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We’re Everywhere!

You tell her who’s boss!”

The encouraging support came  from behind me, while self-checking some groceries recently. I looked surprised at the clerk who oversees all of the self-check lanes at my local Safeway, and he gleefully continued: “You sure told HER!”

Apparently  — like most other customers who have resigned ourselves to being our own cashiers (and as a sidenote: twenty years ago, if someone had told me that sometime in the near future I would happily ring through and bag my own groceries, I would have told them they were bonkers) — I was actually answering the automated voice who guides consumers through the sometimes mystifying process of scanning our own groceries. I was responding to her specific prompt, in which she says — a little too enthusiastically, as though this is a monumental idea which just occurred to her —  “HAVE YOU SCANNED YOUR CLUB CARD??!” I — a professional voice talent, and quite an apt mimic, matched her intonation precisely as I responded: “NO, I haven’t! But I will — when I’m done! Thank you!”

You would think that myself — so frequently on the *other* side of the mic; recording automated systems which undoubtedly must frustrate other human beings, would be somewhat more accepting and accommodating to following the voice prompts which another voice talent has recorded — after all, we’re in the same line of work, and who better to sympathize with the unforgiving onslaught of monotonous instructions which the customer is bombarded with that someone who creates them herself?

And yet, there I am — expressing frustration with her for simply articulating a prompt that’s merely programmed into the system at a prescribed sequence in the process. I find it hard to hide my ire when she declares: “Unknown item in the bagging area,” when all I’ve done is place my shopping bag there for loading. (Doesn’t she know the difference between a pre-paid-for recycled shopping bag and a rutabaga?)

Maybe what sets me apart from other shoppers is that I *know* — better than most — the “she” *is* an actual human being who voiced the files which eventually became automated sound segments which play in a mechanical way…it takes an actual *person* to voice them — which the standard consumer can easily forget (or never even give thought to), and they are more readily able to dismiss her as a “computer voice.” Even prompts which are concatenated (put into a sequence) via a text-to speech utility, are initially voiced by an actual live person. When I pointed out to the Safeway supervisor that I *am* actually one of these people who voices this kind of thing, the irony of me getting snippy with the system wasn’t lost on him.

Voice talent are everywhere. Any time you encounter pre-programmed instructions “speaking” to you, they are the evidence of a voice talent’s work — and they’re often in non-traditional situations instead of the usual instances where one might hear voice talent (TV, Radio, Telephony.)

While not yet the voice of an automated grocery check-out system, I have voiced many automated prompts which are ultimately designed to facilitate transactions and make life easier — that’s the goal, anyhow. Automated banking systems, public transit stop announcements, kiosks, GPS systems, elevator floor announcements, hotel wake-up calls, parking facility ticket machines, automated taxicab change-dispensing systems, talking piggy banks  — even the talking prototype for the Rhoomba vacuum which runs on Asterisk — I’ve been the voice behind automation in many different forms and for a vast audience. While fully aware that most of the instructions which I’ve voiced simply go by, obeyed but largely unnoticed, I’m all too aware that I must sometimes generate a lot of “talkback” — much like my “dialogue” with the grocery store automaton that day.

My first experience with a GPS system was when I rented a car in Phoenix years ago to attend a convention — I, at first, articulated out loud — upon hearing the female GPS voice’s initial instructions — “Well, you’re not so great! How’d you end up getting *this* job?” She proceeded to get me lost. Rather severely. Like, “Welcome to Montana” kind of lost.  I was  in a snit about not being the voice of Garmin and disregarded her recommended twists and turns — I soon realized that the trip went smoother when I paid attention to “Trixie’s” directions (even though I eventually deferred to her, I had to diminish her by giving her a cocktail-waitress name) but couldn’t help but giggle at her frustrated tone if I didn’t take a sanctioned turn: she sounds slightly exasperated and says: “(Sigh!) REcalculating…” Another favorite is my Bluetooth utility for my car, with a British-accented female voice who sounds like she’s saying “Bugger off!” when she’s saying “Power off!” No, YOU Power off!

Of course, it needs to be pointed out that the prompts have a life of their own — they’re just following the sequence dictated by the computer which runs it; we, as the voice talent, are rendering absolutely no judgement when you entered the code for bananas but didn’t leave them long enough on the scale for weighing; we’re not actually admonishing you when your pin numbers do not match, and there’s no actual commentary behind the pre-programmed message which might tell you that you’re in your overdraft or that you have insufficient funds for the transaction you were planning to do. It may sound very much like another human being is getting on your case — but that’s just a construct of “personalizing” a system which is aurally-driven rather than visual.

And when the Park n’ Ride ticket dispenser issues my ticket when parking at the airport, I’m known for thanking “him” with a hearty “Row J it is! And thank YOU, sir!”

I figure he gets enough abuse from everyone else.

Join me in two week’s time (remember: the blog is now bi-weekly) for an article that’s needed to be written for quite some time: many newer users of Asterisk are hazy about the file specs, the optimal settings, and the basic care and feeding of Asterisk prompts — with the help of Rod Montgomery of Digium, I’ll be writing a much-needed primer on “Asterisk 101”!

As always, thanks for reading, and your feedback is always welcome!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

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Do You Know What I Mean?

The stories are now legendary: the mis-firings of speech recognition utilities — when a phrase is uttered into a system, and something completely seemingly random is repeated back to the originating voice — are entertaining as well as fear-inducing. Imagine having your completely coherent and well-thought-out message to a colleague  turn out sounding like this:  “Hey don’t forget your Dad killed her by name. Be careful on the way. Read some pretty clear down here bomb within like 130 to be careful. Bye.” Or: “Hi again this is Michael. So calling from Ralph there. Volkswagen lasagna.”

When speech recognition programs (also known as Automatic Speech Recognition or Computer Speech Recognition) — designed to convert speech-to-text — goes wrong or misinterprets what is said, there seems to follow some sort of perverse satisfaction in machines being not quite as intuitive as we are. Much like when the IBM computer persona “Watson” competed on Jeopardy! this last week, we took just a little too much glee in his failures and just slightly too much angst when he actually trumped what we know to be a be a very capable human.

