The Trouble With Giving Unwanted Advice

Thanks, but no thanks.We are a suspicious society.

Whether we realize it or not, most of us are trained to distrust people’s intentions.

Some fifteen years ago, my friend was driving me home at night. The United States was still new to me, and I had a lot of cultural adjusting to do.

At one point during our dark drive I spotted someone with car trouble by the side of the road. The hood of her Honda was up, and she seemed distressed. To my surprise, my friend drove right past her without blinking an eye.

“Are you crazy,?” I cried indignantly. “Why didn’t you stop to help the poor woman?”

“That’s a very bad idea,” my friend said. “For one, she might think that we’re coming to molest her. Two: Her friends could be waiting in the wings to mug us. Why don’t you take my phone and let the police know what’s going on. They’ll handle it.”

“Whatever happened to being a good Samaritan?” I asked.

“Forget that,” said my friend. “You can’t trust anyone anymore. This is America. People have guns, and they are not afraid to use them.”

I was flabbergasted. In the Netherlands where I came from, not helping someone in need could be interpreted as criminal negligence. In the USA it apparently was a liability. 

But America has more trust issues.

FLYER OR FIVER

A few years ago, Kyle MacDonald conducted a social experiment. He took to the streets with a stack of flyers and five-dollar bills. Much to his surprise, it was easier to hand out flyers than fivers. People didn’t seem to want his money because they believed Kyle had ulterior motives. After all, there’s no such thing as a free ride, right?

Suspicions about the true intentions of strangers are nothing new, by the way. Telling the story of the famous Trojan horse, the classic author Virgil coined the phrase Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, often translated as Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. What he meant to say was this:

Do not trust an opponent who offers to do something nice for you.

This adds another element to the mix. That of an opponent. That’s because those who assume the worst, often see people they don’t know or understand as adversaries, competitors, or as folks they should be afraid of.

I guess it takes one, to know one.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty scary individuals out there, ready to scam our grandparents, abduct our kids, and steal our identities. Radicalized, brainwashed fanatics will kill themselves and many others to glorify their G-d. We need to be vigilant, but we also need to put things into perspective.

THANK GOODNESS

Just because something bad might happen, doesn’t mean it will. Most of the time it doesn’t. Random acts of kindness are performed every day, and there are still genuinely kind and trustworthy people in this world who wish to help their fellow human beings out, no strings attached.

The voice-over community I am a part of is blessed with countless supportive Samaritans who are ready to assist you, whether you’re a veteran or a newcomer. They recommend colleagues to clients, and people get hired because of it every day. Including me. 

They critique each other’s demos and websites for free, they answer questions about rates, and they put their two cents in when asked about what audio equipment to buy. Just spend some time on Facebook and LinkedIn, read a few blogs, and you’ll pick up golden nuggets at no cost whatsoever.

Yet, I found out that free advice is not always welcomed and appreciated. Sometimes, it is treated with utmost suspicion. 

NO CRITICISM ALLOWED

The moderator of a particular voice-over Facebook group (which shall remain unnamed) made it clear that no one was allowed to be “negative” about cheap sites like Fiverr.com and VoiceBunny. “Everyone has to start somewhere,” was his reasoning, and “we should not discourage talent to sell their services on those types of websites.”

I am not going to repeat myself by telling you where I stand in terms of those sites. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know exactly how I feel. Here’s the thing, though. I sometimes see it as my mission to educate clients and colleagues. After all, I’ve been around the block a few times, and I have this strange illusion that some of my insights might be helpful. Especially to those who are just starting out.

So, when a member of this particular Facebook group made some comments about Fiverr, I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. Soon, other experienced colleagues chimed in with valuable advice which was… not appreciated at all. It didn’t take long before the name calling began.

We were accused of being old-school, pretentious know-it-alls who did not understand where the new generation of voice talent was coming from. Perhaps we felt threatened by young talent? Is that why we told people to stay away from the bargain basement?

