This week Anne talks to the founder and executive producer of VOAtlanta – Gerald Griffith. The 2018 conference had just under 700 attendees and he’s expecting 2019 to completely sell-out! We talk about his strategy for success, his business philosophies, and his experiences organizing the biggest voiceover ‘party’ in our industry.
Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:
VO Atlanta started in 2013 and has grown to become the largest voiceover conference in the country.
Gerald’s original vision was to be a drivable resource for people in the southeast.
VO Atlanta has a central theme each year so there’s always a key point that every presenter can come back to as a start and end point. 2019’s theme will be ‘Refresh’.
The conference will be the last weekend in March 2019.
Time is crucial when planning a gathering as large as VO Atlanta. You have to know when you’ll have your audience’s attention and when they are able to invest in the event.
Presenters at VO Atlanta are very accessible during the conference so that attendees can interact with them all weekend.
Ultimately it’s up to an attendee to create their conference experience and decide what is right for them.
In-person learning is different and more robust. Conferences are a great way to build your network.
Some people come to voiceover events just to meet and mingle with colleagues they have never met face to face.
VO Atlanta participates in many charitable efforts including an annual scholarship.
VO Atlanta is a family run event with over 200 hours of learning.
Referenced in this Episode
Direct links to things we brought up ++
Check out VO Atlanta’s Website
Recorded on ipDTL
Today’s voiceover talent is more than just a pretty voice.
>> Pretty voice.
>> Pretty voice.
>> Pretty voice.
>> Today’s voiceover talent has to be a boss.
>> A boss.
>> A boss.
>> Join us each week for business owner strategies and success with your hosts Anne Ganguzza and Gabrielle Nistico, along with some of the strongest voices in our industry.
>> Rock your business.
>> Rock your business.
>> Rock your business.
>> Like a boss.
>> Like a boss.
>> Rock your business like a boss.
>> Rock your business like a boss.
>> A VO BOSS.
>> A VO BOSS.
>> A VO BOSS.
Anne: Welcome to the VO BOSS podcast. I’m you host, Anne Ganguzza, along with my VO BOSS bestie, Gabby Nistico. Hey Gabby, how are you?
Gabby: Hello, hello!
Anne: We have a special guest today.
Gabby: [in goofy fan voice] I know!
Anne: Very well known to many, many people, founder and executive producer of the huge conference that is VO Atlanta, welcome to the show Gerald Griffith. Thanks so much for joining us!
Gerald: Thanks for having me.
[Anne and Gerald laugh]
Gerald: That was so formal. It was like we’re opening a city hall, city council meeting, or something.
Gabby: You’ll see that as the show progresses, we become less and less formal. So it’s ok.
Gerald: It’s ok. It’ll speed up at some point once your espresso kicks in.
Anne: Exactly. So Gerald, I have to say, Gabby and I go way back with you from, Gabby even further than me because Gabby, you were at the very first VO Atlanta in 2013, correct?
Anne: And I met Gerald in 2014.
Gerald: Gabby, Gabby was actually my first outside of the Atlanta area presenter in July of 2012 at the Hampton Inn here in downtown Atlanta.
Gabby: We could have never in a million years –
Gabby: I think projected this success and how much it’s grown, and what it’s become.
Anne: Oh my gosh.
Gabby: I mean, ok, last year’s conference, or this year’s conference, I should say, 2018, how many attendees?
Gerald: Just under 700.
Gabby: Holy cow.
Anne: That’s a big party, Gerald. Wow. That is big.
Gerald: Just a few friends, you know? Just a few friends.
Anne: Well, listen, I’m just gonna say that those [laughs] – anybody that knows me out there knows my little group, my little VO Peeps group. And I’ve hosted events at my house. Ok? And nothing compared to close to 700 people. So I know, Gerald, how much work it takes to put on an event, at least in the scope that I did. But I cannot imagine what it takes to put on the VO Atlanta conference. Tell us a little about how that all got started, and you know, what was your mission in the beginning — and wow, it’s just grown so much – and what your plans are for growing it into the future?
Gerald: [laughs] Getting started, the idea was pretty simple both with the meet-up and with the initial aims of the conference, was to basically be a resource for the Atlanta area. And when I did the conference in 2013, it was to be a drivable resource for people in the southeast United States. And you know, having done the meet-up here which focused on local people, it was one of those things where everything seemed to be far away, you know California, New York, Chicago, somewhere. So I say, “well, there’s obviously people in the southeast too, so why not have something that people can drive to?” I literally had a map on the wall, and I used one of the online tools to measure out how, how far somebody could get if they drove say six hours. You know, I drew a big circle, and that was my target audience in my mind. Seems so far away, removed at this point.
