The best thing about teaching voice acting is what you learn in the process. Teaching can be downright selfish when you consider the wealth of information that pours in from your students as they pursue knowledge, skills, riches, fame, and infamy. What our students have taught us is that with all the talent, enthusiasm, and training in the world, you can’t take off until you have a flight plan. And the dream career is about surveying the landscape for opportunity, reaching greater heights, and being free to spread your creative wings. Our goal as teachers is to take you higher.
Voiceover Flight Plan™
Planning is something most prefer to avoid. It’s a solitary endeavor requiring introspection, research, and resourcefulness. It means sitting down and thinking hard about what’s in front of you, assessing the skills you’ll need to reach your dream, and determining the tools and people you’ll need along the way. Think of your voiceover career like flying a plane. Each stage of your career is simply a new flight path, a new destination, a new view of the rest of your life. With each new destination may come the need for a different kind of aircraft. You must adjust for fuel, baggage weight (That’s a big one), weather conditions, and air traffic. You need a Voiceover Flight Plan™.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking of your “flight plan” as an antiseptic, heavily structured matrix that sets you up for failure. A rigid plan is no plan at all. Weather conditions can be unpredictable, so your plan must leave room to improvise. You are your business and you never want to forget that the “you factor” is the most important part of your plan. You’re the face, the voice, and the brand. We teased about “baggage” earlier because it’s valuable to look inward at what there is about ourselves that can be elevated, enlightened, and inspired. Therapy, self-help books, and spiritual guidance can be a lightning rod to reinvention. You may know a million things about yourself, but it’s the one thing you don’t know that will bring down your plane.
Plan Your Display
This is a huge visual poster of your Voiceover Flight Plan™. Your plan will not work as notes scribbled down in a journal. It will not work as an index card taped to the bathroom mirror where you brush your teeth. We’re talking about a billboard—a display that cannot be ignored. If you wanted to ignore it, it should require an enormous effort to do so. Ideally, your display would be out in the open where your friends and family can see it. Not only will this invite supporters and fans, it will engender accountability and raise the stakes. It’s not that you’ve made a promise to be perfect or never slip up, but to honor your commitment to your dream. Clearly, there are forces more powerful than you are. There will be times when you have to land the plane and let the storm pass.
A good plan begins with a destination. Once you choose your destination you can map out a way to get there. Let’s say your destination is to be the voice of a national TV commercial campaign for Volvo. Great! Let’s get more specific. How much money do you expect to make from this campaign, over what period of time? Sure, it’s all made up at this juncture, but this is how things become real. This is also how you come to terms with the veracity of your plan. The next question will set the tone for your entire plan and every critical lesson you will learn along the way. By when will you arrive at your chosen destination? Let’s say you plan is arrive at this destination in 18 months. Go out and buy some poster boards and colored markers because now the real planning begins.
It’s a simple process from here, except for the fact that our personal baggage tends to get in the way. Otherwise, the timeline, created by answering the next series of questions, enables you to map out the milestones that will track and measure your progress. Measured results are the key to your success.
1. What must you have in place in Month 14 if you are to reach your destination in Month 18?
2. Working backwards, what must you have in place at Month 10 if you are to accomplish what you’ve indicated in Month 14? The same question applies as you move backward through Month 5 and Month 1. You have just mapped out the milestones that will help you to arrive at your final destination.
So far, everything you’ve done is just in writing. You may want to write down a few more thoughts or milestones to fill in any actions you feel will be needed to ensure success. Now, let’s get on with the arts and crafts. Create your map across one or two sheets of 2x3 poster boards. Everything you write here will also exist in your notebook or journal, but it’s the display that reminds you to stick to it and take action each day. You can find motivating images, quotes, etc., to adorn your display so that you remain inspired.
Identify a highly responsible, wise, and learned person who is willing to occasionally evaluate your progress. This person does not have to be in the business of voiceover. In fact, it may be better if they are not. The purpose of enlisting a co-pilot is to get an objective opinion on the general status of how you’re fulfilling your plan. Co-pilots must be given full freedom to say and think as they please, to offer their opinion and judgment as they see fit, without any concern for your feelings or rebuttal. Your job is to make it clear to the co-pilot that you want their unfiltered honesty and that you forego any right to challenge their judgment. The co-pilot must know that you are true and honest in this regard. You don’t have to do what they say, but you must listen and seriously consider their input. You must set up a regular monthly meeting with your co-pilot to share your status and hear their response. Remember, you have asked for a considerable commitment from this individual and you must stand by it. That means never missing or being late for the appointments.
Be a person of your word at all costs. Plan your work and work your plan. No matter how good an excuse may be, it is still an excuse. Say what you mean and do what you say. It’s easy to dismiss the power of your word, but when you make a practice of standing by it, you will realize that it is not only the most powerful instrument in your arsenal, but the only one that really matters.
Professional voice actors looking for new horizons are very similar to new actors who are just beginning. That is to say, they want the success yesterday. It seems to be human nature. The plan we’ve outlined for you will enable you to see the big career picture from above. With the Voiceover Flight Plan™, you’ll be able to develop practical steps and truthful expectations.
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Joan Baker is the author of "Secrets of Voiceover Success," and the winner of multiple Promax and Telly awards for commercial and documentary voiceover performances. She is an actor, voice actor, and teacher. Baker trains individuals and groups in the craft of voice acting and VO career management. She has written trade articles for Backstage, Adweek, Multichannel and Broadcast & Cable.
Rudy Gaskins, is an Emmy Award-winning creative director and branding expert. He launched Push Creative Advertising in 2001, after holding executive roles at Court TV and Food Network. His accounts span American Express, Tribeca Film Festival, Lexus and BET. Rudy has written, produced and directed hundreds of commercials, promos, and marketing campaigns and has directed documentaries for PBS.
Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins are the co-founders of That’s Voiceover!, an annual career expo, and the creators of the newly formed Society of Voice Arts and Sciences and the Voice Arts Awards.