At age seventeen, I started making youth radio programs in the Netherlands.
Part of the fun was the inevitable trip to the cafeteria, where I could mix and mingle with the famous faces and voices of Dutch broadcasting. It was like seeing all the celebrities at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum come alive.
The guy who read the prime time news bulletins turned out to have a strange love for raw herring. The girl who presented a popular quiz show was constantly starving herself, and the overpaid head of programming ate home-made liverwurst sandwiches, lovingly prepared by his mother.
Radio hosts were always the most surprising. Very few people knew what they looked like, and that was part of the magic. Radio is the theater of the imagination, and over time I had created mental pictures of my favorite presenters. Now that I was able to go backstage, I had a chance to meet them in person, as they were ordering burgers and fries.
The overexcited and loud sports commentator was an obese man with as much charisma as a cucumber. The announcer with the most muscular, manly pipes in radio, turned out to be a diminutive, unkempt, and rather sad person. If you’d see him in the subway, you’d give him a dollar.
The seductive sounding female host of a late night show I had fallen asleep to on many lonely nights, was a chain-smoking grandmother of seven with two double chins and way too much makeup.
For all these people, the anonymity of radio was a blessing. Seeing them in the flesh was a humbling experience. There and then I realized that I had created an unrealistic image in my mind, based on my idea of what they might look like, and it was something they could never live up to.
I wondered: how many times a day do we judge the people we come into contact with, based on the little information we have? Unless they get an opportunity to reveal more of who they are, they’ll never have a chance to be any better than who we believe them to be. It’s not fair, and it is one of the tragic reasons why so many people on this planet don’t get along.
Last year was the first time I came to VO Atlanta, the largest gathering of voice talent in the world. Walking in the hotel hallways was sort of a déjà vu experience for me. I felt I was back in the Dutch cafeteria, surrounded by people I thought I knew.
One of the first people I ran into was Bill Farmer, a.k.a. the voice of Goofy. In my eyes he was voice-over royalty, and yet he couldn’t have been more “normal” if there is such a thing. Moments later I was passed by a very familiar face, but I couldn’t place him. Later I realized it was Jeffrey Umberger, one of my agents. Now, why didn’t I recognize him?
You see, people look differently in 3-D. Quite often, we know the colleagues we’ve never met from their profile pictures on social media or from flattering headshots. Some of these photos were taken many summers ago, and they lack any kind of personality. They are as polished as our demos: they reveal the person we want the world to think we are.
When I meet people for real for the first time, they go from being two-dimensional to three-dimensional. To put it differently: people get depth. I am often struck by how tall or not tall they are. That’s one thing you cannot see on Facebook. What’s also revealing is the energy people radiate. It’s something we rarely pick up on when we’re connecting in writing.
Some people just light up the room when they walk in. Others quickly fade into the background. Some people have the most contagious laugh in the world, and others are the best huggers.
Here’s something else I ran into: people’s perceptions of me.
Some conference participants had been reading my blog for years, and had formed an opinion of who they thought I was. At the last day of VO Atlanta 2017, a girl came up to me, and she was rather nervous. “I wanted to meet you,” she said, “but I was a little bit apprehensive.”
“Why?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “in your blog you often voice such strong opinions. One of my friends says you must be pretty nasty, and I wasn’t sure you’d be willing to talk to me. But I’ve watched you during the conference, and you seem to be a nice person, so here I am.”
It was the beginning of one of the best conversations of the entire conference.
OPEN YOUR EYES
Things are never what they seem, because we look at reality through glasses colored by our personal history and by our subjective opinions. In fact, when we look at another human being, I believe we’re actually looking at a reflection of what’s inside of us.
So, if you’re going to VO Atlanta, or to any other gathering for that matter, see if you can leave any preconceptions at the door, or at least be aware that you’re biased. You may think that you already know the next person you’re about to meet, but do you really? Your unconscious prejudices could prevent you from reaching out, and could deprive the other person from an opportunity to reveal his or her true self.
If you happen to run into me, don’t be afraid. I don’t bite, unless I’m eating. I’m probably different from the person you thought I would be, and I hope that’s okay. Just be yourself. That’s the person I’m interested in.
Speaking of VO Atlanta: on 3/2 I’ll be on a panel about the future of VO-casting from 11 – 12. The moderator is J. Michael Collins, and he promised to bring some big news.
My X-session, 6 Steps to Turning your VO-Business around is on 3/2 from 6:30 – 9:30 PM.
On 3/3 I’ll be leading a Breakout Session about The Inner Game of Voice-Over from 3:15 – 4:15 PM.
I hope to see you there, or at other times in the conference hotel.
Let’s revisit my experience at Dutch radio for a minute or two. Here’s what I eventually learned.
The overexcited and obese sports commentator knew how to turn it on at the right moment as he was describing the big games in real-time. He also knew how to turn it off to conserve his energy. Because much of his life was spent on the road traveling from game to game, he didn’t have a lot of time to eat, so he stuck to a fast food diet, and it was showing.
The shabby announcer with the most muscular, manly pipes in radio, had lost his wife some years ago, and when that happened, he stopped taking care of himself. He eventually hooked up with the anorexic quiz show host. While they were dating she put on some weight, and transformed him into a well-groomed radio personality which landed him a job on TV.
The chain-smoking grandmother of seven with two double chins took me under her wing, and came to see me as the son she had lost when he was my age. The lessons I learned from her I still apply today.
Whether you’re going to a conference or not, I encourage you to always keep an open mind, and please remember:
We all have stories to tell, and most of the time our books are very different and much more interesting than their covers!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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