How to Handle Emotion While Interviewing a Loved One

When considering interviewing a loved one for their LifeStories, one of the greatest fears people tell me they have is the fear found in the question, “How do I handle the emotion (especially the tears) that will come up during the interview?” I agree that it can be a tense, scary moment for the interviewer. Instead of thinking of it as a scary moment, think of it as an opportunity, and opportunities are something to look forward to. It is an opportunity because some of the most memorable moments and most valuable words of the recording have come during those emotional moments of the LifeStories I have captured.

Yesterday was a perfect example of this. I conducted an audio LifeStory (no video camera, just professional digital audio recording equipment) with an 87-year-old lady. Her husband of 65 years died just three years ago. So, as you can imagine, tears were shed when we talked about him. She worked at a movie theater at age 17 when they first dated. They had a favorite movie (in 1942) that had “their song” in it. Their song was “You Are Always in my Heart” As I put a copy of the words in front of her and asked her to sing the song, she began crying toward the end of her beautiful singing. At the end of her emotion she said, “It’s just been so hard without him.” I could have avoided the question and subject all together, but I would have missed her sharing of how she really felt about her husband.

Here are a few hints about how to handle emotion as it comes up in an interview:

Helpful Hint #1 – Be Silent as it Happens – It is a tendency by many people to want to comfort the interviewee by saying something. Don’t! Any words you say will interrupt their emotion. Some of the most priceless words from their hearts will come at he end of their emotion. If you interrupt their emotion, you will lose and miss those heartfelt words. Here’s an example:

Helpful Hint #2 – Wait Until the Emotion is Finished – This is perhaps the hardest thing for most people to do. How will you know when the emotion is finished? They will show you with their body language. Remember, for you, the length of time during the emotion will seem long. For them, it’s quick. But they will make eye contact with you when they are finished. They will also give you other non-verbal signals that it’s time for the next question.

Helpful Hint #3 – Don’t Touch Them or Invade Their Personal Space – I’m a hugger and a person who likes to comfort another by touching them. In the setting of a LifeStory interview, it’s a definite “no-no” to touch them. Touching them is just as bad as saying something. It will interrupt the emotion.

Helpful Hint #4 – Don’t Stop the Recording – Many interviewees will apologize as the emotion starts and ask to stop recording the interview. Don’t do it! You will miss the priceless words or audible signs of emotion if you stop the recording. Remember that if you are using digital recording technology, it is easy to take out pieces of the emotion if you choose to later on. You cannot add back in the emotion that you missed after the fact!

Helpful Hint #5 – Keep Your Emotion Controlled – I’m not asking you not to cry (or laugh during joyous emotion). It is normal for you to cry, too. I cry during many of the Lifestories I conduct. What is important to do is to control it. Keep you sniffles and sounds from your mouth to a minimum. Any audible sound from you will be picked up by the microphone. Remember, this is their story, not yours!

Emotion is part of life. Your capturing the LifeStories of your loved ones will involve emotion. You can deal with it in a way that will enhance the value of the LifeStory. Enjoy the journey.

The Feeling of Recording a LifeStory – You Can Feel It, Too!

In an earlier blog post, I wrote “I Now Know Why I Do What I Do” as a passionate reaction to a good movie I watched. Today I feel compelled to share why I think you should record the LifeStories of your loved ones. It’s origins are found in the feelings I get at the end of most every LifeStory interview I conduct.

I find it hard to describe all the feelings that race through my mind and my heart as the final question I ask is answered. That question I ask is, “Do you have any closing comments to leave for future generations?” The interviewee knows these are the words they end with…those closing words of thought and wisdom that future generations will, hopefully, connect with. For some, it is a synopsis of their life’s lessons learned, passionately translated to teach loved ones they might not ever meet. For others, it is a smile and a simple, “I love you.” And yet, for others, it is a joyful smile, thank you, and sigh of relief that their task of sharing their story is complete.

But what is common at the conclusion of most all the LifeStories I conduct is the closing of the eyes and deep breath that acknowledges the sealing of a legacy left for others…a legacy that means much more that money, or property, or any material possession they might pass along.

It’s not just at the end of the interview that I feel the importance of the LifeStory. I get wonderful bits of the feeling as the interview progresses. The fun thing is that it can come at a moment when I least expect it. The best example of this is in one of my favorite LifeStories ever recorded. A clip of that recording is found on my website (just click on “View Demo” and select “Individual”).  It shows how, in the middle of a moment of great joy, a heartfelt moment of sadness hit the gentleman I was interviewing…and hit him quite unexpectedly. After viewing his emotion, there was no doubt how he felt about his Dad. And for me, there was no doubt how I felt about being the one to bring that to his family.

The good news is that you can experience that feeling, too. Just decide to do a LifeStory for someone you love.


Want to “Get Smart”?

Want to “Get Smart”? I’m speaking at the Oct. 21, 2011 “Get Smart” conference for AWIC (Association for Women in Communications – Austin Professional Chapter) AWIC Get Smart 2011 Promotional Flier .

I am excited about the topic, “How to Be a Better Storyteller by Setting the Story Free”. I have found that the most effective communicators are the best storytellers…and the best storytellers bring out the hidden essence of the individual. During my discussion, audience members will learn helpful techniques and strategies like listening with your whole body and interviewing without interrupting.

Great news, guys…the conference is not just for women! Men are very welcome to attend the entire morning through lunch. The message I will be delivering applies as much to men as it does to women. So come along, guys. You are welcome, too!

The conference is on Friday, October 21, 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the Hilton Austin, 500 East 4th Street, Austin, TX. Registration closes October 15, so hurry and register today. See you there!