Having voiced many prompts to build text-to-speech applications (where typed words are converted to the spoken word), I have also been an actual human being on the other side of it, where I have attempted to order items via automated systems — following prompts which I, myself, have voiced — and have had the automated version of “me” say things like: “Great. I think you said: International Sales” when I clearly intoned; “Visa Payment”. Or, when I got my first voice-enabled dialing feature on a cell phone years ago and distinctly told it to dial “Kelsey” and it repeated back to me: “OK — I think you said…..JEROME…”

Gerd Graumann, Director of Business at Lumenvox (www.lumenvox.com) — one of the leading providers of speech development products — filled me in on some background and history of Speech Recognition: “AT & T Bell Laboratories developed a primitive device that could recognize speech as far back as the 40’s — and even back then, researchers knew that the widespread use of speech recognition would depend on the ability to accurately and consistently perceive complex verbal input.” explains Graumann.

“In the 60’s, researchers turned their focus towards creating a device that would use discrete speech, verbal stimuli punctuated by small pauses,” further explains Graumann. “However, in the 1970’s, conrinuous speech recognition, which does not require the user to pause between words, began, The technology became functional in the 1980’s, and is still being developed and refined today.”

In 1982, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence released speech recognition products, and by 1985, their software had a vocabulary of 1,000 words — uttered one word at a time. In just two years, its lexicon reached 20,000 words — entering the realm of actual human vocabularies, which typically range from 10,000 to 150,000 words. Despite that healthy base, the recognition accuracy was still only 10% in 1993. Two years later, the error rate crossed below 50%. In 2001, the recognition accuracy reached a plateau of 80%, no longer growing with data or computer power. When, in 2006, Google published a trillion word corpus, Carnegie Mellon University researchers found no significant increase in recognition accuracy.

Ever-increasing processor speed, overall system performance and improved algorithms now enable speech recognition systems to run more effectively than ever and deliver the results of massive probability calculations within fractions of a second. Even the stumbling block which was at one time considered to be close to insurmountable — the challenge of speakers with accents — have been largely eradicated. Current generation speech recognitions systems learn over time to “understand” various speakers with accents and strong regionalities from the data they are being trained with. Gerd Graumann further clarifies this point: “The training data that goes into the acoustic model makes all the difference. With today’s models, the spectrum is fairly broad, and many non-native speakers are part of the training data to reflect how people from many different backgrounds speak. Of course,” warns Graumann, “there is always the end of the spectrum.”

 When it comes to the words people use to interact with automated systems, the latest technology already allows for the systems to interpret what the person is saying. This is achieved by the use of statistical linguistic models, a new technology that tries to understand the intent of what is being said, versus the exact words that were spoken. Not unlike texting with a SMS utility, which remembers likely words you might mean, when typing a text. And also, not unlike how the actual human brain works, as well.

The applications for speech recognition are vast. Medical and legal uses — not the least of which involve transcription and real-time dictation, which is made considerably more efficient with digital dictation systems being routed through speech recognitions utilities (known as Deferred SR). Speech recognition is aggressively being implemented into High-performance military fighter aircraft, with the capabilities to set radio frequencies, commanding the autopilot system, setting steer-point coordinates, weapon release parameters, and controlling flight displays. Enhancing the lives of people with disabilities; training Air Traffic Controllers — even improving the experience of video games — speech recognition’s uses and applications are immense and growing continuously. And hopefully — with the refinement of the technology — the likelihood is minimal of receiving the following cryptic voice mail transcription:  “I just wanted to let you know so that you weren’t surprised if you come back for shower tomorrow that cousin is girlfriend, maybe..” Or how about “Kelly” receiving a message from her Father: “Hi, Kelly, Death calling…”

Next week, I’m excited to blog about those fascinating — and largely subliminal — short “flurry” sound effects you sometimes hear when accessing a telephone system…they’re almost like a trademark musical “scale” which can become closely associated with a telephone company’s identity — and they’re *very* hard to find! I’ll discuss how they’ve become a big boon to my business, and why the sounds which I own are closely guarded.

Thanks for reading!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

What The Heck is a “Gonk”?!

Every now and then, a few sound files make their way from sound studio to sound studio — comic and sometimes painful voice-over sessions featuring celebrities unleashing various degrees of attitude towards producers, audio engineers, and anyone else in their path — sometimes justifiably so; often times not.

An increasing trend towards using semi-recognizable (and fully unmistakable) voices of anywhere from well-to quasi-known actors to sell products is a common practice nowadays — from Christine Lahti voicing Oil of Olay commercials for years, to Richard Thomas (of “Waltons” fame) lending his voice to spots for Mercedes-Benz, John Corbett for Applebee’s, Jeff Bridges for Duracell, and the workhorse of celeb V/o’s — Gene Hackman — voicing spots for Lowe’s, Oppenheimer Funds, CNN, and United Airlines. While Morgan Freeman (Visa) is impossible *not* to identify, others (like Willem Dafoe for Qwest) have that intrigue of being just slightly familiar enough to ruin your evening as you rack your brain to recall just who that might be.

The two most notorious V/o sessions which will live in infamy were recordings of two larger-than-life celebrities — Orson Welles and William Shatner — both accomplished and lauded actors, and both were hired frequently for voice-0ver work: not only for their celebrity cache; they both had undeniably powerhouse voices and deliveries which were absolutely distinct.

And one would presume that if they’ve been hired by producers/ad agencies for their unmistakable vocal quality and unique cadence, that those working with them on the sessions would leave them well enough alone in order for them to (to use my worn-out but dear-to-my-heart phrase): “Do Their Thing.”

But no.

Set Phasers to....Humiliate!

In the following sound file, William Shatner starts the V/o in his natural delivery and trademark Star Trek dreaminess that made him the icon he is today — until the producer decided to micromanage his performance: (click below):

William_Shatners_voiceover_revenge

At first, he attempts to explain his choice of delivery –then decides against doing so, and does another take in the “more energetic” style the producer requests. “There”, we’re all thinking: “He nailed it!” Not exactly. The producer responds to the take with an elongated “Uhhhhh…..” — as if starting to talk without first formulating what he should say — and we know he’s dead in the water. “Do it for me — exactly the way you want it to sound!” invites Shatner of the producer, who –against better judgment — offers a monotone, deadpan sample with down-ending sentences and all the pizazz of a wet weekend — and which Mr. Shatner imitated with eery exactness. Hearing his excruciatingly ordinary attempt being repeated back to him with startling clarity, the producer recanted his direction; showered Shatner with a sea of apologies, and hugely regretted ever intervening. Out-and-out pleading with Shatner to go back to the halcyon moments of his first delivery — which he undeniably should have just let him do from the start — Shatner cruelly sticks to his guns and refuses to voice anything without the producer reading it out loud first.

