voiceover coaching

Filling In The Blanks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 14 Comments

bartender“It’s too risky, too challenging, too expensive, and you’ll be very lonely”.

That’s what people told me when I announced that I was going to become self-employed. This was many, many moons ago.

I’m sure these folks meant well, but what struck me most was the fact that these self-appointed business coaches were all working in some nine to five job, making money for someone else. They had no clue what it would be like, to be one’s own boss. The idea alone probably terrified them. I say “probably” because I’m not sure.

What happened in these conversations was something that is universally human, and universally flawed: people projecting their own life experiences, values, beliefs, fears, and attitudes onto the life of someone else. Not hindered with practical experience or specific knowledge, they’ll tell you:

“I know precisely what you mean. I know exactly how you feel. I totally get it.”

The question is: Is that really true?

UNDERSTANDING AND BEING UNDERSTOOD

When you hear a seemingly innocent phrase such as “I know how you must be feeling right now,” let me tell you what is actually going on. With a few simple words, your friend, colleague, or family member has become a mind reader, and has managed to shift the conversation away from you and onto them. Hence the prominent use of the pronoun “I.”

They have taken what you wanted to talk about, and used it as an opportunity to refocus the conversation. Perhaps not on purpose, but they did it nevertheless. 

By saying “I know exactly what you mean,” people are also comparing their personal situation to your unique circumstances, as if these two are equal. That is hardly ever the case. Even when situations seem very similar, they rarely are, and people respond to them in their own way. That’s what makes us so interesting, and at times unpredictable.

When people say things like “I know exactly how you feel,” most of us don’t make a big deal about it, unless it concerns something very personal, and there’s a need to be understood. Let me give you an example.

WALKING IN SOMEONE’S SHOES

You may know that my wife has multiple sclerosis. It’s a nasty disease which manifests itself in different ways on different days. One of the most common symptoms is fatigue. Fatigue is different from being tired. It is often described as an acute lack of energy; an unusual and utterly overwhelming whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep, which prevents a person from functioning normally.

So, when my wife told one of her friends that she was exhausted, and the friend (who doesn’t have MS) responded by saying “I know exactly how you feel,” my wife said:

“Actually, I’m glad you don’t. I would not want to wish this on anybody.”

I remember going to an event where friends and family members were educated about multiple sclerosis. To give me a sense of what it might feel like to experience MS symptoms, a facilitator put weights on my legs which affected my sense of balance.

Blurred vision is another MS symptom, so they had me wear strange goggles that made the world around me look distorted. I could not read a simple text they asked me to read. Then I had to wear thick gloves, and I was instructed to unbutton my shirt, which was totally impossible.

I still remember the frustrating feeling of helplessness as I was wearing this weird outfit. The things I had come to rely upon: my sense of balance, my eyesight, and my sense of touch, were seriously affected. I needed the help of other people to get around and get things done, and I hated losing my independence. For a moment.

Luckily, after a while I could take all these gadgets off, but I tell you: I never looked at my wife in the same way. Never again would I tell her: “I know exactly how you feel.” Even after my limited MS symptom simulation I can’t say I know what it’s like to have an incurable chronic disease. And I hope I’ll never find out.

PERCEPTION AND PROJECTION

Now, this may be an extreme example, but extremes can make things clear. As a human being it is hard not to compare and project. We constantly have to make sense of the world around us, and we use our own experiences as a frame of reference. Based on that I have a few questions for you:

• How often are you aware that your perception is based on projection? 

• How often do you really know what a client means or a what friend feels?

• What would happen if you’d stop filling in the blanks based on your model of the world?

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a personal or in a professional relationship. If you are using your own experience to interpret the world, you are severely limiting yourself, and you’re not doing the other person justice. You’re not even focused on the other person because you’re too busy working things out in your own head.

Or as they say in the East: “You cannot pour tea into a cup that is already full.”

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

When I give a voice-over student a script and ask him or her to read it as if they were hired to be the narrator, I can predict what is going to happen. The student just starts reading the text. A few paragraphs later I ask them:

“How did you know to read it the way you did? How did you choose the tone, the tempo, the volume, and the accent?”

And most of the time they tell me: “I thought it would sound good this way. That’s all.”

Then I ask:

“Is this what the client wanted?”

“I have no idea,” the student answers. “It’s just a guess. How was I supposed to know?”

“Well, did you ask?” is my response.

