Nethervoice Blog

Managing Your Message

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion9 Comments

This is part 2 of Face the Press without Stress. You can read the 1st part by clicking here.

“That guy was a complete idiot,” said one of my friends, a classical pianist. He had just been interviewed by a major newspaper about his latest CD, and he was not a happy camper. Steam was coming out of his nostrils.

“This so-called journalist knew absolutely nothing about music,” he fumed. “He asked the most basic questions and I don’t think he could tell the difference between a Steinway and a Clavinova. Worst of all, he didn’t seem to care. Within ten minutes he was off to his next assignment, leaving me with that bloody photographer.”

“I’m going to write to his paper,” he continued angrily. “Next time they should send someone who knows what he’s doing, instead of wasting my time with a nitwit.”

The following day I opened the paper, hoping to find the interview. It was easy to spot. It featured a blown-up photo of my friend staring straight into the camera, looking perpetually peeved. Would anyone buy a CD from a guy who looked that annoyed, I wondered? Pictures are powerful, and first impressions can become lasting impressions in a split-second. Then I read the interview.

What I had feared, had happened: my friend -who really is a wonderful and talented artist- came across as an arrogant bastard. Had I not known him personally, I would have nominated him for the Most Arrogant Artist of the Year Award. One thing was certain: this story wasn’t going to sell a whole lot of CD’s.

When we talked about the fiasco afterwards, I told him:

“I know you’re weren’t happy with the journalist. Keep one thing in mind. You and I are lucky. We have chosen a profession we’re passionate about. We pour our heart and soul into our work. Most people -including your reporter- don’t have that privilege. For them their job is just their job. Besides…

Journalists aren’t paid to care. They’re paid to share.

In fact, in order to tell a story objectively, they need to keep a professional distance. A photographer wouldn’t be able to do his job if he’d stop and help every hungry child in front of his lens. A political reporter wouldn’t be ready to ask penetrating questions if he were afraid to hurt the fragile ego of the person he was interviewing.

Just as it’s better for a surgeon not to get emotionally attached to the opened up patient in the operating theater, reporters must dissociate themselves from their stories and subjects. It’s nothing personal. Remember this:

It isn’t a journalist’s job to be knowledgeable or interested. It is your job to be informed and interesting.

The expert reporter is an endangered species. Dwindling advertising revenues means cutbacks in the newsroom. There are fewer people to cover more stories. Specialists have become generalists in order to survive. There is not enough time for proper research, and almost no budget for in-depth analysis or investigative reporting.

If you’re lucky, your next interview could be conducted by someone who loves what you do for a living, but don’t be surprised if that person is more into heavy metal or chess. Ultimately, that shouldn’t matter. A good story is a good story and you, my friend, have to hand it to him (or her). Here’s why.

You’re not talking to the journalist. You’re reaching out to the audience.

Just as you’re not telling your story to a microphone and you’re not posing to make the camera happy, an interviewer is merely a conduit. He represents all the readers, viewers and listeners you’re really talking to, when you’re being interviewed.

In a strange way, it’s better for you if he doesn’t seem to be too interested or knowledgeable, because most people scanning the pages or flipping the channels aren’t either. But if you manage to draw that interviewer into your story, chances are the audience will follow. Unfortunately, it cuts both ways.

So, no matter how obnoxious and superficial your interviewer may seem, always remember whom you’re talking to. A morning show host might ask basic questions because that’s all his viewers want to know. He might not even listen to your answer because he’s getting instructions in his ear prompter. That’s why it’s up to you to…

Take charge and get your message across in spite of the interviewer.

If you don’t remember everything I’m telling you, please remember this point. Too many people take on a passive role when being interviewed. They prepare to answer questions they think are interesting and essential, and complain afterwards that those questions were never asked. Or worse, they don’t prepare at all and just go with the flow.

You’re not a victim. You have a say in what you put out into the world. Literally. And you won’t get many chances to reach so many people at once, so you better make the most of it

Think about it this way. You know infinitely more about the subject than your interviewer ever will. If you’d only stick to what your interviewer knows or wants to know, you’ll never get beyond the surface. Here’s what you do to manage your message.

Use questions as a springboard to tell what needs to be told.

Often, reporters will throw something at you and it’s not what you want to talk about. The trick is to build a bridge between what’s being asked and what you really want to say.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m being interviewed about my voice-over business. Here’s the question:

“Do you think celebrities doing voice-overs are spoiling it for the rest of you?”

Here’s one way to respond:

“Not really. There’s plenty of work for everyone. The author of my latest audio book chose my voice because I am not a celebrity.”

You see how that works? In two sentences you have shifted the focus from talking about other people to talking about your new book. Here are a few more bridges.

That’s an interesting observation. Before I get that, there’s something you need to know…”

“Thanks for bringing that up. Here’s what’s happening…”

“I understand where you’re coming from. I get that question all the time. What many people don’t realize is…”

Now, I’m not suggesting that you entirely evade the issue at hand like a seasoned politician. I recommend you use the issue to redirect the conversation to get your point across. If you don’t do that, you could spend an entire segment talking about Jeff Bridges and Morgan Freeman instead of promoting your new project.

You don’t have to agree with or pretend to understand everything the interviewer is saying.

That’s another sign of a passive attitude. You can’t answer a question you don’t really understand. Yet, because some people are easily intimidated by members of the press, they hate to admit that they have no clue what the interviewer is asking. To make matters worse, they start imagining what the interviewer could have meant and start answering that.

It’s okay to ask:

“Could you repeat the question, please? I didn’t quite get that.”

Beware of overt or covert assumptions.

As we’ve seen in the question about celebrities, interviewers often won’t ask a straight question but begin with a statement. A few examples:

“It is a well-know fact that people make a lot of money doing voice-overs. Now, let me ask you this…”

“Many believe this is easy money, and I’d like to know how you got into this business.”

