a very positive, and in a very negative way. I know people who haven’t spoken to one another for twenty years because of words that were exchanged. I know people who are comforted and uplifted by words of love and encouragement.

Words can heal, and words can hurt.

Words can be wonderful, and they can be used as weapons.

There are these sick individuals who find joy in publicly humiliating others in a most vicious and obscene way, using no more than 140 characters.

SCHILLING’S WAR

Perhaps you’ve read about retired baseball great Curt Schilling. After his daughter Gabby became the target of relentless Twitter trolls, he decided to go after them, and expose their identities. Within an hour and a half, Schilling found nine of them.

One troll was a student at Brookdale Community College in central New Jersey. He was suspended from school. Another turned out to be a vice president of the Theta Xi fraternity at Montclair State University in northern New Jersey. He lost his part-time job selling tickets for the Yankees.

The message was clear: Nobody should have to put up with trolls and other cyberbullies. There are serious consequences for this type of behavior. Just because we cherish and celebrate free speech in this country, doesn’t mean that anything goes. 

ZERO TOLERANCE

What was said to me after last week’s blog post wasn’t nearly as vulgar as what Gabby Schilling had to endure, but I was thoroughly disgusted. I am not going to expose the culprits, but I am going to do something else. 

From now on I will no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity.  

On this blog I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately.

This is my platform, and I will act as moderator.

I welcome a spirited, civil debate on this site, and if you would like to take part, I encourage you to create a Gravatar. A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. A Gravatar lets us know who you are.

Click here to create your personal Gravatar

One last thing.

Trolls intend to provoke, and they want to see which buttons they can push. They live for the fear they instill and for the outrage they create.

We have seen that their insults can lead to injury and worse if we let them get to us.

Luckily, we are not like Pavlov’s dogs, and we don’t have to fall for their dirty games. 

Like Schilling, I have zero tolerance for trolls.

As far as I’m concerned, they can take their poisonous pens, and stick ’em where the sun don’t shine!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Dare to share if you care!

photo credit: Determination via photopin (license)


My Dutch Digital Detox

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 13 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 12.04.38 AMIt is often said that the internet is a cold and superficial place.

I tend to agree. 

Even though we can connect with practically anyone, anywhere at any time, it doesn’t make us less lonely or more engaged.

If anything, the online universe is a distant world in which reality is observed instead of experienced. A world that I find increasingly trivial, and uninspiring.

It is a shallow hideout for the self-absorbed, the self-promotors, and for those dying to be distracted.

Do you want to see Jennifer Aniston test the incredible vibrating bra? Her video went viral, and has almost 17 million hits. 

Do you want to watch Teddy Bear the porcupine predict the winner of the Super Bowl? Be my guest!

And speaking of that Bowl, Kim Kardashian West’s T-Mobile commercial is already an internet sensation, well before the big game has started.

Some say that this is utterly insignificant, but I urge you to pay attention to what the masses are watching. It tells us something about people’s priorities: football and bouncing bosoms!

And I don’t even like football…

For many years, I have been downplaying the effect the world wide web has on my life, but it has become this huge black hole that doesn’t like to be ignored. I couldn’t do my job without it, but that doesn’t mean I like it. 

Even though I spent many years in a newsroom, I find it harder and harder to separate online fact from opinion, information from propaganda, and sincerity from sales. Part of that has to do with the sheer volume of slick and seductive online messages I am bombarded with on any given day. I cannot properly process it anymore. My brain goes in overload, and when that happens, it loses its critical focus.

Thankfully, I still control what I allow myself to be exposed to, and for how long. Nobody tells me how many hours a day I should spend on social media. No one forces me to watch silly videos on YouTube. I can still lead a happy, balanced life without the wonders of WiFi.

Or am I kidding myself? 

As you may know, I just spent eleven days abroad. The high-speed internet connection we thought we would have in our apartment, wasn’t there. So, every day we went to the nearest Hotspot to get access to the online world. Its epicenter turned out to be in the freezer section of a nearby supermarket.

Every morning, my wife and I sat down with our devices, surrounded by ice cream, pizzas, TV dinners, frozen vegetables, and frantic shoppers.

I’ll tell you one thing. Putting a Hotspot in one of the coldest places forces a person to use his time efficiently, and effectively. You should try it!

I surprised myself by how little effort it took to dump all the fluff, and get down to business. And once our online business was done, there was a whole day left to live life offline.

We walked. We talked. We connected with people in person.

We had wonderful dinners, instead of watching cooking shows.

We explored interesting sites, instead of websites.

We survived over a week without internet trolls trying to sell us stuff, and feeding us fluff.

Yes, at times being offline was mighty inconvenient, but boy did I love this digital detox! I could get so much done in very little time, and I didn’t have to stare at a screen all day long. Why did I only do this while I was out of the country?

Back home I began to limit all the electronic time suckers that used to drain the energy out of my days. I unsubscribed from automatic updates, boring groups, newsletters, and blogs I never had the time to read anyway.

I deleted half of my Facebook contacts, only to keep close friends, family members, and the people in and around the town I live in. For those interested in my voice-over work, there’s always the Nethervoice page.

And this is barely the beginning. 

Liberating myself from all the impersonal online crap and clutter feels phenomenal! As I said in my very first line: “the internet is a cold and superficial place.” If you’re hoping to find true companionship, collegiality, and connection, you better look elsewhere.

That’s obviously an overgeneralization, and life simply isn’t that simple. How do I know that?

Because of YOU!

Even though we never met in person, or we may know each other only professionally, you were there for me when I recently wrote about the death of my father.

Shortly after that, I received hundreds of messages from all over the world. Some of you even sent cards and flowers. Your comforting words gave me strength, and touched me and my family deeply. Your thoughtfulness, your prayers, and your support traveled with us to the Netherlands, right to my father’s funeral. 

When the moment came to deliver the eulogy, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I had imagined myself doing it, but this was different. This was the final farewell.

Right before it was my time to speak, I thought of all the things that you had written. This really moved me. As something lifted me out of my seat, I suddenly felt calm and determined. I walked towards the lectern, took a deep breath, and started to speak.

Thank you so much for caring!

Thank you for showing me that the medium we use to connect, is just a tool. Like any other tool, its use and impact depends on the integrity, the emotions, and intelligence (or lack thereof) of the people using it.

May we all use it wisely, creatively, sparingly, and caringly.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: solomonborxes via photopin cc