I just flew home from the One Voice USA Conference 2021 in Dallas and boy are my arms tired! Oh my heavenly Lord, did I just write that stupid joke? My sense of humor can be lame but… *ahem* let’s just write it off to mental exhaustion and pretend it never happened, okay?
In truth, I am truly exhausted. There has been a continual flow of people and experiences this past weekend, not to mention early mornings and late nights. I’m afraid I am getting too old to suck on that kind of metaphorical firehose without it blowing out the back of my head.
I attended One Voice virtually last year and got a lot out of it, but for some things, you just had to be there.
A first time for everything
This was my first voice-over conference to attend in person. There are so many fond memories. So many gems that a person can only experience when you are physically on-site, like the endearing way the soap dispenser in the men’s bathroom insisted on spraying soap on the back of your hands as you were rinsing so as to entangle you in a continual cycle of rinse, soap, rinse, soap, rinse, soap until going mad. I think there may still be a tortured psychic resonance of myself in that bathroom wailing one long continuous scream of frustration as I frantically rinse my hands forever. Reading that back, I, uh, well… maybe you had to be there.
Ten thousand steps and counting
When you go to any conference, it is wise to prepare for a lot of walking. At the airport, from your hotel room, to and from sessions, etc. When I went to One Voice this year, I volunteered to help out behind the scenes. Alongside all the many benefits that I knew I would reap from this arrangement was the unexpected joy of training for a marathon. Most days at home, I wear a fitness tracker as a way of reminding myself to move more, to provide me with a goal for physical exercise, and because my self image isn’t bad enough, to electronically ridicule me when I fail to reach those goals. No, that’s not right. It isn’t really so much about failing to reach the goal as it is about how large the margin will be that day.
Surprisingly, I have actually reached my 10K step goal a few times, like when being pulled around Disney World by my grandkids on tired, wobbly legs that feel as if they were borrowed from an old “rubber hose” style cartoon. Right now there may be a Steamboat Willie out there, playfully whistling as his boat crashes into a rock because he can no longer see over the wheel due to the fact that I have stolen his legs. I hope not. I have enough things in my life to feel guilty about.
My point is, I know what 10 freaking thousand freaking steps freaking feels like. And now I know what MORE feels like. If I had worn my tracker this past weekend, it would not only have electronically exclaimed in stunned disbelief at my surpassing that goal, it probably would have gone into digital shock and eventually died in a smoking slag of molten carbon and plastic on my arm when it realized the steps kept going, and going, and… you get the picture. And so, I am glad I did not bring my fitness tracker because I would have had to leave the conference to get the burn on my arm treated at a nearby hospital, and I did not have time for that. Oddly, my feet still feel like they are walking, even though they are now enshrouded in the blissful comfort of lovingly applied medical bandages as they float aloft in traction for the next few days. Sound awesome? It really was. You had to be there.
Shock and awe
You can get a lot of value attending a conference virtually, but as you can see, there are so many things you miss out on when not there in person. For instance, during the randomized social breakouts at a previous virtual conference, I was briefly put in a group with John Malone among others. We talked for a few minutes and then it was on to the next group This is a great way to virtually meet people you might otherwise not get to. At the conference this past weekend, as I was threading my way through people in the main hall, I was shocked to hear a voice calling “Hey Jon!”. It was John Malone. You know, the “Malone Zone” guy? He remembered who I was, or recognized my face or something, poor guy… but he stopped me to introduce himself, and share a fist bump. How awesome is that?
I had previously worked one-on-one with J. Michael Collins via Zoom and in various webinars. We have had a good relationship prior to this and our coaching sessions are often a lot of fun. I was very pleased to be able to meet him in person. It may seem a little thing, but you get a better feel for someone when you shake their hand and look them in the eye. He is very likeable and generous to a fault. I only wish I had more time to visit with him.
At dinner one night, I had the pleasure of sitting across from J. Michael’s wife, Anna Alcasas-Collins. What a charming, intelligent lady! We talked about family, kids, travel, art, all kinds of things. She was delightful and I treasure that opportunity.
So many connections
I spoke to AJ McKay for a bit and we probably would have spoken longer if he hadn’t been called away on pressing business. I found him to be a very personable guy who comes across as having no pretense. In a world where everyone is constantly worried about their public image, I find that very refreshing.
I met a lot of people that I had only known online or through social media. There were many more that I had known of, but never had the fortune of our paths crossing. For instance, I introduced myself to Diana Birdsall, who had probably never even heard my name before. She chatted pleasantly for a few minutes and showed genuine interest in me. The next day she caught my eye as she was on her way to somewhere else and flashed me a smile. Not an awkward, I accidentally caught your eye because I thought you were someone else but now I am committed so I have to give you an obligatory social smile kind of smile, but the real thing. How nice! A smile can be a precious thing and I will take one from Diana any day.
Brad Hyland and Patrick Kirchner are generous people who have been a help to me many times in the past. I had met Brad once previously, but although Pat and I had talked, we hadn’t met in person. It was so nice to spend some time with these guys. I felt an instant comfort level with both of these men that I really value.