By the way, I got the same response to last week’s blog post entitled Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned, which was read over 10,000 times. “This was undoubtedly,” as someone put it, “my sad attempt to discourage the competition.” But let’s get back to the discussion about Fiverr.

TALKING TO A WALL

No matter how hard we tried to inject some logic and common sense into the heated exchange, people kept questioning our motives. They thought we just wanted to impress, or get some coaching clients out of the debate.

Then the moderator (who took part in the back-and-forth) had had enough. With the click of a mouse he removed the entire thread. That’s when I decided to remove myself from the group.

Closed minds make the worst students. 

Yet, I cannot put all the blame on the inexperienced, skeptical members of this group. When people regard you as an uninvited guest, it’s often better to stay under the radar, and I didn’t.

In my view, people are more open to advice from those they know and trust. I did not really know the people I was talking to, and they clearly didn’t trust me. There was no rapport, and that was mistake number one.

EXPOSING IGNORANCE

Secondly, people don’t like it when their ignorance is publicly exposed. They feel humiliated, and become defensive. Perhaps I had advocated my point of view as THE truth, which is never a good thing. Many roads lead to Rome. Some are just a bit longer than others. People need to learn from their mistakes, so, who am I to deny them a significant aha moment?

The thing is: opinions can be discarded. Life experience is harder to refute. 

Instead of blasting the Facebook group with my “wisdom,” I could have asked: “May I give a suggestion?” Putting it that way tends to removes resistance. 

Third, when people make an investment (e.g. in my services as a coach), they’re usually more invested in what is offered. For instance, I can tell one person something, and they respond with “Whatever.” I can say the same thing to a student, and they tell me it’s the best suggestion ever. Go figure!

The last piece of advice I would give myself is this: 

Don’t waste your time giving eye-openers to people who are willfully blind.

Too many beginners don’t know what they don’t know, and when a horse isn’t thirsty, you can’t get it to drink.

And by the way…

Whenever I see someone stranded by the side of the road, I still feel inclined to pull over and help.

I must be a very naïve and strange person!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Day 5, Ape Can’t Trust Man via photopin (license)

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing

26 Responses to The Trouble With Giving Unwanted Advice

  1. Jem Matzan

    Americans, in general, are very friendly and helpful people. However, we like to see people who need help, then make an offer of help. If someone is asking for help, it’s always a little suspicious. It seems like a transaction, like you’re entering into some kind of Faustian open-ended agreement. It would have been perfectly reasonable to stop next to the woman by the side of the road, roll down the window, and ask if she was alright and if you could make a phone call for her (tow truck, AAA, police, etc.). After all, you’re not a mechanic, what are you going to do for a broken-down car anyway?

    Voiceover in specific, and professional acting in general, is an industry steeped in scarcity. Some people, when faced with scarcity, become selfish, backstabbing villains. I have known a few across various parts of the entertainment industry; none of them did great work. They’re good at knowing whose ass to kiss to get work, and they know who the “nobodies” are so that they can bully them out of competition. The bullies like to be perceived as gatekeepers, elders, “brutally honest” industry veterans. They make themselves admins of Facebook groups, beg to speak on panels at industry events. Like reality TV stars, they’re trying to stay in the news as often as possible. And, universally, their work is never better than mediocre.

    My opinion is that the scarcity is mostly perception, partly reality. I have no competition because nobody else does what I do. Either a client wants what I do, or they want what someone else does. The people who look around at a cattle-call audition and see 2000 “competitors” are in big trouble.

