Journalism & Media

Spending a year with me

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 15 Comments

2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this: 

Your generosity.

Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!

When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.

Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career. 

As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.

When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.

SPREADING THE NEWS 

As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.

A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year. 

In collaboration with recordinghacks.com, I put the Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts microphone to the test; the amazingly affordable and brilliant CAD E100S mic, as well as a shock mount for the 21st century, the Rycote InVision™ system.

I presented seven reasons to hate home studios, and most recently, I had a chance to review Jonathan Tilley’s new eBook “Voice Over Garden.” 

THE NEW NETHERVOICE

Let’s remember that 2012 was also the year my website got a major facelift. It gave me a chance to write about why your website stinks, how analyzing web traffic can help you craft content, and how you can use social media to spread your message (as long as you don’t step into the filter bubble). 

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well. 

When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.

Over time you’ll notice that there are at least 10 things clients don’t care about, and that there are many things your clients won’t tell you that you absolutely need to know before you hit the record button. This year, I finally revealed my personal marketing strategy and the four keys to winning clients over.

Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.

Nethervoice studio

Nethervoice studio

STUDIO STORIES

On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments. 

First you got to see how I have outfitted my voice-over booth, followed by a review of the equipment I use to make my clients happy.

I also wrote about certain aspects of (voice) acting. In “Are You a Cliché” I dealt with the downside of doing impersonations. “Why you suck and what to do about it” is all about breathing and how to get rid of those nasty clicks and other mouth noises that can ruin a recording. “Are you playing by the rules” tells you what it takes to maintain a good relationship with your agent. 

MONEY MATTERS

In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.”

I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees. 

One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article. 

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF

Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.  

After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE 

All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change. 

It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.

It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment. 

I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you: 

I’m not done yet!

In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013. 

Do you think you can handle that? 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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Jonathan Tilley’s Voice Over Garden

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media 16 Comments

 

Sh*t happens. Accept it. One of life’s great lessons is how we can turn our sh*t into manure. Here’s a hint: it requires getting your hands dirty.

There are many metaphors for our existence on this planet.

Depending on your perspective, life’s a stage, a bowl of cherries or a box of chocolates. One of my favorite images is that of a garden.

Going through life, it’s up to us to treat the soil and select the seeds we plant. We must make sure that there’s plenty of sunlight, shade and water. With patience, persistence, some pruning and some weeding, we eventually reap what we have sown. Some of the fruits of our labor will be bitter. Others will be sweet. You get the idea.

International voice actor and coach Jonathan Tilley shares my love for all things botanical. He just self-published Voice Over Garden. How to create abundance as a global online voice actor.” Tilley divides his 217 page eBook (PDF-version) into four parts: “Basic Botany,” “Gardening Greenbacks,” “Advanced Abundance” and “Radical Revenue.”

Comparing a budding voice over talent to a gardener, Tilley teaches the reader how to stock the greenhouse, cultivate the soil, get saplings to bloom, how to create fabulous flower arrangements and sell them on the international market at a profit.

This is the first voice-over book that is not stuffed with pictures of people talking into microphones. Instead, it looks like a Burpee or Wildflower Farm catalogue and it reads like a popular, practical self-help book, with sentences such as:

“Phew! How ya feeling? That was a lot of research. Does your brain hurt a little?”

or

“Yet another list. Geez, are you for real? Yup, sure thing buttercup.”

Don’t let the language fool you! Tilley is the Mike McGrath of voiceovers, and he generously shares what he has learned over the course of many years in the business.

In addition to 26 chapters, $25 will also get you a 38-page workbook packed with breathing exercises, tongue-twisters, character creation worksheets, model cover letters and sheets to help you organize and optimize your finances. On top of that, the author included 25 sound files on breathing, warm-ups and vocal flexibility.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

American-born Tilley lives in Germany and has worked as a full-time VO artist since 2007. Unlike many voice talents, he did not start his career in radio. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College and a minor in Dance at Cornell University. After graduation he moved to New York City. Tilley describes what happened next:

“I broke out into the NYC dance scene performing in multiple award-winning dance companies and in the movie “Center Stage” filmed at the Lincoln Center. What an experience! In 1999 I was offered a 6 month contract to go to Germany with a production of “42nd Street”. Little did I know I was off to face an amazing adventure.

I lucked out and worked for 8 years straight in the German musical theatre scene in productions of “CATS”, “Dance of the Vampires”, another production of “42nd Street”, and “Mamma Mia!”. I also had the great opportunity to choreograph fashion and hair shows for L’Oreal, Wella, and Intercoiffure in Berlin, Rome, and Paris.”

 

After performing onstage for over 20 years, he transitioned into a voice-over career. It turned out to be a wise choice. Now he’s one of the top American voices German companies like Mercedes-Benz, Daimler and Porsche turn to for business presentations and commercials. Tilley’s secret to success is based on four pillars:

Patience, Commitment, Courage and Taking Action.

Despite its motivational style and optimistic tone, Voice Over Garden is not a “How to break into the VO business in two weeks” kind of book. Starting with the Disclaimer on page 2, Tilley levels with his audience and warns them about unrealistic expectations. He knows that seeds don’t turn into strong trees overnight, and writes:

“(…) let go of the notion that you can learn absolutely everything in a VO weekend workshop.”

and later…

“If you can’t be handed a page of text, get behind the mic and record it perfectly in 1 or 2 takes, you aren’t ready to contact people for work, especially agents. You first need training.”

Jonathan Tilley

COACHING TOOLKIT 

Voice Over Garden was put together as a training manual that was sent to Tilley’s students, chapter by chapter. It gave them something to read and to research between coaching sessions so that they would be better prepared for their next lesson. That explains why Tilley takes his time to cover the basics. As a fellow voice coach, I think that’s an excellent choice. A solid career requires a solid foundation.

Some of the more experienced voice talents will find that they are familiar with this material. Just bear in mind that reading Jonathan’s book is like learning how to dance. You start by taking simple steps. In this case it’s about learning how to breathe properly, enunciate clearly and work the microphone like a pro. Only then you’ll learn how to break down copy, create characters and get ready to record a demo.

By the way, not all the information offered is limited to the book itself. You’ll find links to helpful YouTube videos, recommended products, websites and blogs (yes, even this blog!). Each chapter ends with a few homework assignments, and that’s where the workbook comes in handy.

As expected, Tilley digs deeper and deeper with each chapter. He is at his best when he gets personal as he recalls the mistakes he made and what he learned from them (such as in “My First Demo, or How I Learned To Stop Picking My Nose”). Thanks to these stories, told with a disarming and refreshing sense of humor, it feels like Tilley is talking directly to the reader, very much like he does in his videos.