And then the coin drops.

You can’t give a client what s/he wants to hear, if you have no clue what it is. You might think you have some idea, but that perception is based on your projection. It’s like asking a bartender to fix you a drink, and he just starts mixing something. Unless you asked to be surprised, you might not like what you are getting, let alone pay for it.

“Am I making any sense?” I asked my student.

“Absolutely,” she said. And then she added:

“Believe me… I know exactly what you mean.”

“Believe me,” I answered.

“You absolutely don’t.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: via photopin (license)


Casting Pearls Before Swine

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

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

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

Voice-overs love to share.

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps I better explain myself.

LURING LURKERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HERE’S MY ANSWER

Hello Mandy:

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

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

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

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

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

I will say this, though.

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

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

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

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

Does that make sense?

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

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

UNDERSTAND FIRST

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

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

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

One last thing.

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

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

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

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

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

And yes: you’re welcome!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be Sweet. Please Retweet!

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


The Ministry of Silly Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Pay-to-Play, Personal 19 Comments

Lumberjack SongLast week it happened again.

In my dreams.

I got a phone call from a potential student who wanted to know how long it would take to break into the voice-over business.

He had no training, no equipment, no experience, and no patience. When I asked him how much he was willing to invest, it turned out he had no money either.

What a brilliant start!

“But I have a profile on voices.com,” he said proudly.

“How did you pull that off?” I wondered.

“I just recorded a few things on my friend’s computer so I would have some demos, and they accepted me straight away. They must think I have potential, right?”

“Listen carefully,” I said, “these people would accept a talking parrot for a new member as long as it presented a credit card that wasn’t expired. In fact, I believe I’ve heard a few of our feathered friends on that site, and they all sound very much like Gilbert Gottfried.”

“Oh, I can do a Gilbert Gottfried for you,” said my aspiring voice-over enthusiastically. “Just give me a few seconds to get into character.”

“Please don’t,” I begged, but it was too late. I had to hold the phone a mile away from my ear in order to avoid permanent hearing loss.

After one of the most painful minutes of my life listening to the sound of an Aflac duck being strangled, I had had enough, and shouted:

GILBERT, YOU’RE FIRED!”

“That’s so funny,” giggled the voice on the other end of the line. “Gottfried lost his job after making a tsunami joke. I must have sounded pretty convincing.”

“To tell you the truth, you sounded more like a dead parrot to me, my friend. Had you gone on for much longer, my neighbors would have reported me to the police for cruelty to animals. I’m sure they could hear every wretched noise you just made.”

“Speaking of dead parrots,” the aspiring student continued unabashed, “I can also do a mean John Cleese impression. And without skipping a beat he yelled:

‘Ello, Miss, I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.’

“Before you go any further, Mr. Cleese,” I interrupted, “I have an admission to make.”

‘ELLO POLLY!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing!’ the guy continued, but the moment he took a breath I seized the opportunity and said:

“You are extremely talented…”

The blissful silence that followed these glorious words lasted precisely two seconds.

“Do you really think so?” the impersonator whispered.

“Extremely talented…

at pissing people off, Pet Shop man,” I continued. “Let me give it to you plain and simple: 

If you go on like this, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression. Right now, your voice-over career is as dead in the water as Monty Python’s Norwegian Blue. It’s stone dead. It has ceased to be. It’s expired, and gone to meet its maker. Bereft of life. It’s kicked the bucket, and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible…”

“Alright, alright… I get it,” said the voice-over wannabe. “But you have to help me out here. I came to you for some coaching. Not to have an argument. I told you that at the beginning.”

“No you didn’t” I said.

“Yes I did,” he said.

“You did not!”

“I’m telling you I did!”

“You did not!”

“Oh this is futile,” he said.”

“At last we agree on something,” I replied. “From what I’ve heard so far, you’re as good at doing voice-overs as Basil Fawlty was at running a hotel.”

“Coming from you, that means a lot,” the guy said. “I appreciate your honesty. Will you be my coach?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I exclaimed. “I just insulted you, and you want to be my student? What are you? A masochist? I don’t think you’re cut out for this sort of work.”

“But for the past few months this has been my dream,” he stammered. “Right now I work at Holiday Hair, and I hate it. I have this terrible un-un-uncontrollable fear whenever I see hair. When I was a kid I used to hate the sight of hair being cut. My mother said I was a fool. She said the only way to cure it was to become a hairdresser. Guess what? It didn’t work.”

