So far I have had the fortune to interview over 50 people—perhaps closer to 75—including 24 national storytellers/key people in the American Storytelling Movement. Yet, I would like to honor three people who wouldn’t normally call themselves storytellers: Raymond Rahn, Marcus Mortensen (pictured above with me), and Beryl Andrews-Endow. They have best directed me for conducting marvelous interviews.
Interview Map at-a-Glance:
1. Share goals/expectations with each other before the interview.
2. Involve the interviewee in the process from beginning to end.
3. Invite the interviewee to transform the experience into something personal.
4. Include spouse or other family members in the same room during the interview whenever possible.
5. Smile, smile, smile.
6. Become friends.
What I learned from Raymond:
Share goals/expectations with each other before the interview. Raymond wanted to preserve memories for his family. It was too broad to cover his entire life so we narrowed it down to his childhood days. He gave me a copy of questions that he would like to cover. Could he have written down these answers? Of course, but by having someone record his answers, we could understand the meaning and the inflections he placed on each word. Pauses say many things during an interview, too.
Raymond knew that my goals were to bring out his hidden memories beyond the normal list of “this was my favorite game” or “this was my favorite toy”. With his permission, I wished to share his stories beyond the family setting and onto the stage.
Involve the interviewee in the process from beginning to end. Raymond was with me in such things as determining questions, interviewing, arranging follow-up interviews, and correcting transcripts. This was not “my” project. This was “our” project.
Invite the interviewee to transform the experience into something personal. I created stories that could be told both in the oral and the written format. Raymond took the stories and put his twist to them. Later, he gave copies to his family. The interview was really a stepping-stone to his ultimate goal. Since I have interviewed him, he has passed on as well as his wife, Joyce. I honor their memories when I tell their stories.
What I learned from Marcus:
Include the spouse or other family members in the same room during the interview whenever possible. His wife, Jeri, never heard him tell most of the World War II stories during our interview. She pulled me aside one day and thanked me for allowing her to be there. I was thrilled to have her in the room since sometimes Jeri would make comments, usually of the teasing nature. Marc would defend himself with a smile. This helped me piece dialogue when crafting the stories. Knowing how they interacted broadened my view of them.
Smile, smile, smile. Respond with your eyes, your face, and even your body. The more I smiled, the more animated Marc became. The more animated he became, the more stories he told. If you sit there as if a statue, then the interviewee will wonder if you are truly listening. During most interviews, I lean forward or at least mimic the stance of the interviewee. For example, if the interviewee crosses their legs, then I cross my legs. I can’t copy everything, as one of my hands must take a few notes while the recorder is on. I do the best I can.
What I learned from Beryl:
Become friends. I didn’t have a car so Beryl had to give me a ride to her home. This was my first time meeting her. We had about 10 minutes in the car to “just talk”. It was easy to become comfortable so by the time the interview officially started, we were friends.
Listen. Sometimes an interview is pure listening. I hardly had to ask a question for Beryl. Not everyone is so open. There are times that I would bring up a topic to hear more details. Otherwise, the interview may go off focus. And yet, if there is too much focus, then you could lose other wonderful stories.
If you’d like other tips on interviewing I have learned or if you have tips, then please let me know. You can post your questions and comments to this blog or you can email me at email@example.com.Until we tell again,
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance