Storytelling Interview The Art of Getting the Conversation Started

Epic Storytelling Interviews: The Art of Getting the Conversation Started

If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that someone close to you — may be your parents or grandparents — wants to share their story with the world. You may be hesitant about interviewing them because it might seem like an intimidating process. But, recording these memories and conducting the interview can be one of the most important things we do as people and families today – although it might seem scary at first!

Here are some starter tips for interviewing your loved one:

Prepare questions ahead of time, but don’t go into the interview with a hard list. Use what you know about this person to come up with questions that will make them open up and share their story. You can use these as prompts or even inspiration for an ongoing conversation.

Different interview styles

In the world of journalism, interviews all have their own style. Some people believe it is best to be direct while others don’t mind letting things unfold naturally. There are those who enjoy getting as much detail about an event as possible while others like to ask open-ended questions that will elicit a conversation. Regardless of your approach, there is something special about hearing someone speak on the record for the very first time or seeing emotions build up before being spoken out loud.

Here are a few different interview styles

  1. Behavioral Interviews 
  2. Case Study Interviews 
  3. Competency-based interviews 
  4. Contingency Interviews 
  5. Creative interview styles

For the purpose of Legacy interviews, we are focused on helping the storyteller share their story however they are able. The questions we use and employ are simple and allow for interviewer and interviewee to explore their stories throughout the interview. The only end goal is to have had the conversation.

Anne Basting: How to Meaningfully Reconnect with Those Who Have Dementia

TEDMED VIDEO: Bringing art and creativity into eldercare settings helps families reconnect with loved ones who have dementia. In this moving talk, Anne Bastings shares how asking “beautiful questions” — questions that don't have a right or wrong answer — opens up a shared path of discovery, imagination, and wonder. “If we can infuse creativity into care, caregivers can invite a partner into meaning-making.”

I love the way Anne explains her approach to questions and interviewing someone. Keeping in mind where your storyteller is in life will help you have a better conversation with them. Meeting people where they are is about adapting and assessing your expectations of how they “should be” interacting or connecting. It’s different for everyone at every stage of life.

Are you a good interviewer?

Being a good interviewer isn’t rocket science but it does take some practice and artistry. Mostly though, being a good interviewer is about being a good listener. Knowing when to close your mouth and listen is just as important as knowing what and how to ask the right questions.

Things to think about

1. What is the goal of your interview? 

2. How will you prepare for the interview? 

3. What are some questions you might ask in an interview?

The Questions

What's your story?  – What is the main thing you want to tell me about yourself or what makes up most of your identity?  How has that changed over time, and why do think it might have changed in those ways as opposed to other things that could've gone differently. Who are you closest to?

These are beginning questions and can help you create storytelling moments. Additionally, you can refer to the 5 Minute Storytelling Scripts and the many pages of prompts on The Legacy Recorder site to get inspiration.

The Interview

Ask the interviewee to tell a story, and let them know that this is just one part of their life.  You should feel free to ask questions about any aspects of their lives you are curious about (work, family, personal time) but don't try to steer them or direct what they say too much.

If you are not sure what to ask, or if the answer is something they've said before, here are some questions that can help:

  • What's your favorite thing about being alive? (The question may prompt a story of an important moment in their life)
  • Tell me about a time when you were really proud? If they are stumped you can suggest they share a moment they were proud of someone else.
  • What was the best gift you ever got?
  • The last thing they did that made them really happy and why.
  • If they are a parent, ask about their favorite moments with their kids or any aspect of parenting they are interested in.
  • What's your earliest memory from childhood?

The Interview is Over, Now What?

Just because your interview is complete, doesn't mean that conversation needs to end. There are a few things to do now that will help your storyteller feel connected and invested in the process, so they can take ownership of their legacy. If you were working with a family member, this can be a regular thing that happens in the course of your visits. If you are a caregiver or staffer, offering a way for your storyteller to write down or record their stories will help provide permanence. If need be, contact family and ask them to get involved.