Fri

03

Jun

2022

5 Approaches to the Conversational Read

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Mon

23

May

2022

The Cheeseburger Mindset

Does your business have what I call a “Cheeseburger Mindset?”

In other words: are you listening to your customers?

Some background: my kids like burgers, but don’t like cheeseburgers. Every time they order a burger, we emphasize that they only want a plain burger with NO CHEESE. All too often they’ll be served a cheeseburger, which means that either the server or the cook was not paying attention. So, we have to send it back and wait for another burger…

In these situations, cheeseburger is a menu item, while hamburger is a special order. The “Cheeseburger Mindset” is when a business does not pay attention to detail; it’s a system set up to process volume and not look for things out of the ordinary. After all, how many people don’t want cheese on a burger? The number has to be pretty small, right? (Yes, I get that my kids are unusual in this regard).

So, does your business have a “Cheeseburger Mindset” or are you paying attention to your customers?

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Fri

13

May

2022

Speaking Naturally

“So, you just talk into a microphone, right?”

Me: “Er, no.”

I take your copy and make it sound like I’m speaking naturally…and that I’m, most importantly, interested in the topic. This also involves learning to pronounce the name of your company, product, person I’m speaking about, or anything else in the script that is counterintuitive.

Side note: Medical and pharmaceutical scripts are written in an entirely different language that is, at best, tangential to English. I might have sprained my tongue a few times trying to pronounce various medicines…

Do I ever get it wrong? You betcha.

I mispronounce words occasionally, but at least I sound interested in what I’m mispronouncing!

And I’ll always go back and fix it….

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Mon

09

May

2022

Start With a Good Script

Your voiceover script should be a tool to help the voiceover talent deliver your message.

A confusing script will turn the talent from an actor into a reader because the talent is fighting to understand the script.

If the talent is fighting to understand the script, and gives an unengaged performance, the audience will wander elsewhere.

An unengaged audience will sleep on your message.

And it all starts with a good script.

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Fri

06

May

2022

The Best Projects to Work On

My mother-in-law visited my family this past weekend and asked me a question that got me thinking:

“What voiceover projects do you most like to work on?”

The easy answer is ones that pay on time!

Seriously, though, it’s not something I think about a lot. A project come in, I record and edit it, and then send it to the client, usually within a few hours.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I like two types of projects:

Projects where I learn something, like e-learning.

Projects that have a well-written script that is easy-to-read, like most explainer video scripts.

And, if a project is both well-written and informative, that just makes my day (as long as I get paid on time!)

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Fri

29

Apr

2022

5 Reasons to be Paid in Exposure

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Mon

25

Apr

2022

Getting Paid in "Exposure"

If you’re a creative person, you might have received an offer to be paid in “exposure.”

No, it’s not a new cryptocurrency, but rather an offer to not pay you anything for your work because your work will function as an advertisement to others who will then pay you for your work.

If that sounds like complete nonsense, there’s a good reason for that.

A client offering to pay you in “exposure” is not a professional and does not value your skillset. It is also highly likely that any “exposure” they offer is worthless.

When you agree to be in “exposure,” you communicate that you are also an amateur.

Professionals get paid to do the work.

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Wed

20

Apr

2022

Know Your Value

I had a potential client who wanted me to be the voice of a YouTube channel focused on investing, success and motivation. This potential client also wanted me to help with scriptwriting and said I would be a great fit for this new channel.

Even though it would be a significant time commitment to research, write and narrate a 10-minute video every week, I was really excited by the idea of creating new content and branching out in a different path with my voiceover work.

The client and I had a phone call to discuss details, and he told me what it would pay.

I laughed.

And no, it wasn’t out of line. The offer was insulting to the point where negotiation was useless.

It’s flattering when someone wants to work with you. It’s something else when they don’t actually see your value.

#success #content #video #research #motivation #value #selfworth

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Thu

07

Apr

2022

5 Things a Voiceover Can't Do

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Wed

30

Mar

2022

Targeting the Right People

Targeting the right people is…important.

 

The other day I got an email promoting a book. Yay! I love books!

 

But, it was from a name I did not immediately recognize…

 

Huh? Now, I was confused.

 

There was no method of opting out…

 

Double huh?

 

Searching for his name in my email, I realized I met the author once when I was interviewing for a job at his company nine years ago….

 

Triple huh?

 

And the topic, shall we say…was not quite relevant to me…

 

Quadruple huh?

 

I’m guessing the author sent the email out to every email address he’s ever interacted with…and that I may not be the only one who marked it as spam.

Fri

25

Mar

2022

6 Styles of Motivation

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Wed

23

Mar

2022

Experimenting With Creativity

Creativity is not just imagining possibilities; you also have to conduct experiments to find out what works and doesn’t work.

For instance, I might approach an audition script imagining a few different scenarios, and bringing a different energy to each.

But...before I send it to the client, I have to figure out which of those experiments to throw out. Narrating a corporate explainer video as a cartoon character with a funny voice is not going to get me the gig...

...but it is fun to try it out if I'm having trouble getting into a script!

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Tue

15

Mar

2022

Learning on the (Voiceover) Job

I just finished a voiceover narration project for a museum, and I got to learn about an artist I was unfamiliar with. (Due to an NDA, I won’t say which museum or exhibit). 

That’s one of the best parts of this job: learning something new….and being able to help bring that knowledge to someone else who may be discovering it for the first time.

#learning #museum #voiceover #narrator

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Fri

04

Mar

2022

5 Signs of an Unprofessional Voice Talent

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Fri

25

Feb

2022

Should a Business Owner Do Their Own VO?

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Fri

18

Feb

2022

Which Audio Car Ad Would Get You To Test Drive?

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Wed

09

Feb

2022

What Does Your Valentine's Day Gift Sound Like?

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Tue

08

Feb

2022

Creativity Blossoms with Collaboration

Creativity blossoms with collaboration.

 

My 14-year-old son, Sam, heard me playing a chord progression on the guitar and asked what I was playing so he could join in on piano. It was a song I had been writing.

 

During the pandemic, I’ve been playing the guitar a lot as a means of refocusing my brain. This mostly involves “noodling” and exploring the chord progressions that resonate with me. Sam has been playing a lot of piano, picking out songs from bands like Radiohead, Wilco, and the Beatles while also learning pieces like “The Entertainer” or “Moonlight Sonata.”

 

Normally, I think of the chords being played as the finger position on the guitar, even when using a capo. The song Sam asked about is played with a capo. Now I had to really think about the chords I was playing to translate them to Sam.

 

He picked it up quickly, riffing on the chord progression, adding flavor, color and depth to it.

 

“You make it sound good,” I said to him.

 

“It already sounded good,” he replied.

 

What my song had been missing was a collaborator, someone else to explore its possibility.

Wed

02

Feb

2022

How Would You Promote a Clothing Brand?

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Wed

26

Jan

2022

Wordle Secrets Exposed

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Wed

19

Jan

2022

What If You Could Put Your Voice in a Jar?

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Wed

12

Jan

2022

Which Voice is Best Suited to Promoting a Juicy Burger?

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Wed

05

Jan

2022

What is the Best Voice for a Fitness Center?

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Sun

02

Jan

2022

Happy New Year!

Thu

16

Dec

2021

What Does Santa Sound Like?

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Wed

08

Dec

2021

Cold Climate Voice Talent Only

All day yesterday, we had light snow in the Minneapolis area.

Aside from skiers, voice actors might be the only group that wants to work every time it snows. That’s because snow makes everything so quiet. Like, if the snow wouldn’t ruin my equipment, I might consider recording outside, quiet.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a nice, quiet recording space in a quiet neighborhood, but snowfall adds an extra layer of peace.

The moral of the story is: Don’t hire voice actors who live in warm climates. 😂😂😂

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Tue

30

Nov

2021

Saying No - For the Right Reasons

I turned down a gig last week.

 

A European producer reached out for me to narrate part of a documentary in the voice of one of the characters. It looked like it would have been an interesting challenge.

 

But there was one problem:

 

The person in the documentary was from Texas and I’m not from Texas. I’m from the Boston-area, but speak with a “neutral American” accent. Sure, I could have mimicked how I think a Texan would speak, but it would likely have sounded inauthentic or like I was making a joke of it.

 

So, in the interest of authenticity, I turned it down. I just wasn’t right for it. If I had gone through with the project, it would have reflected poorly on the production and made me look like an amateur.

 

Bottom line: it’s okay to say no, especially if you’re not the right person for the job.

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Wed

24

Nov

2021

Giving Thanks - 2021

Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for a long time. The expectations are simple: be thankful and enjoy a great meal. That’s it. The only down side is that, for some reason, the Detroit Lions get a nationally televised home game every year. Why?

As always, I have a lot to be thankful for:

My wife, Val, who keeps making carrot cake for me every birthday despite my lack of objection.

The way Val laughs.

The way the trees turn bright shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall.

Looking out the window to see the school busses pull up at the end of the day.  

Salmon Sunday with my daughter, Emily. She and I love salmon.

That Val and I got each other the same anniversary gift. (It means we’re in synch)

Catching up with old friends in Massachusetts.

Listening to my son, Sam, play piano, especially when he gets in a groove and does a Radiohead/Pixies/Styx/Billy Joel/Bad Plus/Beatles medley.

Hearing my Emily belt out Brandi Carlile songs at top volume while playing the ukulele.

Val singing along to her favorite songs…even if it’s Christmas music a few months too early.

Being able to pick up a guitar and make something resembling music.

Discovering a new song.

Lake Superior.

Great neighbors.

Photography

Playing catch and Wiffle Ball with Sam.

Getting to see live baseball games this year at Fenway Park, Target Field and CHS Field.

After two years, I finally feel like I know my way around the area where I live.

Getting on the mic and really connecting with a piece of copy.

My clients – new and returning (Note: I did not say old)

These albums:
The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore
Aimee Mann – Queens of the Summer Hotel
Yola – Stand for Myself
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Georgia Blue
Adia Victoria – A Southern Gothic
Rhiannon Giddens – They’re Calling Me Home

These Books (that I read this year):
Marketing Made Simple – Donald Miller
The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
Say Nothing – Patrick Radden Keefe
Trick Mirror – Jia Tolentino
Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn
The Stone Sky – N.K. Jemisin
Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler
Think Again – Adam Grant
Caste – Isabel Wilkerson
Ball Four – Jim Bouton
The Cruelty is the Point – Adam Serwer
The Glass Hotel – Emily St. John Mandel
1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
Matrix – Lauren Groff
Daisy Jones & the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and lots to be thankful for, too!

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Thu

04

Nov

2021

Overcoming Silent Rejection

In voiceover you don’t meet rejection so much as silence, and that silence can feel like rejection.

Reach out to potential clients? No response.

Submit an audition? Very rare to get a response unless you are selected for the gig.

It’s like most jobs in sales. You spend most of your time being ignored and trying to figure out how to not be ignored.

But when a prospective client engages with you and you work well together, all that silent rejection is suddenly worth it.

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Fri

22

Oct

2021

What Clients Want to Know

In my experience, what voiceover clients and potential clients want to know is*:

1. How do you sound?
2. How quickly can you turn their projects around?
3. Do you have a professional studio?
4. Will you deliver what they’ve asked for?

*My answers: 1. Warm, friendly, authentic 2. Most short projects within a few hours, 24-hours max; 3. Yes; 4. Yes, and, if it’s not quite right, I re-do it.

Wed

13

Oct

2021

Too Clever for my Own Good?

Every time I try clever marketing copy, I think I’ve nailed it, but I’m met with crickets.

Clever marketing doesn’t tell clients what I do.

Clever marketing doesn’t tell clients how I can help them.

Clever marketing annoys clients by making them have to work to understand what I’m trying to say.  

Clever marketing confuses clients who will then find someone who is clear about what they do.  

