Why I Didn’t Like VO Atlanta

Paul Strikwerda at VO AtlantaYes, it’s totally true. I didn’t like VO Atlanta.

I LOVED it!

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but I couldn’t resist. My clogs sometimes take me places I have no business going.

Before I get into anything else, imagine this…

You just came back from a spectacular four-course dinner at an amazing restaurant.

The atmosphere was incredible. The waitstaff treated you like family. The cuisine was exquisite. You even took pictures to show the rest of the world what they’d missed.

Days after your experience you can still taste the food, and you can’t stop telling family, friends, and colleagues about it.

And guess what?

No matter how enthusiastic you are, and how great the meal looks in all the pics, people just don’t get it! They never will, because they didn’t share the experience. It’s frustrating, but you can’t blame them because that’s how things are.

Words are just words, and photos of food are two-dimensional. They have no taste, texture, or smell. In spite of many technological advancements, we still can’t bottle the positive energy that’s palpable in a room, and sell it on eBay. No drug will ever replicate or replace a hug. And that’s the way it should be.

Here’s the truth. Some, if not all of life’s best moments are literally beyond words. And this is what makes them so inexplicably precious, personal, and powerful.

So, I’m not even going to try and explain to you what it’s like to have been at the world’s largest gathering of voice-over professionals, a.k.a. VO Atlanta. It’s just as futile as telling you about that amazing dinner. But I will tell you this:

This year, VO Atlanta was not merely a Conference. It became a Movement!

For a movement to gain momentum, people have to be moved, and be willing to move. There was plenty of both from the early hours of the morning until… the early hours of the morning (those who took part in the Team Challenge often didn’t go to bed until 2:00 AM).

A movement has to have a common cause. Well, no matter where the attendees were from, all of them came to help strengthen and raise the professional bar for voice actors and voice acting. In my mind, this involves a number of things:

– an open mind, and a joyful commitment to lifelong learning
– a celebration of diversity, equality, and kindness
– a readiness to set higher standards and rates for our profession
– a continuous and selfless contribution to our community

Take any panel, any presentation, or any X-session… these four elements were markedly present in every room, and they made this conference a transformational experience for so many.

Now, you know me, don’t you?

I’m often critical and sometimes cynical of certain developments and players in our industry. I can smell a scam from miles away, and when I feel an emperor is wearing very few clothes, I will tell you.

I also know that one cannot orchestrate authenticity. It is impossible to fake friendship and sincerity. No matter how well any conference is organized (and believe me, VO Atlanta ran like a well-oiled machine), it ultimately depends on the people who attend, to pour their hearts and souls into it.

And that’s exactly what they did from the get-go. Together they made this conference a safe place to share, be vulnerable, try new things, feel empowered, as well as a space to learn, grow, laugh, cry, sing, act, admire, and dance.

In many ways, this is extraordinary. Why? Because the so-called real world doesn’t seem to work that way. To many, that world is a dark and fearful place, filled with people who are out to get us, instead of support us. It’s a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest society, where a ME-ME-ME mentality often prevails over a WE-frame of mind.

Being at VO Atlanta gave me hope that there is a different reality, and a different future for the voice-over work we love so much. By all accounts the segments of the market we contribute to are growing: eLearning, audio books, explainer videos, cartoons, documentaries, gaming, virtual reality, and so on.

Somewhere, someone is looking for your voice, and it is part of your job to make sure that this someone finds you, or you find him (or her). If you don’t know how, perhaps you should go to a voice-over conference and find out. In the afterglow of VO Atlanta, colleagues have already reported that using what they’ve learned only a few days ago, has paid off big time.

There was something else I noticed.

Faced with bold moves from self-absorbed, predatory companies that seek to devalue our talent and our training, a new awareness is growing that we have a choice to whom we lend our voice. Yes, we want to work, but not at any rate, and not for companies that demand more and more for less and less as they triple dip into a client’s budget, while denying us our fair share.

I felt a strong resolve in Atlanta to fight the commoditization of our work, and a deep desire to come together and show what we are worth. At this moment we have ethical agents, brilliant software developers, and SEO-specialists on our side, who are coming up with new, intelligent platforms to showcase and sell our services.

Online voice matchmakers such as Voice123 and Bodalgo are listening to us, and are coming up with smart, exciting features that benefit clients and voice talent alike. The World Voices Organization is growing every day, providing invaluable support and leadership to its members and our community at large.

