self-awareness

Being Wrong About Being Right

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 15 Comments

Looking at the mirrorGo ahead. Do it!

After today you may ask me everything about the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, and the early onset of puberty.

I promise you one thing: it will make me cry like a baby.

Normally, I don’t concern myself with gonadotripin-releasing hormones stimulating steroid secretion. But as a voice-over, people send me the strangest scripts with the weirdest words. My job is to sound like these words are my bread and my butter, even though I prefer to have other things for breakfast.

Just to give you an idea of my voice-over diet so far:

On Monday I was telling the world about how “metabolic programming” can change the genetic expression of young farm animals. On Tuesday I pretended to be the monotonous Swiss CEO of a company refurbishing projectile weaving machines. Tomorrow I’ll be talking about the art of selling on eBay in Germany.

But today… today was all about the regulation of the reproductive system in kids with central precocious puberty, and a discovery I made about myself. Don’t worry. I won’t take you back to my childhood in the Netherlands, where naughty boys are forced to stick their fingers in dikes, while eating insane amounts of cheese.

This story is about a medical script, and how easy it is to fool ourselves into believing that we actually know what we are doing. Well, I cannot speak for you, but I’m usually pretty confident about my skills as a professional narrator.

After years and years in radio, I always thought of myself as a solid cold reader. You can throw any text at me, and I’ll sound as if I know what I am talking about. It’s a dangerous skill to have, by the way. It’s like wearing glasses. Somehow, people automatically assume that the bespectacled among us, must be more intelligent. Those who sound like they know what they’re talking about, are mistakenly put into the same category, until they’re exposed as professional pretenders.

The medical script in front of me, came with a page-long pronunciation guide. It was like learning another language. A language of affliction, clinical trials, and a cure. It was about one of those medications advertisers want you to ask your doctor about. Some kind of pill that takes ten seconds to describe, followed by thirty seconds of rapid-fire contraindications and sickening side-effects.

It took me a while to record the 5000-word script, and even longer to edit it. I like doing my own editing. My voice gets a rest, and my ears and eyes can do some quality control. After all the files were cleaned up, separated, and properly named, I uploaded my work feeling confident about what I had accomplished. I was sure the client would be just as impressed.

Two hours later I got an email from the guy who had proofed my audio. “Great work,” he said. Out of thousands of words, I had only mispronounced about a dozen. But here’s the kicker: I had mispronounced the same word twelve times!

Instead of “pituitary-gonadal axis,” I had read “pituary-gonadal axis.” At least I was consistent in my mistakes.

What struck me the most was this: even though I had prepared the script, read the script, and edited my audio, I had missed my slip of the tongue again and again and again. I didn’t see it, and I didn’t hear it. Why? Because something in me believed that “pituary” was right.

I saw what I wanted to see, and I heard what I wanted to hear.

It made me oblivious to my errors.

It reminded me of the copywriter who was ready to distribute a press release about a local public market to hundreds of news outlets. He had been working on it for hours, and gave it to me so I could take one last look at it.

I said to him: “Nice work, but I hope you’re not going to send it this way. Look at the headline.”

“What about it?” he asked defensively. “It says:

Public Market Attracts Thousands Of Young Visitors.”

“No it doesn’t,” I said. “Look closely.”

He still didn’t see it, so I told him:

“You forgot the letter “L” in the word “Public.”

“Oh my gosh,” he responded. “I have been staring at that headline for hours, and never even noticed it. Who wants to send their kids to a Pubic Market? How embarrassing!”

Well, that’s how I felt after my pituary debacle. It also had me thinking.

Have I become one of those people who lives life guided by conformation bias? You know, the idea that we’re always looking for evidence that supports our beliefs (and we’re conveniently ignoring the rest).

I really believed the word was “pituary,” and I didn’t even see that the word in the script was spelled differently.

What if I look at people that way? That’s pretty scary. They’ll never be able to be any better or different from whom I think they are…. until someone points something out I had never considered. It’s all a matter of perception.

Perceptions are powerful. And they can be so wrong.

Perceptions tell us more about the perceiver, than about what is being perceived.

This afternoon, instead of being done with my medical project, I had to revisit every file with the word “pituitary” in it, and correct my mistakes. It was a humbling, uncomfortable experience that took up way too much time. It taught me one other lesson.

Sometimes, something happens that makes us change our perception of who we think we are.

In those moments, it is time to have a word…

with the person staring back at us in the mirror.

And after some reflection, please tell that person:

Everything is perception, but perception isn’t everything.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Getting In Our Own Way

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Studio 11 Comments

young woman looking in the mirrorThere are two types of people who are very hard to teach.

Let me break it down for you.

The first group could care less about how the world sees them.

These people often have an exaggerated sense of self, or worse, a narcissistic personality disorder. They have a hard time registering social cues, and they’re not very open to feedback. Feedback makes them hostile and defensive because they always know better. And those who know better, don’t have an incentive to learn new things. Teaching them, is like trying to fill a cup that’s already full (of itself).

The second group is the opposite. These people care too much about how the world perceives them. They suffer from the “invisible audience phenomenon,” a sense that they’re always on stage, and that the world is watching them. Gentle feedback is often taken as harsh criticism. The fearful voice of low self-esteem tells them they might as well give up. Teaching these people is like trying to fill a bottomless cup.