While not an advocate of loftiness in front of the mic — and definitely not a proponent of belittling anyone — especially those representing those who are signing the check — the producer’s irreversible mistake of not trusting in Mr. Shatner’s experience and talent was one that he probably still regrets to this day. I’m imagining that he ended up going to agricultural college and pursued a diametrically different career in botany, but still tells that story at dinner parties where time has softened it and made it into a delectable after-dinner story rather than what was quite possibly the worst afternoon of his life.

Would you direct that face?

The next classic recording is a spot Orson Welles did — and unlike the Shatner spot, we see Mr. Welles hit the “red zone” of anger almost off the top — at the very idea that a second take would even be requested: (click below):

Orson Wells 2

Many of us in a playful mood behind the mic will imitate Orson Welles when an innocent engineer asks for a harmless (and justifiable) second take — I’ve been known to adopt the best Orson Welles voice I can do, and bellow: “WHY? I just did it perfectly!” If the engineer is hip, he’ll warble, in a timid British accent: “Well…uh….I thought I heard a slight…GONK outside…..?”  My favorite part of the file is the long think, the long pour of water, the even longer sip, and the request to have a word with the producer. You can almost hear the engineer change careers!

The second Orson file:

welles-orson-frozen-peas-spot

…defies analysis: his hackles were up throughout the whole session, from his painful exactness at establishing the correct pea growing season to an almost fanatical urge to correct what he perceived to be crimes against grammar — he became increasingly difficult to work with, as supported by the one of the producer’s helpless attempts to assure Mr. Welles that “you did six for us last year — which were by far the best!” Nevertheless, Orson’s objections of “Too much direction in here!” and that the script was “Unpleasant to read — unrewarding!” made for an arduous and unforgiving session — and makes me wonder, every time I hear it, whether or not they managed to talk him into coming back (after storming off) and giving them the read they needed.

No one is “above direction” — anyone involved in the creative process of creating any artistic medium must be willing to “play” and contribute to the process by hearing direction clearly, responding to it appropriately, and showing your versatility and flexibility by altering your performance to the direction.

Within reason.

A good director will try to incorporate as many of the natural mannerisms and rhythms that a performer brings to the process — that’s why you hired them. In the case of someone with a “signature sound” — like a Shatner or an Orson — you’d do well to trust in their instincts and intervene only when completely necessary — because, in the clenched, fury-driven words of Orson Welles: it just might mean that “…the right reading for this is the one I’m giving!”

Next week, I’ll blog about the conundrum of royalty-free music, in the context of advertising and on-hold systems — in this free-downloadable age, many believe that *any* music is fair game be used for such purposes…and they couldn’t be more wrong.

Thanks for reading!

The Legend of the “One Take Wonder”

It's not a Spectator Sport, People!

I’ve seen it happen many a time.

I’m hired to do a voice-over at a public studio — a two-hander with another voice talent. We introduce ourselves, pleasantries are exchanged, and we’re led into the booth. We’re asked for levels, so each of us gives the engineer some sample lines — and we launch into the first official take (which, I can tell you — unless one of us stumbled over our words or mis-pronounced the client’s or product’s name — that first take will typically be pretty darned awesome).

The talent director of the studio will usually say that the first take was, in fact…solid — but then offer up suggestions of ways in which the next take (s) will be even better: “Rick, on your line when you hear the wife at the door, can you sound more startled, like you’re hiding something? And, Allison, your lines when you make your way down the  basement steps need to build more in suspense so that payoff when you discover it’s a new furnace he’s hiding is funnier…”

Subsequent takes are done, hopefully taking into consideration the direction which was just given (and, for bonus points, keep what was “working” from all previous takes) — it’s just a natural part of how audio tracks are crafted; the give and take between the director and talent. It’s the director (or engineer’s, or ad agent’s) job to make the talent clear on the material’s message, to keep and use what the talent naturally brings to the table, and to gently guide and shape the performance into something they can use and which will ultimately make the client happy.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen it all too often: with every additional take being asked for; with each suggestion being offered; it’s not unusual for the voice talent’s confidence to become eroded. The pressures of redo after redo (especially if — in their estimation — the talent perceives that they are being asked for multiple changes with every take, and the other talent seems to receive minor direction, if any)  — take their toll on the voice actor’s performance. They imagine (hope) that the last take they did was “it”; they’re dismayed and little shaken to find out it wasn’t.

Especially if they have in their mind the image of the “One Take Wonder.”

We’ve all heard about the voice talent who breezes into the studio, walks up to the mic, delivers their piece flawlessly, holds briefly for the applause of everyone there, and drives off in their car; engine still warm. While there may be actual moments like that in every announcer’s life (“Yep. You nailed it. Get out of here”), the reality of doing voice work is that you’re there to create something with a bunch of other creative beings — much like a jam session. Your job when you’re there is to collaborate — and this involves multiple takes. It’s not a theatrical performance, like a stage actor striding out on stage and having one chance to hit their mark, and say everything correctly and flawlessly.

Here are some concrete reasons why you should shed the image on the One Take Wonder (and put more than 15 minute’s worth of change in the parking meter the next time you arrive at a V/o session):

Time Isn’t Money

Ok, yes it is. Especially when it comes to ad agencies and recording studios and purchasing air time in which to play the spot which you’ve voiced. But the people who have the studio booked to record the voice-over are not interested in you doing a “drive-by” voice-over and nailing it in two minutes. They would have an impossible time justifying to their bosses why they used up ten total minutes of an hour of expensive studio time. They’ve hired you and the other voice talent in the spot; they’ve paid for the engineer’s and studio’s time; they’ve included reps from the ad agency, writers, and occasionally the client themselves to sit in on the session — they’re going to make use of you. In the most optimal way they know how — which is having you do the spot over and over — with you listening carefully to their direction, responding to it as intuitively as you can, and giving them as many options as possible. (Be warned: the more people attending the session — especially the greater the number of people from the ad agency attending — the longer the session will take. Everyone there needs to justify why they’re there; everyone needs to offer their input — even if it flies in the face and directly contradicts what you’ve just been told by another member of the team. The “Mad Men” want to show the clients that they know how to direct and that they’re good stewards of their product, which they’ve been entrusted to market.) I am reminded of a particularly laborious session when I was voicing the radio spots for a national grocery chain and was put through some 15+ takes of a spot, at the request of an ad exec who was literally stretched out on the studio sofa, grateful for the hour or two out of the office, and somewhat making a sport out of recommending take after take. When take #15 was in the can, and she requested playback, the engineer played back — what I knew to be — if not the first, a take from very early on in the session. I almost started to point this out, when he gave me the “shush” signal. After listening to the spot, the ad exec yelled over the studio mic from her repose on the sofa: “That’s the one! Finally!”)

