Corporate Training

It’s very common, when people hear that I am a voice-actor, for them to say something like “Oh, wow, yeah. You DO have a nice voice!”. My reply is always something like “Well, thank you kindly for that, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that.”

A lot more.

One of the things for which I am most grateful, and which helped make me a strong partner for businesses and content creators, is my 20+ years worth of corporate training and experience with customers as well as leadership. I have worked in many different roles during that time including customer service, collections, in-house recovery, credit analysis, supply chain, inside sales, and also training manager/class facilitator.

And to top it all off, these were roles in a call-center environment. So my voice, listening skills, and communication prowess were honed and utilized as well.

One of the earliest things we were taught during our 800# training was how to ask questions, listen to the customer responses in full with no assumptions, check for understanding, and then ask the next relevant question. We were answering customer service calls literally all day, one after another, every day. Dozens and dozens of customer contacts per day.

It was important to be an open receiver of information when the call starts and not be a sender until we have all of the details needed. Take it all in without anticipating or assuming what they are trying to say. Get the full scope, the big picture from the caller, and then respond. We would also check for understanding along the way by repeating their concern back to them and ensuring that, before we answer anything, we understand what exactly is being asked.

And when all was said and done, there was the single call resolution piece. Before letting the call go, we’d do one last sweep to verify that we’d addressed all their concerns, and ask if there was anything else that we could help them with that day.

This training was in 1998 when I was in my early 20’s, and I worked there until the end of 2018. Everyone was trained the same way back then. There were over a dozen people in my training class, and there was a new class rotating-in every 1-2 weeks.

They were also very gung-ho about making sure that the “customer can hear your smile”. Voice actors are extremely familiar with this, as it is a direction that’s commonly given. “That was a good take. One more like that, please, but more smile! Ready, aaaaand…GO!”

If you are unsure of what I mean, take a moment and search online for the animated show “The Cat in the Hat” featuring Martin Short. In all my life I don’t think I’ve ever been able to more clearly “hear a smile” in a voice-over performance than his in that role. Every word he says in every episode, plus the theme song he sings, sounds like he is wearing a gigantic grin while performing. It’s uncanny.

Nowadays if you call an 800#, or speak to a front-line contact at a medium to large company, you are highly unlikely to encounter that type of attention, active listening, and cheer. Employees seem to not receive that kind of training anymore at all, almost as though it has been deemed outdated and unnecessary by the employer. Customer care has a much stronger ‘drive-thru’ vibe now than ever before, in my opinion. Single contact resolution is not a priority, seemingly. Checking for understanding? Nah. Strong listening comprehension and communication skills? Nuh-uh. And an audible smile? Nope!

This quote of mine was originally a social media post from several years ago. One of my core values.

As I started to make my transition into professional voice work I was still working at the company in question. But their training was so well ingrained that I found myself applying many of these same tools in communications with my corporate clients. They definitely seemed to appreciate and respond well to my listening and my giving their words attention and priority. The professional business-like conduct was well received and beneficial, and even seemed to catch some by surprise at times.

By applying my “800# training” as well as my knowledge of corporate training, business communications, leadership expectations and approval, forward-thinking, attention to detail, and my qualifying and soft-closing skills from my years as a sales rep (and sales trainer), I was easily able to differentiate myself from many in the field.

My awareness of and fluency in the language of business and the language of arts and creativity became one of my biggest assets. Many artists remain immersed in the art world only, and go to great lengths to avoid venturing into white-collar jobs. However, many others have done and are doing both in long-term temporary capacities as I did. Bills have to be paid and families need benefits, etc.

This is what I mean when I say that there’s a lot more to being a voice actor than just having a good voice. Combining the knowledge and wisdom of both worlds makes for a well-rounded freelance artist who fits and functions well in each. This has helped me go from being a mere “vendor” to being considered a true partner by my clients on their current (and ultimately future) projects. This fluency has also aided in my marketing efforts and networking with businesses and creators.

