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Business Class: Voiceover icon Peter Thomas — “Think before you speak”

By Randall Kenneth Jones

Originally published in the Naples Daily News
Monday, March 17, 2014

We often hear that a person who has enjoyed a long and prolific career has “seen it all.”

For voiceover icon Peter Thomas, a more appropriate observation could be: Thomas has “said it all.”

“Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?” (General Motors)

“The taste people hate twice a day.” (Listerine)

“Helping people find the answers.” (IBM)

“Don’t leave home without it.” (American Express)

Peter Thomas photo by Karen Kayser BensonWith a career spanning seven decades, Thomas’ highly recognizable voice has helped to build the integrity of consumer brands and add authenticity to films, television programs and documentaries—all with the goal of boosting the emotional impact of scripted words and screen images.

If a writer’s words are the paint, Thomas’ voice is the brush that enhances the metaphorical canvas: the broad strokes of descriptive adjectives, the thin strokes of whimsy, a long stroke for special emphasis and a short stroke to bring the point home.

Without question, Peter Thomas is an artist. What’s more, the 89-year-old International Television and Radio Association Lifetime Achievement Award winner is still working.

A Pensacola native, Thomas is the son of a Welsh minister—an earnest man who taught his children the importance of both recitation and memorization. Dr. John D. Thomas encouraged young Peter to “see the picture” rather than just “read the words.”

His father’s advice would ultimately serve as the foundation for his dynamic career.

Throughout the years, Thomas’ talent, work ethic and integrity have earned him the respect of countless industry professionals.

According to former New York casting director Karen Kayser Benson, “Peter is a product of the early days of the ‘big voice;’ however, he is widely credited with ushering in a more respected era of believability and honesty.”

Though Thomas’ first meeting with a promising “up and comer” named Johnny Carson occurred years before Carson’s ascent to “broadcast legend” status, Thomas—and his inimitable voice—were later chosen by Carson to lead a wedding ceremony for one of Carson’s own children.

Despite numerous awards, Thomas, a proud World War II veteran, lights up when discussing one specific project: the Oscar-winning HBO documentary “One Survivor Remembers.”

Peter Thomas photo by Karen Kayser BensonThe celebrated movie tells the story of Nazi survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein, who, as a teen, was tragically interred in various labor camps.

A topic close to his heart, Thomas’ own unit participated in the liberation of Nordhausen Concentration Camp.

Regardless of one’s method of—or reason for—communicating, Peter Thomas recommends, “You have to believe in what you say. It has to be a part of you.”

His creative process still tracks back to his father’s early influence: “See the picture in your mind—pause—see the next picture and then speak.”

For those who struggle with finding the right words, Thomas suggests: “Stop and think about it. Go to sleep, wake up and think about it again.”

What’s more, Thomas intuitively knows exactly when to stop talking.

According to Benson, “Peter has a stopwatch in his head.”

Now, stop and ask yourself: How many people do you know who carefully consider the impact of their words? Or, equally important, who understand exactly when it’s time to be quiet?

Thomas’ advice for broadcasters: “Think before you speak.”

Thomas’ advice for the rest of us: “Think before you speak.”

A lesson as profound in its simplicity as it is in its significance.

Randall Kenneth JonesMarketer, publicist, business humoristprofessional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.

Photos: TOP — Randall Kenneth Jones and Peter Thomas; Photo #2 — Peter Thomas; Photo #3 — Peter Thomas framed portrait art (photos by Karen Kayser Benson); BOTTOM — Randall Kenneth Jones.