Think the Friday after Thanksgiving is just for turkey leftovers and shopping sprees? Think again. Since 2008, the public radio oral storytelling project, NPR‘s StoryCorps, has been celebrating the National Day of Listening, a holiday to honor the ones we love most by listening to and recording their stories.
The Day of Listening is a natural extension of StoryCorps’ basic format – two close friends or family members have a conversation with each other about a turning point in their lives. And what better time for loved ones to reconnect and learn from each other than the holiday season?
Find someone you want to interview. Maybe you have a conversation with your great uncle Ernest from Maine who builds boats and has a penchant for World War II history. Or maybe ask your younger sister Fran and husband George, a first-grade teacher and a corn farmer from Iowa City, to tell their story about how they met. The holidays are a rare opportunity to capture stories from family you don’t see often, so take advantage of it.
Write a list of 5-10 questions you want to ask. Preparing ahead of time helps you decide what you want to talk about and then ease into conversation with your partner. Don’t be scared to ask some hard or emotional questions. Here are some suggestions from StoryCorps to get you started:
- What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in life?
- What are you most proud of?
- What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
- Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did they teach you?
- How would you like to be remembered?
Gather your equipment and pick your interview location. If you have an audio recorder, great! But if you don’t, no sweat – a cell phone, video camera, or a computer will do. Next, pick a quiet place to conduct the interview. The quieter, the better. Watch out for background sounds like a radiator, washing machine, buzzing florescent lights, ticking clocks, and street noise.
Test the sound. Roll tape! But before starting your real conversation, ask your partner a simple question like what they had for breakfast. Play it back to check for the sound quality. If it sounds good, you’re ready to go!
Record your interview like a pro. During the interview, wear headphones or earbuds so you can hear exactly what the final recording will sound like. Of course, you can record an interview without wearing headphones, but then you won’t know if the sound quality is consistent throughout the interview process. If you’re using an external microphone, always hold it in your hand about 7 inches from the storyteller’s mouth. Use a light touch and avoid “mic-handling” noise, that low, rumbling sound you hear when you’re handling the microphone. Be sure to turn the mic back to you when you’re asking the questions.
Save and share the story with those you love. Save the interview somewhere safe and clearly label it so you can find it later. Also consider posting your story to the online StoryCorps Wall of Listening. Send copies to your family and friends, or burn copies to a CD to give out as gifts. Your recorded story is likely to become a treasured heirloom in your family for years to come.