A few years ago, I published a post called “How to Disguise Your Voice.” Surprisingly, it continues to be one of the most popular posts on this blog. Part of me wants to take offense because that post is not nearly as scholarly as many of my other posts ; part of me thinks the popularity of the post says something about society’s ethics. Mostly, popular posts tell me what you want to read about. This October a post about your vocal image and how it impacts your ability to be effective on Halloween seems to be in order. Although geared toward the fun of it all, in the post on this page you will find three steps to try even if you just want to have more impact at work and don’t want to talk like a pirate, or Shakespeare, or one of the Soprano family members.
Step 1. Get to know your subject
Your ability to talk like Shakespeare or sing like Sinatra will be greater if you can get into the head of your subject. Your vocal image is affected by geography, emotions, education, gender, and age as well as emotions and physical attributes. Stanislavsky had it right when he said, “If you know your character’s thoughts, the proper vocal and bodily expressions will naturally follow.” Or as the Wiki on “How to do Impressions of Famous People” says, “Try to envision yourself as the person you are trying to imitate. It will make it easier subconsciously to act out the subtle mannerisms and behaviors the person exhibits.”
The Stanislavsky Method applied to business suggests that if you want to talk like a business leader, study leadership and figure out how leaders think and act. Emulate them. The same is true for pirates. Fortunately, there is almost as much help online if you want to be a pirate as there is if you want to be a good leader. For example, if you want others to perceive you as a pirate, you can find a glossary of pirate terms to study and learn in the article “Talk Like A Pirate Day,” Similarly, there are links to many fascinating posts called “Italian slang” and “Architecture in the Sopranos HBO Series” in the article in About.com called “How to Talk Like a Soprano Family Member, which should help you get into Tony Soprano’s head…scary thought.
Step 2. Listen to a good source
If you want to talk like a business leader, you need to listen to good examples and emulate them. YouTube is helpful, and Steve Jobs and Sheryl Sandberg are popular subjects. There are Ted Talks , too and probably 100’s of other examples of how business leaders think and speak. However, it’s not so easy to find a real pirate on YouTube. You may have to refer to manuals on performance practice for that category.
It is much easier to find examples to copy if you want to sound like a person of the opposite gender. But what should you copy? Once you find a subject you want to imitate, do you copy every single nuance of their speech? The answer is, “not necessarily.” Sometimes what you need is one small sound to convince others; for example, a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, discovered that the best indicator of gender in speech is the pronunciation of the “s” sound. Men and women say that consonant differently and in that study, when voices were equal in other ways such as pitch and inflection, the pronunciation of “s” still revealed or disguised gender correctly.
Similarly, one phrase can make a vocal disguise convincing; in the WIKI I mentioned above, on doing impressions, the authors suggest “Try to identify what sentence or phrase that the person you want to imitate always said, memorize it, and use it. It can be helpful to enhance the quality of your impressions.”
Step 3. Practice
No matter whether you want to sing better, have better conversations or step up your performance in presentations, you only get better by practicing aloud. It’s no different if you want to learn to speak like you’re from a different state (like Texas)or a different world (like Klingon.)
And all my sources agree. TLAPD suggests that you learn pirate pick-up phrases and practice them on people you meet. Here’s a good one: “I’d love to drop anchor in your lagoon.” The Soprano family course suggests that you choose some choice phrases and go practice them in Northern New Jersey to perfect the accent. A Google search I did on “how do I sound like I have a cold?” had an answer that suggested you practice speaking while breathing through your nose (by the way, there are Yahoo answers to almost every question that starts with “How do I talk like….?”)
The big question you may ask is, “How long does it take to master sounding like a different person?” In an article by Patrick Cox in PRI’s The World, he states that it takes 3 months of intensive daily coaching and practice to master a new accent. Since it’s not likely that you will be able to take 3 months out of your life to learn how to speak like Shakespeare, it will probably take most of you longer.
Cox also says that “an accent is something you see as well as hear.” Years ago, I was on a train and saw two young people talking in the adjoining coach. I could not hear them, but I could tell they were Americans by the way they used their mouths. More specifically, I was sure they were from Texas. I was right.
Frankly, it takes awhile to change any vocal image,;but it can be done by finding a source to give you a target, by listening to those who already do it well, and by practicing. And, although your intention may be to sound like someone else on Halloween this year, if you haven’t already started on it, you may not have time to make sure your content and delivery are aligned with that intention. Taking the advice above, however, there’s a good chance you will have the perfect disguise by next year if you start working on that costume now.
How to Disguise Your Voice
How to Talk Like a Pirate
Talk Like a Soprano Family Member
Talk Like Shakespeare
How to Sing Like Sinatra
How to Fake an Accent and Get Away With It
How to Imitate a Texan Accent
The Klingon Language Institute
How to Fake an Accent
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