Montreal

'Attention': The voice of the STM emerges from behind the microphone

Quebec actor Michèle Deslauriers has been the voice behind Montreal's Metro announcements for more than a decade. This year, she played a slightly different role for the STM.

After more than a decade of Metro announcements, Michèle Deslauriers can now be heard — and seen

Michèle Deslauriers has been the voice guiding Montreal commuters through the Metro system for the last 16 years. (CBC)

Michèle Deslauriers is standing at the centre of the Bonaventure Metro station, turnstiles to her right and left. A familiar voice bellows from the intercom to announce a service delay.

Deslauriers shakes her head theatrically.

"Even me, when I'm in the train and I hear that message, I go, 'My God, you're not telling me this!'"

Deslauriers is referring to herself.

For the past 16 years, she has been the voice that guides Montreal Metro users to the next station, warns them of delays, welcomes them aboard and ushers them off at terminals with iconic messages like, "La STM vous souhaite la bienvenue à bord," and, "Merci d'avoir voyagé avec la STM."

This fall, on top of the usual announcements, Deslauriers's voice rang out in a slightly different tone.

The STM tapped Deslauriers for an awareness campaign about some of the ways passengers slow service down — the point being that they can't always blame delays on the STM, though the service has had its share of mechanical issues.

In 2018, the STM launched a campaign called 'Michèle's Tips,' where their messages to riders are more conversational and friendly. (CBC)

The campaign called "les conseils de Michèle," or "Michèle's tips" in English, features six scenarios. The messages are conversational, a first for the transit service.

One, for example, cautions people against jumping onto the tracks to retrieve their cellphone if it falls.

"Risking your life for three, four cat videos — it happens too often," the message says in French.

Deslauriers says the messages are inspired by incidents that have happened in real life. Among them, it was people risking their lives for their purse or cellphone that freaked Deslauriers out the most, she says.

Another one of the messages addresses users holding the doors to get onto the train before it takes off.

"There are people who've broken the joints in their hands — that's how bad it can get," Deslauriers said, pointing to her knuckles, eyes widening.

In addition to the audio tracks, the campaign features billboards inside stations and short videos of Deslauriers acting out the problem scenarios. The videos play inside monitors in Azur trains and are on YouTube.

Mixed reaction from commuters

Public reception of the campaign has been mixed.

The messages are sold as playful, but some on social media called them condescending and awkward. The announcements were at first broadcast inside Metro cars, but despite the loud volume at which they played, were mostly incomprehensible.

As Deslauriers's voice rang out in them, passengers could be seen peeling their earphones out, looking at each other somewhat alarmed and bemused.

Michèle's audio tips were taken off the Metro cars because of the stereo system's poor quality a couple weeks later, at the beginning of November. Until the end of the campaign on Dec. 1, they only played on Metro platforms, not inside the cars.

"It wasn't clear at first. I thought there was an emergency, something big that was happening," said Lujain Khalaf inside the Guy-Concordia Metro station.

"I was weirded out, like, 'What's going on?' But I guess they're trying to get our attention to help us."

Jasmeen Kaur Nanda said she was taken aback the first time she heard the messages in the Metro too, but they didn't bother her. She said she thought the campaign was actually kind of cool.

Jasmeen Kaur Nanda, right, said she felt like she got to know Deslauriers through the campaign. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

"It's interesting in a way because she's been working for so many years recording [announcements]. Now, we actually get to see a face behind this person."

Before the campaign wrapped up for 2018, the STM said it wouldn't be extending or renewing it for now.

Spokesperson Philippe Dery said "Michele's tips" is the product of a contract with ad agency Publicis. It's part of a push to humanize the transit service's communications with passengers.

Earlier this year, STM announced it was encouraging conductors to pick up the intercom and communicate with passengers about things that could be affecting service.

The new STM campaign, which attempts to humanize the service, features billboards and short videos of Michèle Deslauriers acting out problem scenarios. (CBC)

Aside from being part of the daily life of Montrealers, Deslauriers has played in a number of Quebec classics, including La petite vie, Passe-Partout, Et Dieu crea Laflaque and Le Coeur a ses raisons.

The Metro gig came in 2002, when Deslauriers's agent called her to audition for it in Longueuil. It was a blind audition, meaning those casting for the voice wouldn't see to whom it belonged.

"They told me: 'You have a voice that's comfortable, that soothes,'" she said.

"I never experienced this elsewhere: you're acting but it's part of your every day, and it's a character that's there for people's well-being."

That's why Deslauriers says she was game to do "Michele's tips," because, she figured, it might help make people's lives easier.

Michèle Deslauriers rides the Metro regularly. She says she's always caught off guard when a message comes on over the STM's intercom system, even though it's her voice. (CBC)

Every once in a while, someone will recognize her and glance over at her with a wink or a smile.

When our interview at Bonaventure is over, Deslauriers slips in among the other passengers, with a knowing smile of her own, and disappears into an Azur metro car.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Verity Stevenson is a reporter with CBC in Montreal. She has previously worked for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star in Toronto, and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John.

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