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

I’m especially pleased that Tilley devotes a lot of his book to the business of being in business. It’s the Achilles’ heel of many aspiring and experienced voice actors (and other freelancers). Many of them have no clue what their services are really worth, and they don’t know how much money needs to come in, just to break even.

Unfortunately, this is also the part of the book where Tilley starts to sound like a cheap pitchman. Listen to this:

“I have created a system for you to become ridiculously rich. I have used this system myself and have become ridiculously rich from it. I have coached this system of VO business to my students and they too have become ridiculously rich from it.”

Thankfully, he redeems himself soon after that by saying:

“I do not define my Worth by what is sitting in the bank. I define my Worth by my “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling”. That’s what makes me feel ridiculously rich and remember, that is priceless.”

Of course Tilley realizes that this “You Are Enough And Worthy Feeling” does not necessarily pay the bills. That’s why part of Voice Over Garden is a mini-course in money management. To my knowledge, no other voice-over book currently on the market, covers this area as well as Jonathan’s book.

He reveals how he has organized his business, what kind of bookkeeping software he uses, why he hired a personal assistant and is outsourcing work to a company in India. Tilley clearly demonstrates that it takes much more than a pleasant-sounding voice, a microphone and a laptop, to thrive as an international voice talent.

CRITIQUE

In spite of the fact that Voice Over Garden fills an important gap in the voice-over literature, it has its flaws. You may not agree with me, but the constant comparison between gardening and a voice-over career became a bit old after a while. At some point I wanted to shout:

“Okay, Jonathan… I get it. My soil needs fertilizer and I should water my plants. Can we move on, now?”

There are too many stock images of flower beds, gardening tools, green grass and mulch, and they take up way too much space. At times I felt the author was writing an illustrated VO for kids book, with lines like:

“You are about to do something remarkable and truly astounding. Yes, you are about to record your demo!”

And there were other times where I felt I was back in Kindergarten. Take this excerpt from an otherwise excellent chapter on script annotation:

 

I’m also not on board with Jonathan’s suggestions when it comes to gear. Rather than presenting us with a few options, he recommends using the Neumann TLM 103 microphone, Pro Tools and an MBox Mini. In the resource section, Tilley lists a YouTube video called “A candid word with Joan Baker and Neumann,” posted by Sennheiser. Neumann is owned by Sennheiser and Baker is a paid Neumann endorser. 

There are many other microphones (such as the affordable CAD E100S) that are very suitable for voice-over work. I agree with home studio expert Dan Lenard that Pro Tools is terrific if you’re running a recording studio, but it’s overkill for most voice-over talent. Personally, I prefer the sleek simplicity of Twisted Wave audio recording software.

I also disagree with Tilley when it comes to recording demos. He writes:

“Second biggest mistake in recording a demo: Never record or produce it yourself.”

Of course a professional demo should be of high quality. However, I have heard way too many overproduced demos that do not reflect the quality of what the voice talent can produce in his or her home studio. Most of my clients want to hear what I am able to deliver, and not what some audio engineer is able to fix or sweeten.

Then there’s the price of Voice Over Garden: 25 dollars. Truth be told: Tilley offers a lot of bang for your buck, but he is selling an eBook as a PDF and in EPUB and MOBI format for various eReaders. In that market, $25 is a lot of money for a virtual publication. He’s also publishing the book himself and not through a company like Smashwords that would allow him to tap into a distribution network such as Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBookstore. That’s a shame because I do believe it deserves to be on those virtual shelves.

BOTTOM LINE

Voice Over Garden is the one book I wish I would have had when I started in the business. It’s intelligently written, comprehensive, eye-opening and loaded with practical tips. The basic weakness of many publications in this category is that one cannot learn how to cook by reading a book (or a blog for that matter).

Reading Voice Over Garden won’t make you a successful international voice over star. No book can do that. It’s what you do with the information that makes all the difference. As a companion to one on one coaching sessions, it is quite brilliant. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Surviving Sandy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 33 Comments

It’s so easy not to be grateful for the things we take for granted.

Every night we go to bed, knowing that when we wake up, our world will still be the same because we are in charge. We own the place. We shape it the way we command it to be. Chaos has been tamed into perfect order. Life has become reassuringly predictable. 

Our fridges are filled with fresh food. Clean water will come out of our faucets. Outlets provide us with a constant flow of energy. On cold days, central heating keeps us warm, and the roof over our head protects us against the dark forces of nature.

Until nature decides to teach us a cruel lesson. 

Hurricane Sandy was such a lesson.

 

Why people have to learn their life lessons the hard way, I honestly don’t know. Perhaps it is because we often learn more from the things that don’t go as planned, as opposed to the things that go exactly as we imagined. Some things, however, we either can’t imagine, or we refuse to accept the possibility that they could happen…. to us.

What I have learned is this:  disasters do not discriminate. 

Flash floods and hurricane winds will wash away the residences of the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, the liberal and the conservative, the Democrat and the Republican.

Nature doesn’t care about our possessions, our monuments, our accomplishments, our basic needs or even our friends and family. Things that we believed to be certain for many years to come, are washed away in a matter of seconds. Cherished landmarks we built with pride, are crushed and erased in the middle of a stormy, moonlit night. 

People panic as they are overpowered by a raging enemy beyond their control. Tall trees that have stood strong for decades, are uprooted in the blink of an eye, and plant themselves on roof tops, vehicles, power lines and on the kind man in his sixties who went outside for two fatal minutes, just to let his dogs out. 

As you look at the images my neighborhood woke up to on Tuesday morning, Sandy was well on her way to torture new towns and destroy the dreams of other people. 

Today, I count myself very lucky. 

All I lost was power. I had to live without electricity for a couple of days. I could not go on-line. Emails were left unanswered. Facebook was forgotten. Two nights without TV. 

Meanwhile, the radio told me about beaches being washed away, neighborhoods being flooded, houses that were burning, people who were displaced and snowstorms making life practically impossible. 

This is my neighborhood, but my car is not under that tree you see. My home is undamaged. My life is not in shatters. My loved ones are safe, and hard-working men from out of State cleared the roads and repaired the power lines. 

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the friends and colleagues who have reached out to me, praying for my well-being. I am grateful for the first responders who risked their lives in the eye of the storm, the men and women who worked through the night coordinating the response to the crisis, and I am grateful for the many volunteers in the shelters.

I made new friends sitting on the floor at Barnes & Noble, as we recharged the batteries of our electronic devices, because the hurricane had left us powerless. We shared the stories of the storm and the stories of our life. 

In a way it is ironic.  When we have everything our heart desires, we think we don’t need one another. Adversity, on the other hand, brings people together and turns strangers into friends.

Soon, for most of us life will be back to normal.

