Preparations for OVC 2021 are in full swing, and I caught up with Hugh to get an update. As always, the bold text in blue is a hyperlink taking you to additional information.
Here’s how I started the conversation between me and Hugh:
At each Passover Seder Jewish families ask the question:
“Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?”
With a slight twist I’d like to ask:
What makes the 2021 One Voice Conference different from all other conferences?
Hugh: Well, this year there is a huge difference in that we are running not only One Voice in the UK in August, but also the following weekend in Dallas, Texas in the States. Both conferences are being run as hybrid events so people can come in person to join the festivities, or for those who either can’t make the journey or who are a little more reticent due to Covid, they can join online. We’re using our Reattendance platform again which has had a big upgrade for hybrid, and now both audiences can interact together regardless of where they are.
Aside from the logistics, One Voice is run by Gravy For The Brain(GFTB), and we now operate in 48 different countries around the world. This gives us a completely unique perspective on the global marketplace – and I firmly believe that globalisation is the future of the VO industry. Our reach around the world, and experiences with all of the different territories provides us with a different approach to most, and that underpins the foundation in our conferences.
Can people go to both events, should they wish to do so?
Yes of course – that’s the whole point. We saw such advantages with the online conferences last year (we ended up running 3, in UK, USA and Mexico to a total of over 2000 people) and it’s been setup so that you can pick and choose what you want to do. You can attend both or either in-person or online. It’s really exciting actually, there is a little entourage already who are physically going to both – it’s going to be a real party!
Why do you think there’s room for two big VO conferences in the USA? Of course I’m referring to VO Atlanta(VOA) being the other big event. Your Gravy for the Brain was one of the sponsors.
So firstly, I think it’s really important to say that we are not in competition with VO Atlanta. Gerald is a good friend [Gerald Griffiths, who runs VOA, PS], and it’s a great conference. But I think that we bring something different to the party, in a different location and at a different time of the year.
We run things in a different way, and I’m a firm believer in variety being the spice of life. So of course we sponsor VOA with Gravy For The Brain, because we want to go there ourselves and we want to support his conference too – in fact GFTB has sponsored almost every conference there is on the planet! – but I feel that what we offer is different.
But to answer your question directly, the voiceover industry is growing at a massive pace as the demand for content is growing globally at a massive pace. There is room for us all!
COVID-19 is still with us. What measures will you put in place to make sure it’s not going to be a super spreader event for those who come in person?
Well, clearly the most important thing is safety first. We will always adhere to the best practices and advice from both governments for each conference. It’s a little hard to say exactly what we are going to be doing as the advice is ever-changing, and actually, I think in both territories by the time the conference arrives, we won’t actually need to do anything – we are seeing that in the states now where masks are being thrown away and laws re-written. But we are of course preparing ourselves, so we have already started stocking up on lateral flow tests and such things should we need them.
The great thing about hybrid though is that if the worst came to the worst and we had to cancel one or even both of the conferences, we are already set up for the online component, and we know exactly what we are doing there – so the show will go on.
But as I mentioned, some people are ready to come back to in-person, and some people are not. It’s important to me that we are absolutely inclusive and make the spaces that are right for everyone – no one should be left out.
The OVC runs on the virtual Reattendance platform which you own. What improvements have you made since last year?
Well, you’re getting a spoiler here Paul!
Last October, Peter and I made a very hard decision to start again with Reattendance. I mean completely start again – a rebuild from scratch. Reattendance exploded last year hosting thousands of events, with massive companies being on the platform such as The Royal Air Force, the University of Oxford, Pepsi, Coke, Nestle and so on. We really outgrew it’s housing!
The older, V3 version of the platform is fantastic, but it was designed to be a purely online platform, and what you can see our competitors in the events industry doing at the moment is just slapping the word Hybrid on their website – but they are still just online platforms. V4 of Reattendance is a completely new concept which encompasses everything we have learned about events over the last 8 years, and is a total redesign holistically for the hybrid model.
That means that you can use the mobile version at the conference, and desktop online, everyone interacts with the sessions in the same way with polling and surveys, feedback, questions, chat, the schedule – it’s all done on just the one app. It’s been the hardest working year of my life re-designing and building it, but I am so excited for you all to see it. I honestly think it’s going to change events the world-over.
Having two conferences in two locations also means having two One Voice Awards. Explain to me how that works. Can VO’s from the UK compete in the North American competition and vice versa?
Yes!!! More excitement!
Peter, JMC and I [see photo] always wanted to bring the One Voice Awards to America. It’s a natural progression and I’ve always felt bad that huge amounts of US talent could only enter the International categories in the UK awards. We have slightly updated the categories for the USA, adding Automotive and so on, but we’ve kept it manageable still as we have in the UK – 36 categories in total, of which 32 can be entered for USA Voice Actors.
Actually I say USA, it’s also open to Canadians too!
Submissions are open now, and close strictly on 13th June 2021 at midnight PST (for the USA awards, it’s 6th June for the UK). For anyone who wants to enter, please don’t leave it until the last minute as we are actually quite strict on that end-time!
Click here to enter.
Unlike other VO competitions such as the Voice Arts® Awards, your competition is free to take part, and winners don’t pay a penny for their prize. Why make it free?
Yep. As with the UK awards, it’s absolutely free to submit – and the trophy is free if you win your award. GFTB is such a huge movement nowadays – it’s so much greater than the sum of its parts – that we really wanted to give something back to the industry – and the One Voice Awards is our way of doing just that. We run the awards completely not-for-profit, in fact most years it does cost us to do it – but that’s ok.
Everyone involved gives their time for free to work on it – all the team, the judges and the independent referees. The spirit that is created in the industry by doing this – by having these core values – makes winning an award all the more valuable. It’s actually my favourite time of the year, awards night – everyone gets dressed up and comes to the party – it’s such a great vibe!
You keep the names of the judges secret until the winners are announced. For what reason?
Yes that’s right. Well, for those who don’t know about it in the USA, it’s worth saying that integrity is our absolute core value here; no-one knows who the judges are (in fact we make them sign NDA’s so that they can’t disclose it!), the judges don’t know who the other judges are and can’t see their voting scores, all entries are anonymous (we reject them if they are not), and the results are independently verified by a legal 3rd party at the end.
What this means is that the winners are chosen by the absolute merit of their performances and so the awards truly mean something to the industry. If you win one, you and everyone else knows that you absolutely deserved it, and that, for that category, you were the absolute best that year.
The One Voice Awards is hugely popular in the UK, not just with voice artists, but with the agents, studios, service companies and so on. So we feel that now’s the right time to bring that to the USA so more people can get involved!
Because of that integrity and their recognition in the industry, the awards actually change lives and help careers. We’ve been doing interviews recently with previous Voiceover of the Year winners who said that their businesses have skyrocketed because of it.
If you want to know more about the ethics of the One Voice Conference, Click here to read Helen Bee’s interview with Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson.
One last question. These events are a huge undertaking and must cost a lot to organize. Yet, you manage to keep the ticket price down. From my perspective, these conferences can’t be money makers. Someone told me that 70 to 80% of the in-person conference costs go to the hotel alone.
Why do you, Peter, and your entire team do this not only once but twice? What makes this experience so important and valuable?
Well, that is true – they are very expensive to host, organise and set up. The logistics alone are a year-round task, and our events team at GFTB are just amazing. And yes, the hotels do take a lot of the money, but to be honest with you – at least for me – it’s not all about the money. Conferences are such exciting things – meeting people, networking, making new friends, creating new opportunities, learning and evolving, keeping up with trends. I think if we all did things just for money, the world would be a much more uninteresting place.
Why do we do it twice? Well that’s simple – we get to see more people, make more connections, get more perspectives, forge more new opportunities.
I’ve always been a massive fan of conferences. You get experiences and new insights that you just can’t get from being at home. One Voice is a huge melting pot, and the experiences you take home are priceless. This year of course, we are running the events as hybrid so there is even more opportunity than ever.
Why do I do all this personally though? Well I am the CEO of Gravy For The Brain and also Reattendance, and currently manage 5 different development projects and a total joint team of around 60 people. For better or worse, I am one of those people who gets restless if I’m sitting still – so I do it all because I love the VO Industry and the people in it – and because fundamentally, I’m in love with life. There’s just so much to do, so many new ideas to explore and so much joy to be had.
It’s what gets me up in the mornings, and I always smile on the way to work….
Thank you so much Hugh!
The One Voice Conference UK edition is held in London from August 19th – 22nd. The North American edition is in Dallas from August 26th 26- 29th. Click here to buy your tickets.