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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.

The Perfect Question

In our last installment, we talked about the art of listening and how vital it is to a good interview.

This week, something about the nature of the questions we ask.

I generally assume that there will be one "money" question in an interview. Sometimes we are lucky enough to get more, but we have to have at least one. In future segments, we'll discuss the difference between feature and news interviews, and open ended radio interviews vs. television "story" interviews, since their needs are so different, and subtly complicated to achieve.

Face it, anyone can ask a question. Nothing could be simpler - in fact we spend much of our waking life asking questions. We sometimes refer to our life-survival questions as "navigation speech": "where is the..." "how do I...?" "What's the answer to...?"

There is no intention to be memorable with these questions. Rather there is simply the need to gather information and move on. The information that is gathered is of a much more factual nature than the information we want from a good interview.

In a good feature interview it can be as much what is not said, what is implied by the tone of voice, the body language, and the hidden meaning of the response than the factual content of a subject's answer.

There are a couple of ways to lay out your questions. One way is to put your most important questions first, in descending order down to your least important. This way, if your tape runs out, if your broadcast has technical problems, if you are interrupted in any way, you will have (hopefully) gathered your most important information. Another scheme suggests that you always save one or two good questions for later in the interview, so that if things start to bog down, you will have something in reserve.

Whatever scheme you use, try to think deeply about the one single question that will elicit the deepest meaning or response from your subject. Don't use it first, but be constantly probing as to the right time to pose that question. This concept of defining the "perfect question" is much more an art than a science, but there is much that systematic preparation can provide us with as tools.

We'll cover some of those methods next week. Inhale deeply, pause, exhale slowly and enjoy it!