Continuing the series
With this week’s topic “If you don’t understand, ask before it’s too late”.
It really shouldn’t be, but I suspect this week’s topic will create a bit of controversy. You see, we are taught from a very young age that there are no “dumb questions” …and yet, depending on who you ask, you may find that’s not exactly true.
We were all new at one point
I wrote about this from a slightly different perspective a couple weeks ago. That post was more about being “cool” to newbies to help them grow in the industry. This is slightly different, but related, and focuses on asking questions when you are new.
There are no dumb questions
Contrary to how it may sometimes seem, there really ARE no dumb questions. There are questions that have been asked (and answered) a lot of times, there are questions about topics that seem obvious to some people, there are sometimes questions that don’t make sense to others. But rest assured, if you have a question, regardless of how some people react to it, it is not a “dumb” question to ask!
You are not alone
Everyone has been in a situation where they just didn’t understand something (EVERYONE), and many people are reluctant to ask about it. This reluctance is likely borne out of a fear of looking inexperienced, uninformed, or downright stupid. Many times we are embarrassed to admit we don’t understand, especially when all the people around us seem to understand perfectly well.
It might surprise you
It might be surprising how many people who appear to understand are struggling in the same way you are. Your asking a question may well help other people who are too shy or afraid to ask!
What if no one asked questions?
Questioning is the basis for some things, and by some things I am thinking of science. Without questions, science would stagnate and no new discoveries would be made. Imagine what a hospital may look like if no one ever said “I wonder why there are so many infections?”. We would still be operating on people without wearing gloves or masks, or sterilizing equipment! We would not have antibiotics, or a host of other medical advancements.
But this post is not about medicine
This post is about the voice over and acting industry. Still, think of the advancements in this industry that would not have been made if people didn’t question “standard practices”. Advancements in sound recording and editing, advancements in cinematography and special effects. The list is endless.
There are people who react to a question in a way that makes the asker feel dumb, and that makes it even more difficult to ask questions. I won’t name names (there are way too many anyway), but if you are this type of person, you know who you are. Stop it!
“It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers.”—Pierre-Marc-Gaston, duc de Lévis (1764–1830)
We begin anything by asking questions. Kids understand this intuitively, as they ask questions to try and understand the world around them. Adults, on the other hand, seem to think that asking questions makes them look bad. We should all be more like children and know that we simply don’t understand everything, therefore, we NEED to ask questions!
There are just SO many things to understand when starting a voice over career. Equipment, software, inflections, rates, usage…too many aspects of the industry to list here. Even after receiving training and coaching, there are still many unanswered questions. The only way to learn them without wasting precious time and energy (trial and error) is to ASK.
But be careful!
I am a member of many Voice Over groups on Facebook, and I am here to tell you that there are some really wonderful, experienced artists in these groups who are willing to help a novice in the industry. But…and this is a BIG but…there are also some folks in these groups who snub newbies asking questions and make them feel bad about asking. I get it, people tend to ask the same questions over and over again. It gets frustrating. But it bothers me when I see a veteran VO artist flame spray someone in a group for asking a question that’s been asked many times before.
It IS true that before you ask a question, especially in a public group on social media, you should do some research on your own. Asking Google or using the search function in the group FIRST is always a good idea before asking a random group of people online. While that’s true, it is no excuse for going off on someone for asking. Instead, maybe either don’t respond at all (my mom used to say if you don’t have anything good to say to someone, don’t say anything at all) or point them in the right direction to get the answers they need. An angry or passive aggressive response serves no purpose other than to prevent newbies from asking questions at all.
We were ALL newbies with questions!
Try to remember what it was like when you were first getting started. Were there people willing to help you and answer your questions? I suspect the answer is yes. You may not be where you are today without their help, and you should be willing to pay that help forward. Or not. Maybe just stay silent!
The same holds true in the acting community. There are so many terms, and things to learn when you are new that no acting class could ever give you everything you need to know. Acting classes and coaches tend to focus on performance and not all the details about being on stage or on set. It’s scary and overwhelming for a new actor. I notice the same thing in acting groups: There are mostly wonderful, supportive and helpful people there. And there are also (a small subset to be sure, but very vocal) who think it is their job to disparage newbies asking questions. It’s just not right!
While I personally encourage people with questions to ask them…and I also encourage doing some research on your own before asking…there is simply no substitute for coaching. Every performer, whether VO or actor, must continue training with a coach to keep improving. And to be honest, your coach is the best person to ask your questions to. It’s perfectly reasonable and acceptable to ask questions in an open forum, but you have a relationship (or you SHOULD anyway) with your coach, and he/she/they are far more likely to patiently provide the answers to your questions.
Ask GOOD questions
Questions are intended to lead to answers, to information, to the fulfillment of curiosity. This is something ALL of us have desired in our lives. To get to the answer you seek, and to (hopefully) prevent getting flame sprayed or made to feel stupid, it’s important to learn how to ask GOOD questions. You don’t need to worry too much about it on the Google machine since you aren’t going to get picked on by the search engine, although you may struggle with the search results.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes” Albert Einstein
What IS a good question?
Generally, a good question requires few, or even better NO, follow up questions to arrive at the answer you need. Think about what you need to know, and then craft your question in such a way that you won’t need to ask (or answer) follow up questions. The secret to asking a good question is to really THINK about what you’re asking first, then ask. But still, even if it is not a good question, it is not a dumb question. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know and CAN’T ask a good question right out of the gate. So ask away!
Don’t be discouraged
At the end of the day, if you are confused or uninformed about something, it is far better to ask the question and risk being belittled for it than to remain confused or uninformed. Don’t let the people who look down on you for asking stop you from seeking, and getting, the answers you need! If you don’t understand, ask before it’s too late
Sumara Meers says
I love that Albert Einstein quote! You have to know the right question! (And you should spend at LEAST 55 minutes researching for yourself before expecting a 5-minute answer!)
Gary Mason says
I love that one too, so I’m glad I had a chance to use it in a blog post! But yeah, people SHOULD spend some time researching themselves before asking…but I STILL don’t think they should be roasted publicly for asking if they don’t.
Sumara Meers says
Definitely not! Nobody should. (And gosh, what a waste of time and energy it is to shout people down for being a bit annoying.)