Anne: And now you’ve got global attendees.
Gerald: The circle feels like an exclusion zone. Like fewer people come from that circle than outside of that circle, but that’s, that’s how it all started. I remember that first year, we had one person attended from Bermuda. And I was so pumped up. I was like, “Oh my God.” I sat there and stared at the screen a little bit. “Bermuda? Wow! This is awesome.” And since then I think we’ve probably had well over 20 different countries represented, and on average we do somewhere between 13,14 different countries each year that come out. This year we had people from 40 different states, including Alaska.
Gabby: I got to ask you, Gerald, every year, every conference, you have a theme. And the theme is woven through the entire event. It’s, it’s always, everything comes back to that central theme. What kind of prompted you to do that? Where did, where did that come from? Is that part of the corporate background? What, how did that transpire?
Gerald: Me, corporate?
Anne: No, not at all. [laughs]
Gerald: Yeah, well, I think it’s one of those things where people need something to kind of go back to, particularly when you bring in presenters who all have difference experiences, and difference background, and different approaches. You want to have something that serves as a starting point that no matter what they’re teaching, no matter what they’re bringing to the conference, they can sprinkle this one thing in there somewhere and tie it into other sessions or other happenings at the conference. And so having a theme of some kind is, is really an integral part so that people can have something to rally around as, as an underlying thread throughout the event.
Gabby: And what is the 2019 theme?
Anne: Ahh very nice. Hey Gerald, your 2019 is a little bit later this year than normal.
Gerald: Yes, it is.
Anne: Any particular reason for that? Was that just location? Was that…
Gerald: It was the farthest I could push it and still be in March.
Gerald: Well, what people don’t realize is it’s this really weird thing with the calendar. First of all, you’re coming out of the holidays into January in the first place. And then February is a shorter month. So… it’s like, by the time people come of their hole or whatever they went for the holidays, their family, their vacation, their — you know, when they finally resurface and go “Ok, I’m gonna be apart of the, the world again,” you’re halfway through January. And then you get to February, and it’s like, it’s a shorter month! [laughs] So you get to January, and you literally feel like you’ve got four weeks to go. And needless to say, you know, as the conference has gotten larger, there are a lot more things to put in motion, and crank up, and get going. And coming out of the holidays, a lot of those things slow down, because people just — they have their own agendas during the holidays with family and different things, and so you really don’t get their attention again until January. And you need that extra time as much as possible to just give people a chance to breathe. And get everything cranked up again.
Anne: I’d like to commend you too about how much you actually offer at this conference. And I think your offerings for breakout sessions and X-sessions have maybe doubled in size. Tell us a little bit about your, your ideas behind that.
Gerald: [laughs] The funny part about this is they’re not really my ideas. The, the conference, and I can say this without the slightest bit of embellishment, the conference is a reflection of what people have shown an interest in, what agents have said what they wish people know, what directors have said they wish people knew, and I take it from there and attempt to bring the resources into the conference to speak to those things. And I think that’s one of the things that makes VO Atlanta a little different in my role in it because I’m not an in-the-booth talent. What I do is focus on having experts be experts, and I take care of the event planning, and the logistics, and meals, and all that stuff like that, and what I want them to do, and what I ask them to do, what I expect them to do is come and be the best expert in that space that they can be, to make themselves available, and that’s why people, when you’re a presenter with me, you come in on Thursday, you stay to Sunday. You’re available. People can talk to you in the hallway, they can talk to you at lunch, at breakfast. You know, it’s, it’s more of a relational environment, and so it’s a very important thing to listen to the comments, read the surveys, you know, incorporate the things we can in there. We do a lot of specialty sessions in addition to our main tracks, because we want to make it something that people can really, really come and get a great experience in the industry but also build their networks of friends and colleagues, because you learn differently in person. You just, you just do, and so the conference is really not about what I wanted it to be as much as it is a reflection of conversations I have had with agents, directors. “If you could go back and train this talent who just sent you their demo, what do you wish they knew? What would you teach them? What would you tell them they needed to figure out before they got to you?” And then I try to build a conference around that.
Gabby: Anne and I get asked all the time “should I attend a conference? What conference should I go to? Why should I go?” What’s the one thing you want someone who’s new to know and to understand about VO Atlanta?