For many though, normal will never be the same. 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Next time, the story of Patrice Devincentis. Her recording studio was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. She lost most of her gear and needs our help.

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Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 13 Comments

Phil Keoghan ©Paul Strikwerda

What would you do if you knew that your time on earth was about to come to an end?

Would you go back to work and pretend nothing happened?

Would you go on a cruise around the world?

Would you visit as many friends and family members as possible?

Or would you stay inside, close the blinds and curl up with a pint of your favorite ice cream?

Phil Keoghan, host of “The Amazing Race,” was 19 when he almost lost his life. On one of his first TV shoots under water, he got trapped in an upturned interior cabin of a sunken cruise liner and couldn’t find his way out. With very little air left in his tank, he panicked, realizing that his next breath could be his last.

After what seemed an eternity, the support crew on the surface sent a rescue diver to find him. In the nick of time, Phil was pulled to the surface and he survived. The next day, he went back to repeat the dive that nearly killed him.

That was not all.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Why I Spy On You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 17 Comments

Anyone can write a blog.

Some people are very good at it.

Others can’t even come up with an interesting tweet.

Does it matter?

If you’re on a podium and there’s no audience, what’s the point?

I count my lucky stars because I have an audience and it has grown ever since I started blogging. It’s not entirely due to luck though, because I do my very best to make your visit as enjoyable and memorable as possible. 

Before I tell you about the visible and often invisible ways in which I do that, I’d like to share four goals with you that are always at the back of my mind when I blog:

1. write compelling content
2. engage my readers
3. increase my reach and readership
4. become rich and famous

As you can see, one thing leads to the other. Quality content stimulates readers to like, repost, retweet and comment. This increases my reach and grows my readership. And if I play my cards right, the world will fall in love with me and make me a wealthy man.

Yeah. Right.

Seriously, in order to accomplish all these goals there’s one thing I need to do:

I have to stop thinking about myself.

There’s only one person that really matters.

Yes, it’s YOU!

What  I want to write about is not that important. It matters what you want to read. Even though I’m not a psychic, I have a pretty good idea what you are interested in. Just look at the list of Popular Posts in the upper right-hand corner. Not only does it provide some social proof; we can learn something from this list. 

WHAT’S POPULAR 

Based on the headlines, only 4 out of 10 articles have to do with my profession: providing voice-overs with a European sound. I often use a voice actor’s lens as a springboard to write about things that concern all kinds of freelancers. My list of popular posts proves that this is a good way to increase my reach beyond the small voice-over community.

There’s something else I monitor closely on my blog, and that’s the level of engagement. Some posts get more comments, retweets and likes than others. Look at this list:

This definitely confirms a trend because most comments have little to do with voice-over related topics. They are about freelancing, running a business, social media, marketing and money.

Not only do I know what my readers are interested in, I can tell you that most of them live in the United States, followed by Great Britain, Canada and The Netherlands.  What I particularly like is that I have a nice mix of returning readers and people who stop by for the very first time. It’s great to have loyal fans and I love to welcome new friends!

I can also tell you how most people find me. Here are the results from the last few weeks:

And where do most referrals come from?


These stats are very useful, not only because they help me understand my readers better. They tell me how effective my blog promotion is, and where there’s room for improvement.

Looking at the statistics, I also learned that an increasing number of people are reading this on a portable device (mostly iPhones). Based on that, I totally redesigned my website to make it mobile responsive (see: The New Nethervoice). That alone has dramatically influenced my bounce rate.

Bounce rate is usually defined as:

The percentage of visitors who see just one page on your website and the percentage of website visitors who stay on the site for a small amount of time (usually five seconds or less). 

It might look great on paper to have thousands of people come to your website, but if they’re gone in a few seconds, what good does that do? Currently, the bounce rate for nethervoice.com is 1.98%. For mobile users, my bounce rate is even lower: 0.34%. Get this: my old site had an average bounce rate of 40-60 percent!

Looking at the most recent numbers, I can tell you that people spend about 3 minutes and 47 seconds on my site (mobile users: 4:21). That’s pretty good, considering the fact that the average visit to a website lasts less than a minute and often no more than 10-20 seconds!

Where do I find all these factoids? I find them on Google Analytics and with the help of a number of WordPress plugins such as the Site Stats on Jetpack and SlimStat. Keep in mind that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to web traffic analysis. I can drill down on individual web pages and blog posts and get a fairly good idea of what my visitors are up to. I even know what some of them do when they leave…

SHARING THE LOVE

Readers often share my content by copying and pasting it to emails and social media. How do I know? I use a nifty tool called Tynt to monitor what content anonymously leaves this site. Go ahead, copy and paste something from this page and see what happens!

Each time someone pastes content from my site, Tynt automatically adds a url-link back to the source. When that link is clicked, the user is directed to this blog and can see the original article. This increases traffic to my site. 

Tynt is one more way to measure traffic and engagement. Like other analytics tools, Tynt tells me which keywords were used to bring visitors to my site and which content prompted people to take action. Thanks to Tynt I now know that most people use email and Facebook to share my stories.

The nice thing is: with all these tools at my disposal, I have a way to measure results; not just for this blog but for my entire site.

STAY WITH ME 

As you just saw, most visitors spend almost four minutes on this site and something tells me this might have to do with the content. But there are other things I do to try to keep you from leaving. One simple way is to instruct WordPress how to handle outbound links. 

An outbound link is a word, phrase or image that you can click on, that will take you to a new website. As you can see, if a word or a phrase appears in blue on my blog, it’s an outbound link or an internal link.

 Here’s how I created the link above in WordPress:

If I don’t check the box Open a link in new window/tab, the reader will leave my website once the link is clicked, and may never come back. By ticking that box, the outbound link opens in a new window while leaving my page open, and the reader can return to it whenever he or she done. 

You’ve probably also noticed that I often refer to earlier articles in this blog. Whenever I do, I make sure to create an internal link to those stories. Not only is this a service to readers who want to find out more about a certain topic, it tends to increase the time people spend on my site. And by the way, I don’t only do this for my blog. My entire site is filled with internal links.

From an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) standpoint, internal links are invaluable. They become the threads holding the spiderweb together that is nethervoice.com. Search engine robots (sometimes called spiders), use these links to find content for indexing. A web marketing specialist from Japan put it as follows:

If one webpage links to another, it can be thought of as a vote for the linked webpage. Therefore, the more credibility a webpage has that links to another, the better it is for the linked webpage. 

There’s one other thing I like to do to keep you here just a bit longer. At the end of most blog posts, you’ll find a link to the next article. 

Readers have told me that they stumbled upon one of my stories by accident, and then just kept on flipping the virtual pages from link to link. Every click is a YES from a visitor; a mini-endorsement increasing the site’s credibility.

