Kind Words Go a Long Way

Kind words can go a long way. Yesterday, I was having a “so-so” day until late in the evening when a client of mine, Spencer Hayes (name given with permission) http://www.oxfordcommercial.com/our-people/spencer-hayes/, wrote a very kind note regarding the work I did for his family. My entire attitude changed to become more uplifting and positive. Here is his note:

“LifeStories Alive partnered with my family to bring us the greatest gift we could ever have: my parents sharing their stories so that their legacy will continue for many generations.

Mike O’Krent is a uniquely gifted documentarian. But moreover he is an exemplary human being who connects with people on a deep level, and brings out of them the essence of who they are.  The ability to capture all that on video for posterity is rare, and we have been blessed as a family to own the product of his talent.”

I encourage all of you to do as I will now; share a few kind words to someone – to the next person who comes to mind. It’s not hard, won’t take long, and will make you feel good. Thanks, Spencer, for making my day!

“You Don’t Understand”

One would think that if you just heard someone tell you, “You don’t understand”, it would be a negative thing. But when a client of mine told me just that and explained why he said that, I knew it was a much-needed compliment. Let me explain.

I interviewed this client’s parents in Dallas back in May, 2007. His father died about a year later. I called him recently to thank him for referring yet another of his friends to me to have a LifeStory done for their parent(s). I said, “I don’t quite know how to thank you for the numerous referrals you’ve given me.” He said, “You don’t understand. I keep your LifeStory DVDs on my desk at my office. Whenever I am missing Dad, all I have to do is pop in the DVD into my computer and there he is.” He went on to explain that giving me referrals is his gift to his friends so they can experience those memories for themselves.

I was speechless. Little did I know how much those LifeStory DVDs meant to him. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to remind each of you the importance of recording the memories of your loved ones…whether you do it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.  If you want to do it yourself but don’t know where to begin, please call me. I’d be glad to help you get started. It’s too important to ignore.

I hope you can now say, as I did that day, “Now I understand.”

First Dates, First Kisses, and Other LifeStory Questions Covering the Early Teen Years

One of my favorite periods of time to cover during a LifeStory interview is the early teen years. I use empathy as much as possible when formulating the questions I will ask that cover this exciting, hormone-surging period of people’s lives. By that, I mean that I ask myself, “What were the things that I was thinking during those years of my life? What was going on with my friends and family during my early teen years?” After answering this, I then ask myself, “If someone were interviewing me, what questions should they ask me to really uncover the happenings and thoughts of my teen years?” By formulating questions this way, you will come across to the people you interview as having two of the most important traits of a good interviewer: sincere interest and genuine curiosity**.

You cannot cover the early teen years without asking about first dates and first kisses. While many of us have a smile on our faces as we anticipate an answer, be careful. The experience for your interviewee might not have been a positive one (but in most cases it was). I usually approach the subject by asking, “It is usually during the early teen years that people start dating. Please tell us, when was your first date and who was the lucky person?”

Their answer will naturally lead to the follow-up questions of, “Where did you go?”, “Why did you go there?” and “Was that where you got your first kiss?” As you can imagine, the answers can be all over the place, but mostly invoke smiles, reflection, and the interviewee leaving the present place of the interview and wondering in their minds back to that time and place. You’ll be able to see this if you pay close attention to their eyes and facial expression. This is exactly what you want. If that is where they go in their mind, then the answers to the follow-up questions will be knee-jerk and totally honest.

A good sample of this is in the following clip from a LifeStory I conducted in Wimberley, TX this year. This charming lady from Waco, TX told the most wonderful stories. While I encourage you as an interviewer to hold back your audible responses during the interview (whether happy or sad), I couldn’t hold my laughter back as she told her story of how a boy, quite literally, stole a kiss from her http://vimeo.com/31403390.

Practice asking those questions about first dates and first kisses with friends in conversation. But be prepared for a lot of fun responses!

** Having “sincere interest and genuine curiosity” is an important mindset and feeling in any form of communication. I learned and practiced this skill from a great trainer, Joe Zente of Z-three in Austin, Texas http://www.zthree.com/. If you are interested in learning more about it, give Joe a call. He helped make me a better communicator and a better business person.

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 http://www.clutterdiet.com/. 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!