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  2. rO

    Hi, Paul.
    I have been helped much more than I have helped over the past 3o years or so. But for every guy who contact me for ways to “break in” to the biz (and then flatly tells me what he will not learn and that all my experienced associates I point out as successful examples don’t seem that hot to his ears)…there are a few stunning, and very grateful and loyal bulls-eye talents who’ve taken what I could offer, worked at it, improved upon it, and made me proud to know them (…and they often end up getting ME work!). The way I have to think about it now, in my dotage, is that people can mock my opinions…but they cannot successfully refute my personal experience. And it’s not up to me to convince them I know what I’ve lived. Keep on keepin on (oh, and if you see a tired old man in a broken down PT Cruiser at the side of the road, PLEASE feel free to stop and help. I promise I won’t mug you! rg

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    One of the main reasons I’m still blogging about the biz has to do with the many positive response I receive, week after week. Since I started writing, I have noticed a strange change in society, though. Three magical words are gradually disappearing in America: “Please” and “Thank You.” Many kids don’t use them any more, in part because they’ve never heard their parents say them. Apparently, free speech gives people the right to be rude. I’m not buying it. Now, does that make me a silly old man fighting for the return of manners?

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  3. Mary Morgan

    Paul, your info is super valuable and it’s a shame some people refuse to be open minded. Voice Over is not for the faint of heart. I try not to discourage but I refuse to sugarcoat the business as something “anybody can do”. I’ve met too many who assume they can be the next Morgan Freeman or the next video game or anime superstar, then ask me “How to Get In”. No one wants to hear about what’s involved or what to keep up with. And worst of all, they want someone else to do all the work for them: “Can you get me a part on a show?”, “Can you give me a referral to your agents?”, “Can you give me a list of companies to call or email?”
    It still makes me cringe when they ask me to do it all for them and for nothing in return. Time is money and I don’t like my time being wasted.

    I really appreciate all the knowledge you share and the time you put in to keeping your blog active. I tell LOTS of newcomers to read your blog because it’s brutal honesty and if they can’t handle brutal honesty, this business is not for them.

    Thank you again!!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Mary, as the Chinese say, it’s hard to fill a cup that is already full (of itself).

    Thank you so much for sending so many people to my blog. It is the greatest compliment you could ever pay me!

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  4. Paul Garner

    Thank you once again, Paul. I continue to appreciate your insight and experience and your willingness to share. Thanks also to JS Gilbert and others who willingly share your knowledge and experience, your wisdom, with the rest of us. I have learned and continue to learn to improve my VO skills as well as other areas of my life from all of you.
    Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Comments likes yours mean much more to me than know-it-all teenagers dissing my advice on Facebook, so: Thank you Paul!

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  5. Paul Stefano

    Perfectly stated, as always Paul.

    I have had this same experience myself. Problem is, I just can’t help myself. As an Eagle Scout, I have always had the mindset of “Do a Good Turn Daily”. It’s the Scout Motto! I guess, I have carried that over to the voice over world.

    Still, it hurts when you try to help and are either ignored, or worse, rebuked!

    My solution has been to start a podcast. Now, I just filter all my opinions and advice there (for the most part) and direct people to just listen if they want to know more. I imagine this is a large reason you started the blog too.

    I want to say, PLEASE keep disseminating your valuable knowledge. I have learned, and continued to learn so much from you and other talent in the field, who have been so giving of their time and expertise.

    While we are at it. THANK YOU J S Gilbert! Another voice over talent that is so giving of his time, it’s almost unfathomable.

    I can never repay all the folks who have helped me so much, but I will always try!

    Cheers,

    Paul

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You are (re)paying it forward, Paul, and your solution to the “thanks but no thanks” problem is ingenious and very giving.

    For those looking over our shoulder, let me give you the link to Paul’s podcast which he produces and presents with Sean Daeley. It’s called The VO Meter, and if you click here, you’ll go to the website. Check out Episode 12 for a familiar voice!

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    Sean Daeley Reply:

    Thank you so much for the kind comments and shout out, Paul. As we’ve told you and others many times, this is our attempt to give back to a wonderful community of Paul Strikwerda’s, Dave Courvousier’s, JS Gilberts, John Florian’s, the VOBS Guys, and so many others who have been so generous with their insight, experience, and expertise (and perhaps most importantly, TIME!) Not only have you been an inspiration for us and our VO careers, but you’ve inspired the seed of generosity the VO community is famous for. Thank you so much.

