If I were to make a top-ten of the hardest words in any language, this word would be my number one pick. It’s also one of the shortest. This simple sound has destroyed countless careers; it has propelled people into the depths of depression, and it has broken many hopeful hearts.
It is the horrible, ugly word “NO”.
“No” is every salesperson’s nightmare. “No” has turned rejected lovers into vindictive maniacs. And -as any parent will tell you- “No” can turn the sweetest kid into a manipulative monster. In fact, this two-letter word is so destructive, one could make a case for it to be banned from our vocabulary because of the damage it has done over the ages. But I can predict what our linguists would say to that: “No”.
Here in the States, the nation is watching another season of “America’s got talent.” I pity the three judges who have to sit through a never-ending parade of geriatric belly-dancers, tone-deaf Whitney Houston wannabees, drag queen contortionists and hip hoppers with egos bigger than their beefed up physiques.
They all believe that they’re the next big act to hit the Vegas strip, worthy of a million dollars. All I can think of is: Who opened this loony bin and who is going to close it? I have to admit: in this crazy context, the word “No” can actually be a blessing!
We might watch these voluntary victims of reality TV with amazement, but voice-over talents actually have something in common with these strange folks. We too, audition. We might not do it on national TV, but time and again we have to face the final verdict that could shatter our dreams into a million pieces. Or not. This is what I learned about rejection dejection.
Lesson number one: The greatest disappointments are always well-planned.
Yes, you’ve heard me: we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Expectation and disillusion are twins. Evil twins. The more we expect, the bigger the disappointment.
Watch “America’s got talent” for a few minutes, and you’ll see the following tragic story unfold:
A camera zooms in on a middle-aged librarian who’s showing all the obvious signs of a sedentary lifestyle. The talent tells the interviewer: “I’ve been blessed with a unique gift. Since the moment I took my first breath, I knew I was destined for greatness. I am definitely going to blow the judges away. This is the moment I have been waiting for all my life.”
He steps up to the microphone; introduces himself to the world, and starts rubbing his hands together. This better be good!
The next thing we hear is a sound that can only be described as someone breaking wind to the tune of “America the beautiful”. Yes, we’re blown away alright!
The audience starts yelling; the judges hammer on their red buttons and moments later, our handy hero is crushed and crumbled under the weight of humiliation that will haunt him for the rest of his librarian life.
Lesson number two: know your strengths!
Small fish wanting to play in the big pond better bring something extraordinary to the table, otherwise the big fish will have you for lunch.
One AGT-episode featured a self-professed ‘celebrity impersonator’. He was so bad that -even though he spelled out which impression he was going to do- no one got it. I know voice-over artists who make a decent living pretending to be someone else. Some of them are so good, it’s frightening… they sound even better than the original! But unless and until your impersonation is spot-on, don’t tell the world you’re the next big thing. People might get the wrong impression…
Lesson three: get a reality check.
In other words: go for a second opinion. Get as many second opinions as you can. And please, don’t run to your mother for feedback. She’ll love you no matter what. That’s her job. What you need is an honest opinion. Go to a pro. Not one of those people who get paid to chat you up so you’ll enroll into some vague voice-over academy.
A good coach will analyze every ounce of your talent (or lack thereof), and expose you for what you are. A great coach will also tell you what you need to do to improve. A superb coach will teach you the tricks of the trade.
Back to the show for lesson four: have a recovery strategy.
I am still floored by how ungraceful some of the untalented are in defeat. They become defensive, they come up with excuses, they blame the judges… it’s always something or someone else, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for positive reinforcement. But America’s upbeat culture of programmed positive praise has led to a distinct lack of self-awareness and humility. Thus, smiling small town heroes turn into angry big town, big time losers when they hear the dreaded word “No.”
This begs the question: how should one prepare for possible rejection? Should we simply expect not to expect anything? That way, we won’t ever be disappointed. If you don’t strive to win, you’ll never lose. Could that be the answer? But what about our hopes, our dreams and aspirations? Isn’t life about taking risks, shooting for the stars and about being the best one can be? Had we been playing it safe, we’d still be staring at the moon, instead of landing on it.
Here’s the good news. There is an effective way of dealing with denial. It’s no magic bullet, but it will certainly keep you grounded. It is part of what I call my ‘Ultimate Auditioning Strategy’. I have refined it over many years, and I’d be happy to share it with you.
Here’s the thing: this strategy works for any type of audition. I have taught it to musicians, stage actors, public speakers, job seekers, sports people and yes… to voice-over artists.
The Ultimate Auditioning Strategy
Whether you’re applying for a job or for a part in a commercial, there comes a time when some of us have to face our greatest fear: the fear of rejection. Especially the people-pleasers, the doormats and the perfectionists of this world, have a particularly hard time in the hot seat. If you happen to be intimately acquainted with one of those people, this is for you.
Having been in the voice-over business for over 25 years, I am absolutely convinced that a successful try-out is only in part based on vocal cords, experience and skills. Most of it has to do with being in the right mindset. Let me give you an example.
