Dave Isay and the Power of Story

I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Isay, Founder of StoryCorps, in Austin at a book signing in 2007, shortly after he released his book, Listening Is an Act of Love – A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project. There are two people I look up to in admiration for demonstrating the utilization of their talents: one is Steven Spielberg; the other is Dave Isay. Like most of you, I knew of Steven Spielberg and his work back then. I knew little of Dave Isay.

TED Prize Winner Dave Isay speaks at TED2015.

Rather than trying to describe who Dave Isay is and what he has accomplished, this TED Talk will explain it beautifully: https://tinyurl.com/y9f9tegb. He really gets the power of story…and has created a platform for proving it. In the process, he has also created a mindset regarding the importance of story. Yet, most people will never record their stories or those of their loved ones.

I hope to change that with the work I do at LifeStories Alive https://lifestoriesalive.com. If you are not moved to go out and record the stories of a loved one by Dave Isay’s TED Talk, I have two suggestions:

  1. Hire a professional to do it for you. I can help with that. How would Dave Isay’s story be different if he hadn’t thought to record his father’s stories before he died? You might be saying to yourself, “Yea, but Dave is a professional at gathering stories.” You’re right. He is. But using that as an excuse for not recording the stories of your own parents does not eliminate the risk of burying their stories with them when they die. You must act now. That leads me to my second suggestion.
  2.  If you don’t want to hire a professional to do it for you, but don’t know where to begin to do it yourself, buy the book I authored and released a few weeks ago, A Conversation You’ll Never Forget – A Guide to Capturing a LifeStory https://tinyurl.com/ConversationYoullNeverForget. In it, you’ll learn a step-by-step process to do it yourself.

StoryCorps and the work Dave Isay has done over the years is remarkable. Imagine, however, if each of those 100,000 stories was captured on video instead of just audio. Not only would you hear the voices, but the voices would come alive as you saw the mannerisms and felt the emotion of the people telling the stories. That’s why I encourage you to capture the stories on video.

Dave Isay taught you the power of story in the video above. Now it’s up to you. Keep those LifeStories alive. It will be a conversation you’ll never forget!


Storytelling for Your Family Business

Family businesses have had a critical role in the growth of the United States. As important as that role has been over the decades, many family businesses miss out on utilizing an important tool that could help them to grow faster and connect them to the community they serve. Like many things that can help us the most, this tool is simple and has been right in front of our faces (and in our hearts and minds). We just never thought of using it or knew how to use it. That tool is our story.

As the honored keynote speaker at Baylor University’s Institute for Family Business’ Fall Forum this year,  I helped connect the family business members in the audience to their story. While their family business story can be used for many purposes, perhaps the most beneficial is a part of their marketing plan. This is pointed out beautifully in an article by Arthur Levy (The RoArt Group, LLC), “Marketing Your Family Business Through Storytelling” http://www.leesburgchamber.com/marketing-your-family-business-through-storytelling/  . While Arthur makes many good points as to how a family business might benefit from telling their story, I believe the most important sentence in this article is, “Most consumers prefer to buy from a family business that shares their story and their core values.  They prefer to align themselves with like-minded people.”

As family business owners, if your story and core values are kept inside, you will miss out on valuable connections to future clients/customers and/or future employees. In addition, current clients/customers and/or employees will bond further to the association they already have with your business…just by knowing more about your story.

The lesson learned here is simple. To quote from the 2011 movie, Sarah’s Key, “When a story is told, it’s not forgotten. It becomes something else. The memory of who we were…and the hope of what we can become.” What is the hope of what you and your family business can become? Record your story to discover the answer.

Tom Hanks and Typewriters?

