You have committed to interviewing a loved one, so now you must prepare. I do not recommend walking into an interview with a blank notepad. You are recording another person's life story, and you must show them respect by coming prepared.
Having said that, the written outline is only half the interview. The other half is following up on the answers, engaging in unscripted give and take. There isn't much you can do to prepare for the unscripted portion, it just happens in the moment.
First, I recommend you engage in some pre-outline preparation. Do some research on your interview subject. If they have a website or social media page, this could be a goldmine of information. You can learn about their passions, projects, friends, sense of humor, interests, hobbies and photos. Photos are a great preparation tool. Perhaps your interview subject has authored writings such as poetry, books, essays, or blogs. You need not read their entire archive, but this provides tremendous insight into their personality.
Of course, you should always Google your interview subject. You never know what you might find. You could stumble across a rich internet commenting history, news articles, photos, blogs, etc.
The purpose of this exercise is to obtain some background information on your subject. I recommend you do this even if your subject is a parent or spouse. Even if you "know" everything about them, I promise everything is not in your consciousness when you prepare your outline.
B. The Outline
I purposefully wrote "Outline," not "Notes" or "Questions." Your focus should be on your interview subject, not reading word-for-word questions from your notes. If your questions are overly-scripted, your cadence and speech will sound unnatural. You will have to break eye contact to read the question, and that will interrupt the flow of the interview and your connection with your subject.
My preference is to write a few words, sufficient to trigger your mind about the subject matter you intend to ask. Don't write each question word-for-word because you will be tempted in the moment to read the question verbatim. Your questions will sound more natural if you use natural speech. Don't worry if you flub a word or fail to use perfect grammar; that isn't the point. You want the interview to be more conversational than interrogational. A conversational style will make the process feel less formal for each of you, and you want the interviewee relaxed.
Back in my early days of litigation, when I was somewhat new to deposing witnesses, a former employer gave me a tip I still use to this day, both in depositions and in Eternal Roots interviews. Draw a straight line one-third into your page, all the way down. Everything to the right is your outline, the subject matter you're going to cover. Everything to the left is where you make notes during the interview, where you write your follow up questions. This way your follow up notes are easier to find and read. I've been doing this for 10 years, trust me, it works. I'll cover this in greater detail in the Interview chapter. Below is a mock page of an outline. (Hope you can read my writing.)
C. The Tree
The outline is a tool to ensure you cover necessary subject matter. Think of the outline as a tree. The outline is the main trunk and main branches of the tree. Trees have numerous smaller branches, leaves and fruit. These details are not on your outline because you might not have known about them. The tree fills out during the interview, and your outline is just a rough sketch. The leaves and fruit are much more beautiful than the branches and trunk.
I use the outline to keep me on track and ensure I cover certain subject matter. The interviwee will reveal information meriting follow up, and here your outline is useless. Follow up requires you to pay attention, maintain eye contact, and be in the moment. If your mind wanders, if you're thinking about dinner, you will miss out on fertile grounds for follow up, which could be ten minutes of unscripted questions. That is where I get my best material, both in depositions and Eternal Roots interviews. Once you feel you've exhausted an area of inquiry, return to your outline and move up the trunk of the tree. I'll cover this in greater detail in the Interview chapter.
The outline is a rough sketch of the subject matter to cover. It will help your confidence, organization, efficiency and thoroughness. The interviewee will be impressed with your preparation, and your preparation shows respect. Having said all that, don't be too married to your outline. Use it to frame the questions, but not for precise wording. Be prepared to go off script and ad-lib. That's where the interview is the most enjoyable for both sides.
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.