A New Family Reunion Tradition

This is a Talking Photo on an iPhoneReading Time:  Less than 4 minutes

My father’s side of our family gathered in our backyard for our annual family reunion this past Saturday.  Typically, we eat (a lot), swim, play whiffle ball, and once every couple of years, battle with super-soaker water guns.   Slowly meandering from guest to guest, we update each other on the present: our job status, our kids, our health, and sometimes our hobbies.

If I am lucky, I corner one of my elders to beg for a few precious memories of the past.  My aunts and uncles are happy to oblige, grateful to be asked.  Although I listen to their stories with the intensity of a bird focused on his mate’s matching call, I always fear I will forget the details before the last guest exits the driveway.

This year, we began a new reunion tradition:  an activity I call Intentional Storytelling.  We no longer leave our family history to chance conversation and a potentially unreliable memory.

During this year’s reunion, I spent a few minutes with each guest to record one deliberate, planned, true story — one Intentional Story — based upon a given topic.   Boy, did I get an education!  I learned more about my family in one afternoon that I have in ten years of hosting our family reunions.  Most importantly, I saved each story as a Talking Photo for all generations of the family to enjoy. (Click this link to learn more about Talking Photos.)

Some of the stories prompted me to connect with my family member via a similar personal story.  Other stories prompted me to reconsider how I view the world.  All provided some type of life lesson and/or a view into the storyteller’s soul, even the story from the eight-year old.

Would you like to connect with your family through Intentional Storytelling?  The following suggestions will help you connect forever:

  • Give your guests a general topic.  Before your event, give your guests a topic.  We chose “an elementary school experience” because we wanted guests of all ages, especially the children, to participate.
  • Show your guests an example.  Before each guest told his story, he listened to a Talking Photo of one of our ancestors on an iPod®.  A Talking Photo is as simple as it sounds – it is a photo accompanied by a 3-5 minute recording of a person telling a story in the background.  (Click on this link to learn more and see samples of Talking Photos.)
  • Simplify the process.  If the Intentional Storytelling process looks overly complicated, you might scare your storytellers away.  I try to limit the number of gadgets that I expose to the storyteller.  I use a digital recorder atop a small tripod to save each story, a FlipPal scanner to save each photograph and a digital camera if I need to take a photograph of the storyteller.
  • Location, location, location.  Select a storytelling area that is convenient for the guest who requires the most special assistance (e.g., few stairs, comfortable chair, etc.).

Try to free the recording area of noise and interruption, but do not obsess about the environment.  For example, eliminating the hum of an air conditioner will result in a clearer recording, but if the temperature during your reunion is 98 degrees, then sacrifice the quality of the recording in favor of your storyteller’s comfort.  As a CEO at a previous employer always said, “Don’t sacrifice the good for the perfect.”

  • Be supportive, flexible, and accommodating.  When my guest is concerned that he will forget the details of his story, I offer him a Story Organizer to help collect his thoughts before we start recording. When my guest is afraid that she does not have a story to tell, I ask her questions to make the process less intimidating.

One of my family members initially viewed the Intentional Storytelling activity as public speaking and declined to participate.  After some reassurance, she reluctantly agreed.  Remind your storytellers that the two of you are having a simple conversation.  Do your best to help her ignore the recorder.  Ask her questions.  Use positive facial expressions.  Once she overcame her fear, my family member told a clear, concise, interesting story that our family will treasure for generations.

  • Offer to edit.  If you use a digital recorder or record to an MP3 file via your computer, you can use free software to edit the recordings.  When your guests realize that you can (and are willing) to remove their mistakes, the pressure to perform perfectly is lifted.
  • Thank, praise, and connect.  Genuinely thank your guests for their willingness to share their story with you and the rest of your family.  Praise your guests for their courage to participate, and highlight the interesting portions of their tale.  If you have a personal connection to their story, humbly share your own story with your family member.
  • Have fun with it!  Intentional Storytelling should be a fun and intriguing activity.  Enjoy the process and enjoy the stories!

When you follow these simple suggestions, you will begin to connect all generations of your family forever!

Key Points to Remember Today:

  • Intentional Storytelling during a reunion is a fun and unique way to start preserving your family history.
  • Use 3-5 minute Talking Photos to collect and share your family stories.
  • Use the suggestions above to orient your guests to the Intentional Storytelling process and connect with your family through Talking Photos.

What to Do Now?

  • Print and share this article with your parents, grandparents, or another elder.
  • Commit to focus on saving your legacy for at least 15 minutes each day!
  • Click Here to read more Sunday Dinner Stories articles.
  • Click Here to contact Michelle Beckman to schedule or learn more about a Personal History Discovery Conversation.
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© 2013 Sunday Dinner Stories, Michelle Beckman