Lesson: write clearly, communicate what you do, and let clients know how you can help them.

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Wed

15

Sep

2021

More Than Just Reading Aloud

Voiceover is something that a lot of people think they can do. I hear it all the time:

“It’s just reading out loud, right?”  

Technically, yes, it is reading out loud, but there’s a big difference between reading out loud and connecting with a script.  It’s called ACTING and acting is a skill that needs to be developed.

So, yes, anyone CAN do voiceover, but you need training and practice to become a pro.

Wed

14

Jul

2021

New Commercial Demo

It’s always so exciting to produce a new demo!

For my updated commercial voiceover demo, I had the great privilege of working with Dave Walsh. There’s a reason why Dave is a highly sought-after VO coach. Dave inspired me to connect with the story behind each script. He also helped me target areas of VO that are a natural fit for me (not that I ever thought my sound was hip teenager).

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dave for helping me deliver more authenticity in my reads and getting me out of the “smooth voice” read that I tend to fall back on. Every session with Dave pushed me to dig deeper and develop a tighter and more specific connection to the story in the script.

I’m also always amazed at the seemingly effortless wizardry of a great sound engineer. Not only did John Chominsky record me remotely via Source Connect but he made this demo sound like we were in the same studio on recording day, not 2,000 miles apart.

If you’re in need of a warm, friendly, authentic voice for your next project, I’d be delighted to work with you. See the comments section for contact info.

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Fri

02

Jul

2021

Adjusting to Market Conditions - Lemonade Stand Edition

Instead of working on my own business yesterday, I was support crew for a local startup. The original price list is attached.

Over the course of the day, the two business partners, my 8-year-old daughter and our next-door neighbor, have drastically adjusted their product offerings based on feedback from their customer base.

What started out as a smorgasbord of goods and services, including crafts and video game training (not priced here), morphed into a lemonade stand, because that’s what people were willing to pay for. They also managed to sell some drawings to people who stopped by for lemonade.

The lesson? Give the customers what they want and are willing to pay for (lemonade) and they may surprise you by purchasing upsell items (drawings).

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Tue

29

Jun

2021

Do Your Thing

The bumblebee goes out and does its thing.

It doesn’t wonder whether it’s on the right path.

It’s not concerned about finding its purpose.

It’s not being actively recruited by other hives.

It doesn’t think about what it’s missing.

What an incredible gift it is to think about our place in the world and our purpose.

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Wed

16

Jun

2021

Even Your Best Clients Can Lose Interest...

“Dragonfly! Daddy, get your camera! It’s so beautiful!”

So I did, along with the telephoto lens.

Dragonflies are very cooperative creatures – they tend to pick a spot and stay there. So I took a number of photos from different angles, trying to get the lighting and the wings just right. By then my eight-year-old was bored with my attention to the dragonfly.

She was also indifferent when I showed her the pictures.

The lesson? Sometimes a client, key stakeholder, or a manager will be indifferent when you’ve given them precisely what they asked for. It’s not a reflection on you, your talent, or what you’ve delivered.

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Tue

08

Jun

2021

Who Wants to Make a Negative Association?

In the voiceover world almost everyone describes their voice with positive terms like "friendly," "relatable,” or “down-to-earth.” Even a word like “gritty” or a phrase like “gravelly-sound” can evoke a positive association – just picture a truck commercial and the voice you’d associate with it.

Even my tagline is “A Voice to Spend Time With.”

If I wanted to be different, I could have gone with: “A Voice to Grit Your Teeth to.” So, why not (besides the fact that it’s not true)? For the same reason no one markets their voice as “angry,” “unhinged,” or “the voice of the creep next door.”

We all want to be remembered positively when clients go to choose a voice for their project, and the positive phrases allow them to picture us telling a better story

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Fri

04

Jun

2021

Your Product is Your Voice

As a voiceover professional, your product is intensely personal.

It’s your own voice. It’s how you communicate with others.

If you’re not in voiceover try recording yourself and listening. Did you cringe? Would you send that recording to someone and ask them to hire you?

Voiceover amplifies self-doubt: you wonder if you should just stop talking if no one hires you.  

But then something happens. You get hired. You get used to the sound of your own voice because you play it back so often. You begin to understand that acting matters more than the pleasant sound of your voice, and that you get hired because you're relatable.

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Wed

02

Jun

2021

You...Are Not Toilet Paper

Think about toilet paper.

Aside from a brief period of time in 2020 when it was scarce, toilet paper is something we barely think about. It gets used, then flushed away and forgotten.

Likewise, some will see you as a one and done relationship to be flushed away. Maybe they’ll tell you they only hire from freelance sites that host hundreds, if not thousands, of similar talent. Or maybe they’ll tell you that they pay a below-market rate because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who do what you do.

Toilet paper is a commodity. Are you someone else’s toilet paper?

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Fri

28

May

2021

Sounding Conversational

“Awesome! It sounds very conversational which is hard to do with these long awkward sentences!”

A client sent that note to me about a recent voiceover project.

I love getting compliments like this because it means that the work I put into practicing the craft of voiceover is resonating…

And I always enjoy the challenge of making something “awkward,” “technical” or “precise” sound conversational.

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Tue

25

May

2021

Be Clear About What You Do

If I described what I do like this:

“With best-in-class vocal modulation, and the ability to transform printed material into actionable speech, I vocalize sound vibrations into a unique auditory experience for your business, helping you better connect with customers…”

Would you know what it is I do? Or would you be confused? If you’re confused, that’s on me for not explaining that I’m a voice actor who specializes in bringing personality to corporate voiceover.

Now look at how it is you would explain what you do, or what your company does. Is it clear, or is it filled with corporate buzzwords?  

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Mon

24

May

2021

Directed Sessions Via Zoom

One of the good things from the pandemic? Directed remote voiceover sessions through Zoom.

Zoom enables me to connect with my audio interface during a session so that clients hear what my DAW records and give me direct feedback. For those not in the know: a DAW is a “digital audio workstation” or the software used to record and edit audio.

Before everyone knew how to use Zoom, most remote directed sessions were conducted via telephone which has its limitations.

SourceConnect is still the gold standard of remote sessions – it allows a client to record you directly, but a Zoom session is a great alternative for clients that don’t have SourceConnect.

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Fri

21

May

2021

Valuing Voice Actors

How to tell a voice actor you value voice actors:

Pay fair rates for their work and usage.

Accept an invitation to connect after having an interaction.

Hire a professional voice actor instead of doing it yourself.

Establish direct relationships with talent instead of only working through casting sites. 

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Wed

19

May

2021

Authentic Outreach

Authentic outreach beats cute and clever every time.

This is a lesson that I continually need to relearn.

Because…. I often think I’m being authentic when I’m just being clever.

And clients don’t have time for clever.

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Fri

14

May

2021

Changing Our Stories

How do we change the stories we tell ourselves and develop a growth mindset?

Some background: My cousin was freaking out. She’s been a nurse for practically her entire adult life, and will be teaching her first nursing class next week. Stuck in her head is a time thirty years ago when she taught Sunday school and the class did not go well. She was young, unprepared, and not adequately trained. The story she told herself then was that she is “a terrible teacher” and “a failure.”

All these years later, those doubts are creeping back. Growing up in our extended family was to grow up with a fixed mindset: if something does not come easily, then you are not good at it, and therefore should not pursue it. Trust me when I tell you, that being a creative entrepreneur does not fit in our family.

But my cousin’s story has changed. She is no longer a deeply inexperienced young adult in front of an unmotivated group. She has a deep well of professional experience that she can draw on to engage her students. Her students are motivated to learn. She wants to do well and wants her students to do well.

It may not come easy, but she can do it. Just wanting to do it is a step on the path to growth.

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Wed

12

May

2021

Is This How to Build an Email List?

Is this how one grows an email list?

At the beginning of the pandemic, I received a curt reply to one of my emails. To be fair my email sucked and I could understand someone not wanting to hear from me. No big deal, I took them off my list, and I learned I should probably stop using the email that I sent.

It’s well over a year later now, and I kept up my end of the bargain. Today I received that company’s newsletter, which I had never received before.

Really?

Call me crazy, but list building should involve reaching out to people that want to hear from you, correct? And if you’ve sent me nasty note, maybe, just maybe I’d rather not hear from you anymore unless you want to discuss a project.

Now here’s the crazy part: this is the third time this has happened in the past year, where I’ve been added to a newsletter list by someone who has said they’re not interested in hearing from me.

Which leads me to ask: are they even adding potential customers to their list or just throwing emails against the wall to see what sticks? 

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Tue

11

May

2021

I Could Be Wrong...

“I could be wrong.” Those are some powerful words.

It signals that you are open to adapting and changing based on new circumstances or information.

“I could be wrong,” indicates growth mindset versus the fixed mindset of believing you know everything.

Think about how hard it is to admit you might be wrong, and hold open the possibility of changing your mind about anything. I struggle with this every day. How about you?

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Thu

06

May

2021

Thanks For the Advice

Not all advice is worth taking. So, how do you know when you are getting bad advice?

Is the advice coming from a know-it-all?

Does the person offering advice reflect on their own past mistakes?

Is the advisor asking thoughtful questions?

Does the person offering advice tell you what you should do or leave room for you to make up your own mind?  

Sometimes it’s obvious: the best advice often comes from the person who is trying to understand the situation and help you make a good, well-informed decision.

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Wed

05

May

2021

Just Because You Love a Product....

“Ron’s Orange Juice?” the teacher asked skeptically.

I was taking a songwriting class in the summer between fourth and fifth grade and our assignment was to write a jingle. “Ron’s Orange Juice” is the product name I came up with. Ron sounded to me like a guy who could make orange juice, and I liked orange juice. Therefore, this was a product that would sell itself without any effort from me.

What ten-year-old me failed to realize is that not everyone sees the same intrinsic value in a product and that marketing depends on developing a connection. But, again, I was ten and not a natural marketer or copywriter.

If I were to revisit this assignment now and keep the product name “Ron’s Orange Juice,” “Ron” would be a farmer who loves oranges and wants to share the juice of his oranges with others.

Thankfully ten-year-old me is not in charge of marketing anything.

Now to write that jingle...

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Wed

28

Apr

2021

If It Ain't Broke...

You know the saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what happens if you don’t know whether something is broken or not?

Then you lean on another cliché: “You never know unless you try.” Trying something new can give you an insight into how you might do something better, even if it’s an incremental tweak…or that what you’re doing is actually working.

I do this with emails: trying different subjects, different copy, and even different audiences. I am always trying to figure out what resonates.

Some people might remember “New Coke” as an extreme example of this. Many years ago Coca-Cola tried a new formula which met with a lot of resistance. Coke ended up reintroducing the original formula after three months. It might not have been broken…but they would never have known unless they tried.

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Thu

22

Apr

2021

Are You Consistent With Your Presentation?

Trust is critical. Sometimes that trust is as simple as presenting a consistent brand.

Today, as I often do, I was looking for companies that could use my services as a voice talent.

I came across a video production agency and went to its website. A chat window popped up and the chatbot welcomed me with the name of a different video production agency than the website I was on. I stepped away from my laptop for a while and when I came back, the chat window now welcomed me to a third video production agency.

Huh? Who were they?

I decided not to reach out to them. There were other factors in this decision, but presenting itself as three different companies did not make me trust that this was a company I wanted to work with.

What if I was a potential customer? I probably would have moved on as well, unless I was desperate to hire a company that paid so little attention to detail that it did not present itself consistently.

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Tue

20

Apr

2021

Make it Interesting

“It’s interesting to someone.”

My one-time voiceover coach used to say that when we would rehearse narrations on seemingly dry topics. Since then, I’ve voiced a lot of scripts focused on financial regulation, pharmaceutical industry training, and employee benefits, among other topics.