“We all know that voice-overs can make a comfortable living, and what I am interested in is…”

It’s very tempting to answer the question following the statement, but before you do, ask yourself if you agree with the assumption. If you don’t, you must challenge it before you answer the question. Otherwise the audience is left with the impression that you concur. Here’s another one.

Watch out for suggestive, leading questions.

In order to win the ratings war, editors and producers all over the world are searching for the extraordinary, the grotesque, the shocking and the violent. The tens of thousands of planes that take off and land safely every day are not news, but the one that crashes is.

Journalists are trained to look for controversy and if there is none, to push the envelope and stir the pot. Suggestive questions are like a loaded weapon.

Think of a question as a laser beam, zooming in on a very small area. If it’s specific, it will direct your thoughts into one direction, excluding everything else. What do the following questions require you to focus on?

“How bad are things really in your business?

Sometimes things can get really nasty, don’t they? Give me an example.”

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“What do you dislike more than anything else?”

“Tell me about your client from hell.”

Take a deep breath before you answer those questions, and ask yourself: Do I really want to go there? Do I want to dwell on the negative or highlight the positive?

How’s this for an answer:

“No matter what kind of work you do, there are always things that are not so great and there are things that totally make your day. As a matter of fact, one of my clients called me yesterday…” and then you share a positive story.

You might not control the question, but you can always control the answer!

Look out for false choices and either/or scenarios.

News outlets often aim for the biggest market share to please the sponsors, and therefore cater to the lowest common denominator. In order to appeal to the army of couch potatoes that wants to be entertained instead of informed, simplification is the name of the game. Complicated stories are broken up into bite-sized pieces even my pet gerbil can digest. Thus, reality becomes a caricature.

A favorite technique is to reduce a colorful, complex world to a juxtaposition of right and wrong and black and white. Some networks have turned that into a dubious art form. But as you very well know, there usually are no easy answers. Watch the political shows and wait for it to happen:

“Senator, with all due respect: Do you want to socialize health care or leave it up to the American people to choose their own insurance plan?”

“Are you in favor of big government, or do you want to reduce Washington’s bureaucracy?”

“Should we bomb Iran or increase sanctions?”

“Please answer my next question with a simple yes or no.”

Let’s be clear. These aren’t questions. They are traps; false choices based on either/or scenarios. Remember, if you choose to answer the question as such, you implicitly agree with the options presented to you. Are you sure you want to go there?

If an interviewer tries to drag me into an is-it-this-or-that scenario, I often answer with YES. But usually, it isn’t A or B. Why can’t it be C or D or both? Watch this:

Interviewer: “As a voice-over, what do you enjoy doing most: audio books or commercials?”

You: “To tell you the truth, I love voicing video games. I think we have a clip of the one I just finished. I had such a blast creating the character of….”

You’re not falling for this false dilemma, and with the bridge technique, you use the question as a springboard to talk about things that are on your agenda. I do it all the time and I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

Is this something I am naturally good at or did I need training? (watch the question…)

Well, it’s a bit of both I guess, but it certainly helps to have been on the other side of the mic for many years. I know a few tricks of the trade, and I have lots more to share with you. So, if you’re up for it, I’ll continue our conversation next week.

Here’s are some of the things I’ll talk about: What do you need to know before the interview? Do you prepare differently for a taped and a live interview?

What do you think?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Face the Press without Stress

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Journalism & Media, Promotion7 Comments

This is Part One of a mini media training for artists, authors, entrepreneurs and anyone getting ready to be questioned.

As long as you’re prepared, you have no reason to be scared!

There’s no publicity like FREE publicity, especially if you run a small business on a small budget.

Right now I’m the media manager and PR-advisor to “Music for MS,” a benefit concert organized by and featuring my wife.

It’s my job to drum up as much media interest for this event as possible, and fill up the venue in a few weeks, by word of mouth and other means.

Every glossy flyer or multicolored poster we would print or ad we’d have to buy, would mean less money for the cause (the National Multiple Sclerosis Society), so I’m not doing that. Instead, I’m mobilizing the local press and I’m using social media to reach out to the community. It saves tons of paper which makes it eco-friendly.

The official campaign began yesterday, and so far we’ve already landed two interviews. This is where things get serious. Anyone can write a glorious press release, but not everyone does well on radio, television or in the papers. I know what I’m talking about because I have trained hundreds of people to get ready to meet the press.


One of the first things my students would always complain about is the focus of the media: Why do they only cover sensational stories? Why has the news become so superficial? Why don’t they come to me for a story? What they’re really saying is this: “Paul, you’re a journalist. I’m interesting and you should interview me!”

My knee-jerk response would be: “No you’re not, and why should I?” But of course I’d keep that to myself. Here’s what I’d say instead:

1. You have to have a hook to be heard.

If your name is Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, you don’t have to do anything special to attract the attention of millions. In fact, that would be your only accomplishment: being famous for being famous. Mere mortals such as you and me have to give the news media a good REASON why they’d want to come to us. A hook. Preferably with fresh bait.

News is the report of an event that is:

  • recent
  • unusual
  • previously unknown and
  • interesting and relevant to a great number of people


Let me add something to that definition: If there’s nobody to cover it, it’s not news. Fortunately or unfortunately, these days, all we need is one idiot with an iPhone.

Secondly, news is news if conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation or Bertelsmann AG decide we should learn about it.

Third, news is news if the corporate sponsors (or other powers that be) feel it does not undermine their interests. (click here for an example)

Fourth: the more local the outlet, the lower the bar for what is deemed to be newsworthy.

Let’s assume you’re a voice-over professional hoping to attract some interest from the local papers. You’ve just completed another audio book. That’s something recent, but is it news?

Well, it depends on how unusual the book is and how many people would be interested in it. If we are talking about the audio version of Hitler’s secret diaries that were thought to be lost, you might have a story, but I don’t think this type of publicity would do your career any good. Which brings me to my next point.

2. You have to have a clear objective.

What do you ideally want to happen as a result of the media attention you hope to generate? Unless you’re hungry for recognition, an interview is just a means to an end.

In the case of my concert, the overall goal is to raise money and awareness for the fight to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic, mysterious and often misunderstood disease of the central nervous system. In order to accomplish that, I need as many people as possible to come to the concert. This gives me a way to measure the success of my campaign.

Please note: what you hope to accomplish and what the journalist wishes to accomplish, are usually two very different things!

If you don’t know what you want to get out of the interview, don’t do it. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. It’s better to wait for the perfect opportunity than to waste a mediocre one.

If you do have an objective in mind, it’s time to go to the next step:

3. You have to craft a compelling core message.

If you could summarize what you’d like to get across in one or two sentences, what would it be? Let me put it in another way: If at the end of the interview people would only remember one thing, one powerful image or one great idea, what would you want that to be?

That should become the heart of your message, and it is your mission to get it across no matter what.

In the age of information overload, it is harder and harder to cut through the clutter and be heard. People scan the news and rarely look past the headlines or sound bites, so give them headlines and sound bites. You’ll survive.

I don’t care if you think it’s shallow or giving in to sensationalism. Should you get the chance to reach thousands, if not millions of people, don’t waste it by being boring. It’s regrettable to be forgettable.

A sound bite is usually not something you’ll come up with when the intimidating cameras are rolling and you’re staring into the hot, blinding studio lights. Do not count on your magic talent for improvisation. You can’t wing it.

4. You have to be prepared.

Well, well… isn’t that a given? Of course you need to give it some thought. Or is it better to be spontaneous and ‘in the moment’? You don’t want to look too rehearsed, do you?

Here’s my take on that.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make is not preparing for an interview. They’ve literally said to me: “But I’m the expert. You can throw any question at me any time. I don’t need interview training.”

Just because you’re an expert doesn’t mean you’ll do well during an interview. Readers, listeners, viewers… they all hate pompous know-it-alls that talk over people’s heads.

I have seen great thinkers, captains of industry and even bishops nearly faint because they couldn’t handle the pressure of the simplest unexpected question.

They approached a 2-minute interview as if they were delivering a half-hour sermon, and when time was up, they had said nothing of significance. Of course they’d blame the network for not giving them enough air time.

Everyone who’s ever been interviewed will agree with me: When you’re in the hot seat, time as we know it does not exist. In the stress and excitement of the moment, people forget the simples of things such as their middle names and the phone number of the organization they’ve come to promote.

Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be that way. In the next installment I’ll tell you how to deal with tricky questions.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Seven Deadly Words

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles25 Comments

No matter how tightly you run your ship, not everything will always go according to plan. That’s life.

What matters is how you deal with setbacks, mistakes and mess-ups.

Whether you run a one-person operation or you employ over 33,000 people worldwide, if you don’t go out of your way to treat your customers as if they’re the most important asset to your business, you’re playing Russian roulette with your reputation. This week, US Airways completely dropped the ball.

Before I tell you what happened, there’s something you should know.

My wife has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable chronic disease of the central nervous system.

Symptoms differ from person to person, and can include muscle weakness, spasms, numbness, coordination and balance issues, problems in speech and swallowing, bowel and bladder difficulties, visual problems and fatigue.

We don’t yet know what causes MS, but we do know that MS symptoms can be triggered by physical exertion, overstimulation, temperature changes and stress.

Now think about the joys of modern day air travel. Who doesn’t feel overstimulated, stressed and fatigued after a day of going in and out of airplanes? Even if you don’t have MS, it can wipe you out.

Since my wife was diagnosed, we have learned to pace ourselves. Take our flight to Fort Lauderdale. My wife was invited to speak and perform at an MS gathering (she’s a flutist), and we were scheduled to arrive in the early afternoon. That way she would have plenty of rest to be ready for her appearance the next day.

Unfortunately, our first flight to Philadelphia was delayed by thirty minutes. When we were in the air, the flight attendant assured us that we would make our connecting flight to Florida, as long as we’d alert personnel on the ground who were supposed to be waiting with a wheelchair. They would need to let the gate know that we were on our way, and that the doors of the plane had to be kept open.

That morning we learned three lessons:

1. Don’t expect employees of the same airline using the same computer system to communicate with one another, let alone pay any attention to instructions.

When we arrived there was no wheelchair, a scene that would repeat itself at different times at different gates and different airports. As one of the pursers remarked:

“The guys responsible for getting you off the plane are usually chatting or playing with their cell phones. We almost always have to get them.”

And as we were waiting, time was ticking away.

2. Never trust or act upon the advice of one employee.

We asked four different people involved in ground transportation to notify the gate that we were coming. Some told us they couldn’t do that. Others shouted “Later!” and ran away.

In order to get to the gate, my wife had to jump into an electric car, onto a shuttle bus and into a wheelchair that took her to another electric car. For fit and able-bodied people this is no big deal, but if you have MS it is an ordeal.

3. People are oblivious of their environment.

If you’ve been at an airport lately, you might have noticed a familiar phenomenon. Almost everybody is connected to some kind of portable device, which completely disconnects them from reality. They’re all in their little bubble, totally unaware of, or seemingly uninterested in the rest of the world.

This becomes obvious when you’re in one of those electric cars used to transport passengers from gate to gate. Don’t expect people parading the aisles of the terminals to step aside. They don’t see the car coming. They don’t hear it beep. They don’t hear the driver shout. And when the car finally manages to pass by, people look peeved because they were almost run over.

Meanwhile, the passengers inside are holding on for dear life as they try to balance their bodies while keeping their luggage from falling off. The jerky movements of the car as it is attempting to avoid human roadblocks, are enough to make a healthy person seasick. Believe me, by the time we arrived at our gate, my wife wasn’t doing so well.

That’s why it was a huge relief to see that the plane was still there. As I was taking our luggage off the car, the woman at the US Airways desk looked at me and said in a stern voice:

“Sir, this gate is closed. The plane is leaving.”

I said to her: “Did anybody notify you that we were on our way?” “No,” she answered. “Any chance we could still get on board?” I asked. We really need to catch that flight.” “Sir,” she said in an annoyed tone, “I told you that this gate is closed. We do not keep planes waiting.”

