|How to Second the eMotion
January 7th, 2001
In our fourth and final installment on the idea of conversationality,
here are a couple of observations on the role of emotions in
our on-air speech.
First, in our normal, day-to-day speech, we rarely set out
to feel a certain way. In fact, when we find ourselves
in an emotional situation, our behavior is very complicated
and unusual. On rare occasions, we may overflow with emotion
in the form of open grief, anger, or glee, but mostly we spend
a lot of energy in keeping these feelings under wrap.
It is very peculiar, then, when a reporter tries to make
the simplistic connection that somehow says its
a sad story, I should be sad or its a happy
story, I should be happy. Its just not the way
we behave in real life, and any attempt to reach a certain
emotional goal will inevitably look fake and weird.
There are certain rules of propriety, of course. You wouldnt
want to laugh at someones misfortune, or pass off tragedy
for less than it really was, but simply thinking that you
aim to be sad or somber for a sad story or happy for a light
story is doomed to look strange on the air.
Think of how it works: generally, in real life, emotional
states creep up on us. As the rich and complex interplay of
experience, current information and circumstance conspire
to overwhelm us with feelings, we find our psychological state
reacting. If we use this as our model in our on-air performances,
they will be more real, more true to life and more believable.
We speak often of doing the work - that is to
say, getting facts correct; really, really understanding the
underpinnings of your story, speaking clearly and logically
about the subject of your story.
If you can do this with a clear mind, sometimes emotions
will sneak up on you, and if you are mature and confident
enough to deal with those feelings, provided they are honestly
and genuinely felt, they cannot help but inform your performance.
I had a client some years ago who worked for a Spanish language
television station. We were reviewing her story of the Acapulco
floods around a big conference table with her colleagues and
co-workers. It was an important story for her, not only because
she was reporting from Acapulco, but also because it was from
her own neighborhood, a 'barrio' she has left years before.
Near the end of the story, her voice became choked a bit,
describing how the wall of water had swept down the hillside
and destroyed her old neighborhood. The reporter sheepishly
told me she was embarrassed by the report because she was
so unprofessional, letting her emotions show.
I posed the question around the table what the other reporters
thought, and to the person, they all agreed that it was perhaps
one of her best reports ever. My observation was that the
emotion that welled up in the reporter on that rainy street
in Acapulco was real and genuine, and it was profoundly expressed
by the reporter. The most amazing thing, however, was that
virtually all the information was there in the report, there
was nothing missing, and perhaps the story was made even more
vivid and real because of the reporters emotional honesty.
Have a great, safe and happy New(s) Year, and keep breathing!