Paul Strikwerda, presenting at VO Atlanta

Paul Strikwerda presents

Colleagues with years of experience share what they have learned with humor, wit, and wisdom. People whose voices you’ve grown up with suddenly sit next to you in the bar, and strike up a conversation. And guess what? They’re just as interested in you, as you are interested in them.

At first, VO Atlanta can be a bit overwhelming, but boy does it feel good when we eat, drink, and dance together, and colleagues from all over the world become fast friends. And speaking of friends, you may remember that I do my best to keep my personal and professional Facebook contacts separate (click here to find out why). That’s why I have a Nethervoice Page and a personal Profile.

However, if you’ve been to VO Atlanta this year, and you feel that we’ve connected in a meaningful way, I now warmly welcome you to my virtual living room, because I consider you my friend!

I hope we will meet sooner, but if not, I can’t wait to see you again in 2019!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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PPS If you are a current, or prior, attendee of VO Atlanta, you’re eligible to register as part of a super-early bird registration which saves you $150 on the conference registration for 2019. This offer expires March 18th. Click here to register.

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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, International, Personal, Promotion, Social Media

16 Responses to Why I Didn’t Like VO Atlanta

  1. Maria Makis

    This is a wonderful take on the VO Atlanta Experience. I was there and decided at the last minute to attend your breakout session because I have followed your blog for some time and was curious to meet you. I am so happy I did. Your warmth, generosity and wisdom filled the room. I didn’t catch the dirty sock, but if I had, I would have pulled out a card marked “Do what you might have thought not to do.” Thank you Paul.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m so glad you were in my audience, Maria! Certain things are just meant to be. I love your suggestion for a stinky sock quote. I might throw that one in next time.

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  2. Mike M

    Hey Paul, thanks for your response. Sorry for the new comment, for some reason, the page wouldn’t let me respond directly to you below. With respect, your reply seems to reinforce exactly my point- that these conferences seem (to me, based on the reviews I’ve read) to be far more about being social than focused exclusively on learning. VO life is solitary, but perhaps as a city-based VO guy, I’m less susceptible as I’m still auditioning in casting offices and see fellow VO guys all the time. If the social part is why some people are going to these conferences, more power to them! Have a blast! However, it would have to offer more for some VO folks like me to consider it. For example, my goal of going to a VO conference wouldn’t be to meet new friends but to learn new things to better my business. Anyone I might meet is a bonus, but I’d be looking to pack my days with as many sessions that advance my knowledge as possible. To clarify, of course I wasn’t looking for any ‘specific content” from a conference to be shared – but in general hearing something like “The marketing tips I got from Tommy Thompson’s “Tommy’s Top Tips” session at VO Vancouver were great and his tips immediately worked for me. Take it at the next conference if you suck at marketing!” are the kinds of things that help others see what can be gleaned. That kind of feedback on a conference or speaker gets my notice more than how fun it was to mingle with VO folks at the talent show. As a presenter, I can see your approach might lean toward can you bring to the conference, but a VO performer who might be considering spending the kind of money and time it takes to attend, there needs to be some tangible takeaway to make it worth it, otherwise it’s just a social trip like going to a VO camp. As for a “safe place”- I think i’m not getting your meaning on that. Performers needing a safe place to perform and hang is a new idea to me, Isn’t making a fool of yourself in front of a Casting Director or clients(or an audience) – whether at auditions or callbacks or the gig just part of the job? As for #MeToo – every conference we should be a safe place for everyone in that sense – #MeToo movement or not. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it. It definitely sounds like you had a blast.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Reading your last response has me think that you might not be tapped into the voice-over community as well as I thought you’d be. Or perhaps we just move in different circles. From the very beginning of VO Atlanta 2018, my social media stream has lit up with comments from and about the conference that address the very things you cite you’re missing. A week after the gathering, even more people are starting to reflect on the impact this event is continuing to have on them, personally and professionally. And rest assured that they’re not only talking about the mixing and the mingling. On the contrary.

    Don’t underestimate the intelligence of our community. If VO Atlanta would merely or mostly be known as a social event, colleagues from all over the world wouldn’t pay a pretty penny to take part in it. Experts in our industry would have better things to do with their time. The focus is on continued education and networking. And you know what? People tend to learn more when they’re having fun. We’re in the people business, and personal connections are invaluable. Meeting new friends as you put it, could lead to referrals from those friends. One of those referrals could easily pay for the cost of the conference.