Mistakes were made
Having seen Kay Bess on replay as the keynote Speaker at VO Atlanta in 2019 and also on social media, she has impressed me as a genuinely kind person who is honest, willing to be vulnerable, is incredibly centered, and more than a bit wise. She was sitting alone when I introduced myself to her and she immediately proved how good an actor she is by making me believe she actually recognized my name. My response was to shake her hand, realizing too late she was wearing a red wristband, which meant she would prefer not to touch.
I feel I must interject here that the wristbands were provided as a way for everyone to control their own comfort level in the context of the current COVID situation, not something Kay was using to specifically keep me away. I think. Anyway, she showed her class by not screaming and calling for security when confronted with this unsolicited contact from a random strange man (Sorry Kay!). She was so gracious she even allowed me to participate in a session she was teaching later that day. Hopefully someday she will forgive me and rescind my expulsion from her Facebook group. For future reference, if you see Kay at a conference and she has a bodyguard with her, you’ll know why.
You had to be there
I met Melissa Disney, who has a delightful personality and is funny as hell. Not literally, because hell isn’t funny, but you know what I mean. I had dinner across the table from Michelle Sundholm and her family. At the same table I met Darrell Brown and his wife.
Uncle Roy Yokelson had helped me with Adobe Audition before (worth the cost – just sayin’!), but meeting him in person was a treat. Then there was Joe Davis and Karin Barth from voiceactorwebsites.com, Cliff Zellman from ACM Talent, Andy Field, Laura Schreiber, Shelley Avellino (thanks for the drinks!), Ian Russell, Carrie Olsen and Torian Brackett with his “Scott Chambers on a Stick”. You definitely had to be there for that one.
There are so many more. If I listed them all I would bore you to tears, which is a common response to reading my blog, but is in fact never my intention.
Working behind the scenes at the conference was a blessing. Of course, it meant I couldn’t always attend sessions I would have liked to have been at, but it had it’s compensations. When you work with people you have an opportunity to know them a little better and appreciate them more.
I’ve already mentioned Anna Alcasas-Collins, but as the leader of all of us ambassadors/bouncers, she is on this list. Kayla Renee Jackson led us bouncers and other volunteers with efficiency and grace as evidenced by the fact that she never yelled or threw things at us even when under great stress. Seriously, she is true class. Then there is Gina Thompson. I was so impressed by her. Her skill, her energy, and her willingness to continue to give far above and beyond the call, and do it all with enthusiasm and a smile. Gina, I will work alongside you any day.
Harry Davies. I have seldom seen anyone with the energy this man has. Constantly moving, constantly working, and maintaining an unrelenting sharp wit. Jenn Henry. Have you ever been introduced to someone and you just adore them immediately even though you don’t know them at all? I think Jenn is a vibrant, concentrated bundle of delightful. Jessica Mathison could shame a beaver with her work ethic. She is a tireless, sacrificial worker. Well, I will submit that she did get tired, plenty tired, but the point is she didn’t quit. Ever. In fact, she is probably still there working on the conference for next year.
Carman Wilson and I ended up working the reception table together quite a bit. We had spoken briefly online before, but this opportunity to learn more about her and see her light shine was a gift. Carman is really someone special (and now an award winner!). There was also Galena White, Jessica Fife, Cat Lookabaugh, Paul Stefano, Eileen Descallar, Andrew Morrison, Doranne Keating-Simoens, Jeaneen Finch, and Justin Price, my forever brother in the Fraternal Order of Conference Name Badge Makers. You guessed it, you had to be there.
I know I am missing names, but if so, it is unintentional and I trust myself to your forgiveness. Likewise a link to your website if I couldn’t find it.
When I stood with my luggage waiting for the hotel shuttle to take me back to the airport, I was thinking back on these past few days. Mostly I thought of the people I had met and the bonds that had been created. I felt blessed in more ways than I ever anticipated when I made the trip. I genuinely care for and feel connected to many of these people. Even better and more of a surprise, I felt cared for. How that can happen in four days, I don’t know, but there it is.
Thinking of this and feeling incredibly blessed as I stood there preparing to leave it all behind, I was hit with another of those eye allergy attacks I sometimes get. My regular readers will know this is a malady I suffer from which spontaneously makes my eyes water excessively. Damn allergies! It was probably a good thing to leave Dallas before it got too bad. Or somebody saw me.
You may have noticed I haven’t said anything about the training sessions, the workouts or the keynote addresses. These are valuable; worth the price of admission and more. For me though, there was an infinitely greater value in the relationships that began here and the realization that I am becoming a more integrated part of the truly incredible voice-over community.
Due to circumstances, there are others who I was disappointed to not be able to meet, including Hugh Edwards, Peter Dickson, Trish Sarson, Josh Alexander, Craig Williams, Mike Cooper, Scott Chambers, Bev Standing and others. This adds fuel to my desire to be there in the future.
When I am unable to physically attend a future voiceover conference, I will not hesitate to pay for the ability to participate virtually. In every such case I also know I will have some sadness at the missed opportunity to be together with my friends and colleagues in person. Until someone can find a way to send a handshake or a hug over the internet, if you want the full voice-over conference experience, you have to be there. I will be, whenever I can.