Pretty much everything about vox pops is brief: the time that a stranger spares you to question them, the attention-span of the audience and of course, the vox pops themselves. So how can you be sure to maximise the insight potential in such a short space of time?
1. It’s all in the approach
To address a stranger, to essentially disturb them as they go about their day to answer a question at random requires a thoughtful approach. The most important thing is to make them feel comfortable enough to freely express their opinion on camera. A friendly but brief introduction of yourself and the aim of your research should hold you in good stead. (This is also where you mention if/where the video will be posted). Having an encouraging manner also goes a long way.
2. Be Brief
It’s question time. The language should be clear and the question as short as possible for maximum engagement. My question was “What does Everyday Creativity mean to you?” As it’s such a subjective question, it was important that they felt comfortable answering it and getting the previous step right would have ensured that. The interviewees were all on board with the question and weren’t too nervous. Their answers were succinct and full of personality. Great!
3. A solid follow-up question
Respondents in vox pops are often asked to elaborate or are asked a follow-up question to add more depth to their answers. My follow-up question, “What are examples of this in your daily life?” seemed to prompt responses that weren’t as concise. Did it feel too personal? Were they unsure? It was clear that something was amiss. It got worse when I asked one person who got so lost in his thought process that he didn’t articulate for 2 minutes. That’s a long time when there’s a camera rolling. As I waited for him to speak, I could see him mentally grasping for something to say. When he did eventually answer, he still seemed unsure and so of course, my follow-up question fell flat too, as he struggled to find examples to back up something he wasn’t really sure about in the first place. After the attack of nerves I had just witnessed, it became obvious that the questions needed to be rephrased. I changed the question to “When was the last time you did this?” As if by magic, the answers became much more focussed. Asking respondents to recall recent or specific time-frames helps them shape their answers as they are talking about something fresh in their minds.
4. Don’t be afraid to go off-piste…
When you’re pointing a mic at someone, it’s easy to forget how difficult it is to be on the receiving end. It’s also easy to forget to allow yourself more flexibility with your ‘script’. This is the best opportunity to get those great, unexpected moments of brilliance, as I found when I spoke to two children about the things that “confused” them about the art in Hackney, and a French-speaker who told me all about the freestyle hairdo he had just given his nephew! For this, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by a French cameraman who was able to translate the question. This highlights the importance of maximising resources and being flexible. I also decided to fine-tune the first question to “What are the first words that pop into your mind when you hear Everyday Creativity?” From this, I learnt that asking interviewees to run with the first thing that came to mind brought about a state of ease, a peace of mind about just diving in without fear of messing up.
5. …but remember your aims
Since the aim of doing vox pops is to collect soundbites, they should be concise and focussed. That sounds obvious but if an interviewee is unsure, they will miss the point, or go down a tangent, resulting in a less-than-satisfying answer. So the questions themselves have to facilitate that. After a shaky start, mine eventually did and as a result, I was able to streamline and speed up the process. The end result was a selection of good, focussed soundbites, delivered with confidence. Most importantly, they were a lot more insightful.