Perceived credibility is one of the factors influencing the page rank of a website. Contributing to that credibility is social behavior. The more people link, like, pin, repost, and retweet a page, the more relevant search engines believe it is.

Don’t assume that your visitors will take action, though. You have to make it easy for them to share content. That’s why you find share and like buttons at the top and bottom of my stories. Secondly, it helps to ask people to take action:

Be sweet. Please retweet!

Those four words have increased the number of retweets by sixty percent!

Now, there’s a reason why I put that request at the end of a blog post, just as I added the phrase:

“If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

When people are finished reading a story, they’ve had an experience, and hopefully, it’s been a good one. Ideally, I want my readers to say:

“I want more of where that came from!”

or

“My friends need to read this.”

At that point they’re most likely to take action.

One of those actions can be to subscribe to this blog or to leave a comment.

HAVE YOUR SAY

If you’re a frequent visitor, you may have noticed that my blog roll is gone. In its place you’ll find the last five comments posted on this blog. There are a few reasons I made that decision.

Most importantly, very few people ever clicked on the links in the blog roll. That’s another thing Google Analytics told me. Secondly, not everybody on my blog roll was an active blogger and I didn’t feel like checking these blogs for fresh content every week. 

Why link to recent comments instead? Well, I want to encourage and reward reader participation. My most active friends and fans deserve to be featured more prominently. Having a blog just isn’t enough anymore to appear on this page. 

Once you post a comment, you’ll notice something else that’s new. I’m not going to tell you what it is. You’ll have to find out for yourself. 

SOCIAL MEDIA INTEGRATION

The last thing you might have seen is the Find us and like us on Facebook box I added a few weeks ago. You don’t have to leave this site to like me on Facebook, and you can see the faces of other “likers” as well. It will only display those “likers” that are already in your Facebook network. This creates a sense of community, and people are more likely to click “like” if they see the faces of friends. 

What I really hope is that you will click that button because you enjoy spending some time on this blog and you want to connect with me. This blog is published once a week. I update my Facebook page almost every day. It’s another place where we can be among friends and fellow-professionals and share useful information and ideas.

THE REAL SPY

As I have demonstrated, I’ve been keeping a close eye on you. Yes, I spied! But while I was writing this article, it did occur to me that the tables have turned. By sharing some of my hidden statistics with you, you were able to spy on me!

The truth is: I have no secrets. When it comes to blogging, I am an open book. In fact, that book is for sale. It’s called “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” and you can buy the unlimited PDF version right here on this website.

In it, I talk about creating compelling content, I teach you how to make your blog easy to read and I show you how to build an audience.

Please help me reach my fourth goal and buy this book today. It will be an enriching experience for both of us!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

It looks stunning. It outperforms all known models. It can be assembled by hand in under an hour, yet this vocal booth costs less than other brands. What is it? Click here to find out. 

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Why Your Website Stinks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion 18 Comments

Are you happy with your website?

Does it represent who you are and what you do?

Does it convert visitors into customers?

How do you know?

My very first website was based on a rather generic template, and to tell you the truth: it was just okay, and “just okay” doesn’t cut it. That’s why I had to rebuild it from the ground up (more about that in “The New Nethervoice“).

It turns out that I’m not the only one.

Whether you’re redesigning or starting from scratch, there are some important do’s and don’ts you have to keep in mind.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Becoming Van Gogh

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Journalism & Media 15 Comments

Paul Strikwerda, the voice of Van Gogh

A number of years ago, I paid a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

At that time I was a reporter, producer and presenter for Radio Netherlands International. The museum had just announced the discovery of a new Van Gogh, and I was on my way to get a first look.

The curator was visibly excited to share his find with the world. So-called “new” Van Gogh’s had popped up now and then, but most of them turned out to be poor imitations or brilliant forgeries. This time around, the authenticity was not in doubt. Why? Because the actual painting was invisible.

As I walked down the climate controlled basement, I saw canvas after canvas radiating with vibrant colors. Some of them were in the process of being restored. Others were carefully wrapped up, ready to go on loan to a museum abroad. Then we stopped at what looked like a huge file cabinet with wide drawers.

“This is it,” said the young curator, as he opened one of the drawers. “Here’s our discovery. It is a portrait of an unknown woman.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “All I see is a painting of a Patch of Grass.”

The broad brush strokes of vivid green seemed to be sculpted onto the canvas, making this magnificent meadow an almost three-dimensional work of art.

The curator smiled and said: “That’s because you can’t see the portrait. Van Gogh often re-used his old canvases to save money. The painting you’re looking at right now was painted over the image of the woman. Let me show you what the X-ray revealed.

A HIDDEN MASTERPIECE

We believe the painting underneath was made in 1884 or 1885, during a period in which Van Gogh painted several portraits of peasants in the Dutch village of Nuenen.

The colors are kind of gloomy, certainly compared to the work of Impressionists, and that’s probably why Vincent decided to paint a brighter and more commercial scene over it when we was in Paris. As many as one-third of his paintings may conceal earlier works.”

In 2008, researchers used a newer technique to penetrate the layers of paint, revealing more details and color of the unknown woman hidden underneath the green grass.

In March of 2012, the Philadelphia Museum of Art had some 40 Van Gogh’s on display at their “Van Gogh Up Close” exhibition. I don’t think “A Patch of Grass” has made it to the U.S. but a work like “Undergrowth With Two Figures” from 1890 is part of the exhibit. Looking at it, one can almost feel the waves of wind whispering in the weeds.

MY U.S. TELEVISION DEBUT

The catalogue for the exhibition was in part funded by the Netherland-America foundation and NBC 10 provides promotional support.

As part of that promotion, Eileen Matthews produced the documentary “Van Gogh Up Close” which aired on March 17. Lori Wilson was the narrator, and you can hear me as the voice of Van Gogh, reading quotes from some of the many letters he wrote.

NBC wanted me to add some authenticity to this production and that made for an interesting challenge because we don’t really know what Van Gogh sounded like. He was born in the South of Holland and at age 20, he moved to London to work for an art dealer. Some scholars believe these were the happiest days of his life.

Van Gogh returned to England for work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school and later he became a missionary’s assistant. This leads me to believe that he might have spoken English with Dutch-British accent.

Here is part of a letter Van Gogh wrote in 1881 to his brother Theo who was an art dealer. These are the actual words Vincent wrote:

[audio:http://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Letter-to-Theo-Dutch.mp3|titles=Van Gogh’s Letter to Theo in Dutch read by Paul Strikwerda]

Listen to the same letter in English:

[audio:http://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Letter-to-Theo-English.mp3|titles=Van Gogh’s letter to Theo in English read by Paul Strikwerda]

Talking to non-Dutch speakers, one thing always comes up when discussing Van Gogh. Nobody seems to know how to correctly pronounce his last name. Is it “Van Goff” or “Van Goh”?

