AI

Why Did I Want to Present

Last fall, which seems like a lifetime ago given how much the world has changed during the current pandemic, I began researching upcoming eLearning conferences. I was actually hoping to find more conferences in my region. As a working mom with high school aged twins, flying across the country can sometimes be a challenge. I was overjoyed when I discovered the  ICELW conference was to be held at Columbia University in the city of New York, my beloved alma mater. I submitted a proposal to speak about “Best Practices to Bring Your eLearning Module To Life” from the perspective that academics and HR people who never thought they would have to work with professional voice actors like me suddenly find themselves in the position to cast and work with voice talents as professional narrators for their eLearning modules and projects. I addressed questions that they should ask every time they have a project, VO tech and why it matters, and pricing for voiceover, including where it should be and what the price indicates. My presentation went nicely and it meant a lot to be a part of the dialogue. I am very excited, however, to share some of the larger takeaways from the more scholarly presentations during the conference as I reflect on how they will shape both my work, my voice over bookings, and client interactions as the eLearning industry continues to progress.

Reimagining Learning

With an international audience and an enthusiastic crowd, there was a lot of discussion at the conference about how the advancing technology would enable content creators to re-imagine learning. David Guralnick from Kaleidoscope Learning and Columbia University talked about opportunities to use “technology to humanize learning” and went on to present a thrilling example combining AI and interactive technology. In this example, the student asked questions about Ancient Greece and the Acropolis and was able to create a scene where he was present in Ancient Greece having his questions answered. Particularly at a moment when students around the world are relying so heavily on on-line learning, this was thrilling and wonderful to see. The advantages of this were how realistic the scenario is and how clear the examples are. Clearly the new technology enables better communication of content. As a narrator, I have been working with more companies that create K-12 content in the last year, and I am sure such technology would be a huge asset to them.

Critical Thinking

As the technology available continues to improve and emerge, teaching and discussing critical thinking becomes more and more essential.  Antonella Poce from Rome Tre University presented about critical thinking and digital learning. This is an issue I discuss with my own children often. Dr. Poce spoke of the importance of discerning true from false. She talked about knowing what questions to ask. My ears lit up when she said this, as a major section of my presentation was dedicated to this as well. My experience in hearing clients’ pain points is that they often did not ask the right questions at the beginning of work and consequently hired the wrong voice over actor. In her session, Dr. Poce spoke of how many tweets during the recent pandemic have been propaganda from bots. She spoke of the importance of being “correctly informed” so that we have time to do deep readings and reflect on what we learn. In that sense, we should use technology, according to Dr. Poce, towards critical and deep thinking. She also spoke of cooperation, collaboration, and creativity. When I think about my role in this creative process, as both an academic who is now a narrator of this content, I think truly understanding the character we are voicing, and the roles we are playing, opens up the opportunity to really help the end user to engage with critical content.

Interactive and New Technologies

There were multiple sessions during the ICELW conference that addressed new technologies like AI, VR, and enhanced/mixed reality. I was riveted by these sessions as well. Someone brought up that when Steve Jobs designed the first iPod, he did not do a focus group, he just knew it would be a better device and he was creating the technology to drive a potential future experience. That is what a lot of the new experiential learning technology does. There is vast potential, the sky is the limit so to speak. Michelle Cortese, a VR Product Designer at Facebook and Professor at NYU gave a thrilling demonstration of work her students are doing. I was fascinated as a former educator, as a parent, and as a working creative. I could not help but see the intersection between technology and improv, something that so many of us in voice over spend so much of our time training in. The social behaviors that occur were fascinating, and unpredictable, and again as a working creative this made me think of improv which is not something that I typically connect to my eLearning work. Although, under further analysis, the point of studying improv, is that we are supposed to bring it with us into the booth so that our reads and takes on characters are fresh and exciting. What I found so fascinating about the sample that Michelle shared is that all of the content in the VR chat was user generated and is in the moment art. It is a vision and content that comes from the user. When so much of the learning content that we work with is contrived, this opens up a world of creative possibilities for end users. Fernando Salvetti also demonstrated work with enhanced/mixed reality and I was riveted. The possibilities that are simple and user friendly are true game changers. Having worked in eLearning for years, being exposed to such projects is eye opening.

