Doing new things is scary. My two biggest fears about trying something new are always (1) that I’ll suck at it and (2) I’ll be shamed and embarrassed because others will see me sucking at it and laugh. But you know what scares me more? Letting my fear stop me from trying at all.
Embarking on doing voiceover and running my own business was and still is majorly scary. My biggest fears weren’t the acting aspects – whether I could interpret copy well, convey convincing emotion and character through my voice, or take direction to change aspects of my performance to suit a client – but were rather whether I could learn to hear well enough to edit effectively, and whether I could succeed at making a living in a career full of uncertainty where almost every job lasts a very short time, and getting it hinges on producing an audition that meets the unknowable, subjective criteria in an unseen listener’s ear. The jury’s still out on that last one; we’ll see whether I actually manage to make enough to live on! I don’t really expect that to happen this year. Maybe next, if I’m both diligent and lucky.
The actual performance aspect of doing voiceover didn’t scare me much because I’ve acted roles all my life. Most of them weren’t on stage, either. They were in classrooms and meeting rooms, on playgrounds and at parties, any time I was in a group and felt the need to protect myself by being whatever the moment demanded and other people expected. At that, I was a natural, and I don’t think most people ever saw through the act to realize I was acting. (Did you?)
The scary part of performance, for me, always came when I had to do it in a situation where people knew I would be acting and would be critiquing my ability and performance as an actor. Auditioning for plays and musicals in school and for community theater and then getting up on stage to play a character was hard because knowing I was being evaluated on my acting made me ultra-self-conscious that I was acting. I suddenly worried that since I knew I was acting, everyone watching would have to be aware I was faking it.
To audition for audiobooks and other voiceover projects, I’ve had to learn to dump my fearful awareness both of the unfamiliar critical listener and of the stakes. Instead, I mentally take someone I know into the booth with me, someone who’d be an appropriate audience or participant in the script situation, and I talk to them. Studying the script lets me put myself into the story and experience it as real and true. I trust that if it’s real enough for me to feel what I’m saying, a listener will feel it, too.
Sending out a recorded audition or a completed project is still a scary moment. There’s always the question of whether my performance will meet expectations, whether I nailed the emotion and character the client intended and wants, whether a listener will believe what they hear or cut it off to go to the next competitor. But I’ve learned that none of that is within my control, so once I hit the “send” key, I go do something else and fill my brain with other things to avoid hoping for and fearing the results of the audition or waiting anxiously to get critical notes on the finished project. What comes, comes; since worrying or dreaming about it won’t change anything, why waste the effort and exhaust myself with the emotions? I’m getting better at that.
My single biggest fear starting out came when I realized I wasn’t even hearing critical things my voice coach would pounce on. Subtle mouth clicks, lip smacks, moist little squelchy noises – all these things have to be minimized by good technique while speaking, and any that remain need to be cleaned up during editing. I was terrified they’d slip past me because I wasn’t even aware of them, and that would mean I’d never be able to edit my own work well enough to take on producing an audiobook or an elearning course. I scared myself silly.
And then I learned for the umpteenth time that practice always makes a difference. The more I worked, the more I heard. The more I listened, the more I sharpened my awareness of the glitchy little things editing software and processing tools were made to eliminate. I started hearing things I’d never heard before. In fact, I started hearing so much that I began driving myself crazy in my quest for narration perfection. Trust me, it’s not humanly possible to be perfect. Balancing the drive to be flawless with the need to finish projects is my ongoing challenge, but my awareness of it is the first step to pulling it off. I know that now.
With every project I take, I still scare myself. I’ve learned that’s okay.
So long as I don’t scare myself away.