Now if only I could stop trying to coach the reps I speak with when I call 800 numbers…

We Interrupt This Program…

There’s a lot of things I love about being a small business owner who works from home. I get to do a lot of the little things such as the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking for my family. I enjoy being able to have my wife come home to clean clothes that have been folded, clean floors, garbage out, and a hot meal that’s ready and waiting for her.

I get to be the person who puts our child on the school bus in the morning, and to take him off in the afternoon. I enjoy getting to give him his snack, playing outside with him, helping him with his homework, and having special 1-on-1 dad-and-son time, the kind that we’ll both remember fondly for years. That’s all very important to me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

In addition to the above, my job is in the arts, which I love. I’m not an accountant or a dentist with offices in my basement or anything. I get to do many artistic and creative things regularly as part of my work and it’s quite fulfilling.

It’s also quite necessary. My primary job when I am not at the microphone is marketing myself and my studio business. The creativity is heavily relied upon in that facet of my work. Between making and editing image posts, video and audio files, and coming up with more and more unique tools to market myself, creativity has become the life-blood of my business. It goes hand in hand with my marketing campaigns on my various social media platforms (all a requirement these days, as any working professional voice-actor will tell you).

My son is young and very demanding of my time. I don’t ever complain about that because it truly warms my heart that he and I are well-bonded that way, especially since my own relationship with my father was not quite that same way. Therefore I never ever want to say “No” to him when he asks for my time. I’ve been forced to say no from time to time for various reasons, like auditions and bookings, conferences, classes and training, etc, and he’s rolled with it nicely.

For this reason, I make it a point to try to get done as much work as possible in a condensed time frame each day. I allocate myself a heavy workload from the time my son’s bus departs until he returns on it that afternoon. It works out to be a whopping 7 hours, which is not really a lot. It’s not the most ideal scenario but I do what I can to make it work.

I make efforts to get as much offline work done as possible in the evenings and wee hours (planning, prepping, making and editing content, making schedules and writing drafts) so that I can be on the marketing front-line during the business day when potential clients are also working. There’s no one single hard and fast rule about this, but generally speaking, it is much more effective to show up in their Inboxes and make these connections when they are also online and working themselves. The 11pm or 2am connections and messages do not have the same impact or results, by and large. So the daytime availability and contact efforts are big and important. The system I have in place and have been adhering to has been good for a while. Do I wish I had more business hours available? Yes. But I’ve been making it work.

Enter COVID 19.

Pretty Much.

Things have blown up recently, as we all know, and now many schools are closed for anywhere from a week to over a full month. Parents are being assigned home-schooling duties. Kids will not see their teachers or classmates for an indefinite amount of time. Campuses have sent the student body home to finish their work online through e-learning modules. Some survival jobs have made concessions for their employees to either work from home, work an adjusted schedule, or even take family medical leave for this time. Other businesses are slow to the party with these concessions, but likely coming around with the influence of the national state of emergency.

So, now what? My already-packed daily schedule just got thrown into a wood-chipper as my son will be home for this indefinite extended period. My wife’s job has not (yet) made a decision as to how they will handle this with staffing and remote work. Daddy-duty has just been called into full-time active status.

There will be a daily curriculum which he and I must follow to ensure he continues with progress and retention, which will be largely online as well. We will be able to have outdoor playtime, but with restrictions. No play-dates. No movie theaters or trips to the mall. No playgrounds. No visiting family and friends. It is not going to be easy on parents and young kids during this time.

But we of course step up because that’s our job as parents. They need us, so we’re there. It is what it is, right?

But as a small business owner and professional voice-actor, my schedule just became…hmmm, how shall I put this?- a very interesting challenge. My success depends heavily on my ability to network effectively, build relationships with people in many different jobs and industries, and work towards finding opportunities within those relationships. There is no selling , or asking for the close, or any of the old school sales/boiler-room tactics that apply to what I do. Those tactics barely work at all anymore for most products and/or services.

