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In Praise of “No, But”

“No, But” has gotten a bad rap lately.

We’ve heard a lot about the magic of Yes.  The phenomenal power of Yes, AndTina Fey and Amy Poehler both discussed these principles of improv theatre in their recent memoirs, principles which can indeed be revolutionary in work, in parenting, in life.

Today, though, I’d like to give some respect to “No, But.”  It can be just as transformative in your life and work.  All it requires is a slight shift in your thinking about your professional and personal networks.

Let’s say someone contacts me about an opportunity.  In my case, let’s say a producer I love to work for sends me a book assignment.  Great, right?  Well, hang on a second.  What if the role requires an accent that I don’t think I could sustain for a full-length audiobook?  What should I do?

You might say well, just say yes, and then figure it out.  And of course I could do that, but is that really what is best for the author and her book?  And am I going to do work that I can point to with pride, with only a week to acquire a totally new skill set?  When I start feeling like the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, it’s never a good sign.

I could’ve just said no, sorry, I can’t take on this assignment.  The producer would go back to the pool of actors he usually works with and I’d go on prepping my next book.  The interaction would be over, sad trombone playing in the distance, wah wah.  Happens all the time, I suppose, but this day was different.

I didn’t say no.  I said No, But I think I know someone who would be great.  Through online and in-person professional networks, I’ve gotten to be friends with another narrator who is brilliant at the very accent the book called for.  I got the producer in touch with her, and not only did she get the job, she knocked it out of the park and has earned well-deserved critical acclaim for her work.  How cool is that?

So here’s the thing.

Too often we think of networks only in terms of what they might do for us.  Consider, though, what happens when we pay attention to the individuals in our networks, what they do, what they know, what they need, where they’ve been.  When we let those networks grow organically over time and get to know people beyond business cards and elevator pitches.

If we look at our networks as giant pools of shared talent, we never really have to say No again.

We have the privilege and joy of helping people find their way to the right Yes.

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Celebrating 100 Audiobooks

Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time to reflect on the privilege of narrating one hundred audiobooks over the past several years. From Frozen to Notorious RBG, from Invisible City to City Love, here are the stats:

Romance continues to be a very popular genre with audiobook listeners, and I’ve narrated more titles in this category than any other. I’m especially proud of Kylie Scott’s wildly popular Stage Dive series, which earned inclusion in Audible’s recent list of “practically perfect performances” based on listener reviews. In the second half of this year, I’ve been the producer as well as the narrator for contemporary romance series by bestselling authors Meghan March, A.L. Jackson, Corinne Michaels and Jessica Hawkins.

Audiobook listeners also love mysteries and thrillers, and I’ve been fortunate to work on Mary Kubica’s THE GOOD GIRL (nominated for a Voice Arts Award), Julia Dahl’s Edgar Award-nominated Rebekah Roberts novels Invisible City and Run You Down, Lori Roy’s Southern Gothic Let Me Die In His Footsteps, and the one that really got under my skin, Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s The Devil You Know.

Nonfiction assignments carry a special responsibility, but I never mind doing the extra research needed to ensure that every name, place name, or industry-specific terminology is accurately delivered. For me, it’s continuing education, a chance to learn about a whole new topic or discipline. I’ve been inspired by the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik). I’ve considered the emotional toll of practicing medicine (What Doctors Feel by Dr. Danielle Ofri). And perhaps most challenging, I’ve discussed the role of Chinese corporations in African agribusiness ventures (Will China Feed Africa? by Deborah Brautigam).

As a mom of two daughters who love to read, it’s especially rewarding to narrate audiobooks for younger listeners. Frozen will always be a favorite on that list of course, and getting to play Dorothy Gale in Danielle Paige’s No Place Like Oz was a dream come true as well. As much as I enjoy fantasy stories and fractured fairy tales, I enjoy just as much the opportunity to tackle some of the more serious themes in literature for young readers. Political intrigue is woven through titles like Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper by Elizabeth Kiem and Save The Enemy by Arin Greenwood, and I just wrapped recording on a political thriller from Disney Press, Zero Day by Jan Gangsei, due out in early 2016.

So many stories, characters, voices, times and places, thoughts and emotions, it’s overwhelming. I’m grateful to the authors, producers and publishers who’ve entrusted their stories to me. Here’s to the next hundred. I love my job!