He let out a deep, sad sigh.

“Mr. Strikwerda, If I can’t do voice-overs, what else am I to do?”

I knew I couldn’t leave the guy hanging. He had a good sense of humor, and I wanted him to get something out of our conversation. What was I to do? All of a sudden I knew the perfect answer.

“Listen, I said… why don’t you…  why don’t you become a… LUMBERJACK!” 

“Leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia,” he continued.

“The giant redwood, the larch, the fir, the mighty scots pine…”

“If I ever want to get rid of this lad, I have to stop feeding him lines,” I said to myself. After taking a sip of water I got back into the conversation.

“You know my name. What’s yours?” I asked.

“Michael,” he said. “I was named after Michael Palin.” 

“How surprising,” I thought. 

“Well, Michael, I tell you what. Why don’t you take one of your demos, and send it to the Voice Arts™ Awards. If you win, I’ll give you five free coaching sessions. How does that sound?”

“Are you serious?” he asked. “That’s amazing! Thank you. Now I feel much more optimistic.”

“That’s the spirit!” I said. “You know what they say: ‘Always look on the bright side of life.'”

Michael laughed, and replied on cue:

“Nudge, nudge. Say no more!”

Paul Strikwerda (and Monty Pyton) ©nethervoice

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Spoon Feeding Blabbermouths

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Money Matters 32 Comments

Let’s say you’ve made somewhat of a name for yourself in the VO-community.

Your weekly blog is doing really well and colleagues want to be friends with you.

People you don’t know seem to value your opinion and start reaching out.

They write messages that begin with praise, and of course you’re flattered. At the same time you can sense where this is going. Inevitably, there will be a paragraph at the end of the email that goes like this:

“I admire your work and I respect your opinion. You must be very busy, but….
* What do you think of my demo?
* How much should I charge as a beginner?
* Which online casting service is the best?
* What microphone do you recommend?
* How do I get an agent? Can you introduce me to yours?
* Why is there a hum on my recording?
* How do I master my audio?
* I do tons of auditions but I never get hired. What am I doing wrong?

Any tips that could help me in my career are more than welcome!”

On one hand I’m happy that strangers trust me enough to ask for advice. On the other, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want to help, but I also have a business to run. Clients are waiting to hear back from me. There’s editing to be done. That guest post I’m writing isn’t finished yet, and on top of that I’m fighting a cold.

More importantly: Where does friendly advice end, and where does professional coaching begin?

Then there’s the issue of money. Even though my opinion is considered to be valuable, it is almost always assumed that my advice is free.

That bothers me.

NOT ALONE

As a voice talent, blogger and coach, I’m not the only one having to deal with this situation. Perhaps there’s something to learn from how other professionals approach this problem.

The following question was posted on a forum for IT professionals:

“Because I’m a programmer, people constantly ask me to fix their computer. How do you handle this situation? Do you make exceptions for relatives, friends and co-workers? Do you charge people for it?”

This is the answer that got the most votes:

“Here’s what you do:

• If it’s a Windows box say, “I only know how to fix Macs.”
• If it’s a Mac say, “I only know how to fix PC’s.”
• If it’s a Linux box say, “You’re a Linux user… fix it yourself!”

Here are a few other suggestions:

“Say you’ll fix their computer. Open their temporary internet files folder and then look totally shocked when you discover the obligatory hardcore porn images that are bound to be there. They probably will be too ashamed to ever ask you again.”

“I have an amazon.com wish list. I do genuinely like helping people, however I feel my time is worth something. Where accepting cash may not feel 100% appropriate, sending them my Amazon wish list has worked very well for me.”

“I give them a visiting card (made for this occasion) and I ask them to schedule an appointment to talk about the problem. End of the story.”

“My personal strategy is just to be very, very busy. Nine out of ten times they’ll find other help by the time I get around to it.”

“I tell them: “I am a programmer, not an administrator. You would not ask an architect to repair your roof, either. Of course, this works with almost everybody, except with my mom. Nowadays I just tell her to get a Mac.”

“My conditions are: First half hour is free, after that, it’s $100/hr. Reason: I like to help people but I don’t like it when I’m abused as free support. So if it really is “just a simple tiny thing,” then no problem, can do. But often “simply tiny problem” stands for “I have no idea what’s wrong; just fix it for me!” As soon as money is involved, they stop and start thinking if it’s really worth it.”