    Warmest Regards,

    Sean

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  6. Kevin Powe

    Ugh. I know the group you mean. I left shortly after watching people form an enthusiastic queue to sign up for a P2P site taking 35% of every lowball job, and paying out talent monthly. Le sigh.

    Your offering of unsolicited advice is exactly what a generous professional would do – try to help. And you would *think* that any new and useful information would be seized upon as a chance to improve. Obviously not. You summarised it perfectly with

    “Don’t waste your time giving eye-openers to people who are willfully blind.”

    There’s a great quote from Hagakure that to me sums up why advice should always be listened to, even if just for the most mercenary of aims:

    “The best way for one to surpass others is to let others candidly criticize one’s personal affairs, asking for their counsel. For most people, their own opinions are the only guide in coping with matters. In that way, there can be no leap above others. Consulting others is the foundation for making a leap ahead of others.”

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That last quote was fantastic, Kevin. Left to our own devices, we’re never able to go beyond the level of our incompetence. Unfortunately, too many people don’t know what they don’t know, and because of that, they’re not open to feedback. Meanwhile, they mess up the market place by accepting jobs at very low rates. My only solace is that clients are likely get what they deserve.

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  7. J S Gilbert

    Paul,

    It took me a few years but I may have finally come to my senses. I just parted ways with the last voice over group I was part of.

    I am tired of individuals who have no investment challenging my statements, most often with ad hominem arguments.

    Having looked back at the past 10 or so years where I have been active online, attempting to offer my experiences as a voice talent, producer and advertising creative director, I can honestly say, I feel like I stopped to help somebody with car travel and got mugged.

    While this may be a “giving” community, I often find the gifts aren’t of much value and often can be harmful.

    I see many talent who speak on topics and issues they have no personal experiences with; simply regurgitating what somebody else said.

    Beyond that, of the several hundred people I have personally helped by spending hours and hours answering questions, giving critiques, getting talent agents, even producing demos for free, the reciprocity has been lousy. I even volunteered 3 or 4 times to speak and work with a group of 10 – 15 talent via Skype to a remote studio, for hours at a time, and never really received an appropriate thank you.

    Perhaps 10 or so people have gone to some sort of lengths to show appreciation and I remember them and appreciate them.

    One woman, who I was very responsible for getting over $25,000 worth of work called me to say she was going to be late to a session I was directing because she was delayed dropping off a present to a client. All I could think of was how absurd and unappreciated I felt. I had never received a gift in the 7 or 8 years I had been pushing that voice talent.

    It was the last session I had with her.

    I have met some interesting and wonderful members of the voice over world; not all of whom I agree fully with on matters of voice over, politics or world affairs, but yet still get along splendidly.

    Otherwise, I tend to have a bit of suspicion and contempt for individuals who are often raised upon pedestals for seemingly very little.

    Part of me wants to stick around, perhaps the same way it’s hard to drive past a car wreck and not take a look. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing by writing this comment. Or maybe that it’s just that I refuse to go gentle into the good night.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Well, JS, let me be one of the few people to thank you for all you have shared with our community in the past ten years. Your insights have been invaluable to many, and certainly to me. I would compare what you have done to planting seeds. Some will be blown away by the wind. Some will come up. Others never will. Some stay under ground for many years, and suddenly appear where you did not even plant them. It may seem thankless, and yet, every cause has an effect.

    Now that I’m in my fifties, I look back at some of my high school teachers who helped shape my future. I never thanked them. I will never be able to repay them. And yet they left their mark. You are like one of those teachers! You will never know how much you matter.

    Part of the problem is that so many people aren’t grateful for what they take for granted. For some, free advice has no value because it’s… free. As soon as you start charging them, you’re being taken much more seriously, and students will start implementing your suggestions.