And I know I’m not alone. In fact, due to the aforementioned shift away from crowded classrooms to online course completion, my cohorts in the Learning & Development and Instructional Design fields just had their work loads increased exponentially and their deadlines bumped up too, perhaps. This is not exclusive to academic purposes either. Think about all the new training and compliance videos being requested now. And the medical explainer videos as well, all being updated to include new guidelines regarding the virus.

Some people just received an unexpected vacation of sorts. Some received the perk of working from home in their pajamas, and all the added benefits that go along. Others received a forced fast. And others, still, received a whole new host of duties and responsibilities and some subsequent limitations along with them.

So how do we begin to solve the problem of doing even more with even less time? I’m not a lover of plopping the kid down in front of the TV or handing him the iPad for a couple hours so that daddy can do some direct marketing, but will there be many other choices? We can’t bring them to a daycare or a sitter. We can’t send them to grandma and grandpa’s for the day. We can’t hand them off to the neighbor or friend’s house for the day, even if we were willing to take turns and cover for each other day after day. None of that is recommended. The lock-down is far too serious and all of those options are against the whole purpose of the social distancing.

Wait, there’s more! As parents, we are also being urged to be as mindful and positive as possible while the young kids are home. We need to lessen the negative impact of the severity, the fear, the stress, and the uncertainty for their sake. Nobody wants their kids traumatized or having childhood anxiety over any of this. Nobody wants to break down in front of them and scare them even worse. No one wants their child to see them buckle. It’s now just about the tallest order I’ve ever been asked to fulfill (so far, …sigh), and I refuse to let people down. Especially my family.

My inner voice, for years and years now, has been telling me to do my best with whatever I have control over and to let go of the rest. Let those chips fall where they may. And now, even the things I did once have control over have changed. My control has been taken somewhat away in certain vital areas. Very vital areas.

My inner voice is struggling to receive that message and process it fully. It understands the logic and rationale, and it does not disagree. But it also knows what’s at stake with my family and my business. It knows the pickle I’m in now regarding the needs of my child, the needs of my business, and the needs of the many. It’s become such a challenging time across the board that even the mental process of sorting it all out has taken extra time. Each day the information we are trying to process and maneuver around becomes a little different, and usually worse than the day before. But eventually the inner voice establishes the cooler head and some progress can begin to get made.

It’s been a difficult end of one week and start of the next for many of us. Small businesses all across the board are going to take a hit, as are the bigger ones too. Restaurants. The service industry. Businesses in and around heavily populated cities. Food trucks and vendors. Event facilities. Even public transportation. The impact will be far-reaching and long-lasting to say the least.

I’m sure companies like my wife’s job will up their game and make some kind of announcement soon which will be considerate and beneficial for their people. Some places are just a bit slower at that type of thing, that’s all. But, oh yeah, it will definitely take the two of us to get this done the way it needs to be done. The needs of our family must come first. Those needs include doing what’s best for our son, but they also include keeping the train moving and the coals burning.

I am hopeful that she will be allowed to work from home, even intermittently. I will be a vigilant, positive, and present father while she is working. And when she is able to relieve me, whenever and for however long, I will be smart and work as much as humanly possible. This new endeavor will take equal parts planning, improvisation, sacrifice, flexibility and dedication.

Realistically, I will not be able to do the volume and hours of marketing needed in the way that I was previously and in the exact way I need to, but it’s going to have to be enough. I am not able to control anything beyond that, and that right there is the trusted collegial inner voice that I know and love. The one telling me to be brave and go forth.

I wish everyone out there reading this all the best, through these times and always. Good health. Good times. Good luck. May you find what you need to get yourself and your loved ones through this. And if you don’t find it, then may it find you.

Know Your Worth-Pt. 1. “Toxicity”

Many of us have been in positions or jobs where we’re compromised in some fashion. We’re stuck between staying true to our professionalism and our word by doing what we said we’d do, and staying true to our morals and guiding principles as both workers and humans. Our ideals.