You’re Human

Get used to it.

Think about how many times — in normal conversation — you get tongue-tied; you trip over your words; your brain gets ahead of your mouth. Voice-over requires an “Eye-To-Brain-To-Mouth” coordination, which, quite frankly, doesn’t work well sometimes. Mistakes — in everyday conversation — are normal. So will they be in front of a mic — especially compounded by the eager faces on the other side of the glass watching you bring their words to life. I know of a well-known and extremely successful voice talent — who also happens to be dyslexic. It’s a condition that he has worked hard to overcome — especially with his chosen career path — and he doesn’t make a big deal about the extra takes he may need to “knock it out of the park”. And knock it out of the park he *does*. He arrives well prepared, and refuses to take it personally when asked for multiple takes. There’s a good lesson there.

I, personally, have dubbed myself the “Ella Fitzgerald of Voice Over” — it’s not enough when I mess up to simply stop, take a breath, and start cleanly again: I draw out the mistake in kind of a scat-singing flourish: “Please enter you pin number… fllollowed…..scobbededoooo….wahhhhh!” Like a Viking Funeral, I go out big. I recently had a client request a re-do of a really basic prompt — one that I could probably do in my sleep — “Please hold for the next available agent”. How many times have I read that exact prompt? Hundreds. I asked what the problem was, and he just e-mailed cryptically: “Have a listen”. And there it was, plain as day: “Please hold for the next available Asian.” I also frustrated myself into a tizzy just the other day, by saying — three times in succession — “We apologize for any convenience.” For some reason, the word “inconvenience”  — “convenience”‘s tricky cousin — eluded me. We can’t ponder why the brain “hiccups” when called upon verbally — we only need to accept that it’s a normal human glitch and move on.

This Almost Never Happens To Me When I’m At Home

Those of us with chushy home studios have the best of all worlds — an international clientele at our fingertips, and we could greet them — if we chose to — in our cowboy pajamas. It’s a whole different dynamic when you’re running the show from your own setup….and it was soon after I established my home studio (about twelve years ago) when it really dawned on me how absolutely unimportant it is to get things exact, correct, and perfect on the first take. Clients never know how many takes get scrapped, they never need to know which fragment was brought in from which other random take, or how much editing actually goes on. Even in a phone patch session while recording from home, there is still less inclination to turn the whole thing into a performance piece, and much less nervousness arises when thing do go awry. Editing software is gloriously easy to use; it’s not hard to learn to splice digital files absolutely cleanly; and personally, my best performances come with the state of relaxation attained from clients who explain what they need, and then let me “do my thing”.

My advice to journeyman voice artists who are prone to the jitters in front of a mic at a public studio: come prepared (try to get ahold of the script ahead of time), arrive well rested, well hydrated, and completely focused on the task — and learn to invite — nay, encourage — numerous takes. They’re your way to stretch personally and see how far you can go. Rather than feeling “beaten up” in the studio, be grateful for the opportunity to be sent in direction in which you might not ordinarily go.

Look on the bright side — you could be the guy in the sound file below….actually, it’s Colonel Harlan Sanders, in a recording which makes its way virally among audio people from time to time. He voiced his own radio spots throughout the success of his empire, and continued to do so — some say — long after he probably should have. Cringeworthy, yes. Difficult to listen to, certainly. But it never fails to make anyone in front of the mic grateful that their session — as laborious and stressful as it might have been — didn’t go in the direction of this one (click below):

Col_Sanders

Next week, I’ll blog about telephone operators — their rich history, and how the technology is sadly making them an anachronism.

As always, huge thanks for reading!

The Mighty CJSW

One of the first things I did after getting settled into University life — as soon as my courses were squared away and my name was on the audition sign up sheets for every Drama Department Production being launched — was to somehow get involved with CJSW, the campus radio station at the University of Calgary. Sequestered into a back corner of MacEwan Hall, it looked as unassuming as all the other offices operating there — except for the hundreds of record-industry promotional stickers all but obliterating one’s view into the station from the side windows — and the seemingly endless stream of the hippest, most fascinating people I’ve ever seen entering and leaving the station. I knew I had to be a part of it.

Established in 1955, CJSW had already had a rich and turbulent life by the time I had encountered it (the station survived a secret vote to shut it down and a lockout attempt by the Student’s Union  in 1980, and then a complete withdrawal of the operating budget in 1982) — its struggles and tenacity have only added to its underdog, “maverick” status.

The station was small, cramped, and smelled vaguely of clove cigarettes. The furniture looked like — and likely was — once-glorious decommissioned pieces from a faculty lounge which underwent renovations in the late 60’s.

And the record library. Not unlike the folkloric fashion storage vault at Vogue Magazine, the CJSW Record Library was awe-inspiring; a religious experience. One had to just silently take in its floor-to ceiling row upon row of vinyl brilliance with reverence.

As interested as I was in the music, I knew that my passion would be to try to revive radio drama as a viable medium — not an easy task, as reinforced by the Drama Department’s lack of support (especially in their refusal in rewarding participation in such a venture with some credit towards grades). Attempts to air radio dramas — both pre-recorded and live — were only moderately successful in the past (and apparently have been attempted since my tenure there with negligible success) — I was involved with trying to resurrect a long-forgotten medium; an anachronism. While still pre-dating the jaded internet and DVD era, the entertainment-consuming public of the early ’80’s was still not inclined to gather ’round the radio and listen to “stories” anymore. This hindered me not for a second. Clad with the mis-guided confidence and full-on bravado of a first-year University student, I felt completely up for the challenge.

I thought it would be a true homage paid to the art form of radio drama to resurrect the original “Shadow” radio series — I secured the scripts and excitedly collaborated with my tireless and incredibly tolerant engineer, John Hedemark,  over the right atmospheric music and sound effects –grossly underestimating the challenges of rounding up already time-stretched and stressed-out full-time drama students to fill the roles (and encountered the strange phenomenon of  “mic fright” — ordinarily gregarious and extroverted student stage actors withering under the pressures of performing in front of a mic — even pre-taped, and especially live, which we did frequently.)