Gerald: It’s, it’s — I use the phrase “it’s your conference.” So I, I think of it more in terms of like a buffet. I try to make sure there is great, high quality things at the buffet, but ultimately it is up to you to decide what is good for you. So we have our main things. You know, we have commercial, we have, you know, I push business, marketing stuff out there a lot, animation, gaming, and things like that. So what I think is really good is that a person can come with an initial interest in any of those areas but also have the luxury of jumping into another session, listening in on another panel, talking with someone that works in that other genre, and getting a feel for what it’s really like. I believe people coming into voiceover are willing to work hard to be successful. The problem is most of them take their initial advice from some random video they saw on YouTube, and it’s not advice for them, it’s just advice. And so they don’t really have a relationship with anyone who understands who they are. So when they come to the conference, they get a chance to have conversations with people. They get a chance to sit in on a panel and listen to actual casting directors and actual agents talk about what they’re looking for, and then they can jump into different sessions. You, you, you can try audiobook, you can try narration, you can try animation, you can try gaming. You can take a workshop. You can do business and marketing, all in one weekend. And, but it is your conference. And I mean, to that point I remember early years, there would be the occasional where someone would say, “hey, I’m thinking about coming to the conference. What am I gonna get out of it and why should I spend my money? You know, what’s in it for me?” I reversed it a bit, and I asked them “what do you want to get out of the conference?” So if you can tell me what you’re looking for in the conference, I can do my part to make sure it’s available to you. It’s your job to get something out of it when you’ve made the decision to come. Because both of you have been to the event before, and it’s one of those things where if someone came to you at the end of it and said, “I didn’t hit anything out of that,” your first thought should be, “where were you? Like were you actually — did you go to anything?” Because I realized I can’t control whether you… introduce yourself to people. I can’t control whether you go to the panels or the breakouts or you take a workshop. I can’t control whether you even come out of your room. And so by extension I can’t take control over your conference experience. It’s your conference, it’s what you make out of it. Some people come there, they’ve been in the industry 20, 30 years, and for them the conference is more of a social endeavor where they see their friends. They meet people they’ve worked with 15 years, but they’ve never had a beer with them. So they come for that. Some people come because it’s their first opportunity to ever take a voiceover class of some kind.
Anne: I think it’s a great concept. And one of the things I love about VO Atlanta is your whole concept and graciousness about giving back to the community. In 2013 when I came to you with an idea about my career education scholarship, you were all for it, in terms of donating VIP registrations to the conference, and I cannot tell you how thankful I have been over the years because every year — it wasn’t just 2013, it’s every year since, you have supported the scholarship and given back and even added more. Not only can people get a great education, but there’s also this wonderful segment for people who may not be able to afford the conference in, in terms of you helping to give back to the community. Thank you, Gerald, for that.
Gabby: She’s getting teary.
Gerald: Thank you for that, Anne.
Anne: I know, I’m getting the clinch.
Gabby: She is. She is, I can hear it.
Anne: I do. I get, I get all caught up.
Gerald: Well, well, Anne I never let you say that without giving the true context of it. And that’s a lot of people may approach you with any number of ideas. But when it’s someone who approaches you, and they’re willing to take the reins, you know, and really, really contribute to the success of something and put in the work to make it happen, those, those are the people that make it so easy, continually give and contribute to something because you know that it’s not one of those things where you say, “Ok, I’ll help out,” and then someone just dumps stuff on your plate and say “here’s what I need from you.” You’ve done that. I think it’s your giving spirit that takes the little contribution I make to that process and bring it to life. And it wouldn’t happen otherwise because I don’t have the bandwidth to take the auditions and find yet another panel of people to, to work on something, and it’s your work that really makes the scholarship program come together and work every year, so thanks to you.
Anne: Thank you for that, but it’s not possible without your contributions. And so, yeah.
Gerald: Of course.
Gabby: Oh stop it, both of you. Stop it now. “I love you more.” “I love you more.” “No, I love you more.” “No, I love you more.”
[Anne and Gerald laugh]
Gerald: No, you did it more! No.
Anne: Speaking of which, speaking of which, Gerald, for 2019 there will be another scholarship program. We just spoke about it the other day.
Gabby: I don’t think anybody who’s been to the conference hasn’t noticed this. Like your entire family in some way, shape, or form is apart of VO Atlanta. They are the beating heart of, circulatory system even throughout everything. Your sister, [laughs] I love her so much. And it’s really great that, yeah, we have this massive event, lots and lots of people, but there’s still at its core a family.
Gerald: Yeah, family are people that you hire when nobody else’ll work with you.