Listening to our inner voice is not always easy. Or clear. Sometimes that voice is telling us two different things at the same time. Neither is wrong, but they can still be in direct conflict with each other and cause confusion as to what we should do. Is one voice coming from your head and the other from your heart? Is there a third yet, coming from your gut instincts? Most likely all three, yes.

It’s up to us and us alone to determine which voice to follow in a given scenario, and for what reason(s).

Years ago I took a part time job at a start-up company in my hometown. It was an internet radio station begun by a friend of a friend. They knew of me, my voice-over work, and my acting history. So when I made the contact and asked about voicing promos, ads, and doing some of their imaging narration, I was instead offered a gig as host of a daily morning show. They desperately needed capable on-air talent for their launch to establish credibility and an early base of listeners.

Although I have a degree in performing arts and no small amount of experience as a performer of multiple genres (stage, screen, voice, even some live music), I had never taken broadcasting in college. I had also never worked for a radio station before.

My subject-matter-expertise in this area was limited to years and years of radio fandom, though. Growing up in the greater New York City area, I received a radio education from the likes of Howard Stern on K-Rok, Don Imus on WNBC, Scott & Todd on WPLJ, 100.7 WHUD in the Hudson Valley, CBS-FM, and more. As I got older there came the Morning Zoo on Z100, Opie & Anthony, X107, Q104.3 (and their former iteration of WNEW 102.7).

I was the unwitting recipient of a radio education without the formality of a curriculum and degree. I loved many genres of music and also had an appreciation for live talk radio, with and without the edge. So I knew I could deliver whatever they wanted to have on the menu for listeners.

I had no problem proceeding bravely into uncharted territory. For me, that’s a place in which I thrive and have fun too. I embrace such challenges and take them very seriously. My goal is always to leave people with no clue that the territory is new for me. And I am proud to say that I am frequently successful in that vein.

This gig gave me an opportunity to learn an all new aspect of communications too. Things I could apply to my own business. The equipment. The process. The vernacular. The ups and downs. The challenges. Even the pitfalls. I was having a blast right from the get-go, learning a ton while doing quite well and having fun.

I got to exercise creative muscles, both old and new. Soundbite production and placement. Writing. Live improv comedy. Playlist curation. Promotion. Marketing. So, so much.

The owners were two long-time friends who had studied radio and broadcasting about 20 years earlier, in the mid 90’s. They knew a lot about radio. Old radio. Unfortunately that industry has evolved a lot since then, and not necessarily for the better. But they gave it an effort, despite their idea being 20 years too late and closer to a non-profit passion project/hobby.

A couple of local businesses signed on for temporary ad space on the air from the get-go, but many only did a month or so with the station before letting their deal expire. The station was getting very little traction and the businesses were showing practically zero interest in us.

As host of a daily 3-hour show I felt I might be able to have some positive impact on the marketing effort myself as well, despite having a dedicated marketing rep already employed at the station. So everywhere I went I was wearing the company shirt and speaking with business owners about who we were and how we could work together. Every local event, like festivals and street fairs etc, was a place in which I could work to drum up new business and do my part to help get this endeavor into an orbit. I even ran into the actual official marketing rep at one of these events as I was making the rounds and doing the pitch. We were attending the same crowded family event with our kids.

She saw me in the shirt doing the spiel to the local business owners and asked me, “Do you, like, do this a lot? With the shirt and the magnets and all? You do a lot of marketing for them on your own?”

I knew I was already going above and beyond the rest of the team, and now someone else finally saw it too. And even though I did wish others were carrying as much water as I was trying to carry, I made no complaints. I persevered.

As a point of fact, I was doing this job every weekday morning while still employed by my then-day job (a corporate job of almost 20 years at the time, with benefits and responsibilities). I would arrive at the station just after 6am, leaving my wife and young son home to do the morning routine alone as I was on-air from 7am-10am, 5 days a week. I was doing this with the blessing of my day job boss, because he knew what this meant to me and my future voice-over work.