The correct answer: neither.

If you wish to impress your friends and family, here’s how you do it:

[audio:http://www.nethervoice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Untitled.mp3|titles=Dutch pronunciation Vincent Van Gogh]

A NEW DISCOVERY?

Even today, people claim to have found new masterpieces by van Gogh. On Wednesday March 14th, Joshua Tree resident Michael Wilson announced he had discovered a long-lost painting depicting beech trees at sunset. He bought it for $50 in a junk shop. If the painting turns out to be genuine, it could be appraised at approximately $200 million.

During his lifetime, Van Gogh only sold one oil painting. He lived and died in poverty, but he knew he was leaving an extraordinary legacy.

He once said:

“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell, but the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.”

Well, that’s certainly one of the most prophetic understatements in the history of art. Especially if you take into consideration that some owners of a real Van Gogh might actually have purchased two pictures for the price of one!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Artsy.com is a terrific online resource for all things Vincent Van Gogh. Click on this link to get to his page. 

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It’s Only Your Image

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 2 Comments

“I don’t care about looks. They just have to take me as I am. And if they don’t like it, that’s their problem, not mine.”

My piano-playing friend whom we met in the second installment of this media training, was at it again. He was getting ready for another interview and he decided to wear an old shirt that had a stain and desperately needed ironing.

I said to him:

“Just look at you. Your shirt is dirty. Your nails are filthy. You haven’t had a haircut in months and it might be nice to wear some deodorant for a change. Is this the best you can do for a TV show with an audience of three million?”

“Give me a break, Mr. Clean!” he said. “You’re not my mother. They’ve invited me for my music and not for my dashing looks.”

“Just think about that for a moment,” I said. “Picture yourself in a studio with the camera zooming in as you’re playing a romantic piece. Do you really feel that we should see a close-up of your dirty nails; hair sticking out of your ears and nose and that beer stain on the cuff of your shirt… in crystal-clear HD? Wouldn’t that be a bit distracting, if not repulsive?

The camera lens is a magnifying glass. It makes everything look bigger (including your ego). I guarantee you: When you watch that interview on TV, you’ll notice things about yourself you’ve never seen before.

I recently saw a show featuring one of my voice-over colleagues, and after the first five seconds I said to my wife: “This guy’s a radio man.”

“How can you tell?” she asked.

“For starters, look at his hands,” I said. “He’s scratching his head. He’s touching his face. He’s playing with his coffee mug. He acts as if nobody’s watching, and I bet you anything he has no clue he’s doing it. This guy is used to being in a radio studio where nobody but the engineer can see him.”

Then I asked my wife: “Tell me what he just said.”

She paused for a moment and drew a blank.

“Why can’t you remember?” I asked.

“I guess I was distracted by what he was doing,” she said. “The guy can’t sit still and he looks nervous.”

“That’s exactly my point,” I responded. “It might seem silly, but most people don’t realize that television is a visual medium and that pictures always overpower words.

THE REVELATION

When I teach a media training, I usually tape the first interview of the day and play it back without sound so my students can focus on their body language. Most of them are shocked by what they see.

Then we tape the interview again, and this time they look like a deer staring in the headlights of a fast approaching Mack truck. They’re frozen stiff. That’s not good either.

Unless you’re a trained actor or presenter, most of us are not so great at being natural in unnatural situations, and we have no sense of how we come across. That’s why training is so important. People need to learn to sit still and make smaller, purposeful movements that emphasize the points they’re making. If a movement doesn’t add anything, it distracts from the story.”

JUDGING A BOOK

My piano playing friend finally stopped me and said: “I don’t want to be judged based on my looks or on my moves. I want to be taken seriously as a musician and I’m not going to sell out to the media. It’s all so superficial. All I want is to make music and reach people through my art.”

“Precisely!” I said. “And that’s why you have to learn to use the media instead of complaining that they’re using you. The media are nothing but an instrument and you have to know how to play it.

Understand that everything about you sends a message, including the way you look. First impressions matter. In a way, an interview is like an audition for thousands, if not millions of people. You want to show your best and most professional self.

“What are you really saying?” asked my friend.

“Just because you wear comfortable clothes in your home studio doesn’t mean you should show up in your favorite jeans and a T-shirt that says “Who’s Your Daddy?

It’s time to think of yourself as a brand. Every brand has an image. If you’re on camera looking ungroomed and sloppy, what impression do you think the viewers will get of you? If you constantly shift in your seat or play with a pen, what are you telling them?

YOU’RE A MOUTHPIECE

There’s one more thing to consider. As a recording artist, it’s not all about you. You also represent your label.

You know I’m a voice-over artist. This means that I am literally the spokesperson for a product, a company or the voice of an author of a book I just narrated. Because my voice is associated with something or someone else, it matters how I present myself. Take my word for it:

It’s not only important that you look good. It’s important that you make others look good (including your host).

You want to come across as an entertaining, informed guest; someone the viewers can relate to; someone they might want to hire or buy from.

Remember the purpose of the interview. It’s a means to an end. In your case, you’re selling CD’s and seats in the concert halls you’re playing in. Your talent keeps a lot of people employed. Do you still think you can show up in that stained old shirt or should I call in the team of “What Not To wear?

OVERDOING IT

My friend looked at me with a grin on his face as if he suddenly had an idea. He walked back to his bedroom to get changed.

Before he reached the door I said:

“Now, do me a favor will you? Don’t go overboard and show up in your tails. Save those for Carnegie Hall. Clean up. Get a haircut and a close shave. Dress business-casual if you like, but whatever you decide to do: make sure your clothes are relatively new, clean and ironed. Wear matching socks and polish your shoes. Don’t cut any corners but don’t overdo it either.

Some people panic and buy a three piece suit, even if they never wear a suit. During the show it’s obvious they feel like a dressed-up monkey performing tricks on TV.

I’ve seen women overdose on make-up and jewelry, sporting a “hairstylist special” held together with tons of hairspray. Just because you’re on TV doesn’t mean you have to dress up like a Christmas tree or show more cleavage. It doesn’t make you look more intelligent.

Again, the idea is to reinforce your message and not to distract from it. Simplicity and sophistication often go hand in hand. Less is more”

“That’s what I think when I hear you talking,” said my friend when he came back down.

“Get off your behind. We’re going clothes shopping. You and Me. Now!”