Compound that with the added challenges of time constraints (many sessions were delayed or shelved completely due to another show needing to get into the studio after our allotted time) and the technology of the time — with the necessity of literally splicing out bad takes from reel-to-reel with a razor blade– makes recording and editing with our current digital formats a blessing which shouldn’t ever be taken for granted.

Some highlights from “Hold This Radioactive Briefcase” (what we eventually named the show after holding a contest to name it — and yes, surprisingly, *that* was the winning suggestion):

1. After casting “12 Angry Men”, I experienced a mass exodus of cast drop-outs (I scheduled the taping, without thinking, near mid-terms) — in fact, due to only being able to assemble *three* men from the drama department (and by “assembling” I mean “lured with beer”), we managed to tape it with our remaining trio of actors, who — amazing as they were (are), still had to pull off scenes where they actually had to “object to” and “overrule” — themselves.

2. I adapted the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” into a radio drama, and was convinced that the detailed, dramatic description of the highly visual “shower scene” would translate well over radio. I was mistaken. An excellent way to kill Hitchcockian suspense and his trademark implied and largely unseen violence is to deconstruct it and try to describe it in painful detail.

3. We often departed from the radio drama format — often to our detriment. We did a beatnik-inspired jazz poetry reading — with live bongos — in one take. (That reads WAY more flaky than I thought it was going to…) We set our sights on doing an all-Haiku show, and John, again, came to our rescue by finding stunningly beautiful nature noises (a babbling creek) to play softly in the background. All was going glowingly until the distinct sound of a fly fisherman’s reel being cast out interrupted our beautiful minimalist Haiku reading — what would authentic ambient noises of a stream be, if it didn’t incorporate the unmistakable”ZZZZZZ!” of fishing line flying? It made us all hit the floor at the same time; after the giggles were over and we regained our composure; subsequent perfectly good takes kept getting ruined by the repeated sounds of that *farkakta* fishing reel being looped over and over every ten minutes or so…well, we just started getting mad. Which doesn’t pair well with Haiku. And made us all very grateful for the pub being serendipitously situated right next to the radio station.

4. As well as doing a live phone-in fashion dilemma show (this was the 80’s — lots of sartorial uncertainty abounded, including how many safety pins is considered gauche? Fingerless lace gloves, a’ la Madonna, or full length satin gloves, a’ la Belinda Carlisle?) we also did a Kraft Dinner special, where a fellow-on-air host (and self-professed KD connoisseur) insisted on setting up a hot plate in the studio and divulging his secrets to making the ultimate mac n’ cheese…..people actually got the rare opportunity to tune in to literally hear water boil. An amazing amount of people (OK — 3 or 4) called in to offer additional cooking tips or to offer ways in which we should be catapulted off the air. And the Drama Department wasn’t going to give me credit for producing this show? This was *gold*!

Actually, doing the show was primarily a laugh-fest: it’s a miracle anything made it to air. As my co-producer (and one of the more willing and reliable voice talents I used) Jane Cassidy  mentioned when I interviewed her for this blog: “When I was growing up in the UK…my family and I listened to lots of radio drama. It was some pretty serious stuff for the most part. I guess what I didn’t realize…was that actors were in hysterics every time the mic was off. I don’t think I’ve ever, ever laughed so hard.”

John adds about how CJSW was the perfect atmosphere in which to develop and grow: “You can learn to be experimental before you ever go to a school which may not afford you such a luxury. (With university radio) you can meet people with different backgrounds or age spectrums before you ever have to go out into the real world and do it there.”

My career trajectory into voice-over was no doubt made much easier for my experiences at CJSW — it taught me an early ease in front of the mic, and inspired me to channel this passion for announcing into a viable career. And it’s quite possible that it enabled me to get most of the really bad stuff out of the way early on.

Chad Saunders

Reminiscing about CJSW prompted me to make contact with the present station manager, Chad Saunders — at the helm longer than any other station manager there — on a quest to find out if CJSW has proven to be a good training ground for launching other broadcast careers. As busy a man as he is (I made contact right at the onset of this year’s fund-raising season — again with that impeccable timing of mine), Chad was responsive and had many interesting updates: “CJSW Alumni have gone to work at the CBC locally and nationally — key alumni from the 70’s helped create CBC Radio 3,” added Saunders. In addition: “Alumni have gone on to work both in front of and behind the camera, and to be heads in the entertainment industry, mainly in music but also as lawyers and talent buyers in the US and Canada.”

I marvelled at the complete and total freedom (sometimes daunting) that on-air people at CJSW got — I remember being mystified at the thought of being live, over the public airwaves, with essentially nobody standing over us. I asked Chad if there are more measures in place now to monitor/police/provide accountability over what goes on over the air. “I would say more freedom is granted to our programmers now as society seems to be more afraid of dissenting opinion,” explains Saunders. “The CRTC has stepped back and has tried to get stations to create their own guidelines to discourage racist, homophobic, and divisive remarks/songs/opinions on-air.”

So why the lack of interest in radio drama?

Chad sheds some insight: “Radio dramas are intense productions. You need lots of people to voice the roles, a well-thought-out plan for editing and finding sound effects, and you need patience and time.”  He does offer an encouraging postscript: “I am hopeful that the podcast will be the new medium for radio dramas….able to to be downloaded and played where one can listen to it when they wish to hear it; room to start and stop.”

I concur that the podcast and the radio drama might just be a marriage made in heaven — but who knows if it, as a medium, will ever snag the interests of an essentially visually oriented public?

Only the Shadow knows.

Contributions to CJSW’s annual funding drive are welcomed and very easy to make: simply go to http://cjsw.com/funding/pledge.html.

Next week: I’ll address an issue which has squashed the confidence of many a promising voice talent: this belief that things need to be done perfectly in one take; that one must knock it out of the park on the first try or forever be branded as a “bad” voice talent. I’ll expose the Legend of the “One Take Wonder”!