These are subjects that would make many eyes glaze over, but my coach was right. The script is interesting to someone: the copywriter who wrote the words, the client who wants their project to sound good, the target audience who needs to engage with the narration.

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Fri

16

Apr

2021

An Email Subject Line Rabbit Hole

I received an email recently with the subject line: “A WING AND A PRAYER.”

My GenX pop-culture brain immediately referenced “The Greatest American Hero” theme song. If you don’t know it, “The Greatest American Hero” was a show about a guy who receives a superhero suit from aliens, but does not know how to use it because he lost the instruction manual. Ah, TV in the early '80s!

It could very well be that this was not the intent of the subject line. “A wing and a prayer,” is a pretty common phrase meaning hope with very little chance of success.

I have some questions about the email:

Would the subject line inspire you to open it?
Does it pique your curiosity?
Is it too clever?
What benefit is there to opening it?
How well did this email perform for the sender?

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Tue

13

Apr

2021

Watch Your Tone (of Voice in Your Emails)

You ever try to tell a joke in an email…or express sarcasm…or do anything to convey tone…and it falls flat?

It’s happened to me a few times, and let’s just say it’s pretty awkward. Email is good for communicating information, not necessarily tone.

Before sending that email, ask yourself how you would interpret the words if you were the recipient. What might sound like a joke to you might be interpreted as an insult.

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Mon

12

Apr

2021

Personalization v. Automation

You can’t automate personalization.

I got an email recently in which the sender writes to tell me, “how I think we could be a great fit for you and Chris Vallancourt.”

Given that I am Chris Vallancourt, was he telling me that his service is great for me and also…me?

If he had taken even a few seconds to look at my website, he could have rightly concluded that my business is just me and tweaked the copy accordingly.

Side note: there were a few other issues with the email, but this one stood out as the most glaringly obvious.

It’s easy to make mistakes when composing email or any other quickly drafted 1:1 communication. I could fill a book with my own embarrassing moments in email prospecting. But if you’re going to personalize, make sure you are actually personalizing.

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Fri

09

Apr

2021

Minor Annoyances

Minor annoyances highlight how good we have it.

The power went out in my neighborhood yesterday morning.

It was after I normally make my morning coffee, but, ironically, on a day I decided I was going to make my coffee late. So, I picked up coffee at a coffee shop and got waffles for the kids at a local restaurant.

Aside from buying two cups of what turned out to be pretty awful coffee, the entire power outage was a minor inconvenience lasting less than two hours. If it had lasted another two hours, I might have made a run on toilet paper before the neighbors could get to it.

The experience was a reminder of how good I have it with access to conveniences. Also how much we rely on others to keep things running smoothly. The power company’s communication was vague, but the issue was handled quickly. The outage did not interrupt my recording schedule for the day, thankfully, and my laptop was sufficiently charged enough to keep working if the outage lasted longer.

Now, if only I could get the taste of this coffee out of my mouth.

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Sat

27

Mar

2021

The Prospects You Should Cherish

Cherish the people who respond negatively to your outreach.

You were never going to grow your business with them anyway.

They have given you the gift of time that you can use to connect with others.

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Fri

26

Mar

2021

Necessities of Voiceover Success

Voiceover is a “people tell me” industry. As in, when I meet people who aren’t voice actors they say, “People tell me I have a great voice, and that I should do voiceover.”

But voiceover so much more than having a great voice and talking into a mic:

You have to learn to act.

You have to take direction.

You have to make every script relatable and interesting…even if that script is an elearning module where you recite industry regulations.

You have to constantly market.

You have to find ways to be noticed.

Because there are a lot of great voices out there who don’t do those things, and being discovered is not a strategy for success.

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Tue

23

Mar

2021

An Email Communication Lesson

My second grader plays soccer. Due to COVID the local league cancelled its spring 2020 season. I deleted the emails from the league about fall registration because we did not plan to have her play. She mentioned wanting to play this spring, but I had not received any emails from the league about spring registration. It turns out that we missed the deadline, so I had to sign her up for a wait list and pay a $30 late fee. I also had to create a new account in their system for her.

 

I emailed the league to ask about this, and their response was that they migrated to a new registration system last fall and sent out multiple emails about it then…when my daughter had no plans to play. Seriously?

 

There are a few email communication lessons here:

 

  • Don’t assume your email will be read.
  • Your audience will not act on information that is not relevant and timely.
  • No one remembers an email from six months ago.
  • Your audience won’t do all the work for you to stay in touch.
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Fri

19

Mar

2021

Adapting to the Changing Tech

Once upon a time when a client wanted to listen in to a recording session from my studio, it involved a phone call, where the client would listen while I recorded with my headphones pressing against my earbuds. The client could not hear the audio chain and just had to trust I would send them a good file. (Don’t I look trustworthy?)

 

Side note: When I first started in VO, I once had a session where I did not have my audio chain hooked up properly and had to re-record the whole session while trying to piece together the direction the client gave me on the phone. This is known as a #VOFail

 

But this has all changed in the past year…clients who aren’t using SourceConnect are now setting up Zoom sessions to listen to me record. The audio is better, but I’ve taken to using a Zoom background so they don’t see the tight space I record in. Based on where my laptop is, it sometimes looks like my head has been absorbed into the background.

 

At least the audio sounds good. That’s what they’re paying me for.

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Wed

17

Mar

2021

What Picture Does Your Voice Make?

Have you ever been surprised by how someone looks after only hearing how they sound?

I recently auditioned for a roll in a radio drama podcast. The character’s physical description was essentially me: a white male my exact age, height and weight. After listening, the producer wrote “Great audition, but voice does not fit.”

I’m curious as to what about my voice did not fit when I matched the physical description so thoroughly. My guess is that I sounded too young for the character, or perhaps too polished…if I had only started smoking in high school I might have been a better fit!

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Fri

12

Mar

2021

Would You Trust This Email?

Would you trust a cold email from a person who addresses you, a sole proprietor as "Team," does not say the name of their own business, does not provide a link to their own website (while claiming they do SEO work), and uses a Gmail address? It's worth it to spend the time crafting an email that establishes your credibility. 

 

Here is the email:

 

"Hi vallancourt Team, 

"Hope you are doing well.

"Without wasting your valuable time let me provide you with the reasons for not able to acquire expected online presence. You might consider this irrelevant but believe me; I have a complete analysis report ready with me for your website and needs immediate improvement on some of the major factors mentioned below:

"- Less visibility for many competitive keyword phrases
- Errors that prevent your website from being indexed properly by search engine.
- Unorganized social media accounts.
- Shortage of content based back links.
- Less participation on social media portals.

"We offer several services for your website such as Online Reputation Management, Social Media Optimization, SEO activities among others. We have well experienced Team who can deliver the result as per the expectation without binding our customers with any set up fee or contract, i.e. (NO CONTRACT or NO SET UP FEE).

"Mutually we can work on your website and make sure you get proper returns on investment as providing you with the best possible result will be our main focus.

This e-mail provides you with a glimpse of services which we offered from our company. If you find this interesting, feel free to email/call us for more details about our service, pricing and more…Alternatively you can let us know your best number and time to call you back."

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Mon

08

Mar

2021

International Women's Day

Happy #internationalwomensday! I’ve had the privilege to count so many amazing women as mentors, colleagues, and friends over the years.

One mentor I especially want to recognize is Wren Ross. Wren was my very first voiceover coach and demo producer. I was saddened to find out that she passed away last week. Wren encouraged me to relax in the booth and have fun with the copy. She was also an advocate for my career, helping me connect with so many people in the industry. She understood both the creative and business ends of voiceover. Her infectious enthusiasm is already missed.

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Sat

06

Mar

2021

You've Got Ten Minutes

You ever just sit and do nothing for ten minutes? Stare out the window, perhaps? Take a shower?

What happens during that time? Your brain loosens up and generates ideas.

Spend ten minutes staring at social media and all you do is fuel your outrage.

Which ten minutes are better spent?

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Wed

03

Mar

2021

Just Create

My daughter asked me to draw with her before school one morning. I brought in my sketch pad and a pencil. For a moment I did not know where to begin. I stared at the blank page and it hit me: I was thinking too much about the outcome.

I had to remind myself that I’m not creating something that will hang at a museum, I was creating as a means of being present with my daughter. So, I took a breath and started doodling different shapes, then coloring it in with colored pencil.

Sometimes all you have to do to jumpstart creativity is to just create.

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Thu

11

Feb

2021

One Little Win

All it takes is one little win to keep going. Then the wins pile up.

 

Every day I go out for a run or walk or just get outside is a win.

 

Getting a script from a client is a win.

 

Being asked to play someone 30 years younger than I am is a win.

 

Connecting with a potential new client is a win.

 

Knowing that spring training is happening is a win.

 

What are the wins keeping you going?

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Tue

02

Feb

2021

Look at All You've Accomplished

Do you ever feel like you’re accomplishing very little?

 

As this pandemic has dragged on, it’s easy to think we’re not accomplishing as much as we should. Maybe we feel like we’re watching too much television or spending too much time on social media.

 

You’re probably accomplishing more than you realize.

 

Do yourself a favor. The next time you feel like you’ve done nothing, take a look back at the last week, month, year. Look at everything you’ve delivered. Look at the time you’ve had to adjust to Zoom meetings. Look at the time you’ve had to take care of yourself. Look at the times you’ve exercised. Now look at the time you’ve spent taking care of your family. Each of these things is an accomplishment.

 

That’s not saying you should rest on your laurels; it’s just a reminder that this past year changed the life trajectory of many of us.

 

Now if you want to break the habit of television and social media? Sit and read a book or go for a walk.

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Wed

27

Jan

2021

Letting Creativity Loose

When you let your creativity loose, there’s no telling where it can take you.

I recently offered to write with my 7-year-old while she worked on her writing journal. She insisted I use this prompt: "Would you rather be a snake that can detach its tail or a marker that the cap cannot come off of?"

I answered that I would want to be a living being, even if that living being was a snake with a detachable tail. I wrote about the joy of eating (even recently killed rodents), and of growing. The marker is made, does not get to learn, has one purpose, and then it’s gone to the landfill. As a parting thought, I wondered if a plastic-eating snake would ever evolve,

All too often we put up barriers the prevent us from exploring new ideas and limit our experience. Dismissing my daughter’s question would have been such a barrier. Exploring new ideas and seemingly ridiculous questions can lead us to new insights. So…which would you rather be a snake or a marker?

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Thu

21

Jan

2021

So Much Experience

What are communicating when you say you have “X years of experience?” My guess is that you think that experience alone is your most valuable asset. Queue the loud buzzer sound telling you you’re wrong.

 

Here’s what you’re really communicating: that your thinking is fossilized. Spend a lot of time doing one thing and you get complacent and the work becomes routine, and then you’re running out the clock until you retire. Sure, you’ve got “experience” but has your industry passed you by while you’re crowing about your “experience?”

 

True, there are things we learn from experience, but “experience” itself does not mean those lessons have been learned. Think of it this way. I have over forty years’ experience in handwriting. Pretty impressive, eh? But my penmanship sucks. No one can read a word I write. Myself included.  My “experience” in handwriting doesn’t mean I’m good at it.

 

Instead of years of experience, let’s talk about the value you provide. If you value bad handwriting, I can certainly help you write an illegible letter with my many years of experience doing so.

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Thu

14

Jan

2021

Helping Out

If you were in my neighborhood the other day, you might have seen two people pushing a mail truck. One of those people would be me. And no, we weren’t shaking our letter carrier down for still undelivered packages; the mail truck was stuck on the ice.

 

I had just returned from the store when I heard our letter carrier gunning the engine in front of the neighbor’s house and getting nowhere, its tires spinning. As I walked over to help, my neighbor had also come out of his house to start pushing. Together, with a few pushes, we got the truck unstuck.

 

Our letter carrier thanked us effusively, as did several people out walking their dogs. My neighbor fist-bumped me…which was weird because I haven’t fist-bumped anyone since before COVID.

