Don LaFontaine, the “Voice of God”, Dies

Don LaFontaine, one of the most prolific voice over artists ever, died Monday. You knew him as the guy who did voice-overs for countless movies and television trailors like “24”, “Terminator 2”, and “The Simpsons Movie.”

He had sound so distinctive and sought after that he was referred to as the “voice of God.”  But as speakers, we can also learn from his wonderful ability to put inflection in everything he said.  His voice was never flat, but rode up and down like a roller coaster, making everything he said sound interesting and exciting.

Read his obituary in the New York Times.

And listen to his voice on the famous Geico television advertisement. When watching the ad, notice two things. First, notice the flat voice from the Geico customer. It’s the typical monotone that so many people in business use when speaking in presentations. Then notice how LaFontaine ads drama by making his voice go up and down, punctuating certain words for emphasis.  The dramatic music helps too. 

We can’t all have LaFontaine’s deep baritone voice. But we can all learn to speak with lots of expression.


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Which Pols Know How to Read Teleprompters?

With the Democratic Convention beginning today, watch for which politicians know how to read a teleprompter.  Almost certainly none will do it as well as the week’s star, Sen. Barack Obama.   Obama is a true master, maybe the best ever. Possibly better than Ronald Reagan.

What makes him so good? Simple. It doesn’t seem like he’s reading. If you go back and look at some of his primary victory speeches, you will be hard pressed to tell whether he’s reading the teleprompter. He just seems like he’s giving an extemporeneous speech.

But he’s on the prompter. It’s amazing.

So what is the key to being good on the teleprompter?

The single most important thing is to vary your speed and speak with exaggerated feeling. Most people slow down and speak in a monotone when reading a teleprompter. That makes their speech seem halting and phony.  Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton both do this.  They sound like they’re reading a theme in a high school essay competiton.

We coach our clients to pretend like they’re reading a book to a child and they’re trying to put lots of feeling into it. When you do that, you tend to read with more variety in your voice and with lots of expression. That exaggerated expression is what makes you sound real. I know that it won’t feel real when you do it. Nothing about using a teleprompter feels real for the person using it. But it will sound real.

Watch the parade of politicians this week. All of them will be trying to match Sen. Obama for his teleprompter skill. I suspect few will measure up.

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Voice Energy Lesson from Green Eggs and Ham

When it first appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1991 (to commemorate the death of Dr. Suess), this classic bit was one of those television moments that everyone was talking about.

As wonderful as it still is, it’s also a great lesson in how to use your voice effectively. Notice how Rev. Jackson’s voice is like a roller coaster. The voice rises and falls, speeds up and slows down. His pauses are wonderful.

Too many people in business speak in a flat monotone. Whether or not you like his politics, I think we all have to admit that our listeners would all be much happier if more of us would try to speak with the wonderful ebb and flow of Rev. Jesse Jackson reading “Green Eggs and Ham”.

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I’ll Take Bad Gestures and Great Energy Any Day

Sure Billy Mays has terrible gestures. And sure they’re distracting. But Billy Mays isn’t a highly successful pitchman for no reason. He’s successful because he knows how to get listeners fired up about his products. 

What fires people up is his vocal and facial energy.

If he really wanted to, Billy Mays could fix his gestures.  But what if he calms down his gestures and at the same time loses the amazing energy?

That’s not a good trade off.

Gestures don’t sell. Energy does. Passion is contagious and gets people fired up to buy.  

So fix the gestures if you can Billy Mays. But don’t lose that energy. Because that energy is what’s putting the spaghetti on your table. 

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