I told her that I’d been on many flights that had left a few minutes late so as to accommodate passengers coming in from other flights.

The woman at the counter looked at me as if I had just murdered her baby. Then she said these seven deadly words:


There and then I learned my fourth lesson:

4. Body language is far more powerful than any word in the Oxford Dictionary of Current English.

“What are we to do?” I asked the unhelpful employee. “Go to Customer Service,” she said. “They will get you on the next flight.”

When our car took off again, the driver asked:

“When you landed in Philadelphia, did you let the people on the ground know you had to catch this flight?” I told her we did.

“Well,” she said, “There’s absolutely no reason why you should have missed it.”

As we approached the Customer Service desk, my wife had to get into another wheelchair. I could tell she was exhausted.

“Yes?” said the woman behind the counter, as she was trying to type a message with her long, artificial nails. As I explained what had happened, I learned a few more lessons from the US Airways book of customer treatment:

5. Never give a customer your full attention. You have far better things to do. Keep on staring at your computer screen and continue typing.

6. It’s not important that you understand the customer. The customer needs to understand you.

7. No matter what happens, do not show any signs of empathy.

“So, you arrived late at your gate,” concluded the customer service rep. “Boarding time was over. Let me see when the next flight leaves.”

“But the flight attendant assured us we would make it,” my wife replied.

“She should never have told you that,” the rep said.

8. When things go wrong, blame someone else.

“We asked four people on the ground to make a call to the gate and no one could be bothered,” my wife continued.

Sir, what are their names?” the rep wanted to know.

I looked at my wife who appeared to be fading fast.

“We were in a hurry to catch this flight,” I explained. “There was no time to write down people’s names. The driver of the electric car told me the gate could have been kept open a little longer.”

“She should never have said that,” retorted the rep. “Your next flight leaves in six hours.”

“But I have a medical condition,” said my wife. “I can’t wait that long. What do you suggest we do?”

“Sir,” said the rep, “I suggest you go to the gate and wait just like all the other passengers.”


9. Ignore people in wheelchairs. Always talk to the caregiver.

At that point I was really getting ticked off. My wife was treated as if as she didn’t exist and I asked the rep to include her in the conversation.

“I have MS,” my wife continued. “I need to lay down. The right side of my face is already numb. I can’t see properly. I’ve lost my sense of balance and I’m having trouble swallowing.”

“Is there a place we could go to,” I tried. “A quiet place where she can put her feet up and close her eyes. A first-class lounge perhaps?”

“There are Minute Suites at the airport,” the rep said.

“That sounds like a solution,” I said. “Could you get us a room?”

“We could get you there, but we wouldn’t pay for it,” the rep answered. “It’s $30 per hour.”

“Look,” I said as I was getting increasingly frustrated, “it wasn’t our fault we missed this flight. In what way can US Airways accommodate us for what happened? I shouldn’t have to pay $30 per hour out of pocket.”

“Sir,” the rep responded, “you can always file a complaint and send us the bill, but I can practically guarantee you that we won’t pay for it. You missed that flight.


At that point I asked to speak to her manager.

When he arrived, my wife could hardly hold her head up and parts of her face were twitching. “I can barely swallow,” she said. “If I don’t lie down now, things will only get worse. Your employee said there was nothing she could do for us.”

The manager looked at me and said: “Sir, your wife is obviously upset. Could I talk to you alone for a moment?”

“Absolutely not,” I responded. “We are a team and we’d like to know what you can do to help us. We’re stranded for six hours and my wife needs to rest because she has MS. The longer we wait, the worse it gets. I don’t feel we should have to pay for accommodation. It’s not our fault we missed that plane.”

“Sir,” said the manager, “US Airways has no arrangements with any hotels and we can’t put you up at our lounge. That would be more expensive than these Minute Suites and we’re not paying for that. If I were to offer that to you, I would get fired. Now, do you want to get me fired?”

That did it for me. I snapped.

“All I want is a quiet space for my wife while we wait, and I’d like US Airways to pick up the tab. You turn this around and make it about you losing your job? This is not about you. This is about my wife.”

I stopped for a moment and looked at him. “The stress of having to deal with your customer service -or lack thereof- is triggering all of my wife’s symptoms. Can’t you see that? Are you sure you don’t have anything to offer to us?”

He said: “We did. We booked you on another flight and we told you about the Minute Suites. Other than that, THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO FOR YOU. You have to be reasonable. I need your name and email address so I can file a report.”

Eventually, we ended up going to a Minute Suite and the organization that had invited my wife to speak, agreed to pay for a couple of hours.

Two hours later, when I stepped out for a moment, I saw the US Airways customer service rep drop off two meal vouchers for us. They were ten dollars each.

Our connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale was delayed as well, and as usual, there was no wheelchair waiting for us at the gate in Florida, even though I had specifically and repeatedly reminded ground personnel to make arrangements. After another half hour wait for the car service, we finally arrived at the hotel around 10:30 PM, 14 hours after we had left our home.

Stepping out of the car, it was as if we had entered a different world. Staff at the Mariott warmly welcomed us with a smile and did everything they could to make our stay as pleasant as possible.

The next day I did some research on airlines and customer service. It turned out that Forbes-contributor Steve Denning had had a similar experience:

“The US Airways gentleman on telephone was the quintessential unhelpful bureaucrat from Hell. He was following rules and doing what he had been told was the right thing to do and saving money for the airline in the short run. The only problem for US Airways that his behavior was rapidly turning me into a vocal detractor of US Airways—someone who would tell the world how badly I was being treated.The agent whom I met at customer service was trying hard, and was being very helpful and pleasant about it, but she was hemmed in by company policies that prevented her from delighting me.

The airline has no provision to deal with the obvious and recurring problem of people who don’t make their connection because of flight delays. Instead the problem is dumped on the passenger to solve, by waiting in a long queue, increasing the level of frustration.”