This morning’s CBS Sunday Morning broadcast included a story of Tom Hanks and one of his favorite artifacts to collect…typewriters. Who knew? https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tom-hanks-uncommon-type/

As one of my favorite actors, Hanks has always played his characters on film as if he were really them. This is the first interview I’ve seen that brings out what I feel is the essence of who he is as a regular person. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Mementos and personal artifacts we’ve collected over the years are part of our stories. Hanks explains why he loves typewriters in an emotional way that involves your senses. He even ties this into the book he is about to release, Uncommon Type. His description of each typewriter, “Each typewriter has sort of a personality”, makes me see his personality in each machine. Each of us has an artifact, a memento in our lives that describe the essence of who we are. This interview makes me look around to find the memento in my home that describes me.
  2. He reveals a part of his childhood that I never knew. By the time he was ten years old, both his parents had been married three times and he lived in ten different houses. His attitude of that period of time: “I thought it was a cool adventure. I was confused a lot about why it happened…In some ways it’s like I’m going back and looking at those times, for me and my siblings, and trying to put context into the confusion.” How does that change a young boy? What effect does that have on his future? Hanks explains it with a sense of calm and curiosity.
  3. His comment at the end, “If I see enough stories that are around and start asking enough questions about where it would go, then, yea, I hope to write more.” He’s always looking for more. His next adventure in writing is unknown, but he keeps asking questions. I can relate.

As my first book is due to be published at the end of this month (stay tuned), I, too, hope to keep “asking enough questions” and to write more. Thank you, Tom Hanks. You and your typewriters are an inspiration.

Why Do We Tell Stories?

As one who helps people tell their stories (on video), I particularly enjoyed this week’s episode of KUT Radio’s “Two Guys on Your Head” with Dr. Art Markman​ and Dr. Bob Duke.  “We need stories in order to make sense of things” is one of the things they explain. Please listen & enjoy! http://kut.org/post/why-do-we-tell-stories

One of their points is that stories help us connect and make sense of the many bits of information in our brains. This is nothing new and most people agree with it (as I do). But if this is widely accepted as fact, then why are so many people hesitant to tell the stories of their own lives?

I have always thought the main reason is that our society teaches us that if we talk about ourselves, we are bragging…and that’s a very bad thing to do! Yet, we learn so much from the stories of others. Valuable life lessons are learned often from strangers who are not related or whom we previously didn’t care much about. In my work at LifeStories Alive, I have had my clients (usually the children of the interviewees) tell me of the exciting and valuable lessons they’ve learned from their loved ones, just by listening to their life’s stories.

So I ask for your help in answering the above question, “Why are so many people hesitant to tell the stories of their own lives?” Your ideas, thoughts and input in the Leave a Reply section below will be much appreciated.

Two Guys on Your Head


I Thought I Would Learn About Classical Music…

I thought I would learn about classical music, but ended up learning about life. This is my conclusion after listening to yet another great TED Talk. This one is by Benjamin Zander. To prove to you how little I knew about classical music, I didn’t know who the hell Benjamin Zander is! I do now. Since 1979, Benjamin Zander has been the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic.

What impressed me most about this talk is how he used a lesson in classical music appreciation (and, by the way, I now appreciate classical music) and turned it into, at the very end, a lesson in life. I will not tell you what he says at the end. It is worth watching this all the way through. I will only tell you this: It reinforces the power of a well-told story…a well-told life story!

Please take the time to watch this: http://tinyurl.com/ntqr4 on and then let me know what you think.


End of Life Lesson Learned Today

Just two days ago at around noon I received an email from my friend, Kristi Curry, who has a wonderful business called Survivorship Now http://survivorshipnow.com/. A friend of hers in Katy, Texas named Ben wrote to her saying that his church buddy, Dan (age 49), was just given bad news about his cancer and was advised to call in hospice care immediately. Ben called Kristi to ask for her professional advice to help Dan’s wife organize her life for what was to come. He also said he wanted to videotape Dan’s stories so his two kids would know him better when they grew older. Ben asked Kristi for advise on what questions to ask and how to ask them. That’s when Kristi referred me.

I connected with Ben yesterday via email, then by phone. Ben explained that Dan didn’t have any funds to afford a professional LifeStory and that he was going to do it pro-bono. I don’t know why it happened, but something inside me said I have to do it. I told Ben that I could be there (two and a half hours away) the following morning by 10:30 to conduct the interview, as long as Ben filmed it.