“I fixed her computer (the printer was unplugged!). Now, 4 years later, we’re married!”

Did any of these solutions strike a chord with you?

MY OWN ROLE

As I was trying to figure out how to best deal with requests from my fans, friends and followers, I realized one thing: I created this situation.

I always encourage my readers to respond. The opportunity to connect with people from all over the globe is one of the blessings of writing a blog. But some days it is a mixed blessing. With 33,675+ subscribers, I have to come up with a way to handle questions and comments effectively and efficiently.

Let’s start with blog comments. If you take the time to publicly respond to one of my articles, you deserve to be acknowledged. Quite often, your reaction will give me a chance to delve a bit deeper into what I’ve been writing about, or to clear up misunderstandings. The bottom line: if you care to comment, you can expect an answer.

As of this moment, there are almost 4,495 comments on this blog, and my guess is that half of them were penned by me in response to someone’s remarks. (the oldest article dates back to May 2009).

Now, what do I do with questions that reach me outside of this blog? Well, I start by looking at three things:

1. Who’s asking?
2. What are they asking?
3. How are they asking?

You’d be surprised how many people contact me out of the blue without even introducing themselves. Maybe they have a feeling they already know me because they’ve been reading my blog for a while. Still, why can’t we treat an email as a regular conversation? I’d never walk up to someone new with a question without introducing myself first.

One of the keys that can make or break a career is your ability to build relationships. Don’t expect to get information without a establishing a relation. 

NO BABY TALK

Secondly, I refuse to answer basic questions. It’s not my job to do someone else’s homework. Those who wish to make it in this field have to be proactive, independent and resourceful. If they can’t be bothered to do a simple Google search, why should I take time out of my busy day to do it for them?

Babies need to be spoon-fed. They’re helpless. Wasn’t it E.M. Foster who said:

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

In my experience, the answers people find for themselves tend to stick much better than those that have been handed to them on a silver platter.

What I will do, is encourage people to search my blog. With over 200 archived articles, it is likely they’ll find what they are looking for. If I happen to remember a specific story that might be relevant, I often include a link. It reduces my bounce rate

DEMO CRITIQUE

Almost half of those who get in touch, want me to critique their demos and/or website. If the request comes from a colleague I’m close to, I am happy to give feedback. I know they’d do the same for me. If the request comes out of nowhere from someone I don’t know, I will charge a fee for my time and expertise.

I tell my readers all the time how important it is that they value their time and their work. I practice what I preach. Besides, free advice is easily ignored. When people make an investment, they’re much more invested in what they’ve learned because they tend to find it more valuable. 

The decision to charge money turned out to be a huge time-saver. Nine out of ten people hoping to get free feedback will literally drop off the planet as soon as they are asked to pay. Are you surprised?

TASTE TEST

There’s a reason why you can get free samples at your ice cream store. It only makes sense to give a freebie if it increases the chances of making a sale.

The only time I will critique a demo free of charge is when someone’s seriously thinking of hiring me as their coach. Listening to their audio will give me an idea of where they’re coming from and whether or not I want to take them under my wings. At the same time, the person submitting the demo will get a better sense of whether or not I’d be a good fit.

And finally….

A lot of the questions I get, cannot and should not be answered in writing. It would be as silly as teaching someone how to play the Double Bass over the phone. Helping a person with things like script interpretation, diction, breathing and microphone technique, needs a closer, more direct connection. It requires involved interaction over a longer period of time.

THE INNER GAME

You may have noticed that I like to blog about the more psychological aspects of our business. I write about fear of failure, finding your strength, overcoming rejection and so on. Because of that focus, some people turn to me with deeper, more personal questions.

In order to be a successful voice talent, I think it’s just as important to deal with our inner voice, as it is to refine what comes out of our mouth. One affects the other. This very personal aspect is too sacred and too intimate to be dealt with in writing. The spoken word and even silence, can convey infinitely more than letters on a computer screen.

In matters of the soul and of the heart, it’s far more important to actively listen, than to come up with answers. In fact, my personal opinion is irrelevant.

As a coach I believe it’s vital to help people connect to their own wisdom, instead of making them dependent on someone else’s ideas.

How do I facilitate that process?

By asking questions.

You’ve heard me.

Sometimes, questions are the answer.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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