    To address your last point: in theory every conference should be a safe environment. All of society should be safe for anyone regardless of race, gender, sexual preference et cetera. But we all know it is not. There’s a reason why women are speaking up about sexism and abuse in the entertainment industry. Over fifty women in the voice-over community have recently come forward to share their experiences with coach Peter Rofé. Who knows where the next #MeToo story will come from?

    In light of these developments, having a safe space to be vulnerable as a performer and as a human being, is crucial. Maybe you’re okay with “making a fool of yourself in front of a casting director or client.” For some people it is the most terrifying thing in the world, and that’s precisely one of the reasons they’ve come to the conference.

    I’ve seen people face their fears, and step up to the mic to read in front of a famous casting director. The minute they did that was a transformational moment. They proved to themselves they could do something they thought they weren’t capable of. And… they got some great feedback which gave them a tremendous confidence boost. It’s breakthrough moments like these that make events like VO Atlanta so special, and so much more than “VO camp.”

    But once again I realize that I am probably describing a dinner to you as best as I can, and you’ll never truly taste it. As far as I can tell you might not even be hungry for the very things that give me intense pleasure and satisfaction. And that’s totally okay with me.

    [Reply]

  3. Jon Noles

    Paul, thank you for this entry. You captured the sentiments perfectly. To Mike M., below, may I add that I attended Paul’s X-session and it was one of the most productive ones I’ve ever taken. Not that I don’t get tons from the breakout groups, panels and other X-sessions, because the experience gained, the connections made and the overall material is invaluable. Paul’s XS was quite different. I didn’t “get” a sense of community or rah-rah stuff that is prevalent at these conferences, but I gained a new perspective. I have a bit of homework to do after it also. The questions he posed and the thoughts he shared challenged me incredibly. So much so, that it will take a good long weekend away from life in general to fully process them and create an action plan. I imagine that when I make that time and create that plan, it won’t just affect my VO life, but I’m almost certain that several other areas of my life will be challenged, thought about and changed as well. That also goes for the breakout panel that he chaired, quite creatively I might add. I’ll never look at a long stocking the same way again. Cheers!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for chiming in, Jon, and for saying all these nice things about my contributions to VO Atlanta. You make a very good point. People can walk away from any conference with tons of invaluable information that eventually ends up in a bottom drawer. A year later they do some spring cleaning, and discover what they could have used had they not ignored it. You, on the other hand, have taken the time to let it all sink in, and do your homework. That’s the way to make the most out of all the great nuggets that were shared during VO Atlanta. This is really an ongoing process that pays off in unexpected ways. Why? Because I firmly believe that making changes in one area of our life, will affect other areas as well. And when that happens, it will knock your socks off! I can personally testify to that. In fact, you’ve seen one of those socks!

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  4. olslugger

    Thanks for this Paul! I credit you every time I mention the story about the one word that stood out in the casting site panel you were on where you mentioned “congregation” as that really, to me, was the epitome of how the community felt like at VO Atlanta (and for the most part, beyond, for that matter). Everyone has blood family, but a congregation is in many people’s lives their next closest relations. It was this word that most resonated with me as I truly felt the VO’s attending this were a congregation, sharing their life stories, business tips & tricks, enjoying a beverage (or many) together. As I’ve found in my own business networking, it’s all about the human connections you make that will make or break your career and life in general. So it cannot be said more loudly how essential it is to become a part of this congregation and to show others you are a decent human being and worthy of their support and friendship. It truly was great to see you again and although we didn’t have the chance to have some quiet chats like we did in 2017, I look forward to seeing you again in 2019 and maintaining our friendship electronically until then. All the best Paul!

    [Reply]

  5. Mike M

    I gotta say, I still don’t get it. With all due respect to you Paul, I’ve yet to read a “review” of these VO gatherings that says what anyone tangibly took away. It’s always a lot of “sense of community” and “we are in this together” stuff. That’s great, if that’s what you were looking for, and obviously many VO performers are. But in researching these conferences, it seems THAT is the major takeaway. Even the sessions and their scheduling seem designed to facilitate hanging out and mingling with other VO actors more than learning new technology or the like. Maybe it’s because I’m in a bigger city, but I already have a community of VO actors I regularly chat with and compare notes about new tech, industry developments, crappy producers to avoid, etc. A conference would have to offer something beyond that for the cost, and even this review is vague about which sessions offered you found beneficial and what was taken away from them. I usually like your stuff, Paul. Just feel this review is more of the same when it comes to VO conferences- almost a “rah-rah” post just for the folks who went about the great feelings attendees have afterward from having a “safe place” to hang together.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Surprisingly perhaps, part of me totally gets it why you still don’t get it, Mike. I have been critical or cynical of certain VO events in the past, without having been part of them. Some people were very disappointed in me when I blogged about these gatherings, and thought I should have kept quiet because I “didn’t get it.”