Denning continues:

“Over the last two decades, there has been an epochal shift in the balance of power from seller to buyer. Today the customer has options and access to good information, can avoid companies whose principal objective is taking money from our wallets and putting in their own. As a result, companies whose primary goal is to make money are vanishing off the face of the planet, ever more rapidly. Studies show that the life expectancy of firms in the Fortune 500 is down from around 75 years to less than 15 years, and fast approaching five years.

(…) The future belongs to firms like Apple, Amazon and which are dedicated to delighting us. It is some consolation that companies that do not delight us will not be with us much longer.”

As I was reading his words, my mind wandered back to that dreadful day at the airport. Like Denning, we had noticed that some people still seemed to care about the customer. I particularly remember that young guy whose shift had ended but he still insisted on helping my wife get to a room where she could rest. Or the lady back home at Allentown International Airport. She was there with a wheelchair and she stayed with us until we were picked up.

As I said in the beginning: not everything always goes according to plan. That’s life. When something goes wrong:

  • Acknowledge it
  • Show some empathy
  • Listen actively
  • Understand first. Then be understood
  • Be accountable
  • Seek solutions
  • Don’t make matters worse
  • Make matters right

It’s a well-known fact that if a person has a great experience, they will tell only a few people. However, if that same person has had a bad experience, they will most likely tell 30 to 40 people.

Whether you run a one-person business or a global corporation, the reputation of your brand rests on the number of positive interactions your customers have with you.

Adopt the attitude that is central to the way the Walt Disney Company consistently delights its customers. When something goes wrong, here’s what they say to their employees:

10. It may not be your fault, but it is your problem. Do whatever you have to do to fix it.

How’s that, compared to:


Paul Strikwerda©nethervoice

Next week, part one of my Media Training mini series.

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My Prized Possession

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Gear, Studio34 Comments

What do the Vatican, the United Nations, the German Parliament, the BBC and my company Nethervoice have in common?

We all use top of the line microphones from a family owned business in the small German town of Gefell.

If you’ve never heard of Gefell and you enjoy European history, let’s travel back in time for a moment.

In 1943, Georg Neumann‘s main microphone laboratory in Berlin was hit by bombs and caught fire. To avoid more damage, Neumann and his technical director Erich Kühnast moved the entire company to Gefell where they continued their work in an old textile mill.

After Germany’s surrender, Gefell was occupied by the Americans and then handed over to the Soviet Union. In 1946 a number of Gefell employees returned to Berlin to establish a small workshop. This workshop eventually became Georg Neumann GmbH, the second Neumann company.

Kühnast and most of the original staff stayed in Gefell and continued to develop and build microphones. Neumann made Kühnast manager of the limited partnership Georg Neumann & Co. which was later nationalized by the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Despite the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the management of the two companies stayed in touch with one another.

In 1972, the GDR prohibited use of the Neumann trademark, and the East-German company was renamed VEB Mikrofontechnik Gefell.

After the Wall came down in 1989, Georg Neumann’s heirs reclaimed their share in the company and a new period of cooperation began. Here’s what’s remarkable. When the Neumann engineers took a closer look at the Gefell products that had been developed behind the Iron Curtain, they discovered microphone technology that was more sophisticated than some of that in the West.

After Sennheiser took over Neumann in 1991, Microtech Gefell -as it is now called- became an independent, privately owned company, known for hand-made, high-end microphones. (this overview is in part based on an article in Sound on Sound and on information on the Gefell website).


Fast forward to Tuesday, January 17th, 2012, the day I became the first person in America to own a Gefell M 930 Ts studio condenser microphone.

Out of thousands of microphones on the market, why did I pick this particular make and model?

I have to be honest with you: I didn’t pick this mic. It picked me. Or rather: I got lucky. Very, very lucky!

In my radio days I never paid any attention to the equipment I was using, but since I became master and commander of my own studio, things have changed. As a professional, I think it’s important to get to know the tools of the trade.

Before I’m ready to make any type of investment in my business, I spend months doing research, reading reviews and talking to colleagues in the know. They make sure I don’t fall for the latest fad, and that when I finally decide on a new purchase, I invest in quality that will last for many years to come.

Any professional chef, musician or mechanic can tell you that well-made, reliable tools make the job a lot easier because they work with you instead of against you. Good tools can’t make an artist more creative, but they can inspire. Without them, he’s less able to realize his dreams. A great set of tools can take you to that proverbial next level.

It’s a cliché, but quality never goes out of style. It is remembered long after the price is forgotten.


As home studios are becoming the norm and more people are having a go at voice-overs, it’s increasingly important to distinguish oneself. It all starts with the way the voice is captured.

The quality of your sound is your signature.

Clients are sick and tired of having to put up with hiss, rumble, interference and echoes coming from inferior equipment recorded in so-called ‘professional’ booths set up in someone’s boudoir. By the sound of it, these spaces aren’t studios. They sound more like shacks. Radio shacks.

If you can’t provide clean, crystal clear audio, you should start a website where amateur VO’s can go forth, multiply and make a lot of noise. Why not call it VoiceRabbit (after the rabid growth I predict it will undergo)?

Alternatively, you could consult men like Dan Lenard, Dan Friedman, George Whittam or Mel Allen. They will set you up with the right gear and help you fine-tune your sound in less time than it will take you to learn the ropes through trial and error.

Although it never paints a complete picture, quality equipment does make a statement. When a client or agent sees you are using professional grade gear, they know you mean business and they have one less thing to worry about.

Imagine going to a wedding photographer to find out if he’s going to be a good fit for your big day, and the man pulls out a cheap point-and-shoot camera. Would you hire him? I don’t think so. Now, owning a Hasselblad 503CW does not make one a brilliant photographer, but that’s a different story.


In my quest for the best equipment, I spent many hours on Matt Mcglyn’s creation: It’s an online magazine as well as the world’s most extensive database of a 1000+ microphones.