*              *              *              *              *

As we picked out an appropriate outfit, I had some time to give my friend a few last tips before he was ready to go on TV:

  • Turn your cell phone off before you go on the air. Better yet: don’t bring it with you into the studio.
  • Leave your watch with your cell phone. You don’t want the camera to catch you while you look at the time during an interview.
  • Take time to focus before it’s your turn to be interviewed. Go over your main talking points and remember your sound bites.
  • Never chew gum. It makes you look like a cow.
  • Apply a bit of lip balm before the interview, as long as it’s not glossy.
  • Be well-hydrated, but don’t drink a whole bottle right before going live. It could make the next ten minutes extremely uncomfortable.
  • Even though a TV studio might seem intimidating, act as if you belong there and focus on your message.
  • While on air, don’t say things like: “I never knew your studio was this big,” or “It certainly takes a lot of people to produce a show like this.” You want to come across as a pro.
  • Keep the magic of orchestrated spontaneity alive. The audience needs to feel that things are happening right there and then. They don’t need to know what is going on behind the scenes. Don’t say: “As I was just saying to one of your producers,” or “This is what I told the girl who did the pre-interview.”
  • In the world of television, the only moment that matters is the moment you’re on the air.
  • Forget the cameras. Talk to the interviewers. They are the windows to your audience. Have a normal conversation with them under artificial circumstances.
  • Don’t take it as a bad omen if the host acts distracted or disinterested. She’s probably not even listening to you but to the instructions in her earpiece.
  • Don’t expect your hosts to know the ins and outs of your topic. In the worst case scenario, they just read lines off the teleprompter pretending to be knowledgeable.
  • Be an active listener and show interest in other guests, if you happen to share the spotlight with them.
  • Never ever stare straight into the camera. Ignore it.
  • Don’t try to be funny. You either are or you’re not.
  • Be ready to illustrate your points with short anecdotes. Pick examples people can relate to; stories that paint a picture and evoke an emotional response.
  • Tell a story as if you’re telling it for the first time. For your audience, it is the first time they’re hearing it.
  • Avoid jargon, abbreviations and name dropping (unless you can reasonably assume people know whom you’re talking about).
  • Professional blindness will most certainly prevent you from knowing what is jargon and what isn’t. That’s why you need training!
  • If the interviewer asks you to keep your answer short, do it. Otherwise you’ll be cut off.
  • Be gracious. Don’t protest after the fact if the five minutes that were promised to you were reduced to two because of breaking news. It’s up to you to roll with the punches and make the best of every second you’re in the hot seat.

 

And finally…

  • Practice, practice, practice!

 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Mastering the Media

by Paul Strikwerda in Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion Comments Off on Mastering the Media

In the first installment of this mini media training, I wrote about what piques the interest of the press. We talked about the fact that landing an interview is not a goal in and of itself, but a means to an end. Then we discussed the importance of crafting a core message.

Part 2 was all about dealing with journalists and how to handle tricky questions. At this point you might think you’re ready for reporters who will happily hold your feet to the fire.

Not so fast. You might get burned!

First, let me ask you this:

Should you always say YES to every interview request?

Most people are flattered when the media shows interest. Why waste a good opportunity to generate some publicity, right? Well, that remains to be seen.

Compare an interview request to a job offer. Would you take any offer that comes your way, before even knowing what it’s about and whether or not you can handle it? I certainly hope not. In this phase, you need to be the one asking the questions. It shows you’re a pro.

Here’s what you minimally need to know and why:

How did they hear about you?

This should give you an idea of why they want to talk to you in the first place. Secondly, it tells you something about the effectiveness of your media campaign. Did they get your press release? Were they following you on Twitter? Have they read your blog? Did someone recommend you?

Is the interview for radio or television? Will it appear online or in print?

A different medium requires a different strategy and preparation.

We live in the age of the iPad and enriched, mixed media. Just because they’re booking you for a radio program, doesn’t mean you won’t be on television. Some stations broadcast their radio shows live on TV during the day. Newspapers have online editions that feature video.

Find out beforehand what the deal is. You don’t want to be dressed for comfort in a sloppy T-shirt and an old pair of jeans when a photographer shows up for a glamour shoot you forgot to ask about.

Which network, program, show, website, paper or magazine?

If you know the outlet, do you wish to be associated with it? Does the network or magazine have a particular political or religious affiliation? Are you comfortable with that? Are you hoping to reach a new audience? Are you ready to defend your views?

A lawyer appeared on what he thought would be a show about the legal aspects of divorce. He ended up being grilled by a minister-turned-radio host about why he was “helping the devil break up marriages.”

A freelance writer was invited to talk about her novel featuring two gay characters. Ninety percent of the questions were about her personal life and views on same sex marriage. She left the studio saying: “I wish I had known. Why didn’t anybody tell me this wasn’t going to be about my book?”

Which segment of the program/show or which section in the paper will you appear in?

A professional photographer had just opened a new studio in town. A reporter stopped by and asked a few questions. To his dismay, the photographer found his interview under the “Hobby” section of the local paper.

A voice-over talent gave an interview about his work and discovered his story in the business section under the heading: “Ten easy ways to make money in a bad economy.”

If you’ve never heard of the show, site or paper that has requested an interview, ask for a detailed description and do your own research.

It’s simple: watch the show, read the paper and visit the website to see what you’re getting yourself into. Good journalists do their homework, so why shouldn’t you?

Don’t complain afterwards that you didn’t know what was waiting for you. Nobody will ever force you to say “yes” to an interview (unless it’s in your contract).

Ask about the audience/readers and its reach: numbers, demographics and distribution.

Being interviewed often means walking a fine line between explaining something in terms most people will understand, without treating them like toddlers. There’s no need to dumb your story down, but you don’t want to go over people’s heads either.

I’m sure you’ve seen experts that seem to live in their own little bubble, totally unaware of the fact that the rest of the world has no clue what they’re talking about. They’re using jargon without realizing it is jargon, or abbreviations no one’s ever heard of.

For my non-voice-over friends, what do you think the following means:

“As I was hooking my shotgun up to my pre, I noticed that I shouldn’t speak off-axis because of the tight pick-up pattern this Sennheiser has. One of my SaVoA friends had warned me about it.”

I beg your pardon?

Can you speak English please?

Now, had this been an interview for a voice-over in crowd, you’d probably get away with it, although too many people still don’t know what SaVoA stands for. As for the rest of the world… you would have lost your listeners in the first five seconds and they’re already surfing for a better channel.

The key is to avoid technical language and to customize your content. If you do that, the audience will get the feeling that you’re talking directly to them (which is what you should be doing anyway). It’s a way to create rapport.

The following question is an interviewer’s favorite:

“Can you give me an example?”

This is a perfect opportunity to customize your content because you can pick something your audience can relate to.

Let’s assume you design websites and you’d love to get some more clients. The answer to the question: “So, what kinds of websites have you designed?” depends on your audience.