 

I wasn’t looking for praise. If I didn’t help, someone else would have, or my neighbor might have pushed her off the ice eventually on his own. When you see an opportunity to help, just step in, it might make all the difference.

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Tue

12

Jan

2021

Are You a Source of Comfort Food?

Are you a source of comfort food for your clients and colleagues?

 

I don’t mean literally, of course. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “comfort food” is often high-calorie food people consume when stressed out. For me it’s pizza. Something about the combination of sauce, cheese, dough and whatever topping I put on it activates my happy feelings.

 

Why bring up comfort food? Here in the US, this past week has been pretty stressful. As well as this past year of dealing with a global pandemic. I’m willing to bet that great portions of comfort food were consumed, and even comfort media: TV shows, movies, or music. Whatever it takes to activate your happy feelings.

 

As a professional, I often ask myself how I can source of figurative comfort food to clients. I come away with: be reliable, be uncomplicated to work with, and leave good feelings behind. As an added bonus, working with me is a whole lot healthier than consuming a whole pizza, which is a sort of comfort in itself.

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Thu

07

Jan

2021

It's Okay

After the events that happened at the US Capitol yesterday:

 

It’s okay to be unfocused today

 

It’s okay to update your social media feeds looking for answers

 

It’s okay to not have answers

 

It’s okay to be at a loss for words in explaining it to your kids

 

It’s okay to dive headfirst into your work when the answers don’t come

 

At some point, you’ll find your focus and keep moving forward.

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Mon

04

Jan

2021

Interrupting the Flow

Less than an hour into the “back-from-winter-break” school day, my second-grader came around asking me to read to her. I had been in the flow of writing, and her question interrupted my flow. Why couldn’t she just get back to doing her schoolwork? I wondered.

 

I asked her to give me a minute, but the flow was gone. Over the break, she had become used to everyone in our family being available to play. Now, we were back to the routine.

 

As a voiceover talent, I should have been delighted that she wanted my services. But, as a voiceover talent, I also have to connect with clients.

 

She came back later after working on few assignments and having an online class meeting. She asked if we could play cards. So we did. Then she went to another class meeting, and I re-found my flow. As I was writing this, she came to me with a grin on her face, and a question: “Read-eee?” (her sweet way of asking me to read).

 

So, I opened up one of her favorite books, “Tyrannosaurus Wrecks” by Stuart Gibbs and picked up reading where we had last left off.

 

I could justify this time as practicing my craft. I could also justify it as time well spent.

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Thu

31

Dec

2020

Skip the Resolutions and Ask More Questions

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of 2020. If you want to make sure it’s gone for good, you’ll have keep looking over your shoulder until at least August. Just don’t use one of those rearview mirrors that reminds you that objects are closer than they appear.

 

But then, should we really forget 2020? Or is it beneficial to remember for the challenges this past year presented? In other words, how can we look back to 2020 to make a better 2021?

 

You could try New Year’s resolutions… but New Year’s resolutions are essentially worthless for three reasons. The first is that people are aware that resolutions are nonsense and don’t take them seriously. The second is that the resolutions themselves are often lofty ideals with no clear path to achievement. Saying you’re going to write a novel does not get the novel written. Making smaller commitment to writing every day, while not as bold, will eventually get the novel written. The third is that any day is a good day to evaluate how we can make our lives better. January 1 is no different than, say, June 24 when it comes to making positive change.

 

In that spirit, I’m not making any resolutions. Instead, I’m going with New Year’s questions. Asking questions leads to better understanding and ultimately better outcomes.  Here are some I plan to ask myself:

 

What can I learn today?

What can I do better?

How can I do it better?

What have I done to grow my business today?

What assumptions am I making?

What help can I offer someone else?

What’s one small, positive habit that I can develop?

What creative project can I explore?

What physical activity can I do today?

Is this food I’m eating healthy?

Is this news/article I’m sharing factually accurate?

Why am I sharing this piece of news/article?

 

Are there any that I’ve missed? If you’re making a resolution, best of success in making it achievable and actionable.  

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Tue

15

Dec

2020

No Holiday Cards This Year

What do you normally do during the Holidays that’s changed this year?

 

Every year I send physical Holiday cards to my clients. It’s one way to thank them for their business and wish them success in the coming year. I enjoy the process of putting together the mailings. I design the cards, and then set up a mini fulfillment center on my dining room table where sign them, stick them into envelopes, label them and affix the stamps. The whole process is a reminder that I have had the privilege of working with so many great people in my voiceover career.

 

This year, since I’m not sure how many people I’ve worked with are still going to their offices, I’ve decided to send an email greeting instead. It’s…just not the same.

 

It’s a small change…but one I plan to reverse next year.

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Thu

10

Dec

2020

News and Noise

Every morning brings a fresh headache: somewhere between 30 – 50 new emails. They come from a variety of sources: places where I might have bought something, communications I’ve signed up for in order to join a giveaway, non-profits where I’ve given money, webinar signups, newsletters I might be interested in.

 

I’ve arranged my email inbox between “news” and “Noise.” I hang on to anything marked “news” until I have to time to get around to reading it. “Noise” frequently gets deleted without reading. I could just unsubscribe from the “noise,” but every now and then a “noise” email is something I need.

 

All our online activity is a transaction for our attention. As a person in business for myself, I need clients and potential clients to be receptive to the message that I can deliver what they need. It’s a question I think about every time I reach out: am I providing “news” or “noise?”

 

How do you distinguish between “news” and “noise” in your in-box?

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Mon

07

Dec

2020

Entrepreneurship Lesson: Rocks for Sale!

My first crack at entrepreneurship came when my cousins and I decided to sell rocks at my grandparents’ house. You read that right: rocks. My cousin Erin and I were about nine or ten at the time, and her little brother Michael was about five or six. In texting with her recently, Erin does not remember this at all, so it’s entirely possible I’m making the whole thing up, or that this memory just stuck with me more. 

 

As I recall, the rocks in our grandparents’ driveway seemed extra special. They glittered when we held them up to the sunlight, so Erin, Michael and I naturally assumed they were incredibly valuable. We collected a bucket full of rocks and shouted, “Rocks for sale!” at the passing cars or anyone who walked by on our grandparents’ quiet street. We also had a sign written in ball point pen, which is impossible to see from a moving car.

 

You might be shocked to learn that we did not sell a single rock, but we did get a few dismissive looks. I’m not sure how long we were out there…maybe an hour at most. We gave up when it was apparent that no one was going to buy our rocks. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re not making any sales. Instead of using our crushing disappointment to adjust to market conditions, we just gave up on trying to sell rocks and went inside to watch “Tom & Jerry” or “The Brady Bunch.”

 

Not being a seasoned entrepreneur at nine or ten is forgivable, but even now there are lessons to be learned almost forty years later:

 

Find a product that fulfills a demand – The rocks we found were just standard issue granite with bits of quartz. They were not especially rare or valuable in southeastern Massachusetts. To the average consumer, a cup of lemonade or a baked good has more value than a piece of granite.

 

Pay attention to branding - “Rocks for sale!” Doesn’t make you want to get out of the car, and fork over any money, does it? If we had done some market research and conducted a few focus groups, we could have picked a better name for our product: “Rocks” is such a boring product name for rocks. Perhaps we could have positioned them as “Artisanal Fragments of Slow-Roasted Earth Crust” or we could have painted the rocks and sold them as “Locally-Sourced Handcrafted Bespoke Artwork.”  We would have been ahead of the curve as “Artisanal” and “locally-sourced” weren’t so trendy in the early 1980s.

 

Don’t give up - My cousins and I fantasized that selling rocks would make us a make a quick buck. We had no real plan for our rock selling business. As a result, we gave up pretty quickly when we realized there was no market for rocks. If we were sufficiently motivated, we could have pivoted to something else, such as the previously mentioned lemonade or baked goods and actually had some cash to blow on candy and soda. 

 

While rocks may not have been a lucrative commodity, there was still value in them. The geologic process for creating the pieces of granite in our grandparents’ yard is truly remarkable. I see this in my seven-year-old daughter who loves rocks. This past summer, she collected so many rocks from Lake Superior that we could feel the drag from their weight in the car. Those rocks were not even valuable Lake Superior agates; she just liked the looks of the ones we took. If she wants to try to sell her rock collection, though, I’ll advise her to offer lemonade instead and keep the rocks for herself. 

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Wed

25

Nov

2020

Giving Thanks - 2020 Edition

I started writing this while in my home office looking out the window on a beautiful day. The morning frost was thawing, and I was wondering what I have to be thankful for. I was feeling stuck due to a little thing you might have heard of called a pandemic, and being home with the children, and the constant interruptions. This is the pandemic condition: a continued sense of malaise at the seemingly unending quarantine. So many of us are feeling it. This Thanksgiving is different because so many of us are choosing not to be with family. On the bright side it should be easier to stay out of political arguments.

 

Upon reflection, I do have a lot to be thankful for:

 

I’m not in a hospital hooked up to a ventilator. Nor is anyone in my immediate circle.

 

My wife, Val, who always pushes me to be better, and bakes a mean carrot cake when my birthday comes around. Sadly, I have to wait until June for another one!   

 

Our children, Sam (13) and Emily (7), who are forging their own paths in this twisted year and play together so imaginatively.

 

For healthcare workers. Not only are they dealing with a deadly pandemic, but they are forced to suffer the fools who’ve been fed misinformation about the pandemic.

 

Misinformation. It’s exasperating, but also a reminder that people form their own truth.

 

People who suffer fools. Suffering fools is an underappreciated superpower.

 

Questions. A properly asked question will teach more than a condescending speech. I’m still working on learning this. A good question should challenge your assumptions.

 

Clients who come to me with voiceover projects.

 

The voiceover coaches I’ve worked who’ve helped me get better at this profession.

 

The sense of accomplishment that comes from pushing myself to be better in anything.

 

Untouched snow.

 

Walks in the woods with the family.

 

Spring/summer neighborhood walks with Val where it stayed light well into the evening and we could catch up with each other without interruption.

 

The time Val and I had to sprint nearly a mile when we were caught off-guard by a thunderstorm…and neither of us were struck by lightning.

 

Bike riding as a family.

 

The friends I’ve made throughout the years, and continuing to be part of their journey.

 

Lake Superior. Especially after a thunderstorm has gone through and we’re left with a rainbow over the lake.

 

Foggy days.

 

Hooting owls on a summer night.

 

Fireflies.

 

Spring peepers.

 

The hills that make me want to quit running and nearly break my spirit every time I go out.

 

New fallen snow.

 

The music in our house: Emily playing “Burning Down the House” on the ukulele. Sam rocking out on the piano, playing Radiohead, Styx, and Beethoven.

 

The way Val and the children harmonize.

 

The realization that your kids will find their own motivation and passion.

 

The teachers who’ve had to be flexible this year and displayed true creativity in helping the children learn.

 

Playing Wiffle Ball with Sam. He might not play baseball any more, but he can still kick my butt at Wiffle Ball!

 

Technology that allows us to connect with people even if we can’t be with them.

 

Creativity.

 

For the countless people who inspire us to be better.

 

Photography. There’s just something about capturing a picture when you are in the right place at the right time.

 

Plungers may be a low-tech tool…but they sure come in handy when you need one.

 

Libraries. Like most institutions, libraries have had to pivot, but without libraries I’d be in a lot of debt.

 

Playing guitar. Val helped me wall-mount my guitars so now I can just pick them up at any time. She may come to regret that decision.

 

Doodling with Emily. We can be quiet together and explore our creativity.

 

Board games and card games with the family.

 

Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems – Emily was extremely comforted when we went on lockdown and she could doodle with Mo for three weeks. She even watched some episodes on repeat.

