cinderella castle - voiceover lessons from disney
Image by Katie Rose from Pixabay

Last week I was out of town in Orlando FL visiting family. Three of the days included visits to Walt Disney World parks. Yes, I am a Disney fanboy. So sue me. After you get off the phone with your attorney, I would like to point out that valuable lessons can be learned from a trip like this. Here are a few of my lessons from Disney.

Audio version:

Lesson #1: Google Maps is a lying piece of… software

Before a road trip I customarily check the estimated travel time via a quick look at Google Maps. It turns out, Google Maps exists in an alternate universe with unicorns prancing through endless flowering fields under rainbow painted skies and trips to faraway cities only take a skipping, dancing song or two on a yellow brick road.

Meanwhile, here in the real world with our heavily traffic laden, time pressured, anger infused brawl that is the American highway system, things are not as easy or grand as they appear on a brightly colored five inch tall viewing screen. For instance, Google Maps insists that it only takes 8 hours and 51 minutes to travel from my house to Orlando. Driving the actual road takes 10.5 hours or more.

Here is something else you won’t see on Google Maps: when you cross the border into Florida, the fabric of time is altered. I discovered that the last hour and a half of the trip actually takes two weeks, three days, 18 hours and 23 minutes to get through. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this makes me wonder if Disney, Universal and the like are conspiring with Google to make it look as if the drive is easier than it really is to convince people to drive down there, when they would certainly not make that choice had they known the raw truth.

Unfortunately, the journey from a being starry-eyed wannabe voice talent to a full-time voice actor with a sustainable income is similar. The road from here to there is nothing like the easy, short trip it looks like at a glance. It is longer, harder, and much more expensive than you may think. Many people quit only a few hours into the trip, after the good snacks are gone and the cat vomits. The deciding moment comes when they realize skipping and singing don’t really shorten the trip. Not to mention that it is not as easy to skip while riding in a car as one might think and the damage done and injuries experienced tend to put a damper on high spirits.

Others quit when they get to that last hour and a half where all time seems to stop and no amount of driving seems to bring you closer to your destination. Here is my advice: whatever your metaphorical voice-over version of Google Maps tells you, add one and a half hours of actual time plus two weeks, three days, 18 hours and 23 minutes of perceived time to that estimate.

Lesson #2: Florida is hot and humid

I realize this particular item should come as no surprise to anyone. In fact, where I live it is also hot and humid, but Florida somehow takes it to a new level. Florida listens to your insipid whining about the heat and humidity and smirks. You can almost hear Florida leering in the background murmuring with mock sweetness, “So you don’t like 95 and humid? I feel sooooo sorry for you!” Then the sky slowly turns dark. Thunder begins to churn in the background. Then the voice takes on a deeper tone filled with malignant malice. “Well, you little weakling weather baby, you haven’t begun to know what humid is! I’ll show you humid! Here is HUMID!”

Then, in ways that normal, non-Floridian humans cannot comprehend, the entire contents of the Atlantic ocean falls from the sky in a half hour period in an attempt to kill everyone. Following this downpour, provided you live, the humidity afterward climbs to levels only aquatic animals are familiar with, while Florida sits back and grins in smug satisfaction. As an added bonus, this event happens nearly every day.

As influential as Disney is, they can’t do a thing about the weather. Their approach is to take it all in stride as if nothing happened. As soon as the sun comes back, the survivors creep back out, shed their ponchos and umbrellas to resume the eternal pursuit of fun. Disney doesn’t shut down just because of a “little” rain, so I follow suit and choose to walk my squishy wet shoes back into the adventure even if my soggy shorts are chafing the insides of my thighs raw. I paid for these tickets and by God I am going to get my value out of them! Plus, breathing humidity levels so high you can eat it with a spoon is great for hydrating your vocal cords.

The truth is, everyone’s voice-over journey has its rainy days. It may even rain every day and (blub, blug, glug) you may sometimes (gurgle, blurble) feel like you are drowning. Please excuse me while I cough up a gallon of liquid.

*Pause for muffled off-screen sounds of coughing, gagging, and vomited water gushing into a sustained splashing on the floor*

Ahem. Sorry about that. Take it from me, if you try really hard you can expel that metaphorical water from your lungs and you won’t die. Further, the metaphorical sun will come out again and a little curly headed girl may even sing you on your way down the road. Time to wring your clothes out and get back out there to get your money’s worth from the rest of the day!

Lesson #3: When all else fails, abandon the trams

Okay, I will admit I don’t love this particular lesson from Disney. You see, despite their size and financial resources, the theme parks are dealing with the effects of COVID. They aren’t generating the amount of revenue it takes to provide all of their customary services and there are problems with hiring enough employees to do all of the necessary jobs. Disney’s response has been to trim some of their less-than-essential services. Part of this has been to abandon their trams. If you don’t know, the parking lots at a Disney theme park are roughly the size of most European countries. Normally you are treated to a nice covered tram ride to the park entrance so you don’t die from heat or exhaustion before having the opportunity to bankrupt yourself inside the park. This is especially nice since, well… please refer to the previous section concerning Florida weather.

