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  1. Life is one HUGE learning curve. And what better curve than the beautiful sound wave? Those beautiful compressed and refracted undulations are glorious. Waves, I salute you! I am always struck, when I watch and listen back to the waves, by how much we can learn from them - not only about performance, style, and timing but also the subject matter itself. Did you know that Ibuprofen was first developed in Nottingham? Did you know that you are the master of your own confidence? Did you know that cats have different nutritional needs (and are also very cute)? Well, now I do and so do you!

    Learning never stops and is a continuous journey where my aim is always to polish my skills and work on getting new ones. Life is an art form. Three little letters for you: CPD! No, not an articulation exercise but CONTINUOUS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. There is always so much to fine tune, not just in the VO world (breathing, articulating, reading and understanding) but in the business world as well. From technical audio skills to negotiation analysis to marketing your brand – these are just some of the areas that voiceover artists need to focus on. Continuous professional development 

     

    To CPD or not to CPD? That is the question? No! How many resources will you set aside and commit to ongoing learning? That, I feel, is the better question.

    tortoise   Why is it just so important? The Round Island maestro, Guy Michaels presents his case presents his case: “Are you the tortoise or the hare?  CPD is constant, hence my preference for Continuous rather than Continuing.  If you stop, then those around you who are plodding on carefully as the tortoise does, will be overtaking you.  If you have not made time to consider your professional development in the long term, you are standing still.” Well there you go!

     

    And as I mentioned before, CPD is not just about the VO side: change is happening and it is crucial to keep up with changes. Gary Terzza, the VO masterclass taskmaster makes his point clearly: “Social media has changed how we promote our VO services. Because this is in a constant state of flux, CPD is essential to keep up to date with new platforms and new ways of selling.” CPD essential during flux

    So we’ve established that learning is a good thing and therefore should be incorporated into your annual voice over strategy. How should you go about this? Some hard thinking is needed to know which direction you want to go in, what your goals are and how to best get them. Then, as Gary says, “…look at [the] way of achieving [your goals] through development such as advanced voice over courses.” Maybe you realise your potential clients are all businesses on linkedIn but you aren’t sure of how to use that platform, so a course might be useful. Or perhaps you want to work on audiobooks but need to build up your breathing stamina, so an especially-designed course might work for you.    

    A word of caution from Guy: “Be careful of 'goal setting'.  Many of us set ourselves goals for the forthcoming year, lose track, beat ourselves up over not reaching them”. Yes, good call Guy! I’ve been working on a 2016 goal chart, about what I want to achieve in the coming year. Yes, in some I have reached for the stars (anything 007-related please) but I have set achievable goals as well. Then every day, I work on achieving this goal. Sometimes a few reminders can help: “Schedule regular review dates in your diary.  Set time aside to see whether the steps you are taking are helping you move towards you goals or not.” Always go back and reassess: goals can change as well as you learn more about yourself, so don’t be afraid to update your objectives. reminder

    Right, so now we have a set of goals in front of us and we know what we want to learn about, but how much should you be spending on CPD? Here’s a complex calculation from Gary: “You should set the cost within the context of future profit projections. Could £1,000 spent on CPD yield a further £2,000 in earnings? If so, any professional development outlay would pay for itself over and over again.” So, excel sheets at the ready….calculate! (I imagine that last word being shouted in style of Sue in the GBBO marquee.) Guy succinctly explains the expenditure thus: “As long as the CPD is focussed, it has identifiable benefits and enables you to take a step back from the day-to-day of 'work' then I would aim for a 10% of gross spend in the first 5 years as a VO.” And remember that we also have to spend time on the CPD, not just dosh. Will you commit to it and spend the time for the actual course or learning programme and also study for it beforehand (and afterwards)?

    CPD is for everyone but if you are a voice over artist then why should you invest in this trio of letters? All businesses need to change and keep up with new ideas and innovations. Adapting and changing is key and for voice overs, wearing many hats means having to be knowledgeable about all areas. You may even find you build up more skills! Gary suggests that “Voice over artists should look to push themselves into different, unexpected areas. Joining a choir or improv group will enhance vocal dexterity and stretch performance talents.” Great ideas!

    Every year, I line up some CPD – some are pure business or for VO and others are just for fun. One year, I decided to add hip hop to my dancing skills and even ended up body popping at a huge Nike event in a giant warehouse! Another year, I did some serious audio archiving – ahhh the feel of actual tapes! This year I have been consolidating my breathing techniques(yes more than just in and out), talking so that I sound like more than 100+ people and finally perfecting my home studio.  

    Next year, I have quite a few CPD items on my list. A really fun one I am looking forward to is a gaming VO course with THE Dave Fennoy, yep in person, yep here in the UK, yes, I know!  A lot of fab CPD courses are offered by the fantastic VoiceOver Network, supporting VOs to reach their goals. Others are offered by agents, contacts or even clients! I’ll update my objectives during the year, but all along the way, I know that it will be great for me, for my VO business and for my Voice Art!cpd learning

  2. Ahhh autumn and as the leaves begin to develop that deep orange/red, I headed back to uni. Now, it has been over 15 years since I stepped out onto those lovely cobbles at the Aldwych and I was very excited to be stepping on them once again. This time, I went back as a mentor to LSE students. While I am still trying to figure out where the past 15 years have got to (work, travel, work with travel, study and fun) I was very eager to see what these students are up to and offer them the benefits of my experience.

    As I prepared for my mentoring sessions, I felt that a bit of a recap about what mentoring actually is and the benefits it can bring, would be a good idea:

    Purpose of mentoring

    What exactly is mentoring? A quick internet and dictionary search offers a wide range of explanations but I feel this one on Wikipedia sums it up rather well:  “Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise.”