If you happen to be looking for a good podcasting mic for $200, recordinghacks has put them to the test. If you need the specs of the Manley Reference Gold tube condenser, look no further. Interested in a $60,000 ribbon mic shootout? You know where to go!

In 2011, recordinghacks gave away a new mic every month: a Cascade Fathead II, a Blue Yeti Pro, a Lauten Horizon et cetera. December’s prize topped it all: a brand new Microtech Gefell 930 Ts. This small, large diaphragm condenser was made with broadcasting and voice-over applications in mind.


In the first week of January, Matt Mcglyn said he had some good news for me: I was the lucky winner of the giveaway! It was unbelievable. What a start to the new year!

I want to thank Microtech Gefell GmbH for such a generous gift, and for their ongoing, uncompromising dedication to quality.

Matt Mcglyn deserves a big ‘thank you’ for creating such an excellent database and magazine, and for magically pulling my name out of his recordinghacks-hat.

As for the rest of you, I’m sure you’d like to know how my new mic sounds, and how it stacks up against other voice-over microphones. Well, it just so happens that I have written a review for recordinghacks, and you’ll find out for yourself why the Vatican has given its blessing to a small German company.

If there ever was one brand that has earned the right to capture the voice of G-d, it has to be Microtech Gefell!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Next week I’ll tell you about one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had, and what lessons we can draw from that for our own business.

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Exhibitionists, Voyeurs and Stalkers

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media4 Comments

In the past these were dirty words for dirty people.

Now these very same words can be used to describe the average social media addict.

We like strutting our stuff in public. We want the world to watch us. And we follow the fools who think that tweeting nonsense all day long makes them relevant.

8:05 AM. In line at Starbucks.

8:10 AM. Ordering a tall latte.

8:15 AM. Should have asked for a double shot of espresso.

8:18 AM. Back in my Mercedes. New Jersey Turnpike, here I come!

8:21 AM. In a car accident. Tweeting and drinking coffee don’t go well together.

9:33 AM. Thank goodness this hospital has a Starbucks.

We can laugh about it. We can cry about it, but things like tweeting and texting are changing the way we communicate. Even the way we dress.

If you don’t believe me, you should shop for winter gloves and count the pairs with holes in them or with special patches. Touchscreen gloves, that’s what they are called. Snowstorms, twisters and other natural disasters won’t prevent mankind from texting.

Every single day, two hundred trillion text messages are received in America alone (source). That’s more than an entire year’s worth of regular mail.

Nielsen reported that the average American teen sends 3,339 texts each month. That’s more than six per every hour they’re awake. The girls are beating the boys with 4,050 texts per month, (boys send an average of 2,539 texts). Mind you, these numbers are from 2010!

But it’s not just the kids. Go into any supermarket and count how many times you’ll hear a mother tell her stroller-toddler:

“Not now sweetie. Mommy’s texting.”

8:42 PM. At Trader Joe’s. Should I buy broccoli or cauliflower?

Thanks to all these very important messages, safety is no longer the number one reason for getting a phone. We just love being social, don’t we?


In 2010, Facebook beat Google as the most visited site (if we leave out visits to Google-owned YouTube). A year later, Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue of 2.2 billion dollars had surpassed that of both Google and Yahoo.

It is THE place to hang out and make new friends. It’s that wonderful platform where -in the midst of an economic crisis- everything is always A-Okay. No matter what happens, the show must go on and we keep on dancing.

Smile people! Always beware of your brand. Heaven forbid we become real and share our fears and failures.

Occasionally, some Facebook friends will vent their frustrations, but overall, a happy-go-lucky attitude seems to be the norm: Do what you love and the money will follow. 🙂 Really?

Many Europeans consider this attitude to be “typically American.” They see the States as a country where people have a hard time accepting failure. We’d rather take a happy pill than deal with our problems. We’re certainly not going to share them on our Facebook Walls. We’ve turned those into advertorials and infomercials:

9:15 AM. Join me for an online seminar where I’ll teach you how not to waste your time on Facebook. Remember the early bird discount!

10:02 AM. Finished an amazing gig with an amazing director. Life is good. It’s great to be back in L.A.

11:46 AM. Jesus rocks! He guided me to book another gig for Playboy Enterprises. Praise the Lord.

11:47 AM. Deuteronomy 5:11

11:48 AM. John 8:7

11:49 AM. Broccoli or cauliflower?

1:15 PM. There’s a new article on the Nethervoice blog. Be the first one to read it before it appears on VoiceOverXtra.

Yep, Facebook is definitely a site we can’t live without. In fact, we need more of those online chatrooms. What did you just tell me? You’re not on Google+ yet? Boy, you’re missing out on something spectacular. It’s great for your business. The other day I saw a video of a dog. Man, that was funny. Every time his owner began playing the guitar, this dog started smiling. No kidding. I’ll send you the link.

3:30 PM. Wasted another 3 minutes watching a dog on YouTube.


Look, I am not going to pooh-pooh social media again, but we should bury the idea that these sites are widening our world and increase interpersonal connections.

First of all, we don’t seem to know the difference between socializing and advertising. Socializing is all about connecting with others. Advertising is drawing attention to oneself in order to sell. If that becomes the main purpose of the interaction, it will turn people off. Sooner rather than later.

Secondly, people mainly interact with people they know or agree with. We block the rest and ban them from our circles. And if we don’t do it ourselves, algorithms will make sure that we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Author and activist Eli Pariser calls this the “Filter Bubble.”

Based on our location and on what you and I have searched for and looked at in the past, certain websites (like Facebook) and search engines now use algorithms to predict and select what we’d be interested in right now. They call it “creating a personalized experience.”


If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels and you’ve been browsing a few dealerships, chances are that you’ll be presented with car commercials instead of chewing gum ads. If you’re a fan of the current man in the White House and you keep track of his party’s politics, you won’t be exposed to Tea Party rhetoric. So far, so good, right?

Amazon and Netflix work the same way:

“If you liked this product or that movie, here’s what we recommend you check out next.”

