I recently watched a comic do celebrity impressions.
As I watched, I noticed his face changed:
- His lips looked more like the celebrity’s.
- His cheeks moved to look more like the celebrity’s.
- He even moved his eyebrows to look more like the celebrity’s.
… All to change his voice!
Our nonverbal, verbal, and vocal cues are all tied together.
The size of your diaphragm; shape you make with your tongue, neck, and cheeks; the amount of air you take in as you breathe—all these affect the way we sound.
So it’s not just “changing your voice.”
Changing our entire body can help our celebrity impressions sound better… and even make us sound more charismatic as a leader.
Let’s dive into how to do celebrity impressions.
Pick Your Person
Before we begin, have a person you want to mimic in mind. It could be:
- your favorite actor
- a TV show host or singer
- a close friend or family member
If you’re just starting out, the best celebrity impression you can do is to try and mimic someone who is already similar to you.
For example, if you’re naturally shy and wear glasses, you might want to try impersonating Harry Potter. Or if you’re outgoing and confident, try aiming for someone more like The Rock or Oprah.
When picking someone, pay attention to their qualities:
- How their voice sounds. Is it naturally low or high? Do they vary their voice a lot, or is it more flat? Is it breathy or strong?
- Their vocal rhythms. Are there long pauses in their speech or do they talk fast? Do they speak punchy and quick or long and slow?
- Their gestures. Do they use their hands a lot when speaking? What gestures do they tend to make?
- Their age. Are they old or young? Does that affect their voice or body language?
- Their gender. Are they male or female? How does that affect their mannerisms?
- Their upbringing. Do they have an accent, or is their way of speaking from a certain location?
Let’s take a deeper look so you can do your best impression:
8 Ways to Use Your Body for Stunning Celebrity Impressions
Point Your Brows
Think of what your celebrity typically looks like. Are their brows typically pointing up or down?
You’ll notice this also changes the way the voice sounds—eyebrows that are up are usually showing a surprise or fear microexpression (with the voice usually higher), and downward-pointing eyebrows can indicate anger or disgust (with a downward tone).
Mimic their eyebrows to match their downward or upward tone.
Check out these famous celebrities. You’ll find that they can be seen showing these types of brows:
Match Their Inflection
Notice the way they sound—do they speak with an upward or downward inflection? Vocal inflection gives insights into how a person feels—either in a given situation or in general.
For example, imagine a powerful, authoritative person like Kevin Spacey in the TV show House of Cards. His voice isn’t only deep, but it also ends with a downward inflection in many of his sentences. Check out this trailer to see the respect his voice commands:
Now, take a person with upward intonation or “upspeak”—which is the OPPOSITE of vocal authority—and you’re in vocal warmth territory.
Some people may call it vocal “silliness,” but it’s the highest in warmth because everything sounds like a question. Emilia Clarke does a great impression of how someone using this tone of voice might sound like (timestamp 2:30):
Here’s what happens psychologically: When someone hears the question inflection, they begin to question the statement.
Whenever you use the question inflection, you give away your vocal power.
Here’s a common example:
Say you’re pitching a new product to a potential client. Everything goes well… until it’s time to mention the price. You answer meekly, “The price of my product is $5,000?”
When you ask your price, you are begging for people to negotiate.
So whatever person you’re imitating…
Match their inflection to match their level of power.
Form Your Lips
What shape are their lips usually making?
Lips can be pursed, slightly open, frowning, in a slight smile, showing their pearly whites, crooked, and much more!
John Mayer, the guitarist famously known for his wild faces he makes while playing guitar, is an exaggerated example:
According to Ethan Hein, music professor at New York University, when we play musical instruments, our entire brain is working, including the motor cortex, which also controls facial muscles.
This explains why thinking and facial movement—in this case, mouth movement—are so intertwined.
What are your person’s lips saying? Mimic their lip shape to channel their thoughts.
Use Up or Down Gestures
Hand gestures are unique because they often convey what we’re saying—for example, someone might gesture with one hand low and the other higher if they’re comparing the amounts of water in a glass.
Hand gestures are linked to what we think and say.
And because each of us tends to have certain thoughts, we also use certain hand gestures that are unique to us.
For example, I often wave, keep my fingers apart, and steeple.
Does your person have a certain hand gesture they use? For an extensive list of hand gestures, take a look at our ultimate guide: 60 Hand Gestures and Their Meanings
For the sake of simplicity, let’s take a look at UP or DOWN:
- Up gestures are gestures that are uplifting and use upward motion. These include waves, palm-up gestures, throwing hands in the air, and circular motions upward. Up gestures signal someone who has high energy, is vibrant, cheerful, and positive.
- Down gestures, on the other hand, signal someone who is commanding, serious, or negative. These include gestures with the palm facing downward, slicing motions with the arm downward, and closed fists.
Use up or down motions to convey positivity or authority.
In your personal and professional life, I invite you to use one or the other.
