How to talk like a business leader…or a pirate
A great costume needs a great vocal disguise, just as a great slide deck begs for a great speaker. In this post, you will find three steps to prepare for either Halloween or your next business presentation. After all, it’s not every business leader who can talk like a pirate!
STEP 1. GET TO KNOW 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.” This means Your ability to talk like Shakespeare or a pirate, or sing like Lady Gaga will be greater if you can get into the head of your subject.
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 Jeff Bezos and Mary Barra 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.
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; 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 Ewokese.)
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 Google 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 full months out of your life to learn exclusively 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 a while 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 Story and Presence 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.