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

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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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

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

12 Responses to VO Atlanta: a Waste of Money or a Wise Investment?

  1. Catherine Campion

    Ha – you sound like a Burner after Burning Man (I’ve never been and have no desire.)
    Can’t wait to attend my first VO Atlanta in March!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    There are no men burn ing at VO Atlanta, just people on fire about Voice-Over. See you there!

    [Reply]

  2. Dave Clarke

    I remember seeing Becky sitting quietly by herself in the lobby of the hotel at last years VO Atlanta. I remember sitting next to her and starting a conversation. Over the course of the next few days, I watched her come alive and make so many new friends! It was amazing! This is the magic of VOA!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It sure is!

    [Reply]

  3. Becky Stinemetze

    Yes! I was a brand spanking newbie last year and VO Atlanta was a warm embrace into the community. If you want to have faith in the kindness of humans again, then this is the place to see it. I think you eloquently captured the experience in this piece. Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I totally agree with your first statement. Be warned: you will leave VO Atlanta on a high. Once you’re back in the “real world” you’ll notice that very few people are smiling. They seem grumpy and self-involved. The trick is to keep the positive vibes coming and take them into your studio.

    [Reply]

  4. Jon Noles

    And do yourself a HUGE favor…sign up for a breakout session with Mr. Strikwerda or even better, anX-Session. I’ve taken at least 2-3 XS’s every year at VOA and the pages I filled in my notebook and the content contained therein remains some of the most valuable.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for the endorsement, Jon. I had so much fun last year. At times I wish I could be a “regular” participant so I could take some classes from colleagues. All panels are recorded and are accessible after the conferene on the VO Atlanta website for those who were there. Those who cou;d not make it can watch the content at a moderate fee.

    [Reply]

  5. David Gilbert

    Wonderful comments Paul! Though you missed a word I still remember you saying in Atlanta last year that has stuck with me and best describes the VO community – congregation. We’re not blood relatives but congregants seems to be the closest relationship one could have besides family.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Amen to that, David!

    [Reply]

  6. Paul Payton

    “People don’t refer people they don’t know, so it’s important to make connections.” Yes! If there is a “secret” to my success, that’s it. Although I’m in the New York area, a wise mentor once said getting involved with networking and business development groups, asking, “How can I help?” and then following through is the best way to become known for the right reasons. (That, and advertising in the newsletters of those organizations – today’s equivalent would be on their websites if they offer it – so that I “became famous before I was known.”) The end result: many long terms clients I first met in those groups. Some are still with me for more than two decades!

    For those who are wondering, I wound up bypassing being signed to an agency; some agents who handle freelance talent have repped me (thank you!), but I rarely now get stuck in a room in NYC where 60 people “who look and sound just like me” are all vying for the same slot in front of a client who probably tuned out after the first dozen or so! Maybe I left a few bucks behind, but I haven’t starved or waited on tables! The above is certainly an honorable way to break in and book gigs, and many friends have; I just did it differently. No judgment attached.

    The specifics of the business have changed and I don’t know how I’d break in now, but I’ll bet it looks similar to what I did – one-on-one, personal involvement. We didn’t have conferences like VO Atlanta when I started, and I do personally better in smaller groups, like Faffcon, but I cherish opportunities to meet with other “live humans” and exchange ideas, information and, yes, cards. I’ve found there’s room for anyone in our business who is good; It’s not a zero-sum game. If other people are working, that means that the industry is working and there’s somewhere for people like me to go to work!

    Just some observations – hope they help, and I’m really happy to see you “back in the saddle,” Paul. (We still owe each other a visit or few!) Thank you as always for your valuable insights!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for your helpful observations, Paul. Bottom line: you’ve got to do what works for you. There are many ways to get to your destination.

    Yes, I am back in the saddle. My first and most important job is to continue to heal. I’ve encountered a few roadblocks, but overall I’m happy with my progress. VO Atlanta is going to be a test for me: tons of people, lots of stimuli, and a busy schedule. Bring it on!

    [Reply]

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