 

Journalism. Actual journalism that seeks to dig beyond a surface understanding of events and makes you think beyond your own confirmation bias. Any real journalistic outfit will correct itself when it gets a story wrong.

 

When someone laughs when I’m trying to be funny.

 

Junk mail. If someone wants my money, I must still be alive, right?

 

Getting up before sunrise every day. It’s like being in on a secret that no one else knows about. Plus, I get to watch my small corner of the world reveal itself.

 

Science. Because science is about trying to find the best solution with available information. Science isn’t perfect, and often scientists have to correct their assumptions when new information becomes available.

 

That I don’t have to drive as much.

 

And you, for getting to the end of this list.

 

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

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Fri

20

Nov

2020

What's Your Side Passion?

Do you have a side passion that keeps you going?

 

When my wife Val was pregnant with our first child, she went on a lengthy trip out to California for work, and then to visit her sister and her sister’s newborn in Oregon. This left me all alone at our home in Massachusetts, so I spent my waning childless free time taking lots of photos; thousands of photos. It was October 2006.  In New England, October is just glorious, and the window for getting good foliage shots was limited.

 

I was so obsessed with getting photos that one morning, I was the first hiker to summit Mount Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire. This is no mean feat…Mount Monadnock is widely considered the second most climbed mountain in the world behind Mt. Fuji in Japan. I got to the parking lot before there was a guard on duty to collect the parking fee. I also spent some snapping foliage photos at Mt. Misery in Lincoln, MA. Just to be clear, Mt. Misery is not a mountain, it’s a hill with a peak elevation of 284 feet. Some “mountain.”

 

While I was at Mt. Misery, I noticed the leaves falling into the water, creating ripples. I set out to capture a leaf falling into the water and the ripple that came from it. I obsessed over catching a leaf at just the right moment. I was hampered by the camera shake from using a telephoto lens in relatively low light, and getting the camera to focus on the right spot at just the right time.

 

After several attempts, I got one that worked. My obsession with photography and capturing the right shot continued even after son was born that March, I took many shots of him both sleeping and awake. Val would say I was a bit obsessed. And I was. I also entered the leaf into a local photography competition for which I won a prize.

 

Fourteen years after hunting foliage shots in New England, I still love photography. Whenever we go on vacation, I usually spend a few hours with my trusty 15-year-old Canon DSLR, trying to get shots and playing with lighting and angles, and trying to find interesting patterns. I also take a lot of pictures of the kids: mostly action shots.  

 

Having an outlet like photography is a way to focus on something other than my voiceover business. Photography is an outlet that I can then share on Instagram, or with family and friends. Every year I spend hours culling photos for calendars, Holiday cards, and a family photo book from our previous year’s adventures.

 

The photos are also a great reminder that, despite the pandemic and social unrest, I have a lot going for me in my life. Whatever your line of work, I hope you have a side passion that does the same for you.

 

For more photos, you can find my instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/chrisvallancourt/

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Fri

06

Nov

2020

Your Side is Your Identity

Many years ago, in the late nineties, I was at an afternoon Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park. The Yankees won, and a young Yankee fan was gloating and taunting a group of Red Sox fans. One of the Red Sox fans, rewarded this young Yankee fan by putting him in a headlock and bashing his face in so that he was bleeding from the mouth and nose. Security was on the scene quickly, not quickly enough to prevent the beating, but quickly enough to keep it from escalating further. The Red Sox fan was led away from Fenway Park in handcuffs, and security tended to the Yankee fan who was obviously hurt and shaken up.

 

Did the Yankee fan receive karmic retribution for acting like he did? Was the Red Sox fan justified in his response to taunting? How you answer might be colored by which team you root for. A highly partisan Red Sox fan defined by his fandom might say that it serves the Yankee fan right for acting the way he did. In other words, a victim of violence was asking for it. We see this when sports brawls break out…a fan will always assign blame to the other team, and in politics, the other side is always acting unfairly.

 

That is because what we believe is part of our identity. Being a fan, of either a sports team, a political party, or a political figure is a fundamental part of who we are. Any challenge to that thing we identify with feels like a personal attack. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I still react when someone wears a Yankees cap…I’m working on it, though.

 

Here in the USA, vote totals are being counted and finalized, amid the threat of violence and lawsuits galore. At least the Red Sox had security on hand to deescalate the situation. Also, and the manager did not openly refuse to acknowledge the score, nor did he welcome violence against Yankee fans over the PA system.

 

Red Sox-Yankees games are always intense. The fans take the rivalry incredibly seriously, and it often always feels like the rivalry could spill over into the type of violence I saw that afternoon at Fenway Park. I was with a roommate that afternoon who happened to be a Yankee fan and refused to wear Yankee gear in case this kind of thing happened. We both agreed there was no need for a fistfight. But to that one Red Sox fan, it seemed incredibly important to use force to make his point. This is the way politics feels right now. But the stakes are higher. At Fenway Park we were all baseball fans trying to enjoy a game. Some people just need and realize that we’re all Americans, too, even if you don’t like the outcome of people exercising their right to vote.

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Fri

30

Oct

2020

A Different Halloween

When my son Sam was two, he and I went out trick-or-treating with another family who have a son that is one day older than Sam – we had met in the hospital when the boys were born. Sam was dressed in his cheetah costume and ready to hit the neighborhood. I figured we would be out fifteen minutes to a half-hour tops, after all he was two. After a few houses, the other boy was done with of trick-or-treating, and his dad took him home. Sam wanted to keep going…for an hour-and-a-half. He rang doorbell after doorbell, collecting candy and, at the house of a dental worker, Play-Doh. When Sam was finally finished, I had to pick him up to carry him home in his exhaustion. I was dressed as a humpback, and Sam immediately put his head on the pillow I put under my pullover to provide the illusion of the hump. A woman who was in earshot said, “Oh, look, he’s putting his head on his daddy’s hump!”

 

Halloween may not have the cachet of Christmas, or Thanksgiving, but it is still special. It’s a communal way to welcome fall. I love to see the costumes that kids wear, from the little ones dressed as pumpkins to the older kids who threw a costume together last minute to score some candy.

 

This Halloween will be different, though. In the age of COVID, Halloween is fraught with concern. We are planning to leave out Halloween grab bags for the trick-or-treaters. I am curious to see how many kids actually go out trick-or-treating, and how many will wear the masks that we now wear every day to reduce the likelihood of COVID transmission, in addition to the mask or makeup that goes with their costume. I’m also curious to see how many of the greedy little monsters will take more than their share of candy.

 

Sam is thirteen now, and is not planning to trick-or-treat. He likely would be staying home with or without COVID due to his being a teenager. My seven-year-old daughter is not planning to trick-or-treat either. She’ll still wear her Carmen Sandiego costume, however, because it is Halloween, and we’re planning to celebrate with another family in our neighborhood. As much as she loves the candy, she could do without going door-to-door to get it. Last year, she only lasted about a half-hour – in her defense, she was getting sick with a cold.

 

The candy is nice, but the real fun of Halloween is pretending to be somebody different. Instead of a costume, I’ll likely just change my voice for the evening – that’s one of the secret superpowers of voice actors, we can make voice costumes!

 

However you choose to celebrate Halloween, please do so safely.

 

Happy Halloween!

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Fri

23

Oct

2020

Voiceover Obstacle Course: Pandemic Homeschooling

My daughter's original artwork
Voiceover Obstacle Course: Teaching School

My daughter Emily finally got a desk for her room. It took months for the one she wanted to be available at IKEA…and here it was…all sixty-nine pounds. I always forget how heavy boxed IKEA furniture is. In true IKEA fashion, I spent hours putting the desk together due to its multiple little parts and making sure things like the rails that guided the drawers were put on properly. If I don’t follow directions closely, I’m likely to put things on backward, which would mean having to undo and re-do steps in the process. When the desk was finally finished my whole body ached, but Emily was ecstatic. She started organizing her things and making the desk her own.

 

For the first two days of school after getting her desk she was the most motivated student in the entire state of Minnesota. At least the most motivated second grader. She did all her work, and I did not have to help her at all. She was proud of her desk…

 

Then came Wednesday.

 

Emily regressed to being a seven-year-old. She lost her focus. Instead of completing her assignments efficiently, Emily would watch and re-watch the instructional videos on her assignments without completing any of the steps involved and forgetting what she had to do. Her lack of focus was compounded when one of her online classroom teachers started reading a book that afternoon that Emily found scary. The plot of the book involves a Scooby-Doo-like caper in which some evil developers are trying to make people think a school is haunted while a group of kids figures out the whole plan.

 

After finding her in her bed, wrapped in blankets and talking about how scary the book was, I knew that Emily needed a re-set. We went outside and played in the early season snow that had fallen the day before. I pulled her around the yard on a sled, completing several laps while she giggled: a kid playing in new snow. She eventually got her schoolwork done.

 

Managing Emily’s school days can be an obstacle to my voiceover career. When I help her, I have to take a break from my own work: recording, connecting with clients, writing blog posts, artfully staring out the window while drinking coffee. Thankfully my career is flexible enough that I can help her when she needs it, or go play Wiffle Ball with our thirteen-year-old son when he’s done with his school day.

 

Despite the pandemic, and learning from home, our family is fortunate. Our kids have space to learn, and schoolwork is an area where they are both quite capable. My wife has a job that demands a lot of time and attention, but she helps out when Emily needs her.

 

Helping Emily has actually helped me too. I’ve learned to be more patient, and listen to what she needs in the moment as opposed to what I perceive has to get done. This has not been easy. I want her to be done with her schoolwork, but sometimes she just needs a ride on a sled, and to forget her worries, if only for a few moments. It’s a reminder that I sometimes need a re-set too.

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Tue

13

Oct

2020

Book Review: Stories That Stick

Some time ago when I was working in the commuter transportation industry, I was giving a presentation on using rewards to encourage people to not drive. I was overly reliant on my company’s slide deck and talking points. I could sense that I had lost the audience. I would have been bored as well. In fact, I was bored. Abstract numbers on commuting trips and the environmental impact of single-driver commutes, while important, are incredibly mind numbing.

 

My presentation needed a lifeline. So, I threw a hail Mary and started talking about how my wife, Val, and I have different approaches to the evening commute. At the end of the day, I like to ruminate quietly. Val likes to dump all the details of her day in a non-stop monologue. This is the complete opposite of how we are in other facets of our life. I like parties and conversations, while she is not as fond of them. As I told the story of our commutes, the audience was now with me and fully engaged. I had made the idea of commuter choice relatable by using my own commuting story.

 

This was a lesson in public speaking that I recalled after reading Kindra Hall’s Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences and Transform Your Business.

The central premise of the book is that businesses need to tap into their own stories in order to better connect with their customers. No matter how much better your product or service is, a slide deck with features and benefits is abstract: a story makes it concrete.

 

Stories That Stick is a quick read that gives practical tips for constructing stories for business, breaking down four different story types. Hall is not suggesting that our stories need to be the great American novel. In fact, she makes the case that stories do not have to all that complicated in order to resonate with the audience. Everyone can craft a short, impactful story. Hall gives several examples of effective storytelling throughout the book, many of which come from her own life experience.  

 

If you’re looking to better connect with your customers, Stories That Stick is worth the read.  

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Fri

09

Oct

2020

Voiceover Obstacle Course: Roofers

Another day in voiceover, another obstacle: roofers.

 

Let’s back up to last month when a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm blew through my town. I woke up to what sounded like the loudest rain I’ve ever heard. But it was hail. A previous thunderstorm had knocked down one of our trees onto our neighbor’s boat, and my wife and I wondered what kind of damage this storm would cause. The neighbor’s boat was fine, by the way, it just needed a tree removed.  This hailstorm sounded bad. It sounded like an airplane had dumped a cargo load of marbles on our roof in the middle of a thunderstorm. When we woke up the next morning, all our trees were still standing and the hail had melted. By the next day, the “storm chasers” were canvasing our neighborhood in an effort to capitalize on insurance settlements and replace everyone's roof. An insurance adjuster and our contractor agreed: we had roof damage due to hail.