Of course these are extremes, but I’m sure you know one or two people who fall into both categories. Perhaps even intimately. The origin of these behaviors has a lot to do with self-awareness. You know, that thing that is supposed to separate human beings from animals.

MIRROR, MIRROR

One way to detect the presence of self-awareness is to do the mirror test. When a dog sees his reflection in a mirror, he’ll think it’s another dog. When we see our reflection, we know we’re staring at ourselves.

If you’d let group one and two do the mirror test, here’s what you would find:

The first group looks into the mirror, and finds it irresistible. The second group can’t stand their own reflection. Group one is focused on self, and group two is (consciously or unconsciously) focused on what others might be thinking.

As a voice actor and coach, I sometimes deal with people who display various forms of narcissism and self-deprecation. Oddly enough, it’s not all bad. One thing I always keep in mind is that certain aspects of these behaviors are actually useful and necessary, if you wish to survive as a freelancer (and as a voice-over). Shall I explain?

GOOD AND BAD

Let’s start with being self-conscious. All of us have to have a sense of how we come across, and we need to be aware of how others respond to us to. How else will we learn socially acceptable behavior? It’s also good to realize that we’re far from perfect. It keeps the mind open, and our spirit humble.

Secondly, as voice-over professionals working from our home studios, we often direct our own sessions. That requires the ability to recognize when we’re missing the mark, and when we’re hitting the nail on the head. If we want to deliver our best work, we need to be good evaluators of our performance. The more self-conscious we are, the easier this is.

The narcissist has an inflated sense of self. Obviously, that’s not helpful. However, any solopreneur can benefit from a healthy dose of self-confidence. You have to believe in yourself, and in your ability to attract clients. You may have incredible talent, but if you doubt that you can deliver, you’re sabotaging yourself.

The narcissist is able to recognize the good in him or herself. People who are shy and insecure find that hard to do. If you wish to have a successful career, you have to accept that you have something special to offer. Something that is worth paying for. You don’t need to be arrogant, but it helps to be audacious!

From an acting perspective, I think it is also useful to have the ability to imagine what it’s like to be a self-absorbed jerk, as well as an insecure mouse, and anything in between. The wider your emotional range, the greater your chance to land more demanding and interesting roles.

PARALYZED

Now, being overly self-conscious can have a paralyzing effect in everyday life, and in the recording studio. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why some people have such a hard time sounding natural. They’re constantly over-analyzing what they’re doing, and usually not in a positive way. They’re busy thinking about how they will be perceived by others, and whether or not they can live up to certain expectations.

In a way, that microphone in front of them is like a camera. You’ve seen it happen. People are perfectly spontaneous, and they’re having a great time, until someone points a camera at them. All of a sudden they become very aware of themselves, and start acting in strange, stilted ways.

What’s really happening is this:

Without a camera pointing at them, most people focus on each other. They’re in the moment. In the flow of things. They act like no one’s watching. Naturally. As soon as a photographer or a cameraman comes in the picture, that changes. People start wondering: How does my hair look? Did I iron my shirt? Do I look fat in these clothes?

The same thing can happen in a studio. People are having a nice conversation. They’re animated and relaxed. Until the recording starts. All of a sudden the enthusiasm and the quiet confidence is gone. The voice becomes flat, and the text is not spoken but read. The narrator has become self-conscious.

In that moment, the focus on the script is replaced by the focus on self. That’s a shame, because as voice-over professionals, we get paid to let the script speak. In order to do that, we need to get out of our own way.

CAR TALK

This week, we learned that Tom Magliozzi, one of the presenters of NPR’s Car Talk, had died at the age of 77. For more than 25 years, Tom and his younger brother Ray entertained millions of people every week with car repair advice and comedic banter. People who didn’t care about cars, tuned in to Car Talk, if only to hear the brothers laugh.

What made these guys such a pleasure to listen to, was the fact that they talked to one another and their guests as if there were no microphones. In fact, the Magliozzi’s would be the first ones to admit that they knew nothing about radio. All they did, was be themselves. Their long-time producer Doug Berman told Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air

“What you heard on the show was absolutely them. And when you finish the show and went to get a cup of coffee it sounded the same, you know. I mean, the topics would change, but that’s what they did. They sat down and they enjoyed themselves and they found humor in whatever was around them. And they made each other laugh and they made us laugh. So it was not an effort to be funny about anything. That’s how they approached everything.”

FORGET THE MIC

Of course there’s a difference between doing a semi-live radio show and narrating a voice-over script, but I think many of us could benefit from forgetting that there’s a microphone in front of us. Just imagine there’s a dear friend or close relative to whom you’re telling a story. There is no audience. There are no critics. You have nothing to prove.

Imagine how freeing that would be!

Imagine what that would do to the way you sound!

From time to time you might slip into old behavior, and invite that inner voice to start critiquing you again. As soon as that happens, STOP, and bring your attention back to the text. Be script-conscious, instead of self-conscious. Let the focus be on the music, and not on the musician.

Instead of beating yourself up when you make a mistake, be soft on yourself. It’s no big deal. Correct it, and move on.

Eventually, you’ll notice a shift inside. A shift from that self-disparaging voice, to a self-accepting voice, to a self-respecting voice.

It’s something that’s almost impossible to teach.

It must be experienced.

Inside, and outside of your recording studio.

Are you ready for your lesson?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: gonzalo_ar via photopin cc