I was working my butt off late every night writing show material, creating promotional posts and memes, show humor, soundbites, bumpers, audio files for imaging, and more. And I was also responsible for making up as much of my lost survival job hours as possible before allocating my own personal time off to cover the rest.

This radio job started off as a paid gig which was definitely a part of why I took it but not the sole reason. However, in week # 6 the owner approached my co-host and I and advised us that their ad sales were far below their hopes ( I refuse to call them expectations because, really, who the hell were they kidding?), and that if we wanted to stay on the air as hosts, we’d have to agree to a pay cut and split whatever ad revenue that they managed to bring in until they can eventually get us back to full pay.

It was at this moment that my Inner voice started arguing with itself. There were already other negative factors in play from the start but I was dead-set on powering through them towards success. But with this news, the internal debate escalated.

“Bail. Walk away, now. You don’t work for free. You owe them nothing and you have other responsibilities, other opportunities. You’re getting dumped on, abused, taken advantage of, and still going the extra 10 miles, all while being restricted from your other pursuits. Don’t let them do that anymore. Do. NOT!

“No! Don’t quit! You aren’t a quitter. Have faith. Be steadfast and determined. Work harder. Make things happen. Get out there and sell it. Make the show so good that it creates such a buzz that you can single handedly be the one who saves the day! Don’t quit! Do. NOT!

This went on for weeks.

I’m deliberately leaving out the parts where the owners as well as my co-host were guilty of absolutely horrid treatment, much of which was corroborated by my fans and by people close to them who knew them well and could see (and hear) the obvious.

Gas lighting.
Total lack of professionalism.

I’d get calls and texts after the show, and even during, saying “why do they keep interrupting you like that?! What is that person even doing on the air with you?? They are ruining the show every day and don’t belong there. It’s taking away from the good you are doing, and it’s so unprofessional sounding. You’d do so much better on your own.” Seriously, this happened almost daily. Some of my biggest supporters found themselves unable to listen to the show solely because of the co-host who audibly hated my guts and went out of her way to trip me up and ruin every planned,scripted effort I was making. She would routinely help herself to the segments I had created and worked hard on because she was incapable of originality in any way.

This person did not bring any radio, music, or performance experience to the table either. It was painful to listen to, and even more-so to be the one having to work along side it. During a song she asked me “who is this woman singing?” The ‘woman’ was actually Robert Plant singing Immigrant Song. I was hosting a show with someone who had no idea who Led Zeppelin were. To be fair, she knew more about top 40 pop music than I ever wanted to know in my life, but her knowledge began and ended there.

In addition, the owners demanded that I make zero mention of my acting career on the air. They accused me of sounding like yet another desperate actor looking for a new opportunity. And although I didn’t use quotations above, those truly were their words. They simply refused to recognize that there could be a benefit to letting listeners know that a true trained professional was working there, and not just the unemployed and untrained wives of their friends. They just did not get it, or could not.

I eventually received liberty from my gas-lighting, uber-negative, super toxic, disastrous excuse for a co-host and went solo with my own 3-hour nightly music show. A bit more free-reign and creative license, which was kind of nice. That part was a lot of fun too. Ultimately, the owners knew full well that I was a valuable asset and they truly did not want to lose me. They really liked the work even if they did not like me and had allegiances to the people they knew better. But I still couldn’t allow it to continue.

The owner and I had a meeting one night after my show ended at 11pm and he revealed to me that they can not and would never be able to get us back to full salary. Ever. They had planned poorly, budgeted badly, and overextended themselves in every possible way. He even went as far as to say he’d rather have the place filled with interns if he could, and that his experience was limited to non-profit businesses in the past.

Really?!?! I would have never guessed…

I got up, gave him my key, shook his hand, said thanks, and left. I quit on the spot. The handshake and the gratitude were more than he deserved as well, but it was important to me to maintain my own professionalism till the very end and not stoop to their level. By the time I arrived home, my entire presence had been deleted from their website and social media platforms. Every post, every file, all of it.

It was only six weeks before they ran out of money and yet I worked there for another 2 ½ months for the equivalent of less than 25% of my expected pay. And that was after upping my own game in helping them market (without commission) and sacrificing over 40 hours of my own personal time off from my day job. I refused to quit when I was taking their crap daily from the onset. I refused to quit in week #6 at the first sign of financial challenges. I saw it through as far as I possibly could and endured so many more personal attacks and professional abuse than an employee ever should. AND my job, my own business, and my family life were all suffering.

The reality? I wasn’t an employee for those 2 ½ months. I was a volunteer, donating my time. A lot of it. And I was receiving nothing in return for it except endless flack and higher demands. The harder I worked, the more crap I received.

Preach on, Sister Janis!

They didn’t want to lose me, but…
They never said thank you to me.
Never acknowledged how much legitimacy and credibility my work gave them.
Never went to bat for me, not once.
Never expressed gratitude for how I helped them grow a following online.
Never acted like a leadership team regarding my pathetic excuse for a co-host and their antics.
Never showed an appreciation for the marketing effort I was making, nor for the way I ignored my own entrepreneurship during those 4 months (a mistake I will NEVER make again, by the way).

Months later, I received a call from the aforementioned marketing rep. She had just quit herself due to a commission dispute with the owner, and wanted to tell me how smart I was to leave when I did and how much she admired my being the first one to do it. It was a very nice compliment and affirmation (the only one of its kind) from a phone call I was not expecting in the least.

During our call she also apologized to me directly for not doing as much marketing as I had been doing, and that she felt bad immediately when she saw me out there working it more than she was. She also apologized for not standing up for me more during the 4 months. It turned out that she was aware of all of the above as well, including the co-host’s total and utter discontent for me. The marketing rep had been a life-long friend of my morning co-host and candidly revealed to me that they had it in for me from pretty much day one, too (duh).

Since she had no prior broadcasting or hosting experience whatsoever, she was heavily intimidated by the live-without-a-net aspect of radio, as well as by the studio tech. She also had a bit of jealous rage towards me for not being intimidated by it at all and for thriving on the air in a way she never could. She was completely out of her element, despite my frequent kind and genuine offers to help her and show her how it all works. This offer was not only never accepted, but only made her hate me more and increase her attacks, on and off the air. She simply didn’t belong there so she made sure that I sounded terrible too. Daily. I’d be in the middle of something I had written and prepared while she was texting her family at home, and would then just cut right in and say hello to her mom or daughter or husband right when I was getting to the meat of my bit, as if I wasn’t even there at all. That’s usually when my own phone would light up with texts saying “Is she kidding?? How could she DO that??”

I swear. It was beyond ridiculous.

There’s no reason to get further into the details of what happened during those months. There’s dozens and dozens of such occurrences. It would part bore you and part enrage you. I had been given the affirmation I needed, and I rested well at night knowing that I took the highest road available amidst a group of people who didn’t come close to deserving that from me.

In the end I’m thankful that I listened to the part of my inner voice that told me to stick it out. If I hadn’t done that, I may have spent the last few years wondering “what could’ve been”.

But by staying as long as I did and pushing through, I quelled that curiosity sufficiently. And in doing so, I also now know which of those arguing inner voices to listen to from now on. In the highly unlikely chance that I ever find myself faced with such a quandary again, I will now know exactly what to do and when to do it. I know my value and my worth. I know who I am, where I belong, and what I should be doing. And no one gets to tell me different.

No one will ever get me to compromise myself like that again. My loyalty, when all is said and done, is to myself, my family, my goals, and my business. I had to get taken for a ride in order to never be taken for a ride again. This lesson came at a great cost, both monetarily and mentally, but will surely be saving me from something worse later.