One of my cousins is an amazingly talented guitar player. His technique is truly breathtaking, only paralleled by the likes of Tommy Emmanuel and John Williams. Every time he plays for me in the comfort of his own room, he sets his six strings on fire. If he wanted to, he could be up there with the Paco Pena’s and the Yngwie Malmsteens.
Unfortunately, no one has ever heard of him. Why? Because he never thought he was good enough, and somehow, he wasn’t able to summon the courage to get on stage and share his gift with the world. He was and is his own biggest stumbling block.
Do yourself a favor: don’t be like my cousin! If you have talent, there’s no failure in “going for it.” However, if you don’t, the game’s already lost before it even started.
The way I see it, a successful audition is the result of three vital ingredients: competence , confidence and being at the right place at the right time. Some call the last component luck, but as Samuel Goldwyn once said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Now, let me share a few things that have helped me tremendously. Even though some of the fundamentals I am about to describe apply to cattle-call situations, most steps are relevant to those who audition on-line as well.
The first ‘secret ingredient’ is the fact that my Ultimate Audition Strategy starts long before I step up to the mic. It’s made up of a number of “empowering beliefs” that have become part of my DNA (Dutch Natural Attitude):
1. Treasure your talents and know your limitations.
2. Build on your strengths and work on your weaknesses.
3. Hone your craft, while learning from the best.
4. When it’s time to audition: come prepared and always arrive early.
5. Dress professionally. Don’t make a beginner’s mistake by thinking that it’s only about the way you sound. Plus: you won’t be the first voice-over actor being offered an on-camera job as the result of an off-camera audition.
6. Before you’re called in, find a space to center yourself and mentally rehearse what you’re about to do, picturing a positive outcome. Don’t allow others to distract you.
7. Be confident, not cocky. Your attitude should be an asset and not a turn-off.
8. Leave your troubles at the door. If you can’t do that for an audition, how are you going to handle personal problems during a recording session?
9. Realize that the client needs you as much as you need the client. Connect with them from the very first moment you walk in. Remember: a smile is the shortest way between two people.
10. Make it easy to work with you: be open to suggestions; follow directions, relax and have some fun.
11. Once you’re in the hotspot…give it all you got, and then some. If you know that you gave it your all, there is no such thing as failure. Only feedback.
12. Make your first read a good one, but never make it your best. Give the director something to work with. It’s her opportunity to show the client what a genius she is…
13. Do not criticize the hand that might be feeding you. Generally speaking, badmouthing others (including your colleagues) doesn’t make you any better either. On the contrary.
14. Be gracious and grateful. Thank the casting crew for the opportunity, and make sure that your last impression is a lasting one. Hand out your cards and demos before you leave, if you haven’t done so already.
15. When you’re out of the limelight, find a quiet place and imagine stepping outside of your body; put yourself into the voice-seekers shoes as you evaluate your own performance. What went well? What could have gone better? What can you do next time to “kick it up a notch”? What do you need to do to get there?
What you do next is absolutely crucial:
16. Let go of the outcome. Forgedaboudit! Put your performance in a balloon and release it. If it comes back to you, celebrate! If it doesn’t, know that someone else in this universe is jumping for joy.
17. If you don’t hear anything back, realize two things: delays are not denials. Even though we live in a world of instant gratification, patience is still a virtue. If it’s a “No”, understand that auditioning is a process of selection, not rejection. Just because they didn’t pick you, doesn’t mean your audition was crap. Just because you didn’t get the part, doesn’t mean you have failed in life. Even the best chefs can’t please every single diner.
18. Embrace the fact that living is learning, and that we often learn more from the things that don’t go as planned, than from the things we’ve already mastered.
19. Move on! This industry rewards the go-getters, not the whiners and the finger-pointers. As long as you know that you did your best, and that you took something useful away from the audition experience, your time was well-spent.
Ray Kirstein says
True story: a number of years ago, a new radio station group General Manager who was very image-conscious and rather superficial decided to “clean house” in his sales department, and singled out for termination a female account rep he thought was “too old;” a fellow he thought “too inexperienced;” and a veteral seller who was, to put it bluntly, kind of like an overweight Columbo.
All of us staffers watched sadly as rep #1 went into her meeting, the door closed, and a few minutes later she terafully emerged to clean out her desk. For rep #2, there wasn’t even time to close the door. Then in went Columbo. He was in his terminaton meeting so long we had started to worry that the new GM had been tossed out the window by now, when the door finally opened and rep #3 emerged, sweating and rumpled.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I’m the new assistand sales manager,” he answered coyly and headed out for drinks.
I relate Columbo’s story partly because it’s one of my favorites, but also because he taught me his way to deal with “no,” and it’s served me well all these years.
“Count your ‘no’s’,” he would tell me. “If you take each one personally, it’s gonna kill you. But if you average one sale for every 50 sales calls, you just count the ‘no’s.’ If you’re at 49, you know you’re almost there. And if you close after only 30 ‘no’s,’ it feels great!”
When they tried to fire him, Columbo just kept suggesting alternative scenarios until they ran out of “no’s.” Out on the street, he let the “no’s” guide him to the “yes.”
It’s a technique that still helps me overcome the disappointments of auditions ignored or declined (or, worse, on one freelance site, overtly “rejected”! They really need to fix that.)
Keep up the great work, Paul!