What Do I Do With My Family History?

A question very few people address is, “What do I do with my family history now that I have it?” The good news is that you have many choices of what to do with the history. Here are a few:

Choice #1 – Put It On a Shelf for Safe Keeping – Unfortunately, this is the most common thing to do with family archives. Most of us have the box of family photos or video tapes of weddings, birthdays, etc. shoved on a shelf somewhere for safe keeping. While they may be in “safe keeping”, the only productive thing they are doing is collecting dust. Oh, from time to time they are dragged out and reviewed for family occasions, but let’s face it, it is a rare occasion when they ever see the light of day. The unfortunate scenario here is that they are forgotten and could even be damaged by age or improper storage.

For advice on organizing and storing your memorabilia, whether snapshots, film or video, I highly recommend enlisting the help of Lorie Marrero and her team of organizers at The Clutter Diet Lorie and her team have helped thousands of people in eighteen countries to affordably get their homes in shape!

Choice #2 – Make it a Ongoing, Living Project – Recording and preserving the LifeStories of your loved ones doesn’t have to be a one-time event. You can make it an ongoing project. In fact, technology helps make this choice a lot of fun. As discussed in previous blog posts, recording devices are easier to use and less expensive than ever before. With the ease of use of Flip Cameras and smart phones like the iPhone, there’s no reason why you can’t bring it to every family occasion and record a few moments. Simply turn it on and ask people how they are feeling or what they think of this occasion. Then upload it to your computer or a family YouTube channel and share with others.

The point here is that capturing LifeStories should be a regular occurrence, recording a little bit at a time. Think of it as a quick video of the birthday party of a child recorded every birthday till they are very old. The difference is that it’s not just for birthdays, it’s for every family occasion.

Choice #3 – Share, Share, Share – Again, technology is your friend here. Becoming the cool family historian can take only 15 minutes a week. Start your own family clip or photo of the week. Store all the photos and video clips on your computer and send out just one photo or a five-minute clip out to your contacts once a week. Many of you are already doing this via Facebook on an irregular basis.

Start a new habit of every Sunday, for instance, sending something out. For Mother’s Day it can be a sweet photo of Mom. For just any week, it could be that photo your brother hates of him being goofy as a kid. Which reminds me, if you are not the one in charge of this project, it’ll be the goofy photo of you that is sent out by your sibling! Alternate photos and video clips; one week a photo and the next week a video clip.

Think of other creative ways of sharing your family’s history and let me know your ideas. I’d like to share them with my LifeStories community. And remember to make it fun!

Equipment and Technology for the LifeStory

You’ve planned. You’ve done your Pre-Interview Questionnaire work. You’ve researched and formulated questions. You’re primed and pumped to begin. But there’s one thing left out before you begin to interview: What equipment do I use? As I’ve mentioned (as well as Steven Covey) many times before, begin with the end in mind. If your “end in mind” is to only hear the stories, then audio equipment is what you need. If you want to garner more senses to tell the story, then video is a must. I choose video as the primary way I capture LifeStories for my clients because it has the most lasting emotional impact. Let’s cover both methods.

Audio Equipment – An advantage of recording via audio is the equipment is portable and a bit easier to use and edit than video. Modern technology has also made it inexpensive to use high quality digital audio equipment. If you don’t already own one, there are many places to purchase digital audio recorders. Your local camera stores should have them and have helpful people to answer questions for you as you shop. Online shopping gives me the most variety to choose from. While there are many online stores to choose from, I have had success using .

When shopping for audio equipment, I advise to just keep it simple. Features that are nice to have are a voice-activated recording feature and an easy to use transfer process from the recorder to your computer. The better sound quality will come from recorders that have the ability to plug in two separate microphones on two separate channels. If you cannot afford this more expensive option, don’t worry. The quality from a built-in mic will still be okay.

Once you have your audio LifeStory on your computer, you can edit it. While this is not a mandatory step, it gives you the ability to take out interruptions, audible distractions and miscues, thus “cleaning up” your production. Most computers these days come equipped with some audio editing software. If it’s not already on your computer, the software is very inexpensive to buy. With my MacBook Pro, I use Apple’s Garage Band, one of many cool things available on their iLife software.

Video Equipment  – Years ago,when most people thought of shooting a video interview, immediate fears of expensive, bulky equipment and impossible editing technology came to mind. Today, the YouTube generation has taught us that it can be easy and fun. Again, if you don’t have a camcorder already, online sources like  and Fry’s are plentiful.

As many of you have seen by viewing YouTube videos, the quality of the finished product varies widely, especially when it comes to the audio part of a video shoot. For this reason, I advise looking into spending a bit more money to buy a camera that has inputs or channels for two external microphones. That way you can edit and adjust your voice and the voice of your interviewee separately when editing the video.

There is a lot to cover when addressing making a video. A good, quick and fun source for learning how to shoot a video is found in a book I recently found. Steve Stockman’s How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck provides a fun, easy to learn way of making your video. Regarding editing the video, software is plentiful. Most of my editors use Apple’s Final Cut Pro, a professional’s software that produces big screen quality productions. But you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get good quality editing done. As mentioned above with audio, my Apple computer has iLife, and with iLife comes iMovie, video editing software that most beginners can learn and have fun with.

Whichever method of recording you choose, be sure to experiment and have fun with it before you sit down to record the LifeStory. You want to be able to concentrate on the conversation you are having with your interviewee rather than worrying about technology once the interview begins. And if you want to hire a professional to do it all for you, I’m available!