    I, for one, am glad that you’re sticking around. I hope that you’ll keep on giving. You have a unique voice and a unique perspective. It is your gift to us.

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  8. Scott Lambright Smith

    I am glad you had a write up on this. I told this specific group several times that we are there to help and if you do not want our help, or insult a pro, wildfires can spread fast. Myself and others gave great advice but it is clearly filled with some that want it all but don’t to put the work in to have it all. In voice acting, the acting is bigger than the voice. The same goes for the “biz” in showbiz.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Scott Lambright Smith: I saw you chiming in that day, and what you said made perfect sense (to me, at least). Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how loud you speak, if your words fall on deaf ears.

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  9. Sally Blake

    Dear Paul,
    I was wondering what that was all about. I caught sight of it on another thread and group therefore do not know which actual group it was and did not see the exchange. I have seen this happen over the years with good intent on seemingly innocent subjects in many groups over the years.( Not just voice over groups ) In my opinion everyone has a right to their own opinion presented respectfully. It seems censorship to delete a thread because you don’t like the opinions of others. So many different people in the world. Sorry you experienced such negativity. Sincerely,
    Sally Blake

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Sally Blake: I always tell my daughter: “Different people do different things for different reasons.” I like the fact that we’re a diverse community. We don’t always have to agree, as long as we are willing to listen, and are ready to continue the dialoge. I was very disappointed that the moderator deleted the thread, but a Facebook group is not a democracy. Thankfully, there are groups like the one run by Terry Daniel and Dave Courvoisier (Voice-OVer Pros), where the moderators have created a very welcoming, open, and supportive atmosphere.

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  10. Marlene Bertrand

    One of the things I enjoy about the voiceover industry is that it is filled with talented people who are willing to share good advice. Those of us who are new to the industry should feel fortunate whenever a veteran voiceover talent opens up and shares free advice.

    I am constantly baffled by newbies who shun good advice. My success in this industry comes from paying attention to people who have been doing this for a while. I may not like what they are saying, nevertheless, they are giving good advice.

    And, Paul, I won’t ask why the horse isn’t thirsty, but if you’re willing to share your suspicions, I’m listening [insert smiley face].

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Marlene Bertrand: The only shortcut to success is to learn from the best. That way, you don’t waste time reinventing the wheel. It seems like you have adopted this strategy wholeheartedly, and I applaud you for it.

    As for your last question… I tend to stay away from mind reading, but there is a feeling of (misplaced) certainty in believing you know it all. A feeling of independence. A new generation likes to question the old school.

    I’m happy to answer those questions, as long as the ones who are asking are willing to listen to the answer.

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  11. Dave Smith

    Invaluable advice Paul and Mike. I have been studying on my own, coached and mentored by a national local voice talent for two years off and on now when my day job permits.

    I have a website up but plainly show it’s still under construction. I have my branding chosen, published, trademarked and copyrighted. I have my LLC completed, but yet I don’t have a demo or have I joined any P2P sites. Why you may ask? It’s because I can only make a first impression once and I’m not ready to cut my demo. Not because it won’t be professionally produced enough, because it will, but I am not ready to replicate that professionalism of the demo yet on a daily basis

    My mentor and coach and I will know when it’s time to cut the demo. Until that time, I use everyday to try to learn something new about my future 2nd career and craft. I do so in part by subscribing to blogs such as this one and I thank you both for your valuable insight.

    I do so to try to learn from your expertise as a student pilot could learn from mine being in the Aviation business for the last 36 years and am now a retired airline pilot but still in the corporate flight department game.

    I thank you for your insight, knowledge, and advice.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Dave Smith: I applaud you for your thorough, patient approach. I wish more people were like you. But these days, everything has to be “quick and easy,” which is completely unrealistic. A voice-over career needs a crock pot mindset, and not that of a microwave.