If you’re doing a show about business, you’ll highlight your corporate sites. If the audience is more artsy, you’ll pick sites you’ve designed for various artists.

Is the interview taped or live?

If you’re not familiar with differences in format, you might say: “It shouldn’t really matter. My story is my story.”

Those who have experienced the stress of a live radio or television broadcast know otherwise.

Personally, I love live. It’s a very different energy. People are on the edge of their seats, creating carefully orchestrated spontaneity. Time is always ticking. Every minute needs to be accounted for.

“We have 19 seconds till the end of the commercial break. Everybody stand by. We’re live in three, two, one….”

Live is exciting. Live can be stressful. What if you mess up? Forget retakes!

Some people believe you have less control when you’re going live. I disagree. Why? Because live cannot be edited.

When you’re on, you’re on, and you can take charge of the airwaves. If you don’t like where the interview is going, build a bridge (see part 2) and get to your core message as soon as you can.

Every minute you spend on what you want to say, means less time for what the interviewer wants to hear (unless you’re on the same page). At some point he’ll run out of time. The shorter the interview, the more important this becomes.

Compare this to the long, prerecorded interview. If your Grand Inquisitor thinks you’re not giving him a straight answer, he’ll simply go back to the question until you’ve answered it to his satisfaction. If he doesn’t like what he hears, he can cut it or shorten it, citing editorial freedom. He can summarize your position in his words, not yours.

Here’s the flip side of that coin. Because you’re not live, you can stop the tape at any time. If you don’t like the answer you’ve just given, you can start over. Do you need to look up some info? Go ahead.

As a reporter, I often had to ask people to pick it up from the start because they had given me a lengthy answer and I only had time for a soundbite.

If you’re new at this, see if you can do your first interviews semi-live. Just go for it it as if you’re on the air, even though it’s prerecorded. It’s good practice. If you manage to do everything in one take, you’re done. If you happen to get stuck, you just pick it up from there.

How long is the actual interview? How much air time do I get?

These are two very different things. Just because you have been recording for an hour, doesn’t mean you’ll be on the air for an hour. I hate to say it, but most people aren’t that interesting and most interviewers aren’t that good. On top of that, most of us are not interested in listening to the same person go on and on and on for sixty minutes.

We’ve been conditioned to the never-ending interruption of the commercial break. Attention spans are getting shorter. We have too much to do and not enough time. I’m surprised you’re still reading this!

If the magic doesn’t happen in the first sixty seconds, we move on, unless what we read, see or hear really speaks to us.

If you have trouble getting to the point in real life, you’ll be in trouble during an interview when the pressure’s on. Don’t worry. These things can be fixed. That’s why media trainers make a very decent living.

So, find out how much time you have to get your message across and prepare for your interview using the accordion model. An accordion expands and contracts. Think of what you want to talk about as an accordion.

If you have less time, you use the short version, but always be ready to expand. Let’s say you expect to be on air for five minutes. What if the next guest gets stuck in traffic and can’t make it to the studio? All of a sudden you’ve doubled your time. Make sure you don’t run out of material!

Unfortunately, the opposite is true too. You were promised a four-minute segment and then some breaking news cuts your time in half. In that case you better be ready to cut to the chase!

By the way, don’t ever trust your sense of timing. In my media trainings I always give my students thirty seconds to introduce themselves and mention one interesting fact we should know about them. Their intro is timed. Some people go on for three minutes before I cut them off and then they tell me: “Wow… that was really thirty seconds? It went by so fast!”

What are your questions?

I saved the most obvious for last because we tend to overlook the obvious. I have interviewed thousands of people and I can’t tell you how many of them simply said YES to my interview request, not knowing what I wanted to ask them. It has to do with human nature.

Deep down inside we all long for attention and acknowledgement; for someone who truly listens. Getting in the papers, on radio or on TV must mean we matter!

But if you don’t know what they want to know, how do you know you want to be on their show?

Overwhelmed?

Remember what I said in part one? The biggest beginner’s mistake is to underestimate what it takes to be interviewed. This is not some normal conversation. It’s more of a purposeful presentation disguised as a normal conversation…. with possibly millions of people watching over your shoulder.

So, have you thought about how to present yourself on television? Should you just be yourself or get all dressed up for the occasion?

Next time we’ll talk about the importance of image!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Managing Your Message

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion 9 Comments

This is part 2 of Face the Press without Stress. You can read the 1st part by clicking here.

“That guy was a complete idiot,” said one of my friends, a classical pianist. He had just been interviewed by a major newspaper about his latest CD, and he was not a happy camper. Steam was coming out of his nostrils.

“This so-called journalist knew absolutely nothing about music,” he fumed. “He asked the most basic questions and I don’t think he could tell the difference between a Steinway and a Clavinova. Worst of all, he didn’t seem to care. Within ten minutes he was off to his next assignment, leaving me with that bloody photographer.”

“I’m going to write to his paper,” he continued angrily. “Next time they should send someone who knows what he’s doing, instead of wasting my time with a nitwit.”

The following day I opened the paper, hoping to find the interview. It was easy to spot. It featured a blown-up photo of my friend staring straight into the camera, looking perpetually peeved. Would anyone buy a CD from a guy who looked that annoyed, I wondered? Pictures are powerful, and first impressions can become lasting impressions in a split-second. Then I read the interview.

What I had feared, had happened: my friend -who really is a wonderful and talented artist- came across as an arrogant bastard. Had I not known him personally, I would have nominated him for the Most Arrogant Artist of the Year Award. One thing was certain: this story wasn’t going to sell a whole lot of CD’s.

When we talked about the fiasco afterwards, I told him:

“I know you’re weren’t happy with the journalist. Keep one thing in mind. You and I are lucky. We have chosen a profession we’re passionate about. We pour our heart and soul into our work. Most people -including your reporter- don’t have that privilege. For them their job is just their job. Besides…

Journalists aren’t paid to care. They’re paid to share.

In fact, in order to tell a story objectively, they need to keep a professional distance. A photographer wouldn’t be able to do his job if he’d stop and help every hungry child in front of his lens. A political reporter wouldn’t be ready to ask penetrating questions if he were afraid to hurt the fragile ego of the person he was interviewing.

Just as it’s better for a surgeon not to get emotionally attached to the opened up patient in the operating theater, reporters must dissociate themselves from their stories and subjects. It’s nothing personal. Remember this:

It isn’t a journalist’s job to be knowledgeable or interested. It is your job to be informed and interesting.

The expert reporter is an endangered species. Dwindling advertising revenues means cutbacks in the newsroom. There are fewer people to cover more stories. Specialists have become generalists in order to survive. There is not enough time for proper research, and almost no budget for in-depth analysis or investigative reporting.