 

As a voiceover talent, I’m sensitive to any noise that can bleed into my recording. When you’re paying for a voiceover, you probably don’t want the sound of scraping shingles and hammering in your recording. Unless it's a construction-related piece, and then you probably want to add those sounds in after the voiceover recording is done. Besides, I don’t often book for construction-related voiceover projects because I don’t sound like a gritty construction worker. I do sound, maybe, like the architect who makes the plans for the construction workers.

 

The roofers started yesterday morning…which meant that I had to rearrange my schedule to be sure my clients got their recordings in a timely fashion. Any recording would have to wait until the evening, unless it could wait until today. I was waiting for one script in particular. I’m not a night person, but I’ll record in the evening, as the project demands. My wife likes to say I “turn into a pumpkin” at 10pm. It’s true, I'm useless in the evening. I wake up early, and go to bed early. Recording a script at 5:30 am might wake up the rest of my family though, so I use that as my quiet time. Just this past week, I recorded a health plan open enrollment script in the evening while my family watched “Toy Story 4.” Since most companies do open enrollment for their health plans in November, it’s critical that these scripts get turned around so that the production company can get the video to the client. I told my family I could watch the movie another time, but my seven-year-old insists I have to watch it with her so she can help me through the scary parts. She's thoughtful like that.

 

The roofers finished in one day, so it was only a minor obstacle. However, every roof in my neighborhood will likely be replaced either this fall or next spring once the "storm chasers" line up their schedules.…so I guess I’ll need to clear my evenings, unless my clients want the sound of hammering in their recording.

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Fri

25

Sep

2020

Voiceover is an Obstacle Course

Voiceover is an obstacle course. There are the business obstacles: getting started, growing your business, keeping your clients happy. There are the personal obstacles: working around your family members' schedules and needs. And then there are the physical obstacles: the occasional cold and…

 

Ambient noise.

 

Last spring, I had a script to record, but some neighbors were having a tree taken down. My studio is pretty good at keeping outside sounds out, but there is no competing with chainsaws and a wood chipper going full blast all day. I cursed the voiceover gods as I had to wait until the tree cutting was done for the day to record. It’s an unexpected obstacle, but it comes with the business.

 

My studio also can’t compete with gas-powered mowers. No one in my neighborhood mows the lawn on a consistent day…except for the retiree across the street who mows his lawn every three days. One day recently, as I was getting set to record, a different neighbor powered up the mower every hour, making me wait until all the lawn mowing in my neighborhood was done for the day.  It made me long for the days of push reel mowers.

 

Now that fall is here, the sound of mowers will stop and give way to…

 

Leaf blowers.

 

Fall is my favorite season, but when I have a script and there is a chorus of leaf blowers that are neither in tune, nor in rhythm, I wonder if anyone knows how to use a rake.

 

The Voiceover Obstacle Course is filled with lawn mowers, road construction vehicles, leaf blowers, croaking frogs, wind chimes, woodpeckers, crying children, footsteps, water heaters, washing machines, airplanes, delivery trucks, etc. These are the sounds that make up our days, which for most people is not really a big deal.

 

Early in my voiceover career I lived in an apartment that abutted a commuter train track. I would be recording, and would hear the low rumble of the train approaching. This caused endless frustration and a slew of four-letter words that would have to be edited out before sending to the client. It led me to wonder whether compliance training would be better with f-bombs sprinkled throughout.

 

On the scale of actual problems, the Voiceover Obstacle Course is really quite small. I’m fortunate to have a profession where people pay me to do this work. My voice often helps people when I'm narrating an e-learning course, training or PSA. Voiceover is also flexible enough that I can work around the obstacles. It can be frustrating however to have to rely on external cues to determine when I actually do the work.  

 

Most people can continue to work with the sounds all around. My fellow voiceover talent and I have to wait for the tree work to be done, hope the wind is calm enough that the wind chimes aren’t bleeding into a recording, and that the owls have the courtesy to stay quiet while we’re in session. 

 

Ahhh, the life! I wouldn't trade it for anything!

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Fri

04

Sep

2020

Back-to-School...From Anywhere?

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, advertisers let us know that “we are all in this together.” At first, it felt as though we were all in this together, through our collective grief in being locked inside the house, and finding some way to navigate e-learning, but, somewhere along the way, responses to COVID-19 quickly became political and we were no longer “in this together.”

 

Advertisers now realize that “We are all in this together” grew tiresome and trite and now that message no longer resonates. People wanted to go to restaurants, get haircuts and not wear masks, confusing the word “freedom” with the right to spread a potentially fatal disease, or at least the right to not listen to accept scientific consensus. Lumped together with “in these uncertain times,” “we are all in this together,” now makes me cringe when I hear it.

 

Now we are nearing the of the most unusual Back-to-School season ever.  Here is a sampling of messages I saw while looking at the most recent Sunday flyers:

 

“Learn Anywhere”

“Work from Anywhere”

“Learn from anywhere”

“Open for Business – Let’s Tell the World”

 

Even the cover of Parade magazine had the word “Homegating.” This is our reality right now: we have to be flexible to learn and work from anywhere.  Many people are not going back to the office, and many students are not going back to school. As advertisers have been forced to reckon with this reality, I’m curious if it opened up new lines of business for them – those of us that are long-hauling it in the home office or the home school?

 

Our school district opted for a hybrid model of learning, with the option for all e-learning. Our family decided on the e-learning route. While we bought them some new clothes and supplies, we spent less than normal for the back-to-school season. I’m curious to see how retailers fared this year, and if our experience was normal.

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Fri

07

Aug

2020

What Books Would You Recommend?

Books open us up to possibility and understanding. Through reading, I’ve been able to discover new strategies for my business, explore viewpoints that differ from mine, and often escape into a good story. I also enjoy reading a wide variety of subjects. 

 

Here’s a sampling what I’ve read recently:

 

Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker. Overall, I am a fan of the genre of books about looking at the world counterintuitively, and this book is no exception. Also, Barker’s newsletter is densely packed with interesting life tips for gaining perspective, and links to a lot of other interesting things. When I do read his newsletter, I have to make sure I have time set aside to explore many rabbit holes.

 

Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. It’s your customer’s journey that should be central to your brand. Too often, when we market to customers and prospects we focus on our own journey and the bells and whistles we offer, which makes us the hero and not our customer. This book offers great insight as to how to flip that script and position the customer as the hero that comes to rely on your brand.

 

The Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. Not an easy or accessible book by any means, but one that is often heartbreaking. Its central story is that of a family coming apart during a long road trip, but it weaves in the migrant crisis at the border and Native American history as well, and delves deep into the magical thinking that comes with childhood.

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Fiction can provide you with a window into a time and place. This is a devastating look at a juvenile detention facility in Florida in the 1960s. Although the facility is fictional, it is based on a real place. Overall, it’s an often overlooked story of the criminal justice system and its treatment of young Black men in particular.

 

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. The short stories in this book really made me think a lot about our place in this world. Each story has a fantastical or science fiction element to it, but they really speak about what it is to be human. 

 

The Funjungle Series by Sturt Gibbs. This is a series of middle-grade mysteries that take place in zoo/theme park set in Texas. I’ve been reading them out loud to my 7-year-old who can’t get enough. She listens to me read while she plays, eats and gets ready for bed. Since I’m a voice actor, maybe I should send her an invoice. The action moves pretty quickly, there’s always an element of danger, and some of the scenes are really funny. Each book also has a pretty solid animal rights/conservation message attached to it.

 

I’m always interested in what others are reading, and I’m curious as to what book or books you would recommend. Do you have a favorite book on entrepreneurship, creativity, or just straight up fiction? Send your recommendations my way at chris@vallancourt.com.

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Fri

12

Jun

2020

A Change is Coming

My family and I live in the Minneapolis suburbs about 17 miles from where George Floyd was murdered. Like many, I saw the video of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. It was cruel. It was inhumane. It was unnecessary. I wondered how many times that police officer used that same tactic on how many different necks, and how many of those necks were those of persons of color.

 

My neighborhood saw no protests, save for the one house that displayed a “Black Lives Matter” sign and other houses that wrote it in chalk on their driveways, or put homemade signs in the windows. One house wrote it as “Black livs matr:” obviously the work of children trying to make sense of everything.

 

When my wife and I were out for a walk recently, we noticed that the neighbor’s sign had been removed, along with the “Justice for George Floyd” sign that was on the same lawn. It would not have surprised if that sign was taken by someone in an act of passive-aggression. 

 

What we’re trying to make sense of is both the murder and the violence that followed. During the height of the riots, there were rumors that rioters were going to spread out to the suburbs because all of the stores in Minneapolis had been destroyed. Of course, some of those rumors were spread on NextDoor – which is a site where one goes to wonder if they should call the police on an unmarked delivery van driven by a person of color. Seriously.

 

The police, armed to the teeth, seem to not have been trained in the art of de-escalation when their own actions are called into question. You’ve seen the videos of police instigating violence with pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas and good old-fashioned clubbing.  Somehow, the police acted under the assumption that there would be no consequences and that they would not be held accountable. But it raises the question, why weren’t the armed white people marching on state houses in order to open restaurants, bars and barbershops met with the same show of force?

 

I’ve heard it said that in the voiceover business it’s best to cast aside politics. This is a time when that is complete nonsense. It’s clear that something needs to change and there is a groundswell of support to change it. The nature of police work has to fundamentally change. But how?

 

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Thu

07

May

2020

How Else Can I Help?

When the pandemic hit and schools closed, I took a break from connecting with clients. Correction: I initially tried communicating that I was available to help with any voiceover needs, then realized that might not be the best idea after getting a not so positive reply from one of my contacts. I get it: we were all stressed, and scrambling toward an uncertain future. A voice talent looking for work was not a high priority.  

 

Voiceover can be unforgiving business, but I’ve been lucky enough to develop relationships with a few clients that have work they send my way. And I’m always grateful for it, whether it’s a two-minute explainer, or a one-line pickup from a previous project, or an in-depth medical eLearning module. That works comes because I stay in touch with people. In order to stay afloat, you have to keep reaching out and trying to connect with people, or else you have no business because you’re not staying stay top of mind.

 

So, given the uncertainty, I took a break and focused on getting my kids through their school day, as what amounts to a volunteer teacher’s aide. Their success depends on my availability to meet their needs. My day became one of consistent interruption. Because I couldn’t focus for a long period of time, I started writing a series of daily absurdist Facebook updates. It was a means of focusing my attention for a short period of time and channeling my anger at the situation elsewhere, and it made me feel better to make people laugh with something I actually wrote.

 

Recently, I started to reconnect with my contacts again. The world had changed so drastically that I thought the time was right to check in on them and get a sense of how their business is doing. It has been ugly for a lot of people I’m connected with. I work for myself, many of my clients are in business for themselves, and our end clients, well, some of them were getting laid off, furloughed, or otherwise cast into the wind. Uncertain times indeed.

 

Given this uncertainty, many of us need to pivot and change how we’re doing things. But what does that look like? How else can I help those I’m connected to?

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Fri

24

Apr

2020

Are We Missing Sports Yet?

My days are so full that I mostly don't notice that all sports have stopped for the time being. But, every now and then I remember. This past Monday was Patriot’s Day – which is a big deal in the Boston area – where I’m from. It’s typically the first day of April vacation and Marathon Monday, as in the Boston Marathon, and the earliest start on the MLB schedule, with the Red Sox throwing the first pitch just after 11am. But this year, MLB is shut down and the Boston Marathon is scheduled to be run in September.