When we arrived at Dan’s home this morning, we were greeted by Dan’s beautiful and gracious wife, Marcina. We set up the camera in Dan’s bedroom and tried to get as much as we could of an interview, but unfortunately, due to the medications he was on, could not record much. What we did record, however, showed what a loving, caring father and husband he was. Rather than coming home without much of anything for Dan’s family, I asked Marcina if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed…to capture Dan’s LifeStories through the stories of his loving wife. She agreed and we filmed about two hours of her smiles, tears and love for her husband. She showed unbelievable bravery and unselfish caring for her husband who was too ill to express his story himself.

By 1:00 PM, we left her home with hugs and well wishes to her for strength during the tough journey ahead that she faced. I arrive back home at around 4:00 PM, exhausted, but glad I had accomplished what I had that day. An hour later Ben called. He said he called to thank me, to be sure I got home okay, and…after a long pause…to tell me someone from his church called an hour ago to say that Dan had just died.

At first I was in a bit of shock. Yesterday, Dan was a total stranger to me. And now, after only knowing he and his wife for a few hours, I feel like an integral part of their lives. The lesson I’ve believe I learned from today’s experience is to share your stories with the ones you love often, to celebrate life at every opportunity you get, and to give unselfishly whenever you can. Had I thought, “It’s been a long week, I’m too tired to drive all the way to Katy early on a Saturday morning, conduct this unpaid interview, then drive all the way back,” I would not have met Dan and his wife. And I am a better man now…because of them.

Thank you Kristi, Ben, Marcina, and especially Dan. May you rest in eternal peace.

“Rescuing a Single Life” – Tom, Judy, and The Homeless Coach

“Whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” This is a quote from the Talmud, also mentioned in the movie Schindler’s List http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108052/. I have had the honor to have met two people who have done such an act of selfless compassion. The first is Tom Baum, founder of The Homeless Coach, a live, interactive social networking approach to reverse homelessness http://www.homelesscoach.org/. Tom has combined his experience and success in the high-tech industry with his huge heart for the plight of the homeless population in Austin and the world. The Homeless Coach’s mission is to reverse homelessness “a single life” at a time.

The second person is Judy Knotts. Judy has developed a mentoring relationship with Kim, the first graduate of the Homeless Coach program. While Judy’s background and experience in private education gives her enough knowledge to help Kim, her involvement goes way beyond logical giving and enters into heartfelt compassion for another people.

Tom mentioned to me that he was scheduled to interview Kim when the StoryCorps http://storycorps.org/ mobile recording booth came to Austin last month. I asked if I could volunteer to interview her instead. I knew a bit about Kim’s story before, but this interview opened my eyes regarding how a life can be transformed from familial abuse, to 22 years on the streets, to coming clean and sober, to earning her associates degree in Medical Billing and Coding from an accredited university, to now studying for a full Bachelor’s degree in Health Care.

In a recent email, Judy writes (to both Tom and I), “Mike you are great on the tape, terrific voice, amazing articulation, and inspired questions. I have heard the CD 3 times since getting it on Saturday. Kim was with me in my car when we began to listen. When I got to the part where she described being beaten, I had to turn it off for a time. It was just too painful. Kim said, “Do you now know why I call  you Mama?”  I get it now. She has never called me anything else. Funny to hear her call me Judy on the CD. There were other things I didn’t know about her. There is value in having someone a bit removed and also experienced conduct the interviews. Kim astounded me with her insights and I told her. She said, ”My speaking is still not good.” We are working on this, hard to change a life time of grammar errors! Amazing men, you two! Proud to know you!”

I am flattered by Judy’s kind words, but more honored to be associated with two people as incredible as Tom and Judy. I hope all of you can some day know a Tom and Judy of your own, so you can personally witness, as I have, how someone can “…rescue a single life.”

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!

Making a Difference

This past Tuesday I flew back home from a successful weekend LifeStory filming in the Cleveland, Ohio area. The filming was completed on Monday and my flight didn’t leave Tuesday until late afternoon, so I decided to contact and, if possible, visit the people who created an incredible place in Cleveland, the Ginn Academy. 