If you’re lucky, your next interview could be conducted by someone who loves what you do for a living, but don’t be surprised if that person is more into heavy metal or chess. Ultimately, that shouldn’t matter. A good story is a good story and you, my friend, have to hand it to him (or her). Here’s why.

You’re not talking to the journalist. You’re reaching out to the audience.

Just as you’re not telling your story to a microphone and you’re not posing to make the camera happy, an interviewer is merely a conduit. He represents all the readers, viewers and listeners you’re really talking to, when you’re being interviewed.

In a strange way, it’s better for you if he doesn’t seem to be too interested or knowledgeable, because most people scanning the pages or flipping the channels aren’t either. But if you manage to draw that interviewer into your story, chances are the audience will follow. Unfortunately, it cuts both ways.

So, no matter how obnoxious and superficial your interviewer may seem, always remember whom you’re talking to. A morning show host might ask basic questions because that’s all his viewers want to know. He might not even listen to your answer because he’s getting instructions in his ear prompter. That’s why it’s up to you to…

Take charge and get your message across in spite of the interviewer.

If you don’t remember everything I’m telling you, please remember this point. Too many people take on a passive role when being interviewed. They prepare to answer questions they think are interesting and essential, and complain afterwards that those questions were never asked. Or worse, they don’t prepare at all and just go with the flow.

You’re not a victim. You have a say in what you put out into the world. Literally. And you won’t get many chances to reach so many people at once, so you better make the most of it

Think about it this way. You know infinitely more about the subject than your interviewer ever will. If you’d only stick to what your interviewer knows or wants to know, you’ll never get beyond the surface. Here’s what you do to manage your message.

Use questions as a springboard to tell what needs to be told.

Often, reporters will throw something at you and it’s not what you want to talk about. The trick is to build a bridge between what’s being asked and what you really want to say.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m being interviewed about my voice-over business. Here’s the question:

“Do you think celebrities doing voice-overs are spoiling it for the rest of you?”

Here’s one way to respond:

“Not really. There’s plenty of work for everyone. The author of my latest audio book chose my voice because I am not a celebrity.”

You see how that works? In two sentences you have shifted the focus from talking about other people to talking about your new book. Here are a few more bridges.

That’s an interesting observation. Before I get that, there’s something you need to know…”

“Thanks for bringing that up. Here’s what’s happening…”

“I understand where you’re coming from. I get that question all the time. What many people don’t realize is…”

Now, I’m not suggesting that you entirely evade the issue at hand like a seasoned politician. I recommend you use the issue to redirect the conversation to get your point across. If you don’t do that, you could spend an entire segment talking about Jeff Bridges and Morgan Freeman instead of promoting your new project.

You don’t have to agree with or pretend to understand everything the interviewer is saying.

That’s another sign of a passive attitude. You can’t answer a question you don’t really understand. Yet, because some people are easily intimidated by members of the press, they hate to admit that they have no clue what the interviewer is asking. To make matters worse, they start imagining what the interviewer could have meant and start answering that.

It’s okay to ask:

“Could you repeat the question, please? I didn’t quite get that.”

Beware of overt or covert assumptions.

As we’ve seen in the question about celebrities, interviewers often won’t ask a straight question but begin with a statement. A few examples:

“It is a well-know fact that people make a lot of money doing voice-overs. Now, let me ask you this…”

“Many believe this is easy money, and I’d like to know how you got into this business.”

“We all know that voice-overs can make a comfortable living, and what I am interested in is…”

It’s very tempting to answer the question following the statement, but before you do, ask yourself if you agree with the assumption. If you don’t, you must challenge it before you answer the question. Otherwise the audience is left with the impression that you concur. Here’s another one.

Watch out for suggestive, leading questions.

In order to win the ratings war, editors and producers all over the world are searching for the extraordinary, the grotesque, the shocking and the violent. The tens of thousands of planes that take off and land safely every day are not news, but the one that crashes is.

Journalists are trained to look for controversy and if there is none, to push the envelope and stir the pot. Suggestive questions are like a loaded weapon.

Think of a question as a laser beam, zooming in on a very small area. If it’s specific, it will direct your thoughts into one direction, excluding everything else. What do the following questions require you to focus on?

“How bad are things really in your business?

Sometimes things can get really nasty, don’t they? Give me an example.”

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“What do you dislike more than anything else?”

“Tell me about your client from hell.”

Take a deep breath before you answer those questions, and ask yourself: Do I really want to go there? Do I want to dwell on the negative or highlight the positive?

How’s this for an answer:

“No matter what kind of work you do, there are always things that are not so great and there are things that totally make your day. As a matter of fact, one of my clients called me yesterday…” and then you share a positive story.

You might not control the question, but you can always control the answer!

Look out for false choices and either/or scenarios.

News outlets often aim for the biggest market share to please the sponsors, and therefore cater to the lowest common denominator. In order to appeal to the army of couch potatoes that wants to be entertained instead of informed, simplification is the name of the game. Complicated stories are broken up into bite-sized pieces even my pet gerbil can digest. Thus, reality becomes a caricature.

A favorite technique is to reduce a colorful, complex world to a juxtaposition of right and wrong and black and white. Some networks have turned that into a dubious art form. But as you very well know, there usually are no easy answers. Watch the political shows and wait for it to happen:

“Senator, with all due respect: Do you want to socialize health care or leave it up to the American people to choose their own insurance plan?”

“Are you in favor of big government, or do you want to reduce Washington’s bureaucracy?”

“Should we bomb Iran or increase sanctions?”

“Please answer my next question with a simple yes or no.”

Let’s be clear. These aren’t questions. They are traps; false choices based on either/or scenarios. Remember, if you choose to answer the question as such, you implicitly agree with the options presented to you. Are you sure you want to go there?

If an interviewer tries to drag me into an is-it-this-or-that scenario, I often answer with YES. But usually, it isn’t A or B. Why can’t it be C or D or both? Watch this:

Interviewer: “As a voice-over, what do you enjoy doing most: audio books or commercials?”

You: “To tell you the truth, I love voicing video games. I think we have a clip of the one I just finished. I had such a blast creating the character of….”

You’re not falling for this false dilemma, and with the bridge technique, you use the question as a springboard to talk about things that are on your agenda. I do it all the time and I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

Is this something I am naturally good at or did I need training? (watch the question…)

Well, it’s a bit of both I guess, but it certainly helps to have been on the other side of the mic for many years. I know a few tricks of the trade, and I have lots more to share with you. So, if you’re up for it, I’ll continue our conversation next week.

Here’s are some of the things I’ll talk about: What do you need to know before the interview? Do you prepare differently for a taped and a live interview?

What do you think?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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