Last week I had coffee with Cara Solomon, a former journalist for the Seattle Times and founder of thesmallstory.com. Cara’s site is based on a premise that I believe in deeply: that everyone has an interesting story to tell.
Through Cara I uncovered a treasure trove of tips and tricks for my storytelling project. Among them, these were my favorites:
On unraveling a new town:
– Visit community gathering spots: often the town diner, coffeeshop, or park, and sometimes (surprisingly) the town dump.
– Ask strangers: who should I hang out with if I want to get a sense of what this town is about?
– For ideas on what to cover in town, as well as who the players are, read the events and help wanted sections of the local newspaper.
On choosing a topic:
– Be flexible: if I try to fit everything into a mold, I will miss out on a lot of great content.
– Approach interviews with as few preconceived notions as possible. Listen hard. What I thought might be most interesting thing about a person at the start of the interview may not be what I find most interesting at the end. That said, if the story is not holding my interest, it will not hold someone else’s; cut my losses and move on.
On hero stories:
– People like hero stories however they’re not rooted in reality. Everyone has a weakness, and it’s that weakness that makes them even more interesting. Discover it.
– Ask: We already know what you’re good at, so what do you wish you were better at?
On dealing with an interviewee’s anxiety:
– Focus on the person, not my questions. Many reporters don’t take out notebooks until later in the interview.
– Explain to people why it is that I’m interested in speaking with them.
– Don’t introduce the video camera without permission, and don’t use the tape to simply recap the interview. Instead, after the interview I should ask myself: what are the five questions that I now want to answer? Use this as my starting point for the taped segment.
I know that Cara’s advice has saved me from making countless mistakes on my journey, and I feel fortunate to have been introduced to her. I also particularly love Cara’s reflection on her work. Writes Cara: “Through the lens of their lives, I can see more clearly my world.” Here’s to the small stories.