We are captivated by people who show emotion, and hand gestures are a great way to do so. Record yourself and count your cues—are you using more up cues or down cues?
Master Their Movement
An energetic character will move briskly and stand upright, while a sad character will slump over and move slowly.
Cool characters might walk with their head held high, and creepy characters might walk erratically.
When it comes to movement, we unconsciously copy body language from our conversation partners—IF we like them.
This is called mirroring, and we do it because it makes us look “similar” to them and feel empathy.
Mirror their movement and walking styles.
I find that doing a quick warm-up walk like your person’s really helps you get in character.
Control Your Cadence
Cadence is the flow of how someone speaks. How fast someone talks and the pauses between their words are all part of cadence. People with a fast cadence are known as fast speakers, while those with a slower cadence generally take their time when speaking.
Notice how the person you’re imitating likes to pause—if at all. Pausing, especially midsentence, shows power because powerful people don’t have to rush through their words.
Watch how Jim Carrey impersonates Elvis in this classic scene. Notice how he exaggerates Elvis’s cadence, with long pauses interrupted by brief, rapid moments of speech (timestamp 1:15):
For a more realistic example, Gene Wilder is a master at using the silent pause. Watch this amazing montage of Gene’s best moments:
Use silent pauses between words to control the flow of speech.
Vowels and Consonants
Time to focus on the actual words your character might use.
Let’s say you’re imitating a person with a strong British accent. They may elongate certain vowels like in the words “cart” and “born.”
Or you could be mimicking a person with a strong southern accent, in which case you might get rid of the “g” in words that end in “-ing.” In this case, a word like “moving” would become “movin’.”
Chest vs. Throat Voice
Is their voice clear and crisp, or scratchy and mumbly?
Does their voice boom from their belly, or does it squeak out from the head area?
Some people speak from deep in their belly, creating a deep, more resonant voice. These voices are usually powerful—think James Earl Jones, Vin Diesel, or Margaret Thatcher after her famous vocal transformation.
People who speak from their throat or neck areas create higher frequencies, sounding more like the iconic Mickey Mouse in extreme cases.
To add that “raspy” quality to your voice like Adele or Louis Armstrong, you might want to add saliva and/or phlegm to your throat for some added thickness. This makes your throat narrower, allowing your voice to take on a raspier quality.
And if you want to be seen more as a leader, try lowering your voice. Researchers found that we tend to vote for political candidates who have the deeper voice, with candidates with the lower voice being selected 69% of the time.
To help achieve your desired voice, you can also do one of my favorite vocal warm ups: How to Speak with Confidence and Sound Better
Putting it Into Practice: 2 Celebrity Impression Case Studies
OK, now that you know the HOW, let’s look at some real-world examples.
I’ll pick 2 iconic examples to impersonate—Barack Obama and Cher from the movie Clueless.
Barack Obama, Master of Vocal Authority
Barack Obama is known for a very specific vocal quality.
When Obama speaks, he tends to have a downward inflection at the end of his sentences.
As we mentioned before, downward inflections are a very authoritative way of speaking and commanding attention.
Obama also has a lot of space in the middle part of his mouth. So when he’s speaking, you can almost hear the hollow in his voice. To achieve this resonant effect, you can create more space between the tongue and roof of your mouth.
He also tends to point his eyebrows down, furrowing his brow, which is a partial anger microexpression.
Sometimes Obama will also pause, look off to the side, look back, press his lips together, and harden his lower eyelids. This is part of his cadence and use of silent pauses, which helps “grip” his audience and add punch to his words.
Obama also uses a lot of palm down gestures, which emphasizes his vocal authority.
Alicia Silverstone, Acting as Cher
If you’ve had the pleasure of watching the 1995 American comedy movie Clueless, you’ll notice the main character, Cher, has a distinct “Valley girl” talk or uptalk, giving away her vocal authority.
You’ll also notice Cher has a lot of “up” body language:
- She often has her arms up.
- Her eyebrows are up, along with her forehead (causing those horizontal wrinkles).
- Her upper lip rises up.
If you want to be taken seriously, I recommend avoiding the “up” language.
Instead, stay in that neutral range or even in the downward inflection zone for more power, like we learned from Obama.
Silverstone’s hands are always gesturing up:
- playing with her hair
- gesturing upward
- having her hands up
Bonus: Hear and Speak
One of the best ways to nail your impression is to really practice. And a great method to use is to find your favorite scene or audio clip and repeat it… over and over and over again.
Practice is the key to making the best impression ever.
While you play the clip, try to mimic in real time their exact words, expressions, body language, and vocal qualities. Use the tips you learned to not only sound like your chosen person but look and feel like them too.
In a way, doing vocal impressions is a lot like acting—your whole body has to be in tune with who you’re trying to portray.
Once you’ve nailed that down, you’ll truly have the best impression ever!
Now—over to you. Who’s your favorite person to impersonate? And what tips and tricks do you have?
I’d love to hear your comments below!