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  12. Howard Ellison

    What good sense, as ever, Paul. And I agree, sensitivity is needed even when among tough guys. Sometimes I chip in on the Psychology or Education walls, because I feel I have insight from acting, and from enabling volunteers, and for sure I should be able to learn there. Usually, I preface my view with “I’m just a layman”.

    Responses vary: best are the Likes and tips for study papers from clever people (that feels good) and excellent discourse.

    Just once, a PhD followed up my little missive with ‘this discussion has deteriorated’ – that felt too personal at first, but I see it was that writer’s problem not mine. Everyone can learn from anecdote and innocent questioning. It’s untidy maybe, but can turn out to be years ahead of what is ‘evidence based’ and at least should keep minds open.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Howard Ellison: You know what they say about minds and parachutes… When I was young I went through a know-it-all phase, and it was rough. Later on I had some great teachers who inspired me to question everything. Then I became a journalist and did just that. Now I know that absolute truth is very hard to find, and I’m okay with that.

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  13. Mike Harrison

    While I’ve been full-time for just over 10 years, I’ve been doing voice-over work as part of or in addition to other full-time work in various audio media since 1974. So, when solicited in a forum, I feel fairly qualified to offer advice on things I have first-hand experience with.

    Yes, Paul, I know that your topic is “giving unwanted advice” but, as you probably know, there are times when advice or opinion is initially asked for but…

    A number of years ago, in a voice-over forum, a woman who described herself as new to VO asked for opinions. She had just finished her first narration and wasn’t happy with what she was told she’d be paid (or had been paid). Surprisingly, the rate was just a little less than AFTRA scale at that time, but she wanted more. She apparently told her client that she had to travel a good distance to get to the studio and that she had kids at home, and felt that those were valid reasons for a higher rate. Again, this was her very first booked job.

    She solicited opinions on this from forum members.

    I responded by politely saying (1) she should consider herself extremely lucky that her very first job landed her near-Union scale, (2) that clients do not care what distance she has to travel or that she has kids at home and, (3) by asking the client for a higher rate because of these reasons demonstrated that she was inexperienced and, as such, the client may not call her again.

    This is not the opinion this woman wanted to hear… and she lashed out at me. She was apparently expecting everyone to rally around and support her.

    Here’s a non-VO example of what was unsolicited advice. A friend, years ago, had taught himself 3D rendering software to the point where he was able to create a spinning globe. By this time, 3D rendering had been in common use for about 10 years or so. He wanted to offer prospective clients his 3D services by putting the spinning globe on his website. There was a slight problem with the spinning globe, however; there was a very visible seam where the beginning of the render met with the end. Imagine a thick double vertical line running from the north pole to the south pole. I cautioned him against using this as a demo because the obvious seam showed he hadn’t yet figured out how to render without seams. It would be demonstrating incomplete work, and clients aren’t interested in incomplete work.

    That example is on par with advice I’ve offered for newcomers to voice-over: don’t send out demos until you have some experience (or, at least sufficient training) and the demo is professionally produced. Producers and talent and casting agents know in an instant what they’re listening to, and the goal – whether in voice-over or ANY field – is to make a GOOD first impression. What we do not want is to make an impression that clearly says we’re not ready. And, if the demo is obviously hastily/badly produced, there is a very good chance it will be remembered for the wrong reasons.

    My point is, there are a lot of people who can and will help… if the help is sincerely wanted. And it is assumed the help is desired if opinions are solicited in a public forum. But we can’t grow if all we want to hear is positive feedback. So, if we receive unsolicited advice, chances are it came from someone who truly cared enough to take the time to try to set us on the right path. We can say “thank you” for the feedback (and ignore it, too), even if it was unsolicited, or we can respond indignantly. And doing so the sign of a closed mind; one that is resistant to growing.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    @ Mike Harrison: Thanks for giving these clear examples! Feedback is the breakfast of champions. The best coaches tell you things you probably don’t want to hear. That’s what makes them good at what they do.

    [Reply]

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