Prompts Which Haunt Me


I usually do things in a largely regret-free manner; I’ve gotten pretty expert at sizing up a potential voice project and assessing what its impact might be further down the road. As I’ve discussed in past blogs, there’s distinct lines I won’t cross with gratuitous profanity, overdone eroticism, or overt racism — these give me pretty clear signals that I should probably respectfully recuse myself  and urge the client to move along and find other talent to voice for them. 

Other things I’ve voiced — seemingly harmless and non-noteworthy at the time — have a way of surfacing and never leaving me alone. The “haunting” by these prompts — which become almost like “tag lines” which people take great glee in quoting to me — are most times amusing; other times, they make me wish I’d never uttered them. 

Take the harmless number sequences I’ve voiced for countless telephone systems — the numbers 1-100 (or more), needed to flow and concatenate into billing platforms, numerical sequences, etc. At the very first Astricon in Atlanta, an Asterisk enthusiast approached me and asked: “You know those numbers you voiced for Asterisk?” 

I blinked. “Yep! I know them well,” I quipped. 

“So, for the number ‘0’,” he continued, “you said ‘Zero’, but you also said ‘OH’, right?” 

Again, Yep: systems typically need me say both to cover the option for: “Press One-OH-One for Accounting..”, that kind of thing. 

“Well,” he continued, as his eyes lit up and he started to get quite animated: “I saved that ‘OH’ sound and I loop it so it just plays over and over…..’OHOHOHOHOHOHOH..!” 

I faked a nosebleed to get out of there. 

One of the most inventive uses for Asterisk was when a noted Asterisk wonk got the ever-popular Rhoomba vacuum robot to operate on Asterisk code commands, which he demonstrated at a couple of IT trade shows before really amazing the crowds at Astricon with it — he took it even further and arranged for me to record some custom prompts specifically for that application — prompts which were audible from the vacuum unit itself. 

I *knew* when I recorded them, that the prompts which said: “START SUCKING!” and “STOP SUCKING!” were going to be absolutely no good for my career. But they were so fun! And they went over in a huge way when the mastermind of the project set it down on the floor during his lecture at Astricon and delighted the crowd as it zipped down the center aisle with me — the voice of their Asterisk systems which they recognize so well — barking: “START SUCKING NOW!” 

Of course, not a convention goes by without someone walking past me and whispering “Start Sucking!”, and it even came up in an e-mail from a client whose company name I was having a hard time intoning properly…..he joked: “Stop Sucking and say it correctly!” I still have images of the remote-controlled Rhoomba following me at my heels across the hotel lobby, me practically tripping over it, with a never-ending chorus of “me” chirping: “START SUCKING!” 

I was hired to voice a demo for an interactive ordering system, to demonstrate the ease of processing a product order from greeting the customer, information gathering for billing, and customizing their order — the demo focused around a pizza ordering model. I never realized — after I was well into voicing the various options for pizza sizes — that there were quite so many adjectives to describe “large”. 


On their own — and used in an innocent pizza ordering application — not even going to raise an eyebrow. Taken out of context, hijacked, copied and used on their own — I always have to think about these sound fragments and how they can be lifted out of their intended “milieu” and used for evil. Well, if not for evil — at least for too much amusement. (Remember on The Simpsons, where Smithers computer revealed an image of Mr. Burns “saying” a pastiche of sound fragments {surreptitiously gathered and “Smithered” together?} which sounded jumpy and fragmented, but unmistakable: “Hello, Smithers…you’re…quite…good…at…turning…me…on!” )

I have to always be mindful that once the prompts leave my studio, they’re open for manipulation  and altering; and that even seemingly innocent things I’ve voiced can create far-reaching ripples. And which may follow me forever.

Next blog, I’ll delve into a common trend in modern human behavior: the preference of e-mail over telephone communication, and why even I — who makes a living voicing telephone systems — can’t stand talking on the phone. 

Thanks for reading! 

(BTW: for those hard-core IVR developers — or for those who just need assistance from the ground up in writing and building your IVR systems: I’m now blogging directly on the Digium site, in a column called The IVR Clinic with Allison Smith. I’m currently working on a 15-part series called “The 15 Commandments of IVR”, and it highlights the biggest mistakes people make when designing their IVR systems and how to avoid them. It can be found at:



  1. Jane Cassidy Said:

    Stop smelling.

    • voicegal Said:

      You NUT. I’m so glad you read my blog!

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