    Between you and me, I never thought I would like opera until my wife took me to a performance of “Carmen.” From that moment on, I “got” it. I just had to experience it myself to really know what made opera so special. I also know people that came to a performance and still found that it wasn’t their cup of tea.

    Because I was one of the speakers and panelists, I had very little time to attend any presentations at VO Atlanta 2018. In fact, I went to one of them, and that was it. That’s why I didn’t write about specific content. The longer workshops (a.k.a. X-sessions) were highly interactive, and featured proprietary content that could not be shared. Remember that attendees paid extra for these sessions, and it wouldn’t be right to give away all the materials for free.

    Going to these conferences, my philosophy is not so much “what can I get out of it that would justify the expense,” but “what can I offer that would make it worth the investment.” I also believe that too many people in VO slow their progress down by trying to reinvent the wheel. Venues such as VO Atlanta offer the opportunity to learn from the best in the business, enabling attendees to speed up their career by leaps and bounds.

    I am happy that you seem to have a network of colleagues in your area that makes you part of a community. Some people don’t have such a network yet, and they feel isolated in their booth. Social media is but a poor substitute for human interaction, and that’s why conferences like these are so valuable. Part of the fun is that we get to know others sides of those we only know as colleagues. Some VO’s are insanely great dancers. Some are fantastic singers. Others excel at improv. Getting to know these hidden sides of people was one of the greatest joys I didn’t get to write about.

    Lastly, in this year of MeToo I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a safe space to learn and hang. Gerald Griffith and his team deserve a huge compliment for creating an open environment of kindness and respect, facilitating learning on so many levels. As he rightly mentioned at the end of the conference, what all of us experienced went beyond voice-over. VO was just the common denominator that brought all of us together.

    [Reply]

    Paul Stefano Reply:

    Mike,

    I walked away away from VO Atlanta with a new agent. I’m not the only one. How is that for tangible return on investment?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’d say your new agent is very smart to add you to the roster. Congrats!

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  6. Talmadge Ragan

    You are such a good writer and I really enjoyed hearing about the Atlanta conference- I haven’t been in a few years. Thank you Paul!

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  7. Dianne Weller

    Wowzers Paul… Bloody well said mate!!!!!! Love it thanks for sharing… x

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Dianne. I never knew you appeared in a Dutch film about the Ushi-character. Next time we must talk. Just follow the clogs, and you’ll find me!

    [Reply]

  8. paulstefano

    Bravo, Paul. Minus the click-bait…you scamp! Totally agree about the positive vibes toward rates and knowing your worth. I took that to my own business this week. I fired one client who was consistently paying late (and really not even fairly). Then I had a discussion with another elearning client. I had been working on this long form project for which I was voicing, and then splitting up each file into separate smaller ones to match powerpoint slides…For 1 price! Shamefully, I didn’t know any better. I came back from VO Atlanta, to another large set of files from the same client. I said, “You know, what, I’m not doing this anymore”. I spoke to the client and told them in order to continue, I needed to double the price per batch. Guess, what? They didn’t run away! Now, double may have been aggressive on my part, but we agreed to increase the rate by 2/3 in order to accommodate the extra work. Since this is a 10k word ongoing project, that’s a win for me!

    So glad to have spent time with you again at VO Atlanta, and keep up the great work!

    Paul

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    What a fantastic story, Paul. Congrats on renegotiating your deal with this client. Everybody who is looking over our shoulder and reading these comments: pay attention. Never assume how a client will respond. Negotiate with kind confidence, and you’ll be surprised by the result.

    On a different note: Paul, you were one of the people working behind the scenes at VO Atlanta, making sure everything ran smoothly. Tech support was outstanding, and I can’t thank you enough for all the hard work and long hours you put in. I hope you got some rest back home. You certainly deserved it.

    [Reply]

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