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So you’re all done designing your E-Learning course, and it looks great. You’ve put hours and hours into the design, the content, the flow–only to get the distinct impression from the powers that be that there might not be a budget for professional narration. Management says the budget is tight, and anyway wouldn’t it be just as good–perhaps even more “authentic”–to use current employees for the VO and just get this employee training program rolling?

I get it. I’ve worked in large organizations (health insurance, higher education) where every expense has to be justified and categorized, and where overruns in one area mean cuts in another.

But you know, and I know, that if the finishing touch strikes a sour note, the learners won’t lean in, they’ll zone out. So…

How can you assert the value of a professional narrator for your E-Learning course?

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying: Cheap, Fast, Good: Pick Two.

If management is insisting on Cheap as a must, then which of the other two are they willing to sacrifice? Time is of the essence. Your organization decided to create this course because it meets a current need, perhaps an urgent one. How long will it take to produce the audio in-house? If your script is ready right now, there’s a good chance I can have finished files to you by this time tomorrow, all set to go, and edited to your specifications so all you have to do is plug them into your course and boom–done.

But let’s say time isn’t an issue. What about the quality of the user experience? Before I became an E-Learning narrator, I was an educator. I’ve worked with students from age 5 to 85, and spent years developing the kind of presence that keeps learners engaged with the material and wanting to hear and learn more. I’m there to help them master this new information–and enjoy the process.

There’s another saying: If you don’t take the time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? Let me help you get it right the first time. Your colleagues will hear the difference!

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So back in grad school, I had several classes in The George Washington University’s excellent Museum Education Program.  What an amazing opportunity that was, studying with some of the leading thinkers in the field of informal learning, in a laboratory that encompassed a whole city and included some of the best museums in the world.

One semester I enrolled in Museum Evaluation.  Program evaluation is important in many fields in order to make the case for continued funding of whatever project you might be working on, and the same is true in museums.  Are people learning what the exhibit is trying to teach?  What data could we gather to improve the visitor experience?

After the semester was over, my professor asked me to work for her museum evaluation consulting firm, doing data collection in museums.  I jumped at the chance, and over the next few years she and her clients sent me all over the country, to Miami, St. Louis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York, to natural history museums, science centers and zoos.  I talked with visitors about severe weather, about Native American artifacts, about dinosaurs.  Sometimes I taped brief interviews, other times observed people interacting with exhibit components.

But my favorite data collection technique by far was what is known as tracking.  Tracking is when you choose a museum visitor at random and follow that person around an exhibit, noting everything about that person’s experience.  Trackers note the length of time visitors spend in the exhibit as a whole, whether or not they take the time to read labels, whether they’re alone or with family, and any comments the visitors make about the exhibit, but we are only observing, not interacting at all.  It’s kind of like stalking, just not creepy.  We trace their path through the exhibit to see whether the typical traffic pattern is leading visitors to the most important information.

Years ago, The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History had an exhibit entitled, simply, SPIDERS.  The overarching message of the entire exhibit was simple and powerful:  visitors would learn about the spider’s crucial role in the ecosystem.  Put more informally, the exhibit developers hoped that visitors would go from “eek” to awe.

I tracked visitors at the SPIDERS exhibit over several days, and I’ll never forget one interaction in particular.  I was watching my imaginary line on the floor, waiting for the fifth person across the line, which is how we randomly selected our subjects.  In this case it was a father and daughter who stepped over the line, and I began to follow them, noting how much care they took to absorb all of the images and information.  Wow, I thought, this is exactly what the exhibit developers were hoping for!  And then the father and daughter came upon the preserved body of a specimen of a Goliath Bird-Eating Spider, one of the world’s largest spider species.  The daughter said “Whoa, that’s big!”

And her father said, “Don’t worry honey, if I see a spider at home, I’ll kill it for you!”

~~~

Grad school was a long time ago, but I still love to be a part of the behind-the-scenes aspect of museum exhibit development through audio tour and orientation film narrations, to give museum visitors an unforgettable experience and a chance to learn something along the way.  As we’ve seen, what they do with that information is up to them!

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Contact Andi

540 908 9053
andi@andiarndt.com
andi.arndt

voandi

ISDN available upon request.
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