emcee

Giving My Work Away

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles 9 Comments
photo credit: Kevin Schlough

The author at the market

Followers of my Facebook page and personal profile were the first to know.

Since July of this year, I have been working for free.

Well, some of the time at least.

I am one of the few voice-overs that has been cultivating his announcer-voice as emcee at my local Farmers’ Market.

The town I live in –Easton, PA– is proud to have the longest continuously running outdoor Farmers’ Market in the entire U.S.A. It started back in 1752. To give you an idea, that’s two years after the death of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach!

In the U.S., Farmers’ Markets have exploded. In 1996 there were only 2,410. Today this number has almost quadrupled (source). These markets increase access to fresh food, they help preserve farmland and stimulate local economies.

Now, I’m pretty sure you didn’t come this blog to be lectured about the benefits of small-scale agriculture. Instead, let me tell you why I decided to surround myself with fruit, vegetables and other local produce, once or twice a week. After all, I could be using that time to grow my own business, instead of promoting someone else’s. Well, here’s one reason: it’s because I enjoy…

STAYING CLOSE TO HOME

In this day and age, it’s very tempting to start building worldwide networks with colleagues and clients on every continent. Technology gives us the illusion that they are just as close as the folks in our own backyard. In most cases, they’re only a few clicks away. But being connected doesn’t mean that there’s a true connection. If anything, our smart phone savvy society seems more disconnected than ever.

By focusing on things from afar, it’s easy to ignore what’s going on right under our nose. It’s like the business person who donates to feed African orphans but who forgets that there’s a local food bank. I’m not saying it’s one or the other. Think globally AND act locally. That’s what I mean.

It’s nice to have customers across the Atlantic, but your best clients might be fellow-members of your local business association. It’s worthwhile to get away from that computer monitor every once in a while and open the door of your studio. Find out what’s going on within a ten-mile radius of where you live. You’ll be surprised!

But there’s another advantage to love all things local.

UPROOTED

Sunny, the Easton Farmers' Market mascot

Farmers’ Market mascot Sunny

If you’ve recently moved to a new town, state or country, you know how traumatic that can be. Gone are the trusted, old connections that took years to build. The neighbors you liked so much are no longer there, and for a while you feel like a stranger among the locals.

Finding your way in unfamiliar territory can be exciting, but it takes up a lot of energy and it can be stressful. It also takes a toll on the family and on your job. As you’re settling into a new environment, you suddenly realize how much you took for granted!

Trees can only branch out when they’re firmly planted. Their roots need to be strong enough to bear the weight. Having a solid base benefits your business. Stability increases your ability to develop and grow as a person and as a solopreneur.

To me, Easton represents stability, and at the heart of Easton, there’s a vibrant market place that’s…

CREATING COMMUNITY

The secret to the continued success of our market does not lie in fresh produce alone. One of the things the Farmers’ Market does, is bring people together. It’s like emceeing a biweekly block party for the whole city where you’ll find people of all ages, different walks of life, sexual orientation, religious and political persuasion et cetera.

There’s live music from local bands, activities for kids, food demos by chefs from restaurants in our town and other special events that can bring thousands of people to our city. And when that happens, almost every downtown business benefits.

Farmers’ Market vendors are fellow-entrepreneurs with an interesting business model. They don’t compete against one another. Instead, they grow together.

Bakers in the region use Farmers’ Market peaches in their pastries. The smoothie seller and corner creamery use fruit from nearby orchards. Cheese and mushrooms from local farms end up on subs and pizzas. Easton restaurants shop at the market for quality meats and vegetables. Everybody wins because everybody is…

MAKING CONNECTIONS

If anything, the market is about connection and interaction. Buying vegetables at some superstore is an anonymous undertaking. You can fill up your cart without ever talking to someone. At the market, I know the people who plow the fields, sow the seeds and milk their cows, and they know me too. We keep each other posted on major and minor events in our lives, and we do it all outside of Facebook. What a concept!

This is not an every-person-for-him-or-herself type of community where only the fittest can survive. When Tomblers Bakery, one of the vendors at our market, burned to the ground in July of 2011, the community came together and raised funds for them to rebuild and restart. Would you ever find that kind of solidarity in a strip mall?

There’s something else I want to tell you about.

STAYING SHARP

Tomblers Bakery

When I’m at the market, I watch how people do business. I try to find out why people buy and why some sellers attract more customers than others. I watch and learn. It’s much more interesting and realistic than a textbook on sales and marketing, I promise you that.

As a voice-over professional who spends most of his time in splendid isolation, I thoroughly enjoy being outdoors, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. It’s freeing to have no script and it’s fun to see people respond to what I say. The rest of the week, I’m stuck in a dark box reading someone else’s text and I have no clue how people react to my narration.

VOLUNTEERING

I’ll give you one last reason why I enjoy promoting local produce, music and more: It feels good to be involved in my community.

If you’ve read my article Work for FREE for Charity?, you know that I’m not in favor of giving my work away to random charities, simply because they are dedicated to important causes. That doesn’t mean that I’m against volunteering.

Unlike some major charitable organizations that spend millions of dollars on PR and advertising, the Easton Market is as low-budget as it gets. It relies heavily on volunteers to keep it running. It’s for the people, by the people. That’s its strength and its beauty.

Even though I don’t get a penny for the five hours I spend at the market as announcer, it is a most enriching experience.