Anne: No, but I actually, I feel like your family, like I know them. You know?
Anne: And I, I hope they, I hope they’re OK with that. [laughs]
Gabby: We’ve been watching your kids grow up.
Gerald: Yeah, and, and that’s the funny thing. It’s like with, for instance with Grant, you know, I always think about it, my younger son who is now 11, the first year of the conference, he was five years old.
Gerald: And it is interesting because there are a lot of people who have been there a number of years, and they, they have watched them grow up, and then they see them on Facebook, and, and you know, their milestones, different things they are involved with and I share there. They’ve gotten used to it now when they go to conference and people comment on what’s happening in their life. They just kind of roll with it, but in the beginning it freaked them out a little bit.
Gabby: Aww. And of course there’s your wife who, who is just a saint.
Anne: Oh yeah.
Gabby: And you know, it’s, it’s not easy, it’s not easy when your husband is that occupied for that large a period of time.
Anne: Oh my goodness, yes.
Gabby: Yeah, so.
Anne: I know what it takes for me to put on a small event. And to put on an event the scope of what you put on, Gerald, is, it is a year-long process. And for any of you guys that don’t realize that, you need to realize that. It is, it is no small thing to put together a big party for about 700 people and take care of everything for days. And Gerald, I can’t even imagine the scheduling. I know just the scheduling alone has got to be a nightmare.
Gerald: I would say that’s the biggest challenge. All of the other stuff is a little more manageable, but when, when it comes to the schedule, we have, I’ll say, well over 100 line items on our schedule —
Gerald: — that represent well over 200 hours of schedule activity.
Gabby: In a weekend. [laughs]
Gerald: It is. And so we’ve even, we’ve made some changes going into ‘19. We’re moving the keynote to Thursday evening so that we can give a dedicated space to itself, and get everything kind of kicked off later that evening. And we’ll have the mixer, instead of having an opening reception earlier, we’ll have that after the keynote, and then we’ll get ready to kick off early Friday morning for those people who get up, the hard-core ones and do the fitness stuff at 6:30 in the morning.
Gerald: You know? You, you ladies will be there surely, correct?
Gabby: Oh yeah. Oh absolutely.
Anne: Oh yeah, we’ll be there. Yeah, yeah.
Gabby: Oh, I was just going to ask, how people can sign up for the conference?
Gerald: They can go to voatlanta.me to learn more about it and sign up for things. We expect to get to that point of saying “registration’s closed,” like “we just cannot sign up anyone else.” It’ll be, it’ll be kind of a bittersweet thing, you know? It’ll be kind of good because you feel like “well, we got a lot of people,” but you know, it just is what it is. And, and to that point, you’ve both kind of referenced the number of people or the size. I really strive to make it feel like a community thing. And that’s, that’s a really important element that, even though there are a lot of people there, that we maintain a comfort level so that you feel like it was a family reunion, or a gathering with old friends, versus this massive, nondescript, just glob of people. And so that’s why we incorporate fun things like, you know, our Friday night chill stuff where it’s nothing about voiceover. It’s stuff like fingerprinting or cigar bar with bourbon or something. I mean, it’s just, it’s not voiceover stuff. It’s people stuff. And I think, you know, we think that’s important. I think that’s important that people have a chance to engage just on a personal level. That’s why we don’t put titles on name badges because I really don’t care that you’re a casting director first. I care that you’re a person first. And that’s who I should go up and introduce myself to and say, “hey, how are you doing?” And then if I want to see all the details, I can go read that in the, in the mobile app or the program guide or something.
Anne: Gerald, thank you so much for spending time with us today and talking about VO Atlanta. I cannot wait until March of 2019.
Gerald: Absolutely. We, we gonna do your live thing again, your live podcast from there on location, on site?
Anne: Woo-hoo, yeah!
Gerald: We’re gonna step it up, so you guys can be ready. I expect the VO BOSSes to be ready to go.
Gabby: We won’t let you down.
Anne: I’d like to give a huge shout-out to our sponsor, ipDTL. Yes, you too can record like a boss and find out more at ipdtl.com.
Gabby: And of course, guys, for all things BOSS, please go to the website, voboss.com, and thank you so much! We’ll see you next week.
Announcer: Join us next week for another edition of VO BOSS with your hosts Anne Ganguzza and Gabby Nistico. All rights reserved, Anne Ganguzza Voice Talent in association with Three Moon Media. Redistribution with permission. Coast-to-coast connectivity via ipDTL.