I once made the mistake of tweeting about how much I love my memory foam mattress. Within the hour I was followed by three companies selling mattresses. I wanted to challenge them to a pillow fight.

But wait, there’s more!

If you and I were to enter the same keywords in Google, we would receive different results, based on past online behavior. You will get sites that are more in line with your interests and I will get sites that -according to the secret algorithm- will resonate more with things I prefer. Why is that so terrible?


I happen to think that it’s good to be exposed to different points of view. If I am only presented with an invisibly edited and uncontrollable stream of information that confirms my own bias, I lose something very important. Eli Pariser puts it this way:

“The Internet is showing us a world it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

We need to see how other people live and we need to hear what other people think. Intellectual discourse is part of a healthy democracy.

If we wish to promote peace, understanding and compassion in the world, we have to open ourselves up to other ideas, other traditions and the very things we don’t comprehend. Things that may make us uncomfortable. Otherwise, stupid stereotypes will go unchallenged and the people on this planet will never overcome their conflicts.

5:15 PM. More of the same is not only boring, it’s dangerous.

5:16 PM. I don’t want some geek at Google to tell me what’s relevant.

Knowledge empowers. Ignorance separates.


It’s time to burst that filter bubble and give us control over the selection of sources of information. I don’t need Yahoo to determine what types of news stories will appear when I switch on my computer.

I want Facebook to be more about sharing and less about selling. I want parents to care more about their children than about their smart phones.

I want drivers to switch off their Blackberries and pay attention to the road. I want more people to be in the moment, instead of describing it on some electronic device.

That’s all great in theory, but here’s the question that’s been haunting me:

Will that ever happen or did we pass a point of no return?

5:24 PM. I am a practitioner of Positive Pessimism.

5:25 PM Hoping for the best. Expecting the worst.

Paul Strikwerda©nethervoice

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10 things clients don’t care about

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing56 Comments

Let me preface this post by saying that I feel very lucky.

In the past 25 years I was able to develop a strong relationship with a number of clients. The longer we go back, the fewer words we have to waste on what each side is expecting from the other.

It’s almost like a marriage. And very much like a marriage, a lasting business relationship needs commitment from each partner. It can be love at first sight and it can also end in a divorce, due to unspoken expectations and unfulfilled desires.

Throughout the years I have heard colleagues complain about their clients:

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Paul Picks the Best of his Blog

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles8 Comments

In order to know where you’re going, it’s essential to know where you are and where you came from.

As predicted, 2011 is history.

Because we’re always so focused on the future, we rarely take the time to look back and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. Yet, in this first week of the new year, people like to take stock of their lives as they welcome a new beginning.

Had I not done that, I would have missed the fact that this is my hundred and first contribution since I started writing this blog. My stats reveal that -on average- every article was read 965 times.

Numbers, however, are cold and cannot express how deeply grateful I am that week after week you have taken a few moments out of your day to walk through this Double Dutch door.

Yes, it’s flattering to have made this year’s list of Most Influential VO-Bloggers, but I didn’t make it happen all by myself.

You did.

You are the soundboard that resonates when I strike a chord.

Without you, my words would dissipate as swiftly as a New Year’s resolution on January 2nd. Without your comments (almost 1,700 so far), emails and other conversations, I would be talking to myself (and believe me, I do too much of that already).

Since this is the official blog of Nethervoice, I’d like to indulge myself and use this last post of 2011 to revisit some of this year’s milestone moments in the history of… me.

Here are a few things I am proud of and thankful for:

1. In 2011 I landed four new agents on three continents

2. I designed and built a soundproof voice-over studio in my basement

3. Moving to a Mac, I upgraded practically all my hard- and software

4. At Faffcon 3 I had the opportunity to share my blogging secrets

5. I published two eBooks: “Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget” and “Boosting your Business with a Blog

6. My eighth audio book just went on sale. It’s called “Brains on Fire” and (appropriately) it’s about word of mouth marketing


If you don’t mind, I’d love to end this year by looking back at 2011 as we flip through the pages of past posts. What’s worth remembering and what shall we put into the recycle bin? To refresh your memory, here are some of my favorite quotes:

“It’s so easy to speak in generalizations and pretend we understand one another. When we do, we usually don’t.”

from: “Taken for a Ride

“I strive to inform, I attempt to entertain and yes… I also like to rock the boat every once in a while. As a voiceover professional, it is my job to be outspoken.”

from: “Hanging Up My Hat

“Most people find it easier to sum up what they don’t want. Take it from me: You’ll never get anywhere by focusing on the things you wish to avoid. In fact, you’re more likely to attract the very things you’re running away from.”

from: “Are You a Winner or a Whiner

“If you never stick your neck out, you won’t get hurt, but you won’t rise above the rest either.”

from: “Finding your Value as a Voice-Over

“The voice-over future is filled with gloom and doom. When people tell you less is more, they’re usually referring to your rate and not to your interpretation of the script. ”

“If you want to make lots of money, you have two options: you either apply for a job at the U.S. Mint, or you start an online voice casting business.”

from: “Pimping Your Pipes”

“How long does it take to find a quality needle in a huge haystack made of scrap metal?”

from: “Why Pay to Plays will Implode

“Is Ted Williams honing his Kraft or is he still recovering from rehab?”

from: “Pimping Your Pipes”

“Every year, tens of thousands of self-employed people file for bankruptcy because they made one big mistake: they followed a dream and forgot to run the numbers. They are what I like to call ‘under-estimators’.”

“Your fee structure will help you attract the kind of customers you want to be working for, and the type of jobs you are shooting for. At the same time it will weed out the folks that cannot or will not afford you; the ones that are most likely to give you a hard time anyway.”

from: “The Power of Pricing

“Just because a client needs you, doesn’t mean they can afford you, or that you can afford to work for them.”

from: “The Lowdown on Lowballing

“Stop making excuses for those who don’t respect you enough to pay you a decent fee. Unless you’ve seen their balance sheet, you don’t know what they can or cannot afford. Know your bottom line. Add value. Don’t compromise so easily. Negotiate. Dare to say NO to a bad deal. Study the art of making the sale. It’s part of being a pro.”

