Tips & Tricks having great conversations with the Root & Seed Convo Tool.
By: Emily Groleau, Root & Seed Editor
Congratulations, you've taken the first step and your desire to capture your precious family stories is real and present. Next, with a little prep and planning—and some help from Root and Seed’s Conversation Tool—you can make your story collection session a great success! Take a look at our tips and tricks below for capturing family memories that can be cherished for years to come.
Preparing for your conversation
Some of the best stories are captured during impromptu conversations. But, your loved one may appreciate being given some idea in advance about what to expect. Once they know what you hope to talk about, you can also decide together on a time and place for your conversation. Try to find somewhere quiet for your recording, where you both feel comfortable. The kitchen table tends to be a popular pick, as is a comfy couch.
In the Root & Seed Conversation Tool, we provide hundreds of questions to prompt stories you may have never heard, so even if you think a question isn’t relevant, it can’t hurt to give it a try. You never know what you’ll learn unless you ask! Select a question and decide if you are recording audio or just typing notes.
Writing Titles & Notes
Even if you are recording audio, we recommend adding a title. Keep it simple - just a few words to describe the key topic, and maybe indicate the person talking, eg. “Nana’s favourite snacks” or “Birthdays when Uncle Joe was a kid.” Especially, if you plan on asking the same question to multiple people, we suggest including the loved one's name in the title. Of course, if nothing original comes to mind, it's easy to just leverage keywords from the question prompts in the Recording Title, like “Lost Heirlooms” or “Marriage Traditions.”
It’s not necessary, but you may want to approach note-taking before your conversation starts, as if describing key details from a scene. A few questions to consider include: Where are you sitting? What time of year and/or day is it? Are you eating or talking over a hot cup of tea? Who else is in the room with you; is this an intimate conversation between just the two of you? Notes can be quite brief, but even simple observations around the five senses can paint a fuller picture to return to later. If possible, plan for minimal note-taking during your actual conversation. While so many details can be beautiful pieces to add to your family vault of memories, it will be important to show that you are listening and fully engaged as your loved one shares their story.
Here are a few examples of what your titles and quick notes might look like:
Remember: You can always go back to your recording to add or change your title and notes by accessing the recordings from your Library, or your "Recent Conversations". There is no pressure to write anything in the moment!
Discuss conversation roles
Root & Seed questions are designed for either children or adults to lead conversations. Whatever conversation strategies you plan to take, discuss these beforehand, so no one is surprised or disappointed with their role.
Children love to get involved, and we’ve noticed that they can take the role of “interviewer” very seriously. Respect that the conversation will likely be different than you envisioned, so embrace the beauty in it! This can be especially important if you’re helping a younger child lead a storytelling session with an adult, such as a grandparent. Plan to hand a child the reins early by letting them ask the first question. Resist the urge to interrupt, but if they struggle with follow-up questions or simply lack context on a topic, you can always plan to jump in to help.
You can also use the time before hitting “record” to let your loved one know that as the storyteller, they are welcome to ask for time or even skip a question. Alternatively, if the question triggers a completely unrelated memory or story, urge them to follow that whim! Just make sure that if you are audio recording the conversation, that your storyteller is aware and consenting.
Holding the conversation
Once you have your planning down, it’s time to start talking! Root & Seed provides question prompts and note-taking and recording tools, but there’s still plenty that you can do to facilitate deep, meaningful conversations.
It’s often best to start with emotionally lighter questions at the beginning of a conversation, before delving into immigration tales or stories of loss. Questions as simple as “What was your favourite childhood breakfast?” or “Who were your best friends at school?” can help your loved one step back into the past, but with a happier, nostalgic mindset. These kinds of memories can also be great jump-off points for follow-up questions and topics you may not have otherwise considered exploring.
Be generous with time, and embrace imperfection
There is so much value in showing patience and giving a storyteller time to process questions, especially if there’s a language barrier to consider. It’s important to remember that many family stories we see shared online are polished versions of much longer (and messier!) real-life conversations. So If you get the sense that your loved one needs a minute to think about a question, or if they’d like to amend the way something was phrased, let them. But if they seem to get caught up ‘in the weeds' of words a lot, it could be helpful to remind them that you’re speaking with them to get their unique thoughts on your family’s history—and these don’t always need to be expressed in a linear or concise way. We often say “today's mistakes are tomorrow’s treasures,” so don't be too quick to dismiss something because it's not perfect.
Step out of the details
Memory can be a tricky thing. What often stands out is how something in the past made someone feel, rather than the finer details. This is especially true for early childhood memories, or maybe those associated with a painful time. If your loved one clearly wants to share an experience but they’re struggling with pinning down hard facts, try encouraging them to focus more on describing their emotions surrounding a memory. You may both be surprised at how much detail is there, after all.
Find the value in repetition
Maybe your loved one keeps circling back to say more or less the same thing. It may be tempting to push the conversation immediately in another direction, but repetition can often indicate that this is an important part of their story, or perhaps a message that they wish to impart. (That said, it’s also okay to recognize when a topic may have run its natural course, and gently retake the lead - try a different angle with one of our "dig deeper" questions.)
If your discussion of the past starts to bring up some negative self-talk, make a conscious effort to word your responses and follow-up questions through a lens of empathy. Try to use this as an opportunity to prompt your loved one to reflect back on how much they may have grown—or continue to grow—as a person, or share what they’ve overcome. You may find new facets to their story, and can even take inspiration from them!
We hope these tips and tricks are helpful for you as you begin your story-gathering journey. Sign in to Root and Seed’s Conversation Tool now to explore which questions you want to ask next time you see a loved one.
Do you have any tips or tricks for leading conversations with family members? Share in the comments below!