A pre-interview visit is essential for the success of your life story / memoir / family history project. It is equally important, whether the person you are interviewing (the storyteller) is someone you know well, or someone you are meeting for the first time. If you do not have a close relationship with the person you are about to interview, it is invaluable to arrange this meeting to build rapport and to gather some basic information that will guide you through the life story interview process over the next several meetings.
Create a relaxed environment: explain to the storyteller that the interview process will be casual, relaxed, and informal - much like the times they have sat with a loved one and recalled stories about the past. Assure them that they are always in charge and can quit at any time.
Determine where the most comfortable place is to conduct the interviews. I do most of my interviews in the storyteller's home, over a cup of tea, sitting either at the dining table or in the living room. Choose a space that is most comfortable for your storyteller.
Bring along a pre-interview list of questions – you can make up your own or use the same life story questions that we use in our professional service as provided in the life story How-to Guide available on this site.
Determine if the storyteller wants to talk about stories from their life span, or about only a specific part of their life or event in their life.
Ask if there are any parts of their lives, or life memories that they DO NOT want to talk about in the interviews. Reassure them that their recordings can be edited, and/or sections removed at a later date.
Agree on a time of day for the interview; select a time when the storyteller has the most energy.
Agree on the length of each interview session: determine this ahead of time so both the listener and storyteller have an idea of how much time they have. I suggest going for about an hour at a time with some flexibility to allow for a natural stopping spot in the interview.
Have a ballpark idea of how many interview sessions will be needed, but have room for flexibility.
Test your recording equipment and then test it again!.
Tips for the Storyteller
Think about where you would feel most comfortable being interviewed.
Select a quiet space where you will not be interrupted.
Decide whether you feel most comfortable being interviewed alone or with a friend or family member and arrange for that.
Decide whether you want to talk about your life span or only about a certain life experience or period of your life.
Use memory prompts: look at photos, old letters, books, childhood toys, gifts, awards, newspaper articles, prayer cards, birth announcements, and recipes; listen to music or watch old movies; Recall smells, tastes, and favourite foods.
Select photos and or other items to bring to your interviews as memory prompts.
Make a list of the people you want to make certain to include: e.g.children, parents, friends, colleagues.
Inform your interviewer of any topics or life experiences that you DO NOT want to discuss in your interview. Note: don't fret - with digital you can always delete!!! It's as easy as the click of button.