 

When baseball shut down, I honestly thought I would miss it more than I do. My family and I always look forward to baseball season, but this year not so much. There was the cheating scandal that rocked the Astros and the Red Sox, and the Red Sox trading their best player and one of their best starting pitchers. My daughter is still upset at the notion that Mookie Betts would be playing for the Dodgers. And with the Red Sox best pitcher needing season-ending surgery, this looked like a lost season.

 

But we still had the Twins, at least. We moved to the Twin Cities last summer, and Target Field is a great place to see a game. It doesn’t have the energy of Fenway Park, but at least it’s more comfortable and I feel less likely to need a shower after going there. We were looking forward to spending a few summer nights at Target Field, getting to know the Twins just a bit more.

 

MLB shut down Spring Training after the NBA suspended its season. I mentally marked opening day, the Target Field home opener, and Jackie Robinson Day when all players wear #42 to celebrate the breaking of the color barrier in baseball. Why a color barrier had to be broken at all is another discussion. But those were only fleeting acknowledgements. Where we once watched baseball and basketball, my wife, son and I have been watching reruns of “The West Wing.”

 

There is enough content out there to fill the sports void should this continue for any length of time. All of this raises a serious question, when sports do come back, will the fans come too? Perhaps, to a degree, but there's no telling how much this quarantine will shake our culture. I miss the last inning or last second comeback. I miss not knowing how the game is going to play out. I miss second-guessing game tactics. Mostly, I miss sitting in a crowded stadium with a group of strangers all invested in the same outcome. 

 

So, yeah, sports will come back. It has to, right?

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Fri

17

Apr

2020

Do You Have Coronavirus Fatigue?

Anyone else suffering from Coronavirus Fatigue yet?

 

I’ve heard that this is a real thing and that ennui sets in around the fifth or sixth week of quarantine.  Now that we’re in our fifth week of social distancing, the novelty is wearing off and everyone is tired from the loss our old life. Makes sense to me.

 

Forgive me for not researching it further, and relying on hearsay, but now that my wife and children are home, I have less time for things like fact checking. Who really needs facts when you’ve got cable news talking heads dispensing misinformation and cavalierly suggesting that losing 2-3% of our children is worth the kick start to the economy?

 

I’ll admit, I’m suffering from Coronavirus Fatigue. As soon as I see the word “Coronavirus” or “COVID-19” in a news story, I skip it. Yes, I get the irony that I’m writing about it; being fatigued does not mean that I’m not a hypocrite. Every now and then I’ll check the number of infections and deaths. To a medical layperson (who occasionally does play a doctor  in medical trainings), this seems like a pretty big deal: five weeks at home and the virus is still ravaging our healthcare systems and no one has any solid idea of when we can resume life as “normal.” Imagine if we had not been practicing social distancing. Or imagine if we had started earlier. Fatigued or not, the signs tell us that we are doing the right thing.

 

Coronavirus Fatigue is all around. The ads sound tired: “we’re all in this together,” “In this uncertain time,” “your safety is our number one priority.” The quirky zoom meeting screen captures have lost their charm – hey look, another Brady Bunch meme opportunity! Gun toting mobs set out to bully state houses into re-opening…what? Restaurants? Barber shops? So we can all get sick?

 

So…what are we doing to combat Coronavirus Fatigue? Getting outside helps as does consuming non-virus-related media. I try writing an original joke every day instead of spreading memes, which really are the virus of the internet. My joke always centers on some absurd thing I’m trying to keep from my wife. Thankfully she doesn’t know about it.

 

The fatigue we’re feeling is real. I’m not suggesting we stop social distancing. Far from it. I’m fine with not being violently ill. And I’m especially fine with not passing it along to other people. After all, in these uncertain times, we’re all in this together.

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Fri

10

Apr

2020

The God of Productivity

What sacrifices have you made to the god of productivity?

 

Since most of us are now being forced to work from our homes, there’s a lot of content out there about “productivity.” Which means, I guess, “work completed.” You can find content about how to get more done with the kids at home, with you being home, with the pets wanting more of your attention, and even how to barbecue during a Zoom meeting while juggling a baby and stainless-steel knife. Okay, I made that last one up, but the collective shock to our economy has us willing to sacrifice our children, homes, pets and sanity to the god of productivity.

 

Here’s what you need to know: the god of productivity is one of those trickster gods who make you think you are accomplishing something, only to have that rock roll back down the hill, forcing you to then have to re-navigate the obstacle course of your home life to get the rock back up, and then, you know the drill. The god of productivity wants you to feel like a failure so you sacrifice more to it.

 

It’s time to stop worshiping the god of productivity and release yourself from the tether of the 9-5. Granted there are so many professions where you can’t do that, where shifts make sense: retail, medical facilities, factories, public services such as police officers and firefighters, and teachers, etc. I’m sure I’m leaving someone out. But these are the helper jobs – the ones we try to unreasonably quantify for the god of productivity through classroom test scores, number of arrests, numbers of mortalities, widgets made, numbers of people churned through the checkout.

 

But there are quite a few of us who don’t need to drive to a place to get to work. I’ve been working from a home office for years. I get more done when I spend time away from the computer and the distractions of social media. I’m even more productive when I take a shower…and not because there’s a market for videos of me showering, but because that’s where I might generate an idea.

 

And your kids don’t need to make sacrifices to the god of productivity either. Allow them time to play, create, draw, imagine. The schoolwork is there, it will always be there. There will be more to learn, and they will do that. Your kids will be okay. You will be okay.

 

…and the god of productivity will wait to be fed once more.

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Fri

03

Apr

2020

The Grand Social Experiment

In addition to the overwhelming grief, sadness and frustration we are all feeling as we practice social distancing, we are now undergoing a grand social experiment: how do we keep moving forward while trying to stay apart?

 

This begins with distance learning. Think about it, school-age kids no longer have the structure of the school building, and there is no clearly defined timeframe for when they will have that structure back. Like many people, when I first found out that the school buildings were going to be closed, I had a few days of panic not wanting my kids to fall behind. Then I realized that every family with school-aged kids is in the same predicament.

 

Those of us who have reliable internet access and a good space for working are fortunate that we are able to move our schools and non-essential office work online in this way. Recently my thirteen-year-old son speculated that we would not have been able to have e-learning or distance learning in 1970. I gently reminded him that I wasn’t yet born in 1970. But then I thought about what my son said, and I suggested that we would not have had the capability to work and learn from home in this manner even ten years ago, let alone when I was thirteen…

 

So here we are now – undertaking this grand social experiment in distance learning, zoom meetings, and non-essential people staying home. There are so many things that we’ve taken for granted – being able to move freely, going out to dinner or a bar, attending sporting events.

 

So…what hypothesis can we make about these new experiments? For that you might need an actual social scientist. No one truly knows the overall impact of these grand social experiments, and anyone who says they do is a fool.

 

I’m fairly certain that my kids will not fall “behind” – they are both naturally curious and will find the rhythm to their days that allows them to get their work done. But what of the kids who don’t have the structure at home to enable them to learn?

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Fri

20

Mar

2020

The Elephant in the Room

Video blog post about how our lives have changed and how we can give our brain a mental break while working from home. 

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Fri

13

Mar

2020

Still Open for Business

I hate to add to the COVID-19 pile on, but here goes.

 

The run on toilet paper is an overreaction to the out of control feeling of there not being enough tests, and not knowing just how long our lives will be shut down, and not knowing the full extent of this outbreak. If you were seriously low on toilet paper to begin with, you might have to get creative. Anyone ever “MacGyver” a bidet? Fun fact: I’ve never watched “MacGyver” but I still know what that means.

 
Our toilet paper situation is just fine for now, thankfully. We had plenty stocked from before. I checked at the local Target just in case, but there was none in stock. There were other signs of panic shopping as well. People, you really don’t need all that soda.

 

There are only two other times when I felt this sense of unease: after 9/11, and after the Boston Marathon bombings. On 9/11 I had to navigate an uneasy Boston public transit system to get home. On the Friday after the Marathon bombings I found myself driving in Boston the day that one perpetrator was killed and the other caught. There had been a moratorium on driving in the city, and I drove on streets that were as empty as I’ve ever seen a Boston street.

 

 

Amid the closings, event cancellations, and companies telling people to work from home, I’m fortunate. The COVID-19 outbreak does not change my business model at all. Most of my work is done remotely thanks to existing voice recording technology. Instead of bringing me in to a studio, my clients can send me a script and schedule either a phone call, Skype call, or SourceConnect session to listen in on the recording session. And that’s whether there’s a worldwide pandemic or not.

 

Yes, there are disruptions. I lost out on one potential project because of the outbreak. In a fitting irony the project was to record an introduction for two clinical care specialists speaking at an event: one of whom works for the CDC.

 

And there are other personal interruptions, as well. My wife will be working from home for the time being. She has her own office space, thankfully. My son had his basketball tournament cancelled as well as his play scheduled for next week. My daughter’s birthday is next week, and we’re not sure if her party will go on as planned. But for now their schools remain open.

 

Eventually we may return to normal. Start flying, watching live sporting events, gathering for conferences. When it does get back to normal, let's think of all those in the service industry losing out on income and tips due to all the cancellations. But now is not normal, and we’re right to try to prevent COVID-19 from spreading despite how inconvenient it is. 

 

And yes, I’m still open for business.

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Fri

28

Feb

2020

Communicating Value

How do you communicate your value? It’s a question that those of us who develop relationships and new business have to ask daily. Without proving your value to customers and prospects your business stagnates.

 

Everyone provides some value…it’s just that some people have a hard time communicating what that value is, or they’re out there trying to prove the wrong value.

 

This was brought to my attention recently when someone I follow on twitter posted a screenshot of an outreach email that he received, which began:

 

“Hi there,

 

"Attached is my resume and a couple of demos.”

 

He was taken aback at the lack of personalization at the, “Hi there,” but I think the problem runs a lot deeper. You only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention before they move on to the next thing. “Attached is my resume” offers no value at all and no context. It asks the recipient will do all the work to figure out who you are and how you will fit.

 

A voiceover talent might lead with something more like: “My name is Tralfaz, and I have a velvety smooth voice that’s helped XYC Corporation, 123 group and XFGHLSK in a variety of explainer video and elearning projects.” While it may not be perfect, the recipient knows some quality of the voice in question, as well as brands that the talent has worked with.

 

But it’s not just voiceover. Just don’t send an email or LinkedIn request to someone without some helpful background. I sometimes receive LinkedIn requests from people I've never met with no explanation as to why we should connect. Why do I care about your email or about connecting with you on LinkedIn if you're not going to help me understand the benefit of doing so?

 

And the answer better not be: "I want to connect so I can show you our new widget." Again, no value. The value is not in your widget; the value is in how your service or widget can help.

 

When I reach out to new prospective clients, my goal is to develop a relationship and let those clients know they can depend on me when they have a need for a voice talent. I only send my resume when they ask.  

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Fri

21

Feb

2020

Focus on What Is Important

“Focus on what’s important.” I hear this all the time. It’s become a modern-day mantra. But I wonder if it gets repeated so often that the meaning gets lost.

 

 

It covers everything from focusing on our families to reminding ourselves to put our phones down to thinking about who we are going to vote for in the upcoming US presidential election, to staying away from social media because it’s driving us crazy.

 

So…what is important?

 

My voiceover business and my clients are important. As is connecting with new clients who might need my services. But every afternoon when the school bus comes, or I have to go pick my kids up from their after-school activity, the focus of what is important shifts. I then help my first grader stay organized enough to do her three minutes of homework and practice the ukulele. I make sure my kids are fed, I clean up the containers from their lunch so they are available the next day, because neither kid wants to ever buy lunch. And then have to remind them to get ready for bed, because it’s important that my kids are fed and get enough sleep so that they can focus on what’s important: schoolwork, developing friendships, pushing their own boundaries of what is possible.

