VO Atlanta presenter

VO Atlanta: a Waste of Money or a Wise Investment?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Promotion, Social Media 9 Comments

on stage at VO Atlanta 2018, click to enlarge

As VO Atlanta (March 28 – 31) is rapidly approaching, something predictable is happening. The people who are on the fence about going, start making the rounds on social media asking:

“Is it worth it?”

You’ll never hear those who have participated in previous years ask this question. For them, it’s a non-issue because they know from experience that they will receive much more than they have invested. That’s why they’re coming back again and again and again.

The question “Is it worth it,” is asked a lot on social media in different ways. “Is joining Pay to Play X worth the money?” “Should I buy microphone Y?” “Does Mr. Z produce good demos?” I’m always surprised by the number of people ready to answer these queries without knowing anything about the person who is asking, and knowing very little about the subject matter. Online, the deaf often lead the blind.

A MATTER OF VALUE

When someone asks me “Is it worth it” I want to know at least two things before I decide to chime in:

What do you mean by “it,”

and

How do you determine “worth?”

If I don’t get clarification on those two things, I’ll run the risk of answering the question from my experience and with my values in mind, which are bound to be different from the person asking the question. Bear in mind:

People don’t do things for my reasons or your reasons.

They do things for their reasons.

Once you find out what their reasons are, you can make a case based on what motivates them. Consequently, they’re more likely to resonate with what you have to say. Anyone working in sales should know this.

Going back to the questions behind the question “Is it worth it?” what does the first “it” actually mean? Obviously, “It” refers to VO Atlanta. It is a linguistic attempt to fit the entire conference experience into a two-letter word. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see that that’s impossible. A conference like VO Atlanta consists of multiple days loaded with content and social interaction. It’s pointless and unfair to boil that down to one meaningless word.

ACTIVE PARTICIPATION

Besides, everyone experiences the conference differently. It’s not a spectator sport. As in real life, what you get out of it is greatly determined by what you put into it. If you don’t put yourself out there professionally and personally, you’ll have a very different conference then when you do. In other words: YOU determine the return on investment.

Here’s my prediction. If your mindset is “I’ll wait and see. You come to me,” then you’re not going to get as much out of the conference compared to an actively involved participant. Some of the most valuable and memorable moments at VO Atlanta (and I’m talking about “worth” now) may come from unplanned, spontaneous meetings in the corridors of the hotel, or at the lunch table.

They may come when you gather all your courage to walk up to one of your VO idols and start a conversation. Before you know it, you end up sharing a meal as you informally talk about the biz. That’s what makes VO Atlanta so unique.

2019 keynote speaker Kay Bess

As a former journalist, I had to report on lots of conferences. From that, I learned two things. One: most of these gatherings are a snooze fest. Two: the speakers are unapproachable and leave as soon as they’ve collected their checks. Everyone who’s ever been to VO Atlanta will tell you that this event is the complete opposite. It is engrossing and entertaining, and all presenters are accessible during the entire conference.

There are no industry secrets and no oversized egos. Just people who want you to succeed.

What else would make VO Atlanta worthwhile? I won’t speak for you, but I’ll gladly share my thoughts and feelings.

IN IT TOGETHER

What many are looking for, is a sense of connection. We all do our work in isolation, in a small box, talking to imaginary people. We know that there are lots of other silly people who do the same thing, but they’re just a profile picture on Facebook or Instagram. Meeting these people in real life means truly connecting with an international voice-over family you never knew you always had. There’s an instant rapport with folks who really get you because they do what you do, and love it just as much.

As the grand hotel ballroom fills up with hundreds of talkative colleagues, you look at the gathering crowd, and it suddenly dawns upon you:

2018 keynote

I am not alone! This is my community! These are my people!

Here’s what happens: competitors become colleagues, and colleagues become friends. Friends become a support system you can count on in good times, and when times are not so good.

“That’s all nice, warm and fuzzy, but will it get me any work?” you ask. “My clients aren’t going to be at VO Atlanta.”

I can only speak for myself, but I get a lot of work through referrals from colleagues who know that I am the go-to person for Dutch and neutral English jobs. People don’t refer people they don’t know, so it’s important to make connections. A conference is an ideal setting to do just that.

LEARNING FROM FEEDBACK

You also get a chance to impress top coaches and casting directors with your audition. Normally, you’d probably have a hard time getting in the door with these folks because they have no time and they don’t know you. At VO Atlanta, meeting them is part of your ticket. Not only will they listen to you, but they’ll also give you feedback on your read, and if they like you, they might sign you.

Because the voice-over industry is not regulated, there is no requirement for continued education. Come to think of it, there’s no requirement for any education! As the number of professional VO’s increases each year, those who are best prepared, have a greater chance of actually making a living. The many panels, workshops, presentations, and X-sessions at VO Atlanta will give you a necessary edge in a crowded field. Rather than reinventing the wheel making beginner’s mistakes, you’ll save time and money by learning from the pros who made the same mistakes when they were starting out.

Do you need more reasons to come to Atlanta?

THE SECRET INGREDIENT

There’s one thing you won’t find in any of the promotional materials, online or otherwise, simply because it cannot be captured. It has to be experienced. I am talking about the energy at the conference. At times it’s electric and contagious.

I may be biased, but I think that voice-over people are among the least pretentious, kindest, and most giving people on the planet. In Atlanta, the sense that we’re all here to help and support one another is overwhelming. Together we’ll continue the fight for fair rates, we’ll call out unethical and greedy companies, and together we’ll strive to continuously raise the professional bar. Plus, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we like to laugh a lot!

To someone who has never been to this conference the following may sound overly dramatic, but at VO Atlanta I got a glimpse of what the world can be when people of all backgrounds, faiths, persuasions, languages, and traditions come together and cheer each other on. It is powerful in the most positive way, and this world needs more of it. When leaving last year’s conference, I couldn’t stop smiling!

To me, that positive energy was one of the greatest takeaways from the conference, and one of the many reasons why I will be coming back as a presenter and a participant.

WHY YOU SHOULD GO

Lets face it. You’ve been working hard for the past couple of months and you deserve a break. A BIG break, even. Do yourself a favor and get out of that musty studio of yours. Go south, see some daylight, and meet some real people. You may not read from the same script, but you’re already on the same page.

the author presents

Take part in the group challenge and record a commercial for a charity. You might even win some gear! Dress up under the disco ball, and dance like no one is watching. Laugh a lot and cry a little when a deserving colleague receives the Unicorn Award. You’ll come home feeling recharged and refreshed.

And remember to look for the guy in the yellow clogs!

See you there!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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See Me in 3-D at VO Atlanta!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 14 Comments

At VO Atlanta in 2017

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.

SECOND IMPRESSIONS

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. 

GOING SOUTH

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. 

REALITY CHECK

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.

DIFFERENT PEOPLE

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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