    Which way? Mentoring may be a good option The key words that really stand out for me, are personal development and guide. I’ve been lucky enough to have some wonderful mentors that were just that: guides! Guiding me into realising where I wanted to take my vocal career or guiding me to find tools to build my confidence in certain business situations, mentors can really help and bring benefits to an individual willing to learn which all goes into your personal development. As award-winning voice over artist Jay Britton points out, mentoring helps with choices from an experienced standpoint: Your role as the mentor is to guide the mentee down the path they have chosen and give them the tools they need to make their own decisions and choices from an informed position.”

    Mentoring is not a teacher-student relationship, it is more of a helping hand. “Mentoring is a collaborative process whereby you work with the mentee to help them achieve their aims in ways that work for them.” Very true, Jay.

    And it’s not just about the benefits to one person; mentoring can actually benefit a whole team. As Hazel McCallum states from Moving on up coaching: Mentoring is a very efficient way of transferring valuable skills, knowledge and competencies from one person to another and contributes to strong teams and staff retention.”

    However mentoring is not just about transference of skills, it can be a safe place to share, a free place to discuss issues in a work-free independent context: “Mentoring offers safe advice, confidentiality and discussion with freedom wherever mentees are in their career” says Jenny Richards, CEO of Women in Games Jobs. And this applies to any areas of work: mentors can cover your career, your industry or even skill set that you are interested in working on.

    So what would be the key principles for mentoring?

    Time. Trust. Commitment. These three words came up time and time again when I talked to various people.

    Do you actually have the time? We all lead busy lives and mentors and mentees alike are working to deadlines no matter where they work. It needs acknowledgement on both parts from the start as to how much time will both dedicate to this relationship. clock for m blog

     

    trust is essential for Mentoring Moving on to trust. “Trust is a huge one” says Jenny and one which I totally agree on.  I recall an experience when I was assigned a mentor but realised my mentor knew some people I had worked with on a personal level. Hmmm, that could have been very awkward. Trust was crucial here. You both need to trust the other, both with advice given and sharing.

    Commitment – pretty clear. This takes time, energy and both sides need to actually commit. The mentor should be clear about the time and issues they can help with and the mentee to commit to working as well. It is a “two way street”, so both sides need to be involved. It’s not just about the X amount of hours you said you would do that week, but actually acknowledging that both of you need to make the conversation and relationship work.

     

    Benefits of mentoring

    For the mentee, not only can they access someone who can guide them and bounce ideas off of but also develop a greater understanding of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses. Hazel summarises it in this way: Mentees report a wide range of benefits, ranging from adapting to a new role to a deeper self awareness and understanding of their own limitations and development needs and Mentors experience greater job satisfaction and personal development.”

    In some cases, the mentor may help the mentee uncover something about them and help them overcome any obstacles.  This relationship can, as Jenny says, “reach conclusions much more quickly and then you can act on them”. In a simple case, it may be that a mentee feels unconfident when dealing with a certain situation or not getting along with other staff. The mentor should quickly spot the issue and advise how best to remedy it.

    Mentors can feel enjoyment or involvement at being there for someone junior to them, To the mentor the payoff is simple, that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see someone succeed and know you had a hand in it. If someone is mentoring, it usually means they enjoy transferring knowledge and helping people find their path. The chances are as well that they’ve also seen lots of people do the wrong things and fail and wished they’d have been able to help them so there’s also a “saviour” pay off there for the mentor” points out Jay. Many mentors, including Jay, have commented that: it’s about having someone there for them to help and guide. Not only that, but a mentor can learn about new ideas and see things from an experienced distance.

    Many of us may have been lucky to have a mentor while studying but having one during your career development is perhaps even more important.  An example of mentoring from student to graduate and beyond is the very successful Global Advisory and Mentoring Platform, now coming up to its first anniversary. Andrea Balestrino, an HEC graduate with CEMS, now at BCG in Italy said mentoring was very welcome, “When I was a student I highly appreciated people who devoted part of their time to answer my questions and give me advice about my future”. Andrea also has mentors who have influenced him when he was a student and after graduating. They have helped him to grow professionally and personally, and supported him in making difficult choices. He believes a trusted mentor is a key figure in one's career development.  

    How to be a good mentor/mentee

    I have been lucky enough to have been mentored during my professional career and also have been a mentor. I have found it professionally rewarding and beneficial for many reasons. But what are the rules, codes or behaviours to be a good mentor or mentee? A lot will depend on personalities. “A huge amount is based around chemistry” says Jenny.  Another key skill is to listen. The mentor must listen, in order to pick up on clues as to why the mentee may have an issue and offer real advice.

    Mentors should always remain clear about the objectives. A good mentor should constantly be adjusting the curriculum and content to fit the needs of the mentee.” Jay says, “To be a good mentor, you need to be focused on the aims of your mentee, not simply your aim of imparting a set amount of knowledge.”

    The mentee on the other hand must also listen and take on-board that advice.  As Jay points out, trust comes up again: A good mentee….trusts their mentor and puts in to action the advice and knowledge they receive.”

    Mentoring is something I believe in quite passionately. I’ve seen it really help my career and voice business. As Jay says, “By engaging with a mentor experienced in the field you are entering right off the bat. You are well-positioned to start out on your chosen path in the best possible way, without making careless mistakes.” Absolutely true.

    When I returned to the LSE to run a number of mentoring sessions, I had a great time. The students came to the sessions with well-prepared questions, listened to my advice, and saw from the point of view of someone who has been there in those Econ B lectures, that you can makes your dreams come true!