 

It’s also important to spend time with my wife. After she was away all weekend at a trade show, she took a couple of days off from work. So, she and I got to hang out without our children. We went to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, shoe shopping, and had a delicious breakfast out without having to make sure our first grader was entertained. Just a side note: having blank paper and crayons on hand works wonders in keeping your children entertained in a restaurant; it also has the side benefit of fostering their creativity.

 

And then every Friday, I have lunch with my first-grader and her friends – my daughter’s school allows parents to come have lunch whenever we want. The conversations may not seem important: we discuss the reality of unicorns, how to speak fairy language, and whether the floor is lava. But this time is important. My daughter wants me there…for now, and I know that one day that will change. While that time breaks up my day and takes me away from my voiceover business for a while, it is still important…to me and to her.

 

And that gives me enough time to manage my voiceover business in the morning, and in the afternoon after I get home…while still being there for the bus in the afternoon.

 

That, to me, is important.

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Fri

14

Feb

2020

The Glamorous VO Life

When people find out I’m a voiceover talent, I usually get one of three responses:

 

“That is so cool.”

“Where have I heard you?”

“I was thinking of doing that; people tell me I have a great voice.”

 

There’s a fourth response which is bored indifference. The person who is bored and indifferent is usually rehearsing what they want to say next and would probably “Uh-huh” you if you told them that you waterski-jumped over shark infested waters while wearing a leather jacket – but then again, who hasn’t done that? Those people are not interested in anyone else.

 

There is an assumption among those who are not in the industry that working as a voiceover talent is glamourous. Not quite. There isn’t a stretch limo driving me to studio sessions that net me one million dollars. I could ask for that, but I’m pretty sure all my clients would say no if they weren’t laughing – at which point they would no long be my client. Though, if you do happen to have a spare million lying around for me to lay down a vocal track, I would not say, “No.” In fact, I might even be willing to fly to the studio of your choice. I would even say that you’re a fabulous client. But I digress.

 

I think that’s part of why so many people attempt to do this work – they think that there is some hidden luxury waiting for them on the other end of “making it” in the voiceover business. I can assure you there’s not. VO involves a lot of hard work and hustle. I won’t say “sweat” – it’s not construction or farming or landscaping. Even if you have a great voice that people like to hear, you still have to do a lot of marketing, connecting and outreach, all while maintaining and growing your acting skills. And even then, when you’ve done a fair amount of work, you still have to maintain relationships with your clients.

 

People always told me I have a great voice too. And I had a background in sales and marketing. And I love acting, and reading out loud.  So, I took the steps to start a voiceover career – which is essentially a sales and marketing career, with brief interruptions to talk on the microphone when projects and auditions come up. When I am not on mic, I’m sending emails to clients and prospects, discussing projects, coming up with creative for my marketing efforts, researching companies and people who may be a good fit for my services.

                                                                                                        

And when I’m not doing those things for my business, I’m making sure dinner is ready, lunches are packed, chauffeuring children to music lessons, sports practices and play rehearsals, dish cleaning, trash maintenance, occasional toilet plunging, and sleeping when that’s all done.

 

So, no, voiceover isn’t glamorous, but it is worth the effort.

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Fri

20

Sep

2019

Bunny Love

Before moving from Massachusetts to Minnesota my family and I decided we would adopt a bunny for our new home. Sam, my twelve-year-old son had done some research on the types of rabbits we might want to get once we settled in. I’m not a big pet person to begin with, but a rabbit seemed like less maintenance and effort than a dog, so I went along with it. Val, my wife, on the other hand, is allergic to cats and also did not want a pet that could conceivable jump up onto our kitchen table. So, a rabbit it was, perhaps even two.

 

It took a while to find our bunny, though. One Saturday, while I worked on voicing a lengthy pharmaceutical eLearning training module, Val took the kids to the closest Animal Humane Society. The bunnies they met were skittish and unfriendly. Emily, our six-year-old, attempted to change the scope of the mission to getting a dog, even though she generally doesn’t like it when dogs come near her.

 

As other bunnies came on the Animal Humane Society website, we continued to make the twenty-minute trek. One bunny we met spent the whole visit under a chair, which I totally get. We were strange, large, and loud people (at least Emily and me) in a small, enclosed room. It seemed we were never going to find the right bunny.  

 

Then we found a bunny that I’ll call “Bun-bun.” She was friendlier and less skittish than the others and seemed to want to engage with us. Her ears that stuck straight up. At close to six pounds, she was also large. From the time we met her, until the time we took her home the next day, we had to get ready to have a bunny.  This meant getting a cage, food dish, litter box, water dish, chew toys, bedding, timothy hay, rabbit pellets, vitamin c tabs, baby gates and learning as much as we could about care and feeding of a rabbit.

 

Armed with all of our stuff, we brought “Bun-bun” home. She was scared on the drive because she was in a box with holes. Once she was set up, we let “Bun-bun” wander out of her cage and around our living room/ dining room. Right away she started pooping and peeing everywhere. Rabbit poop is not as disgusting as dog poop – it’s like malleable marbles - but nothing can prepare you for the sheer volume of poop a bunny produces. Every ten minutes there would be 20-30 more “marbles.” Since we let her wander, “Bun-bun” found a way to get a mixture of poop, pee and hay onto her hind legs and stain our carpet. She would also try to chew on electrical cords and could also be found going after wood furniture. And one time she got brave enough to try the stairs, where Emily found her in the guest room. That was the end of her free wandering. It was like having an infant all over again.  

 

After a few days, “Bun-bun” started pooping and peeing more or less where we wanted her to with some exceptions – like peeing and pooping in her hay. The slurry of rabbit pee, rabbit poop and hay make for a rather unpleasant smelling soup.

 

Despite the “rabbit excrement stew” we spent some time getting to know “Bun-bun.” The kids enjoyed feeding her romaine lettuce and small servings of apple. They liked it when she nuzzled against them, and especially when she was “in the flop” – meaning she was laid out on her side. Being “in the flop” was a sign of her comfort with us.

 

But…there turned out to be a big problem with “Bun-bun”…or with the hay we had to feed her. I turned out to be allergic. After a few days with “Bun-bun” in the house, I would wake up every morning with a full-on allergy attack. It got to the point where my throat would constrict and I would sound hoarse all day. This is not the optimal condition for a working voice actor. All my recordings were a struggle because I did not have my full vocal range available. Plus, I felt and sounded hoarse ,and I noticed a difference in my delivery and my stamina in the booth.

 

For the kids’ sake I was prepared to tough it out with “Bun-bun” but it was clear, though, that “Bun-bun” was affecting my livelihood and would be better off with another family. So we made an appointment to bring her back to the Animal Humane Society after no one to adopt her.

 

Emily made the decision to come with me to bring “Bun-bun” back. The night before and the day of, Emily spent extra time with “Bun-bun” telling her it would be alright. At the Aniumal Humane Society, Emily did most of the talking, explaining that “Bun-bun” liked her the best and that I am allergic. Almost on cue, I started a sneezing nonstop as “Bun-bun” hopped around the room.

 

That night “Bun-bun” went up on the Animal Humane Society website. The next day she was off the website – a sign that someone else was going to give her a home. Thankfully it happened quickly. Hopefully she went to a good family with people who can breathe with her in the house, where she has a rabbit friend, and where she has the receives the same kindness my children showed her in the short time she was with us.      

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Thu

05

Sep

2019

Learning to Ride

A rainbow we discovered on a "Night-Night Bike Ride"
A rainbow we discovered on a "Night-Night Bike Ride"

The kids went back to school this week. I’m both happy for them to move on into their new lives, and finding myself wondering what to do with myself with them out of the house for most of the day. (Answer: more writing and prospecting for new business). So far we’ve been keeping up with our ritual of a “Night-Night Bike Ride” as my first-grader calls our late afternoon/early evening rides that take us around our neighborhood, to local parks, and even finding rainbows if we’re out at the right time.

 

Both kids also expressed interest in biking to school. For Emily, my first grader, it’s a little over a mile: a manageable distance, but she is still tentative on hills. She comes to a complete stop and straddle-walks her bike downhill. In our hilly neighborhood, that makes for a challenging ride to school. Sam, my seventh grader, on the other hand has about a four-and-a-half-mile ride to school. His ride would have a number of steep hills, as we discovered when he and I set out on Labor Day morning to see if we could make it to his school. Halfway into the ride, he realized that he is not ready to ride his bike to school and we headed home.

 

One-mile and four-mile bike rides may not seem all that ambitious, but it is important to keep in mind that both of my children have been able to ride a bicycle for only two weeks. It may seem odd for a 12-year-old to have not yet learned to ride a bike, but we did not live in an area conducive to learning. Our old condo in Massachusetts had a tennis court where we played Wiffle Ball, but we weren’t supposed to ride bikes there, and our driveway/parking area was not a good spot either since some of neighbors were less than aware of their speed. Sam also didn’t seem all that interested in learning, probably, in part, because Val, my wife, and I left our bikes languishing in the garage for years where my gear shifters melted and my Val’s tires tires flattened from under use.

 

Once we got to Minnesota, all the kids in our neighborhood rode bikes and/or scooters. That’s what motivated Emily to go out to the driveway every day: she wanted to keep up with her older friends. Our driveway in Minnesota was not a great place to learn to ride a bike. It’s a fairly steep incline from the street to the garage – looking forward to winter! It evens off at the top of the driveway, but does not leave a lot of room to maneuver a bicycle.

 

But Emily was determined. She would take out her very small Frozen-themed, or “Anna and Elsa,” bike with training wheels and ride around the top of our driveway. She would then exchange it for the slightly bigger hand-me-down bike that some friends had given to her. She would stop and start but not really get going with the hand-me-down bike. Then she would switch back to the “Anna and Elsa” bike. Occasionally, I’d be tasked with removing the training wheels, only to have to put them back on five minutes later. She discovered that the “Anna and Elsa” bike was too small. But she was determined and every day we would go out.

 

While she was attempting to ride her bike I would take out Val’s bike and ride it around the driveway hoping to entice my son into learning to ride a bike as well. But he was embarrassed about learning at his age and felt defeated every time to did try. While Emily was riding on the driveway, he would head out to the yard to hit Wiffle balls into the street from the worn-out patches of grass where we played Wiffle ball all summer.

 

Emily went from half a pedal turn, to two pedal turns to being able to ride a bike across the driveway. When you first see your child pedal upright on a bicycle, it’s like some magic has taken over. I knew, from riding a bike myself, that riding is possible, but to watch Emily, who had been struggling with it, suddenly keep her balance was beyond special. “Look at you!” I shouted, which broke the spell of her ride. Once Emily learned to ride, we brought her bike to a local park where she would ride around in the outdoor skating rink. On her second day of riding the rink was flooded with rain. At first, she rode around the puddles, but then decided to ride through them after seeing some boys ride through them on scooters. I simply rolled my eyes and let her get soaked.

 

Now that his sister could ride, Sam was inspired to try. He would try to move forward and lose his balance and his temper. He could not quite understand how the bike worked from pushing on the pedals to maintaining balance as it moved forward. Despite his frustration, he kept coming back to it as his sister had done. And then, magically it seemed, he too was balancing on two wheels, pedaling around the outdoor rink, wondering why he had waited so long to learn. Now, his bike offers him a certain freedom.  

 

It’s easy to forget what a challenge it is to learn to ride a bike. My kids both said it felt like they could always do it once they actually did it. But watching them from the outside, I saw a lot of frustration and doubt. There were times where each one of them wanted to give up. But they didn’t because they knew it was possible. Sometimes when we’re frustrated, we need to take a break, reset, and get back to it, and then we’re magically moving forward on two wheels and thinking about where we can go next.

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Warm, friendly, professional voice talent specializing in corporate narration, explainer videos, and e-learning. Most projects are turned around within 24 hours from my studio. 

 

617.851.0545

chris@vallancourt.com

 

 

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