Telephone Banking

I recently witnessed my mother in law pay her first bill online, after gradually getting comfortable with her new iPad — a gadget which I was convinced she would eschew and only use — if it all — to play Sudoku or Scrabble. I saw, at first, fear at the idea of her releasing her confidential information into cyberspace. Then came the skepticism — that the payment would actually go to the correct source; that it wouldn’t just “float around” aimlessly and she wouldn’t have documentation or “credit” of her actually making the payment. When proof of the payment instantly showed up in a brief check of her bank balance in another screen, then came the inevitable sense of amazement — that all this was done without leaving the comfort of her lounger, and that it didn’t involve a physical trip to the bank, the lining up, and the lag-time for the payment to register through a teller-processed transaction. She’s sold on the process — as we all are.

Banking via telephone or online has opened up whole new vistas for the banking public who are now so used to being able to conduct business without the constraints of the bank’s business hours, we can scarcely imagine life otherwise. Want to check on the balance of your mortgage during a 3 AM insomnia bout? Ever get that 10 PM sniggling realization that the Visa bill needed to be paid before the sun set that day? No worries, now that we’re not at the mercy of when the banks have tellers scheduled to be cheerfully roosting at their kiosks.

With this accessibility comes a sad resignation that there is a certain amount of “hoops” which we must obediently jump through in order to have this “24-hour-at-your-fingertips” type of ease — and nowhere are the hoops as plentiful or frustrating as with telephone banking. We sacrifice the personal touch by having to be willing to navigate through countless steps to verify who we are; to authenticate that we actually have access to the account in question; and that you and you alone are authorized to make any changes.

The number of steps by which this information gathering/authentication is accomplished is key to customer compliance and even goes a long way to enhancing — or destroying — client satisfaction. Limiting and reducing the number of steps (or “levels”) that a customer has to navigate through in order to accomplish what they called about is *key* — and is the basis for the lion’s share of frustration encountered when trying to do relatively basic transactions. The fewer the steps; the less redundancy involved; and the simplest method used to “sort” customers into the right “department”. Why are they asking me to input my PIN number into the keypad — sometimes multiple times — *and then* the live agent asks for it again? Needless levels. Why, when they invite you to make a selection from a menu of possible options, it’s not uncommon to find that *none* of the options seem to speak to the reason why you called? And why, when you clearly intone a possibility which doesn’t happen to parse with their voice recognition utility, you’re shuttled off to a department which couldn’t *be* farther from the option you actually need (you say “MasterCard Balance” and the automaton comes back with: “OK. I think you said….SAFETY DEPOSIT BOXES. I’m transferring you now!”

The tone of most automated banking IVR systems — traditionally very straightforward and almost devoid of emotion — are now attempting to re-create the intimate, one-on-one feel of a customer-standing-at-the-window scenario: voice talent who are hired to voice telephone banking systems are given the cue to sound more accessible, candid, conversational — almost informal. Not unlike a relaxed, slightly playful bank CSR, bank IVR’s are moving away from the straightforward, yet cold: “Please re-enter your PIN” and more towards: “Sure. I can do that for you — no problem. I’m just going to get your PIN number off you one more time….whenever you’re ready.”

While I personally, as a voice talent, prefer the more relaxed, “human” tone of the latter example, it may not have its place in all situations: I am the voice of National Bank of Kuwait, where a certain amount of formality seemed more in fitting with the geography and the demographics of a middle eastern bank; an informal tone would be more readily embraced by Western financial institutions. There’s also a widely believed theory within the voice recognition community that there is a greater margin for error in matching up the customer’s spoken selection with a viable choice when the customer has taken on the “casual, relaxed” tone of the IVR — and they *will*, without meaning to — follow the lead of the IVR in demeanor and tone. A conversational, friend-like IVR means the customer answers in kind — and not always with the satisfying accuracy as if they had echoed back their choice — in a staccato monotone — in the tone of a more traditional IVR.

New technologies in voice recognition can even enable firms to detect if a customer is unhappy or angry — the area of Emotive Voice Recognition has huge capabilities and potential to flag customer frustration at the outset and transfer the caller to agents specifically trained to handle such callers. It can be argued that if callers were simply and efficiently managed to be begin with, a specialized “holding area” and specific “treatment” for the frazzled would be unnecessary.

In no other area of our lives can there be a stronger argument for simplicity of access than when it comes to our hand-earned money; and any system in place which acts as a gateway between us and our money — and  has the intention of making transactions easier; ensuring accuracy in our financial dealings, and ensuring accessibility to our lifeblood — had better deliver. An easy, straight, uncomplicated line from us to our money is all we ask.

Next week, I’m looking forward to blogging about CJSW — the University of Calgary student-run radio station where I got my first taste of being behind the mic.

Thanks for reading!

“Is This The Party To Whom I Am Speaking…?”

Those who grew up watching Lily Tomlin do her “Ernestine” character — the loopy-yet-imperious telephone operator — will remember her signature line, delivered when she patches into a phone line and she attempts to confirm that she’s connected to the correct person: “Is this the party to whom I am speaking?” The comedy lies in that — whomever answers the call — most definitely*is* the party to whom she’s speaking.

A solid stab a due diligence — just a little too open-ended.

Nowadays, corporations are all too sensitive to the fact that astute measures must be taken to ascertain that the person on the line really *is* the person who should be listening to their automated message or outbound IVR — especially when it comes to sensitive, confidential matters such as debt collection, medical issues, school district issues, insurance companies and legal firm matters — areas in which consumers have the expectation of certain measures of privacy.

I’ve discussed in past blogs how I’ve had to take on the sometimes somber, somewhat onerous task of voicing automated notices which dial people and let them know that they’ve fallen behind in their credit card payments, mortgage, etc. My whole “character” in my mind — which I try to project during the call — is one of a helpful friend who tries to persuade the recipient that this is just going to get worse….unless they take matters in hand now.

As to the content, the general rules of debt collection — as it relates to privacy — prohibits the message from actually mentioning a debt — the topic is almost always along the lines of a “serious matter which needs to be discussed further.” The company must identify themselves (but are not required to mention they’re a debt collector), and the name of the collection agency need only be revealed until asked, during a subsequent live call. They can only contact the party once, unless they feel information about the debtor has changed, and they can’t leave information about a debt on a third-party’s answering machine or voice mail.

But this raises the question — and gets back to Ms. Ernestine’s dizzy attempt to made sure she’s talking to the right person: how do you know *who* has answered the phone? What measures should be taken to make sure that the cleaning lady hasn’t picked up the phone to find out that the owner of the house needs to call the caller back right away due to an “important matter”? Or that you’ve picked up the phone of the person you’ve just started dating only to learn via automated message that he/she has some high-spectrum farm-animal-grade Fungicide to pick up at the pharmacy?