Last Saturday, as I was packing up, one of the vegetable vendors asked me: “Paul, is there anything you could use? As you can see, we have plenty of produce left. Most of it will go to the food bank, but if you need anything, help yourself! It’s the least we can do to say thank you.”

How awesome is that?

That’s yet another reason why I love being vocal and local!

What’s yours?

Paul Strikwerda @nethervoice

photo credit top photo: Kevin Schlough; other pictures: nethervoice


How to become a celebrity

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Promotion 1 Comment

paparazziShe was a world famous news anchor.

In Holland, that is.

With a population of only 16 million, it’s easy to be a celeb in the lowlands. In fact, one in five individuals is probably (in)famous for something.

You might have heard of André Rieu, Famke Janssen, Rutger Hauer and Paul Verhoeven. Big fish who eventually escaped the small Dutch pond.

On this particular morning, our beloved news anchor showed up to make some money on the side. A local charity thought that the appearance of a TV-personality would please the crowds and bring in some much needed cash for a homeless shelter. I was there to see the limo arrive thirty minutes late.

Strangely enough, I didn’t recognize the person stepping out of the town car. Dark glasses covered her sleepy eyes. Then I remembered that she had presented the late night news the day before. And without any make-up, she had suddenly aged about 25 years in 2.5 seconds.

As she was escorted onto the stage, the audience, made up in part of homeless people, got a good look at her pink Chanel outfit, Fendi handbag and high-end jewelry. Yes, it was clear that this woman was in desperate need of the extra cash she was about to make. Then again, I shouldn’t be so judgmental. Her vacation home had just been featured in one of the lifestyle magazines, and I’m sure the monthly mortgage payment was weighing heavily on her haute-coutured shoulders.

HERE IS YOUR HOST

All of this went through my mind, as I stepped up to the podium at a local synagogue to host a special concert. It was more than a concert, actually. It was an emotional reunion of two musical sisters. One of them had made her way to the United States and the other had chosen to stay behind in Russia. And now, for the first time in many years, the two performed together on one stage.

Paul Strikwerda emcee

the author hosting an event

Hosting is different. It’s a perfect opportunity to connect with a crowd and get immediate feedback. Let me tell you this: nothing is more frightening than the sound of a joke falling flat on its face. Nothing is more exciting than the sound of roaring laughter, after you’ve delivered a great punch line.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Now, before you conclude that being an emcee is all about me, let me stop you in your tracks. It’s not. Rule number one in the book of hosting is this: 

Never take the focus away from the event and the performers.

Be warm and welcoming; keep your remarks to the point and make them short and sweet. Find a happy medium between being entertaining and informative. If you manage to do that, you’re well on your way to making hundreds of new friends.

For those of you who’d like to give it a try, here are a few other pointers:

Do your homework.

Find out what group of people you’ll be addressing. Don’t make references to “Gilligan’s Island” if your audience is under 25. And don’t mention Zac Efron, unless your audience is made up of yelling teenage girls. Stay away from politics. Get your facts right. Know the names of the performers and/or speakers, and know how to pronounce them correctly. Find out what they will be performing and dig up some short anecdotes or little known details. Have enough material in case you need fillers.

Arrive early. Dress for the occasion. Don’t wear a tux to a folk concert. Familiarize yourself with the location. Know where the emergency exits are. Introduce yourself to the staff, the sound technicians and the stage manager. Test the sound equipment. It usually does not work. Check the order of the program and find out about last minute changes.

During the show:

Be the glue that holds the event together and the oil that keeps things moving. Briefly introduce yourself and engage your audience from the start. Set some ground rules (e.g. switch off cell phones). Be animated and avoid clichés such as “without further ado” or “give it up for…” Don’t play favorites. Introduce each performer with the same level of enthusiasm. Never, ever make fun of them.

Don’t be on stage during the performance, and please pay attention to the act or the speaker. You never know what you can use to build a bridge to the next performance. It also shows that you’re not just a talking head, but that you’re interested in what’s going on. Keep track of the time as well. It’s your job to make things start on time and end on time.

Be sure to publicly thank everybody at the end, and make some brief, final announcements. After the audience is on their way, thank everyone involved personally: the performers, the staff, anyone who made this happen.

THE BIG LET-DOWN

Let’s go back to the charity event for the homeless for a moment.

I have to be honest with you. Without sleep and without teleprompter, the celebrity news anchor was absolutely hopeless. The fact that she arrived in a limo and was dressed in designer clothes had not earned her much credit with the homeless.

She might have been good working the camera, but she certainly wasn’t working the audience. Her intros were taken straight from the program. Anyone could have done that. And as speaker after speaker tried to move the masses, she was sitting in the front row, sending text message after text message, looking utterly out of place.

When the event was finally over, she left through the back door, running away from the fans who had hoped to take a picture with her.

HAPPY ENDING

Luckily, my concert ended on a happier note. I think it was a C-sharp.

At the reception following the performance, I discovered another benefit of event hosting. My pro-bono appearance turned out to be tremendous free publicity for my services. All of a sudden I was on the local map! Some people even told me: “You should do this for a living!” But wait, it gets even better.

The videographer, who had been recording the entire performance, hired me on the spot for a movie he was shooting. You’ve heard me… a motion picture! Yes my friends, I am now world famous.

That is, in Easton, Pennsylvania.

My home town.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice.