The People’s Vox Pops- How to

The term vox pops comes from the latin– vox populi meaning voice of the people. It is a trope that has become standard practice in the world of ENG- electronic news gathering- but I have a criticism of the standard approach which is essentially that reporters go out to find what they want to or expect to hear and disregard the rest, especially that which does not resonate with their story. At The People Speak we expect Vox pops to be a journey of discovery and a way to make new connections.


The Approach

Body language and eye contact are vital before you even begin to talk. Present yourself as if you are familiar with the person, you expect them to contribute and you are excited to speak to them. Check for eye contact. If you get nothing back, or a sense of rejection, don’t proceed. Wait for the next potential participant. If they are a little nervous or fearful that’s ok. Ideally the person you meet will have curiosity. If somebody witnesses your request getting rejected, they are far more likely to reject you too. Conversely if you get on a roll and people see you talking to others, they are more likely to follow suit. People will pick up on your confidence.


Preamble and the first question

Before recording, briefly explain what you are doing. Remember you are trying to tap into the other person’s world. So listen to the response to your explanation and use it to craft your first question to suit the participant, if possible using the same turn of phrase and words that they do. Assume nothing; try and make it as open as possible to give the respondent space to project their own thoughts on to it.


Seeing things from the participant’s perspective.

Rather than contradicting or showing displeasure at anything the participant says, show your appreciation for their points giving value to their input. If they are passionate about anything they say, try to understand the source of their passion. If you disagree with what they are saying, use this as an opportunity to try to understand their perspective.



Be enthusiastic about whatever the person has to say. Ideally this will come from a genuine interest in their world. Find out what makes them passionate. Point out anything novel or noteworthy in their first answer and use their values, phrases and terms in your next question instead of your own terminology. When you are listening to the person speak, try to nod or show other visual affirmation, rather than verbal affirmation as this will give a cleaner recording.


Listening and responding

Try to be in the moment to give full attention to what the person is saying. Be that person who is worth talking to because you listen to their every word. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask for an explanation.

At The People Speak we say it’s essential to be tangential. This means look for side topics that the participant is interested in that might eventually inform the central theme.


The open question

Ask questions without value judgments. Ask questions without assuming or expecting what the answer is. Ask questions that will expand the understanding of the situation and may uncover the thought process leading to their statements


The end- Final thoughts – talking about talking

When you feel like the interview is getting towards the end, thank the participant for their contribution and let them know you have what you need, but keep going for a little bit longer, recapping what was said and discussing it. This puts the participant into a more relaxed and reflective mood and often they say something considered once they feel that the main demand of the interview is over.



Always listen back to your recording to make sure you are getting a good clean sound. If there are two of you, the one monitoring the sound should feel able to interrupt if there’s a technical problem. If you are doing it by yourself, make sure that you get the technical side sorted out first so you are not thinking about it when you should be listening to the person. If there is any wind use a “furry dog” to protect the microphone. Most contemporary microphones are supercardioid in sensitivity, meaning they pick up most sound in the direction you point them.


Background noise

Try to record in a place where there is very little background noise. If there is a sudden noise, then get the participant to say what they are saying again. Try not to interrupt the speaker with your voice and encourage them with gestures, waiting til they have finished speaking to ask the next question.

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