The Bottom Line

As in so many projects I am a part of, the bottom line matters. Dr. Tim Brock of the ROI Institute talked about creating  a framework that balances needs and feasibility. The needs need to be defined at the beginning. This resonated with me a lot. Often voiceover is left off of the budget entirely, it’s an after thought. This was another area that I was addressing in my talk, the price of the voice over. When a company is looking at the ROI, the return on investment in the overall project, the voice over, and typically in eLearning we are talking about a narrator, needs to be a part of that calculation, from the start. As the technology continues to progress and is better and better, the voice over needs to be a part of the initial plan, not a lost minute add on. In Dr. Brock’s talk, he spoke of feasibility, and as the technology becomes more and more advanced, having an overall understanding for the get go of the feasibility certainly makes sense!

What Did I Love Most?

The ICELW conference was fantastic. This blog could have been much, much longer and I could have written about each session! I loved the sharing, enthusiastic vibe! I most loved that it was such a scholarly, international crowd. I have attended numerous eLearning conferences around the country and the talks at this conference really resonated with me. I very much look forward to keeping in touch with the others that I “met” and I hope to attend in person next year! Fingers crossed!

Why Leaving the Foam Booth is Worthwhile

As a full-time, working mom, working from home is a major perk. I realize often how lucky I am to have my home studio. Whether it’s a day where I can accommodate multiple client sessions and run to m kids’ school to watch a special presentation, or a day when I am feeling exhausted and want to stay in yoga pants and no one knows the difference, working from home is a pretty sweet gig. But I will also be the first to say that in order to be a successful solopreneur, I need to leave to comforts of the home office that I have worked so hard to build in order to broaden my professional network.  I have made amazing connections in both expected and unexpected places because I made the effort to leave the booth!

Connections in expected places

I have blogged in the past about my conference adventures. From voice conferences like WoVo Con and VO Atlanta, to eLearning conferences like DevLearn, I have made very important connections at these conferences. At voice over conferences, I have met

Wonderful industry friends at WoVo Con, a night out with Uncle Roy in China Town the weekend of Sovas, an eLearning Guild conference in Orlando, and the WWRS in Burbank!

industry friends in person that I otherwise only know online from facebook or instagram. The bonds that form are amazing and so meaningful. These folks have become my daily support, my confidants, and my work family. These are the people I trust and confide in. The relationships would never be the same if we were not together in person. We also often refer business to each other, and again, we would not trust each other to share clients if we did not know each other so well, the way you do when you actually spend time together.

I have traveled pretty far for eLearning conferences like DevLearn and other eLearning guild conferences too. These conferences are different because you are putting yourself face to face with the companies who might need your services. Some of my most regular clients are from the smallest conferences I have gone to! The tricky thing about these conferences is that companies often send their sales team, and these are not people who cast voice talent, so as a voice over actor, you have to learn how to access the people that you can work with. You also have to learn the difference between the people who create content and the LMS providers, as they never need our services. It is also important to note that simply meeting these people at a conference and exchanging pleasantries in know way guarantees the connection. Instead, it takes months if not years of consistent follow up to build a rapport and maintain the connection that began at the conference.

Connections in Unexpected Places

I have also made wonderful connections for my business when I was not “on” or in “networking mode.” Once, at an ATD conference in Atlanta, I was totally exhausted. I did not know how I would get through the day in the massive venue with so many booths left to walk through in the expo center. I decided I needed a snack break. I had to take the escalator up four flights, which

This is what the first glimpse looked like. It was an enormous expo and several days there was both a great opportunity and exhausting all at once!

felt like an eternity, and I began chatting with a really nice lady from Boston who is now a client. She also needed a break and like me was desperate for a bottle of water, and being in that snack stand at that moment, seemed meant to be. We chatted and chatted and this instructional designer started venting about talents she had used in the past that had not worked out. The conversation flowed, and the opportunity was natural.  Sometimes it is these genuine, real chats that make the most impact and help people get to know you and then if there is a professional synergy it is that much better!

Recently, I was at the AI conference at NJIT in Newark. To be honest, even though I was only about four miles from my house, I was petrified to be in such a tough part of town and I was seriously questioning the logic in having a potentially great conference at such a venue. Well, there was another young man and woman who also had to walk from the parking garage to the main building around the same time. We just started walking together. I was relieved and started venting immediately. It turns out this woman was a talent agent from Denver and we had so much in common! That first chat has led to multiple phone calls. I am now on their talent roster for voiceover, promotional modeling, and on-camera work:

Laura

So, like my experience at ATD years ago, this wonderful connection came from a genuine, heart-felt conversation and there also happened to be true professional synergy. I did not start out trying to market myself, I just sought out human connection. This is why leaving the booth is so essential!