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5 tips for conducting an interview with someone you care about, using StoryCorps’ new app

Anybody with a smartphone can now be a part of the StoryCorps movement. As TED Prize Winner Dave Isay reveals in today’s talk, you no longer have to travel to a StoryCorps mobile booth to capture an interview with a friend, family member or stranger — because StoryCorps has created a free app. Now, if you can find a quiet place and 45 minutes, you can interview someone whose story has never been heard and immediately upload the discussion to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The app itself is easy to use, with step-by-step guidance on how to pick interview questions, record the interview, select an excerpt to highlight, and upload the full conversation for posterity. More than 250 interviews have already been uploaded since Isay gave his talk in Vancouver on Tuesday. Your participation is key to the success of Isay’s audacious wish for StoryCorps: 

“Help me spark a global movement to record and preserve meaningful conversations with one another that results in an ever-growing digital archive of the collective wisdom of humanity.”

Isay, a radio documentary maker, has conducted thousands of interviews. But even if it’s your first time interviewing someone, you can still have a meaningful conversation. Below, five interview tips from Isay to help you maximize the experience.

  1. Ask the big life questions. Facts are much less interesting than questions regarding love, life challenges, influences and regret. Some key questions to ask: Who is the person who has been kindest to you in your life? What do you feel most grateful for? What is your happiest memory? What are you proudest of? Can you remember a time when you’ve felt alone? If you were to die suddenly this evening, what would you most regret having not told someone? “The best stories come from asking open-ended questions,” says Isay. “For StoryCorps, the thing you don’t want to do is recite your CV. We want the aspects of a person that can’t be written down easily, that haven’t been said before. The big life questions are the best.”
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  2. Pour your attention into the interview. “The most important things about listening is to be very present,” says Isay. “To have all your devices off, and to genuinely connect and actively listen to whoever it is you’re talking to. When I used to do radio interviews, I’d sit forward, and it was almost like a laser beam between me and the person I was talking to. It was often very intense, present, active, concentrated listening. It is counterintuitive, but it should feel draining to you. At the end of the 40 minutes, as the person doing the listening, you should be more tired than the person doing the talking.”
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  3. Be an active participant in the conversation. Just because you’re listening, doesn’t mean you can’t engage. “Active listening doesn’t stop you from participating in the conversation. You can laugh, cry and ask follow-up questions. But what you’re not doing is bringing it back to yourself. Be generous. Try not to think about your kids or what movie you’re going to see that night.”
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  4. Remember it’s not the “story” that matters. “When you’re doing a StoryCorps interview, you are creating a sense of who a human being is. You are capturing your interaction with them and who they are as a person. The “truth” of a story is maybe more important than the drama of a story. It is the interview experience itself that matters.”
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  5. Say thank you. Conducting a StoryCorps interview is simultaneously about giving the gift of listening, and being grateful for being entrusted with the gift of a person’s story. Isay notes that, during an interview, a person’s back will literally straighten as they talk, and that you’ll notice your own perspective shifting as they speak. And that’s why a heartfelt thank you is vital at the end. Ultimately, StoryCorps is about recognizing that each life matters “equally and infinitely.” Says Isay: “We’re always grateful.”

    The newly launched StoryCorps apps helps you pick questions, time your interview, and upload it to the Library of Congress.

    The newly launched StoryCorps apps helps you pick questions, time your interview, and upload it to the Library of Congress.