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UK Career Coach and Creative Business Coach

Mastering Speech Patterns: A Guide for Actors

Updated: Mar 18

Speech patterns are a powerful tool that can help actors deliver a more powerful and meaningful performance. But what exactly are speech patterns, and how can you use them to your advantage? That's where this article can help. I'll cover the basics of speech patterns, give you some examples from popular movies, and explain how you can use them when preparing for a role.

Mastering Speech Patterns: A Guide for Actors

Table of Contents

 

What Are Speech Patterns?


Speech patterns refer to the organisational patterns that encompass the tone, pace, and rhythm of a performer's speech. These patterns can help you convey the inner workings of a character you play. The emotions and thoughts you have while playing a character influence your use of tone, rate of speech, breathing, and inflexion.


A speech pattern refers to the distinct manner in which a person speaks, unlike dialect, which is a regional variation or accent. For example, you can have two individuals with the same accent, but each can have different speech patterns. Every individual has their own unique set of speech patterns, and by understanding what they are, you adapt your performance to suit the needs of the character that you play. Doing so will help you deliver a more compelling performance that your audience can connect to.



Actor Auditions and Interviews


First impressions count, and sometimes, you only have a small window of opportunity to create a positive and lasting impact. The way you speak plays a crucial role in the outcome of acting auditions and interviews with agents. 


Speaking too quickly, mumbling, using filler words, not breathing correctly, and poor projection can all weaken the impact of your delivery. As Benjamin Franklin said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail".


To improve your communication skills, you should work on building your self-awareness by practising beforehand and paying attention to your speech patterns. When you speak, make sure to enunciate each word clearly and consider the rhythm of your speech. It's important to pause for reflection and actively engage with your audience, giving them time to absorb the information.


Consider this from the perspective of a voiceover audition: if we simply read the text on the page without pause, inflexion, feeling, or intonation, the recording would be monotonous, and listeners would lose interest. However, if we reflect upon each word and think about why we are saying what we are and the reason for saying it, the text suddenly becomes alive and draws the audience in.


So remember to consider the significance and impact of each word and sentence you say. Try slowing down or changing the speed and intonation to see if it would better convey and strengthen the message you are aiming to make your audience understand.


The Movie 'Clueless'



Let's consider the iconic movie Clueless, which made Alicia Silverstone (Cher) a household name and cemented her Hollywood career. In the film, the characters use upward inflexion in their speech and frequently use the word "like."


The use of heightened pitch and so-called "upward talk" helps Cher make all of her statements sound like questions, adds naivety to the character, and enables Alicia Silverstone to hide her character's true intelligence until the end of the movie.


The Orignal Bill and Ted Movie



The original Bill and Ted movie, starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, revolved around two teenagers who spoke using words like "dude" and "bogus." Their rhythmic, almost melodic speech and the pace and pitch they used helped create a social identity for two teenagers who didn't follow society's norms and were seen as outsiders and troublemakers.


Their use of language was a strong contrast to the adults around them, reinforcing their adolescent, non-conformist, young, and cool personas. This use of language hides their true potential until the end of the movie when their use of language and individuality leads to them becoming a global and world-uniting phenomenon.


How to Use Speech Patterns When Preparing for a Role


When preparing for a role, consider the points below to help you add depth and authenticity and breathe life into your characters.


Location: When deciding on a character's speech patterns, consider the character's geographical location and any cultural traditions for that region. Some cultures prefer direct communication, while others favour a more indirect approach. A character's speech patterns, tone, and pitch can be significantly impacted by the cultural norms they live in.


Time Period: Consider how your character's speech patterns might be influenced by the time period in which they were born. For example, if your character was born in the 19th century, they might use a more formal, rhythmic, and elaborate speech pattern than someone born in the 21st century. Industrialisation, class and status all impact how a character speaks and moves.


Brevity: Brevity affects whether a character speaks formally or informally; their breathing and speed of speech all impact how the audience perceives the character and their status in relation to those around them. A formal character would be articulate and speak slower, and someone informal would be more spontaneous and more relaxed; informality can also indicate familiarity.


Vocal Cues: To add depth to your characters, consider added silences and unexpected changes in tone. If you're playing a timid and shy character, could you show how they suddenly found strength by increasing your pitch and speed? Or could speaking in a monotone tone convey a loss of interest in what someone is saying? Take a moment to consider a typical horror movie villain, like the one in Scream; beyond using a voice manipulation device, how does the killer conceal their true nature till the end of the movie?



Final Tips


Going to the theatre and watching movies can help you learn from other actors. Consider, for example, in the movies above how they use speech to convey their characters more authentically. Watch documentaries, different genres of movies, and theatre productions, and listen to the library sound archives to ensure you listen to a broad spectrum of informative resources.


Go out and people-watch. Observe closely how other people use tone, pitch, and speed in their delivery, and practice speaking and moving like them. Keep a journal and reflect on your thoughts. Make notes about how even a minor change in inflexion and delivery can have a significant impact on the listener's perception and how you embody a role.

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