Instead, right now the nice little trams sit unused in remote corners of the parking lots snickering and laughing at us as we trudge toward the park entrance quivering like a mirage far off in the distance with unbearable heat from above and multiplied heat reflecting from the asphalt below that threatens to melt us in our tracks. Here’s a tip. Take extra pairs of shoes to replace the ones that melt during the parking lot march of death. One other thing I learned: human physiology has the unique ability to produce multiple hundreds of pounds of sweat, so much sweat in fact that I swear I was leaving a slug-like slime trail behind me on the way to the entrance, but without losing a single pound of personal weight. How freakishly unfair is that?

The lesson here is to adapt as needed. If an item of idea isn’t working for you, leave it behind. I know that if Disney has to adapt to changing circumstances, so will I. The use of my time and other resources needs to be flexible. Like Disney, I always make the necessary changes without compromising my core values and services.

Lesson #4: Disney never quits

Literally. After the firework displays end and the crowds have gone home, previously unseen workers flood like an army of cockroaches from hidden cracks in the walls to invade the parks where they work all night. Every night. Cleaning, replacing, restocking, inspecting, repairing, painting, updating… you get the picture.

My step-daughter lives near Orlando and is a part of Disney’s decorating team. Many of her shifts start before the parks close and go past opening the next day. All so the public never has to see the transformation. All they experience is the magic. One day it is all pumpkins, Maleficent and Cruella. The next day it is Christmas trees, candy canes and Mickey and Minnie dressed in red and green velvet.

Given, in our day-to-day lives it isn’t a good idea to try to never stop. We need sleep, for instance (unless you are J. Michael Collins). We need to periodically check out of our business pursuits to reset, gain a new perspective and assess whether we still have a family. We need to pause. Not quit. Within reason, work the hours you need to work. Make the necessary sacrifices. When you get knocked down, get back up. Don’t quit.

Lesson #5: Success is in the details

I have always appreciated the way Disney does their theme parks. If you take the time to look at all the details, you know what I am talking about. There are so many little things that aren’t strictly necessary but add immeasurably to the experience. The architectural details. The way they maintain your immersion by making it so you can’t see things outside the land you are in. The costumes. The music. The smiles and courtesy. The fact that you never see trash on the ground, but you also seldom see anyone pick it up. The engagement built into their cueing lines. Even the way they have done everything possible to protect their customers during the current COVID pandemic. There is very little compromise. Without paying attention to all the little things, WDW would be just another collection of theme parks. However, there is a reason Disney World continues to be the largest vacation destination on the planet.

This is probably the most important lesson from Disney. Since I am not satisfied with just being another voice-over amusement park, I never want to lose sight of the little details of my voice-over business. Sure, I can make money that way, but my desire is to always take that little bit of extra care and provide a little bit more. The extra minute for script analysis. The third take when only two would do. An additional email. A quick turnaround. The courtesy and kindness that makes me who I am.

Speaking of details, there is another type to consider that hits very close to home. You see, I need to work more on the details of record keeping, marketing, planning, and other behind the scenes drivel, I mean tasks, which will keep my business moving. I kept thinking this past week about just how astronomically huge an organizational task it must be to keep these theme parks running. I was astounded at the idea of how much work must be involved to keep an enterprise of this sort afloat. None of it would work if it weren’t for the thousands of people, unseen by the public, doing the paperwork, organizing, purchasing, distributing, repairing, cleaning… all the less glamorous jobs.

Here I am again

So, once again, I have to face my own weaknesses and admit there is work to be done. I mean, quite literally, there is work on my desk waiting to be done which I avoid like it will burn me if I touch it. Lord please deliver me from my excuses and give me the strength to quit whining and do the work. Glamorous? No. Necessary? Yes.

You will be relieved to know that we returned home safely and all is well. My business hasn’t collapsed from being ignored for a week. The neglected work is still in my office waiting for me. My job now is to take my lessons from Disney and return to taking my voice-over business to the next level.

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7 Responses

  1. Extra, extra! Read all about it! Cat vomit! Overage of Sweat! Traffic Nightmares! Lies from Google! Atlantic Deluges! Absent Trams! Skipping in Cars! Vacation bankruptcy! Slug Slime! Malevolent Floridian Weather Demons! Extra, extra! Read all about it!

    Oh yeah, and something about voiceovers too.

    • I think next time I write a blog post I will send it to you first so you can write a headline like this for my notification emails. For no pay of course, but it will will look great on your resume!

  2. Hahaha, fabulous! The whole time I was reading it, it reminded me of my last trip to Gold Reef City (a speck compared to WDW). I think you’ll love Swoozie’s videos on having been a Disney employee. He worked at the Indiana Jones experience and it was so good! I’m actually surprised that he didn’t get fired, LOL!
    Also big Disney fan! 😀
    Glad you got to go, and managed to survive!

  3. “Whatever your metaphorical voice-over version of Google Maps tells you, add one and a half hours of actual time plus two weeks, three days, 18 hours and 23 minutes of perceived time to that estimate.”

    I love this wisdom.

    I recently discovered Google Maps to be hit and miss in certain parts of Mexico. At one point, it attempted to coax us to ford across a small sandy river, not unlike one would in the Oregon Trail. For shame, Google maps. For shame.

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