Phew. Well, my very first VO Atlanta has come and gone. Now that a few weeks have passed, I’ve finally caught up on sleep enough to reflect on it all and write down my thoughts about my experience as a first timer. Hopefully it will help other voice actors who may be considering attending it for the first time!
I had always heard how great VOA was, and got to see the fun pictures and glowing posts from my colleagues who went every year. But living in California and being a mom to two little boys under 5 makes it hard to travel, so I decided to wait until my youngest wasn’t so dependent on me. Add to that the fact that I am a really nervous flyer (I have WAY too vivid of an imagination), so I was a bit unsure about flying across the country alone.
But when I saw the opportunity come up to be an Ambassador (volunteering to work at the conference in exchange for a discount), I decided that I should take the chance and go. It was definitely quite an experience, and I learned a lot that I’d love to share with others considering attending in the future!
Here are some of my best tips for attending VO Atlanta:
- Create a quiet space to retreat to.
I arrived a day early, and left a day after the conference ended, which I highly recommend if you can afford it (book those rooms early!).By giving myself wiggle room, I had some time to unpack and relax in the hotel room, and even wander around the hotel testing out my camera settings (part of my assignment as an ambassador was to take photos).I had considered finding a roommate to help split the cost of the hotel, but was later glad that I hadn’t, when some last-minute work came in and I had to record in the room’s pillow fort. It also came in handy having a private, big room when my entire team needed to record our submission for the Team Challenge at 2am.
- Network! But it’s OK if you’re an introvert, too.
The best part of VO Atlanta is making new friends who all love to geek out about voice acting as much as you do. It’s easy to feel alone when you record by yourself in a padded room all the time! I loved getting to say hello to people who I’d only met online until then, and making connections with casting people and agents in person. That being said, many people who have met me in person might be surprised to hear my secret: I’m actually an introvert who finds it really terrifying to begin conversations. I’m an actor; I can usually stuff down my fear and gab on once given an opening or a reason to converse (and when I’m comfortable, I am quite a talker), but man, walking into a room full of groups of people all chatting away and trying to convince myself to jump in somewhere is REALLY hard for me.
I usually end up in a corner, playing with my phone and pretending I’m busy, to mask my anxiety about small talk. (So THANK YOU to those of you who took the initiative to strike up a chat with me first, or invited me to your table! Greatly appreciated.)Since I was taking photos, it gave me an excuse to walk around and not stand frozen, but sometimes I had to really force myself to make that initial contact with someone, and other times I got exhausted by the noise and crowds. What’s amazing is that the more I talked to people one on one, I discovered that I wasn’t alone! (Even our keynote speaker, Townsend Coleman, confessed his immense fear of public speaking…who would have guessed?)
Not everyone loves being a social butterfly…some do much better in small groups, like me. And us introverts need to take the time to recharge by allowing ourselves to take a break or escape to quieter spots after a while (see point #1 above!). Know that it’s ok to bow out early and get some rest, if you need to. Just don’t miss out on meeting other like-minded people because of fear. It’s something I’ll continue to #leanforward and push myself on.
There were a lot of people I recognized from online who I didn’t get to talk with as much as I would have liked, so I hope that I’ll get the chance in the future. Just be patient with me if I awkwardly babble on at first and don’t know what to say, haha.
- (Team) Challenge Yourself! But also pace yourself.
I was a bit concerned that maybe I took on too much, being an ambassador as well as signing up for the Team Challenge my first year, but ended up being really glad that I did. Though we didn’t win (top three though! Woo hoo!), the Team Challenge allowed me to meet a group of people who I may never have talked to otherwise, from all genres of VO. We had to learn to work together and solve a creative task, late into the night. If that sounds like fun to you, do it! Of course we were all exhausted, but I feel like I made some great new friends who I plan to keep in touch with, and I’m so proud of the commercial that we created under pressure. I do love a good competition! Not every team experienced rainbows and unicorns like we did, however (I heard rumors of not agreeing on tasks that resulted in arguments, or people not pulling their weight and stressing out their team leaders), so don’t sign up for the Challenge if you’re not up for long hours and a lot of hard work, and are ok with potentially missing some fun things. I had been looking forward to karaoke (yes, I’m an introvert, but I love to sing! Performing is a whole different thing than being social, haha), but had to miss it for recording our commercial, then I was too tired to get to a morning session I had wanted to do the next day and chose to sleep in instead. Still, I wouldn’t have changed a thing! Except maybe found Hermione’s Time Turner or cloned myself so I could be in multiple places at once.
- Plan Ahead.
There is SO much to do at VO Atlanta, that you WILL miss some things. It’s just impossible to see and do it all. (I never made it into the Exhibit Hall, for example, until the 5 minutes before they all broke the booths down!)
So take some time beforehand to map out your schedule and mark the things that you really want to see or do. Pick a focus or particular topic that you want to learn about, and try to select sessions or panels that fit into that goal.
- Have a Food Budget.
The biggest challenge I ran into is figuring out meals. A few lunches were covered, as they were part of the event, but breakfast, dinner, and snacks were up to me. What I didn’t know ahead of time is that there weren’t food options within walking distance, so the only place to eat was the super expensive hotel restaurant that was often understaffed and took forever (sometimes you just want a fast and cheap meal, ya know?) Keep this in mind, as you may need to spend extra on a cab to go find food (partner with fellow attendees to split an Uber?), or on ordering room service or delivery tips. One night I just ordered a big pizza and tried to spread it out over multiple meals in my room, which worked, but wasn’t super pleasant, eating it cold. Next time I’ll pack some extra protein bars or cereal for snacks!
- Go For It!
If you’re on the fence, just do it. Yes, it can be expensive, but consider it an investment. Do whatever you can to save up and GO, at least once. I hope to go at least every few years, if not every year. I guarantee you’ll take away something valuable for your career at this event, whether it’s a new contact, a tip you can apply to your acting, or even new recording gear that you won in the raffle. But most of all, come to VO Atlanta so that you can be reminded about how AWESOME our industry truly is. Seriously guys, voice talents are an amazing bunch…they are the kookiest, craziest, yet kindest and most giving folks you can find in the entertainment industry. Seeing the way that we all came together to learn and grow and support one another was so heartwarming, and just confirmed my belief that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
It’s easy to listen to the ones in our life that may tell us we’ll never succeed, or that little voice inside that says we’re not good enough or that voiceover is not a “real” career… silence those voices by coming and feeling welcomed by your tribe. Where it’s ok (heck, even EXPECTED) to see a T-rex dancing down the hall to a session, where you can gush over your shared love of princess movies or obscure anime over lunch, learn a trick from a coach that instantly makes your script reading 50 times better, giggle about the crazy animal sounds your poor hotel neighbors are hearing coming from your team’s commercial recording in your room, or naturally chat about juggling the supermom work-life balance of having kids and a career with a top casting director. Yep, it’s so packed full of goodness that you might not have a moment to breathe, but when you do, it’s certainly a breath of fresh air. Sometimes we need to leave our padded rooms and go on an adventure to find that.
Anyway, I hope to see you there in the future! Especially if you know any good Disney or Broadway duets. I need a karaoke partner for next time…