I voiced an automated survey system which follows up on patients with chronic COPD and how they are tolerating their treatment.  There was a certain measure taken to establish that: “This is a call for (XXX)….are you (XXX)? if so, press 1. If not, press 2. ” If 2 is pressed, I will come back on and say something along the lines of: “If (XXX) is available to come to the phone and take the survey, press 1. If (XXX) is unavailable to take the survey, press 2.” If 1 is pressed, 60 go by to wait for (XXX) to make it to the phone. If that doesn’t happen, the survey attempt is aborted and re-tried at another time.

It seems to be a reasonable effort made to try to make sure the message doesn’t fall on the wrong ears — but, of course, is at the mercy of people’s honesty and integrity. In the context of medical issues, HIPPA regulations in the US are very stringent and detailed about the storage and dissemination of medical information. Banks will ask you to say or input a pin number to check your balance over telephone banking — would introducing a pin number to verify identities in other realms ensure greater confidentiality? Or just introduce a whole other level of complication, especially when we’re talking about seniors — same might go for voice fingerprint software, which has a high fail rate among seniors, due to volume issues, changes in voice, or general limitations in patience.

The implications — legal and moral — are vast, if reasonable measures aren’t taken to restrict the information of an automated call to the intended recipient — imagine your spouse receiving a call about an MRI which has been scheduled for you — and you would rather not reveal that information to him/her until the results were known to be anything of concern. Your information is and should be just that — *your* information, and the dissemination of same is one which needs to be handled with delicacy and security, even at the expense of the ease and speed with which information can be gathered/dispersed.

This next week marks the one year “Bloggiversary” of the Voicegal blog — for an entire year, I’ve been writing about issues of telephony, automation, and my general experiences as a professional telephone voice — with me branching most recently in topics of interest to voice-over professionals at large. As well as being incredibly therapeutic for me, the exercise of writing on a regimented schedule has been incredibly rewarding for me — thanks to all who read it regularly, and for as long as the topics continue to flow freely, I’ll be happy to write about them!

Thanks sincerely for reading!

Next week: I’ll explore the implications — positive and negative — of “The Diva”!

What’s In a Name?

By the time they hire me to voice their IVR’s, it’s probably too late to talk to people about why they’ve named their companies what they have —  many late nights have already been spent and reams of legal yellow paper consumed brainstorming about how to make their company’s name as unique and significant as possible; coming up with imaginative and innovative ways of spelling ordinary words to make them their own, riffing on existing words and modifying them to make them unique, or building a name from several different components which represent their company; a name which will identify their organization and which will no doubt look great on letterhead, website, booth banners, and business cards.

I am astounded at how many companies have me re-do their opening messages — after having voiced them to the best of my ability — due to mis-pronouncing their company’s name. I’ve even had clients — at the outset of a job — send an intonation file of *them* voicing the company’s name — or they schedule a pre-recording call with me — because (in their words):  “The company name is kind of tricky — in fact, almost everybody gets it wrong!  But it’s really important that you voice the opening message with the definitive pronunciation..”

I’ll say! I would think it would be crucially important that *everyone* say it in the “definitive way”, from the receptionist to the UPS delivery man to the people manning your booth at a trade show to someone seeing it for the first time. While it’s important that your company name be unforgettable, distinct, not apt to be confused with your competitor’s, and easy to recall, it should also probably not need a special tutorial on how to pronounce it properly.

I’ll add even further to that list, and suggest that not only is it important that your company’s name visually *look* impressive — I submit that it is crucial that the name actually “scans” to ear effectively. You will be *saying* your company’s name probably more than people will see it in its written form. You need to take into consideration how easy the name will be to “hear” — and to “say” — and imagine someone hearing your company name for the first time and immediately turning to type it into a web browser — wouldn’t you want to ensure that they hit *your* website every time; that your site is as easy as possible to find, and that the complex and unique spelling of your company’s name isn’t snagging their search?

I, of course, wish to protect the identities of valued clients (and to not offend, ever), so the examples I’m going to use to illustrate my point are company names *I’ve* manufactured, but hopefully get the point across.

Suppose — after much late-night workshopping,  you’ve decided to call your exciting, innovative company “Ignyshyn”. Cool, right? A play on the word “Ignition”! It sounds just the same as the mainstream word, but it’s spelled so……imaginatively!

I’m officially begging you to re-think any and all clever liberties taken with the spelling of words to snazz up your company’s moniker. It needlessly complicates the name, and makes it almost impossible for customers to find you — especially if you don’t take measures to have your voice talent painstakingly spell out the website (“Go to Ignysyn.com. That’s I-G-N-Y-S-H-Y-N, dot com”) — which a surprising number of clients don’t have me do.) Do they just presume people are going to magically type in “Newtrality.com” or “Akwizytion.com”? Chances are, (especially if the difference in spelling isn’t pointed out in the copy), they’ll follow what their ear is telling them and go to “Neutrality.com” and “Acquisition.com”, experience brief confusion, and move on to your competition.

Doubly befuddling to me, as a voice talent, are the instructions I occasionally get to make the unusual spelling stand out — but not stand out too much (for example, if I’m voicing for a company called “TechKNOWlogy”, and they want me to emphasise the appearance of the word “know” in the title, (which is darned clever, you have to admit)  but not at the expense of ruining the flow of the word…..customers should still “hear” “TECHNOLOGY” but just “nudge” the play on words by hitting the “KNOW”…but not too hard. Tricky, even for an experienced vocalizer of prompts.

Especially vexing are company names with numerals written in — some seem straightforward (“Innov8”) but even those also frequently come with instructions to point out the play on words (“but try not to really say ‘eight’ at the end..”) and others are just plain befuddling (“4ti2de” — “fortitude”. Gah!)

I recently read the opening greeting for a company who decided to make their name an amalgam of the founder’s first names — similar to “Johareth, Inc.” Given no guidance as to the pronunciation, I went for the pronunciation: “Joe-HARR-eth.” Turns out, the names the title is based on were actually Johann, Harry, and Ethan — it would be more like “Yo-HAIR-eeeth.” But how was I to know? And how will the customers of Johareth possibly know? Especially without the “tutorial” on how to pronounce it. The company name “Keyknowt” *might* be pronounced “Keynote”, except if it’s for a UK-based voice synthesis engine manufacturer wanting to emphasise a hands-free, no-typing feature of their product, and their play on words involves the British “Nowt” — literally “nothing”. “Key Nothing” — get it? Me either.