I learned about the Ginn Academy from watching my favorite TV show, CBS Sunday Morning. The piece on the Ginn Academy (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/30/sunday/main4638577.shtml) is a must-see for everyone who has thought of making a difference in the world. Please view the video. It is well done.

The moment you step into the building you know you’ve entered a special place. Not only can you physically feel the positive energy in the room, but the greeting I received from the young man who greeted me (dressed in a red coat and tie) was one that I wouldn’t expect to experience at the wealthiest high school in any city. “Good afternoon, sir. May I assist you in finding someone today?”  

My visit with the school’s Principal, Byron Lyons, was worth the entire trip. He not only told me his story, but he also explained with great admiration the story of Ted Ginn, Sr. and his dream of making a difference in the lives of as many “at risk” young men in Cleveland as possible. After our 40 minute visit, Byron introduced me to “Coach” Ginn. I knew at that moment I was where I was meant to be that day. 

In the LifeStories I capture and preserve, I hear many people talk about how they hope to have made a difference in the world. Ted Ginn, Sr. and Byron Lyons showed how incredibly powerful it is to know that you are doing just that on a daily basis. My purpose of the visit when I walked in was to see if they would let me volunteer my services to teach the young men how to capture the stories of their loved ones. As Byron and I talked, I realized the impact of what I could give became more and more varied and exciting. 

Whether or not the logistics pan out for my teaching there is yet to be determined. But of this I am certain; we can each make a difference in the lives of others. All it takes is a dream and the willingness and desire to make that dream come true.

Sharing Stories – A Simple “How-To” Approach

A few weeks ago I was invited to sit in on a group of guys who meet at a local coffee shop every Saturday morning around 10:00 AM. I did not know of anyone in the group except the gentleman who invited me. I was hesitant to accept the invitation, not only because I didn’t know anyone else, but it was a group I didn’t have much in common with – mature (or older)  lawyers, judges & State politicians! In retrospect, I’m glad I accepted the invitation.

This morning was my third visit with the group. As I sat and listened (which I do a lot of), I smiled in amazement at how great the stories were that were being shared. Most were funny, but some were touching and heartfelt. I then wondered what a tragedy it would be if some of these priceless gems were never to be shared again … lost one day, as each of these storytellers passes on.

The solution to sharing stories so they are never lost is found in the way they are captured. The good news is that it’s easy to do so. Here are a few easy “how-to” approaches:

1. Audio recording – Technology has made this easy and inexpensive. There are many recorders on the market. Here is one that will record up to 144 hours and is easy to use: http://shop1.frys.com/product/5282437?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG . Just turn the devise on, set in on a table in the middle of the group and make sure your conversation is not more than 144 hours! Note: You should always ask permission to record a conversation. Some people have negative feelings about being recorded.  

2. Journaling/Taking Notes – Sometimes you just can’t beat the old-fashioned way of doing things. Bring a pen and paper and take notes as people talk. Don’t worry if you didn’t major in journalism. Just write down what you’d like to remember as it’s being said. You can always refine it when you have time later on.

3. Videotaping – One of my favorite stories from the LifeStories I’ve recorded is the one from a 77 year old gentleman who mentioned that for many years, before each Thanksgiving dinner, he would set up a tripod and his video camera at the corner of the table and simply turn it on before the meal began. Imagine if you had a library of your family’s past Thanksgiving dinners over the past 20 years. What a treasure!

Like the audio recording I mentioned above, technology has made video recording easy and inexpensive as well. Here’s an example: http://shop1.frys.com/product/5371168?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG

An amazing fact about videotaping is that soon after the conversation begins, most people get so much “into” the conversation, they forget that there’s a camera there recording everything. That makes capturing the stories even more priceless. Genuine conversations and stories are always the best kind.

4. Professional Personal Historians – When quality really matters and you want to make sure you “get it done right” the first time, hiring a professional is the way to go. The most common reason people do this is if they feel they only have one shot at the event or getting as much of the whole story in one sitting. That is what I do for families on a regular basis: http://www.lifestoriesalive.com/  . What you are left with when done professionally is truly an heirloom that can be shared proudly for generations to come.

The main point to remember is that if you don’t capture the stories in a way that can be shared with others, you might lose them forever.