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Jon Beaupré is a voice and performance consultant for radio and television performers. Under the name Broadcast Voice, he provides private training and workshops for reporters, anchors, sports and weather casters, and others working in electronic and broadcast media. He teaches in the Broadcast Communications program at California State University at Los Angeles, and conducts workshops and seminars with the Associated Press Radio and Television Association. He has been a fixture on the convention circuit, teaching workshops at a wide range of specialty journalism and broadcast conventions and stations on both coasts of the U.S.
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 ‘it’s a sad story, I should be sad’ or ‘it’s a happy story, I should be happy.’ It’s 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 wouldn’t want to laugh at someone’s 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 reporter’s emotional honesty.

Have a great, safe and happy New(s) Year, and keep breathing!