“The key is adding value. If you don’t offer exceptional value, then your product or service becomes just another commodity. People buy commodities on price. If you’re just another web designer, voice-over artist or a car dealership, you’re in trouble. Value means offering more for a higher price.”

“Those who can’t build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.”

“Being extraordinary talented in what you do, doesn’t guarantee instant success. Life might have dealt you a pretty good hand, but if you don’t know how to play the game, even the best cards are useless. “

from: “Those Bloody Bottom Feeders

“You can set the stage, learn your lines and lessons and strive to be the best you can be. But you can’t force feed your target markets, especially if you don’t know what they’re hungry for.”

“Stop pushing and start listening. Don’t offer a solution before you know what the problem is.”

“If self-control were that easy, very few people would smoke; all of us would maintain the perfect weight and prisons would be empty.”

from: “Can You Control Your Career

“We are free people, living in a free country who earned the right to free themselves of any free time.”

“You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.”

from: “Give Me a Break

“Bad habits are very effective strategies for consistently getting undesired results.”

from: “Your Biggest Blind Spot

“If you happen to hire voices, I have a message for you: We can read your script but we can’t read your mind.”

from: “What the heck is Neutral English?

“I go online for information and communication; not for salvation. For me, conversion rate is about turning visitors into customers. Let’s not trivialize the sacred scriptures and turn the internet into a stairway to heaven.”

from: “8 Things I Hate About You

“I’ve come to the conclusion that VO-Pros and cows have one thing in common: they are ruminants. Most ruminants have four stomachs. The first stomach chamber (the “rumen”) is the chamber in which large amounts of food are stored and softened. Once it is processed, it is regurgitated and chewed and digested again in different chambers. At the end there’s only one thing left: bullsh*t.”

from: “Why you a boring me to death

“Shit happens. You just have to make sure it doesn’t hit your fans.”

from: “Mad as Hell

“I firmly believe that the quality of our life is greatly determined by the quality of our relationships. Taking the time to strengthen those relationships is vital and invigorating.”

from: “How I Became An Egotistical Bastard

“People in our profession have a strange relationship with the truth. We get paid to pretend. The most convincing liars get the nicest paychecks, an Oscar and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. However, true talent, trust and integrity are the cornerstones of a successful career. Trust must be earned. True talent and integrity can never be faked.”

from: “Ten Lies Voice Overs Tell

“Your mindset is the filter through which you look at reality and interpret what it means to you and which actions to take.”

“There are no silver platters, silver bullets or golden shortcuts to the top.”

from: “Why some will never make it

“Money is a means to a beginning. That beginning is called “autonomy”. As long as you low ball whatever it is you’re offering, you’re telling the world that you don’t believe that you’re worth a penny more. That’s not the road to independence. It’s a road to nowhere.”

“Passionate people have a tendency to be stuck in the now, absorbed in the moment. But even those who have reached the top will tell you that you need to think ahead if you want to stay ahead. If you want to manage your career, you have to learn how to manage your money.”

from: “Right on the Money

“You will never do your best work for the love of money. You do your best work when you hold yourself up to standards no one else can or will match. Your best work is always a labor of love and never the result of greed.”

from: “Are you taking kickbacks?

“Quality calls for experience, dedication, patience and passion. It’s so much easier to be average. Mediocrity can be phoned in. It doesn’t require effort, enthusiasm or attention to detail. It doesn’t ask for sacrifice, continued education or for high-end equipment.”

from: “Finding your Value as a Voice-Over

“The greatest goals are never about personal fame and fortune, and they will never come true the way you imagined them to come true.

At the end of the day, every goal is a picture of what you believe you’re capable of, with all the resources you have available right now.

That means that every goal is limited by your imagination and your perception of what is possible.

The most ambitious goals will seem unrealistic and unreasonable, and yet, even those are confined by what you think you can or cannot accomplish.”

from: “Are You a Winner or a Whiner

Have a peaceful, productive and prosperous new year!

Paul Strikwerda©nethervoice

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Finding your Value as a Voice-Over

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing9 Comments

Etymology is the study of the origin of words. If you love language the way I do, you probably love looking into its history. Delving into the deeper meaning of the things that come out of our mouths is as revealing as it is rewarding.

Take the word competition.

To most people it is synonymous with rivalry or a fight to outdo another; a race that can only have one winner and lots of losers. It’s Darwin’s theory in a nutshell.

It wasn’t always understood like that.

The word competition comes from the latin verb…

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Winning an Audition. Losing the Job.

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media13 Comments

She jokingly called her students “germ bags” and described school parents as “snobby” and “arrogant.”

On Facebook.

As a result, this Massachusetts math and science teacher lost her $92,636-a-year job.

A waitress at a pizza restaurant in uptown Charlotte was fired after making derogatory remarks about customers who’d made her work an hour past the end of her shift and only left a small tip.

On Twitter.

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his job as the voice of the Aflac duck, after the insurance company found out he was tweeting “jokes” about the devastating tsunami in Japan.

Free speech is a wonderful thing, as long as you realize who’s listening. Big Brother is following you. He might even be a

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Are you afraid of raising your rates?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Money Matters25 Comments

“Those who can’t build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.” Paul Strikwerda

At the end of December 2011, Alex Rodriguez had earned $39,000,000. That’s 33 million in salary and winnings from the New York Yankees, and 6 million in endorsements. Not bad for a year’s work.

Do you think he’s worth it?

In 2006, entertainment tycoon David Geffen sold Jackson Pollock’s painting No. 5, 1948 for 140 million dollars. Assuming you had that kind of spare change, would you spend it on a painting described by some as “stunning drip”?

Can you tell me why 15-year old actress Abigail Breslin reportedly made $65K for 5 hours of voice-over work for the animated film “Zambezia”? Yes, that’s $13,000 per hour!

Let’s be honest: what did these people really do?

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