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Instead of shopping, try listening

Published November 26, 2010 11:15 am

Oral history how-to • These tips will help you get started on the National Day of Listening.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Rather than spend the day after Thanksgiving out looking for bargains, the folks behind the National Day of Listening hope you'll take some time to preserve some memories.

"It's an effort to encourage all Americans to honor a friend of a loved one or a member of their community by interviewing someone they love in their lives," said Krisi Packer, a spokeswoman for StoryCorps, the New York-based organization that travels the country to record oral histories, which are excerpted on Friday mornings on National Public Radio stations, including KUER. "We're looking at it as an alternative to Black Friday shopping sprees."

It's a way to preserve not just family history, but local and national history. "We know a lot of people want to participate, but might not know how to get started. We're making it easy for them," Packer said.

StoryCorps has a guide to get people going at nationaldayoflistening.org. "It's our core belief that everybody's story is important," said Pat Brown of Life Stories in Bountiful, which is partnering with StoryCorps for the event. "The best thing we can leave to our posterity is our life story."

In addition, we've gathered some helpful suggestions from Margaret K. Brady, a professor of English at the University of Utah who has conducted more than 600 such interviews.

To get people to talk, appeal to their sense of history and family.

"Say to them, 'Think how wonderful it would be if you could listen to your great-great grandmother. Wouldn't that be fabulous to hear her in her own voice?," Brady said. "And tell them how important it would be for their grandchildren."

It's often better if subjects aren't interviewed by a family member.

Even though that sounds counterintuitive. "Strangely, people are often much more forthcoming with people they don't know," Brady said. "Often people will tell a loved one, 'You've heard that story a hundred times.' Even if they tell it again, chances are you won't tell it in that much detail."

Let them tell it the way they want.

"This is that individual's story," Brady said. "It's up to them. If she wants to leave out three husbands, it's her choice."

Put the person at ease.

"Be at ease yourself. Be willing to spend some time just talking and laughing together," Brady said.

Make sure the person doesn't think you're the boss.

Don't come off like an inquisitor. "Doing these stories is a collaboration between the person who's telling his or her life and the person who's recording it."

Remember, it's a conversation.

"If they can't remember dates and names, it doesn't matter," Brady said. "This is about the stories. If you can't remember the name of the person who lived across the street from you when you were 5, but you remember climbing on the roof with him and jumping off, that's the important part."

Gear your questions toward triggering memories.

"Think about the different stages of life," Brady said. "Start with talking about their parents, their birth, siblings, chronologically go through life."

In conclusion, ask your subject to include an "ethical or spiritual will."

"You give your values," Brady said. "What things and what people have been the most important to you in your life. What you've learned. Hopes for your family in the future."

Use the best recording equipment you can — but it doesn't have to be expensive.

Brady suggest using a digital recorder — available for $60 or less — not tape.

spierce@sltrib.com

Helpful websites

http://www.nationaldayoflistening.org • Click on "Participate" at the top of the web page and you'll find a downloadable written guide along with a video presentation of how to conduct interviews.

http://www.yourstory.utah.edu • Not only does Margaret K. Brady's site contain lots of hints, but you can schedule a time for someone to come and conduct an interview for you.

http://www.lifestories-ut.com • This for-profit organization in Bountiful, a StoryCorps partner, will host small group reminiscence sessions with residents of six senior living communities on Friday, Nov. 26. The next week, Life Stories will offer DVD interview sessions for $25. —

Tips

Tried and true triggering questions from StoryCorps:

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in life?What are you most proud of?

What are the happiest moments 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?