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What Makes Your Voice Overs Hard To
Ignore? EXACTLY What Clients Need?

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor, Coach & Author

"Wow, this was not what we were looking for, but it's EXACTLY what we need!"

That's what you want to hear a client say after they've listened to your audition.

Contrary to popular belief, most clients only have a vague idea of what kind of voice they want, until they get this AHA moment. And hopefully this happens when they listen to your demo.

The question is: Is this something you have any influence over? Well, start by putting yourself in the shoes of your client.


Trying to find the perfect voice is a bit like scouting for supermodels.

Time and again you read these stories where an agent is browsing through hundreds of portfolios and cannot find the look they have in mind - until they go back out on the street and find someone like Padma Lakshmi.

She was in the last semester of her senior year, and went to study in Spain. Padma was discovered in a Madrid bar. She thought she'd never be modeling material because of a seven and a half inch scar on her right arm. But it was this scar that helped her get noticed by famous photographer Helmut Newton.

"He loved my scar, and by extension he made me think differently about myself. All of a sudden it was something to celebrate or at least not to be ashamed of. Everything in life shapes you," said Padma in an interview.

I'm not saying that this scar was the only thing that made Newton interested in Padma, but when other photographers found out that Newton had hired Padma because of her scar and not in spite of it, they all wanted to work with her.

Sometimes, the very thing that makes you hard to ignore is something you may like the least about yourself. The thing you'd rather cover up.


Not long ago, a starting voice actor asked on Facebook:
"How on earth do I get hired? I have no credits, and no demos. I have no website and no representation."
The good news is that even the most famous (voice) actors all started out with no credits to their name. They had no agents, publicists, or fancy websites.

But they did have something that made them stand out from the rest. You may call it charisma, the IT-factor, or a special presence and a unique personality that cannot be faked or mass-produced.

One of the big things preventing new voice talent from being hired is the fact that they try too hard to sound like a voice actor. They sound like a VO imitating a VO.

In other words: more of the same.

I know one thing for sure: Our industry does not need more of the same.


As a coach, I always have to convince my students that sounding like themselves is what will make them stand out (read my story "When Normal is Special").

Like any diamond in the rough, it does need thorough polishing, but the point is to make the integrity of the diamond come out and make it shine.

Most newcomers need to rein it in, and stop yelling into the mic. You don't need to be over the top to make it to the top.

And there's something else preventing talented people from booking jobs. Something deeper. For some reason, some people feel unworthy or undeserving of success. They have been hurt, humiliated, or disappointed in the past. They've been told they will never make it. In order to protect themselves, they are afraid to come out of their shell and show the world who they really are.


Like top tennis talent Naomi Osaka, you might not want to play as long when you're afraid of people judging you, and trying to bring you down.

The challenge is that in sports as well as in acting you cannot have success without exposing yourself to the outside world, and to criticism.

You may be the world's greatest violinist, but you'll never play in Carnegie Hall if you can't handle the pressure of performing.

Like Padma Lakshmi, all of us have scars (visible and invisible), and they make us who we are. These scars are signs of past wounds that have been healed.

To "heal," by the way, means "to make whole."

These scars give us the depth, vulnerability, and empathy we sometimes need to dig into when we're acting. When we dare to do that, there's no more pretending. When we stop pretending, we finally become who we really are. With bumps and bruises, and all our beautiful imperfections. Authenticity speaks!

I tell my students: You can't force clients to hire you, but you can make yourself hard to ignore.
Paul Strikwerda is a 25+-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. He is also a voice over coach, author of the book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and writes an informative and entertaining blog.


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