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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 Jugular

Last week, we proposed the idea that when you are interviewing someone, you are really conducting two interviews at the same time: the professional interview (why the subject is notable or famous - their book, their achievements, etc.) and the personal interview (who they are as a person, their personality and behavior).

Let’s go one step further. When you realize that your conversation is slipping into a meaningless blur of rhetoric, and your subject is being perfectly candid about their accomplishments, and are still boring, go for the jugular. Ask the ‘other’ subject of your interview, the person, a question that might have the possibility of enlivening the interview a bit more.

Here’s a brief example. Some years ago, I found myself interviewing a young man who was one of the founders of a Gay-Straight Alliance at one of our local high schools. By all accounts, this should be a juicy, rich subject. But I discovered about 10 minutes into the interview, that despite all my efforts, the young man was stiff, tense, and - sadly - really, really boring. I don’t mean repetitive, but really dull, tedious and uninteresting. But the subject ought to right and jump out at listeners. He just droned on and on “...we founded our group in 1990, and we have blah-blah number of members, and we believe blah, blah, blah...”

It was the worst kind of public affairs interview imaginable, it was live, and I could listeners reaching for their dials. It occurred to me that I had neglected to interview ‘the person’ and not just the activist. I gently interrupted the young man and asked “why did YOU get involved in this work?”

There was a very long pause, and the young man replied “ age 17, I was elected class president. I lettered in two sports. I had a full scholarship to Stanford. I was a Merit Scholar was voted most likely to succeed by my class.” He paused again, thinking deeply, then added, “...but when I told my parents I was Gay, they kicked me out of my house - at age 16. I had to find a place to live and get on with my life. No 16 year old should have to go through that...” There was a long pause - this time, my choice; I couldn’t have added anything to the emotion in the young man’s voice.

If I had continued to ask the professional questions about the young man’s activities and what his group did, the interview would have remained dull to the point of distraction. But by directing a question to THE PERSON, rather than the professional expert, we got a powerful moment of broadcasting.

So, when your interview seems to be bogging down in tedious details, go for the jugular. As the personal question.

More on question order next week.

In the meantime, inhale. Pause. Gently exhale.