I submit some very strong cases in point: some of the most recognizable and profitable companies operating today do so under names which have practically no chance of mis-interpretation, mis-pronunciation, and have zero confusion associated with the names: Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Google. Nobody’s inclined to say “Ibbim” instead of saying the individual letters of “IBM”; I would wager that there has never been an operator at Microsoft who had to correct a customer calling in: “Well, actually, it’s pronounced “MY-crow-soft”, not “MEEK-ro-soft…”, and even at first glance at the nonsensical, entirely manufactured word “Google”, you instantly knew how to say it, and I’ll bet you never slipped and called it “Goggle” (or typed in “Gewgal” as a search term.)

Simplicity, accessibility, and a turnkey approach to naming your company is key — the name should speak for itself. It should stand alone. It should not be an unpronouncable in-joke, and it only benefits you and your company if you create as simple a path as possible for customers to find you.

The blog will be on a brief summer hiatus for the next two weeks — I’ll be back blogging in September and look forward to marking one whole year of the Voicegal Blog! Thanks to all of you for reading, and thanks for making this blog so well received, and such a passion to write!

SpeechTEK 2010

This week, I attended SpeechTEK in New York, a gathering of experts in Outbound Messaging, Security/Voice Biometrics, Speech Deployment and Voice Interaction Design.

Naturally, as a voice for hire, I was interested in approaching prospective clients and plying my wares as a voice talent — while many of the companies exhibiting already have their Text To Speech (or TTS) engines and IVR platforms built, its surprising to me that many of them have used a “stop-gap” voice — literally a staffer doing a one-off — just to get their systems up and running. It was hugely beneficial for me to make the rounds and introduce myself, and I found many of them to be excited to have met a voice talent face-to-face — and I even had to put on the “Asterisk Voice” for a CEO over a cell phone, when his employees manning the booth found out that I’m the voice of Asterisk (they had been running Asterisk for awhile) and thought they’d freak their boss out with a live call from me.

What I was pleasantly surprised to find at SpeechTEK was the emphasis on Customer Relation Metrics and the overall goal to improve the Customer Experience through simplified, well-designed and expertly executed IVRs and voice recognition platforms — aspects I’ve been evangelizing about since this blog first started, almost a year ago. If it’s confusing, choppy, misleading, or irritating to use in any way, your automation may be doing more harm than good.

The idea that Natural Language Processing (NLP) can improve our interactions with computers with fine-tuned dialogue systems is key in averting customer frustration (there’s a huge difference between dictation engines and conversational recognition engines) and its an aspect which is integral to efficient call routing and sorting.

Emily Yellin -- CRM Guru!

Emily Yellin, author of Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us delivered the Opening Keynote — she has an amazingly entertaining style and imparts her concerns about customers being left behind in a maelstrom of technologies which overwhelm them (and thus make them disengage). Her anecdotes resonate, and her passion about streamlining and simplifying customer interactions over the telephone reminded all attending to take this technology — which is ever-advancing — and never lose sight that it is only as good as its usability. And only as valuable as the impression it leaves on the customer.

I love to think that my small role in the whole automated customer interaction experience helps to enhance call flow; create less work for live agents who eventually might interact with the customer one-on-one, and my goal is to make the customer’s experience navigating through an IVR as smooth as it it can possibly be — calm, friendly, helpful tones which leave the impression of being guided through the maze by a friend instead of a robot.

SpeechTEK was definitely an informative and comprehensive gathering of companies with a vast array of Tutorial topics (from Alphanumeric Pattern Capture of Automobile License Tags, to profiling how AstraZeneca became a vanguard in Call Center efficiency), the industries which benefit from the study of how speech and technology meet are limitless.

Join me next week as I delve into “What’s In a Name..?” — what you call your company — and how that name “scans” with the spoken word can mean the difference between success and failure.

As always, thanks for reading!

Purple Heart Services

While attending IT Expo in Miami two years ago, I came across an interesting exhibitor who didn’t seem to fit into the typical prototype of the telco manufacturer, supplier, or reseller that usually sets up at those kind of of trade shows — and from no other exhibitor have I *ever* been given dog tags instead of business cards.

They are Purple Heart Services,  and in addition to raising funds for the service, welfare, and rehabilitation of  wounded, disabled, and/or handicapped veterans (and their spouses, orphans or survivors), the aspect of their work which really intrigued me was their mandate to train disabled war veterans in call center and support center technology & skills — and  to also position them into jobs in that industry.

Naturally I was interested in offering to voice their IVR — which I did and continue to do to this day — but what most fascinated me was their unwavering committment to assist in improving the lives of those who have served their country — and who might have additional challenges which make re-entering the workforce after service even more daunting. Physical limitations — which may make working in many industries a challenge — if not impossible — are a non-issue when integrating former servicemen and women into a call-center environment.

Veterans undergo 600 hours of training, taking place over 15 weeks, to be accepted into the Purple Heart call center. With a full-time dedicated staff of skilled combat wounded and disabled veteran operators, Purple Heart offers workers with an unparallelled knowledge of web-based predictive dialing call center systems and products. Think about the disciplined, dedicated, and efficient military sensibility and how that would fit into a call center context — and you’ll see why military veterans and a well-run call center are  a match made in Heaven.

They offer custom-built CRM software, built in-house and adjustable to various campaign needs. Practically any industry would find this kind of call center setup extremely adaptable, turnkey, and pertinent to their specific industry.

The service that Purple Heart offers is incredibly useful and amazingly resourceful; this is stimulating, specialized work which is rewarding both financially and esoterically, gives wounded veterans — who might otherwise be overlooked, or who might find themselves under or unemployed; a chance to really contribute to society and become self-sufficient.

If you happen to know of a disabled or wounded veteran who might prosper and flourish in this amazingly supportive environment, or if you are in the market for outsourcing your call center needs, check out their website at www.purpleheartcallcenter.com or www.vvti.org.

Next blog entry will delayed by a couple of days — I’ll be attending Speechtek in New York August 1-4, and I intend on reporting back from the Convention Hall Floor about the very latest in speech technology!

Thanks for reading!

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