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New ways to record 🗣 conversations
Recording apps that streamline interviewing + DIY StoryCorps
Recording conversations is easy. Doing it well is harder. Welcome to this week’s Wonder Tools post, focusing on helping you record interviews more effectively.
Streamline your remote recording
You can record a conversation in Zoom or whatever other meeting tool you use, but dedicated recording software has a few advantages.
First, it tends to preserve the recording more reliably if your connection drops. Second, the software is designed specifically to optimize sound quality. Third, each has some bonus features, noted below.
Riverside is the software I use for remote recording. It saves your audio (and optionally video) as you go, so there's nothing lost if the connection crashes. It feels more polished than others I've tried. You can create and share highlight clips.
Zencastr, like Riverside, is a reliable way to record interviews. Just send your interview a subject a link, as you would with Zoom. The software records a separate high-quality audio file for each guest you’re interviewing.
Squadcast is software that similarly records a remote conversation. It’s often used by podcasters and has a “green room” function for getting ready.
Ringr is a service I’ve recently been testing. It’s not as polished as the other services, with a weaker design and narrower feature set. Unlike the other options, it has apps for Android and iOS.
Simplify your in-person interview recordings
Alice is designed for journalists, but you can use it to interview anyone. Just open the app and tap the screen to begin recording. You can even use it without looking at it, to maintain eye contact with your subject. And you get a transcript emailed to you afterwards.
Otter’s app is also reliable. It does live transcription, so you can scan through your interview during a break to see topics to follow-up on. You can also easily share the recording and transcript and let your subject edit the transcript if necessary.
Create your own StoryCorps interviews
StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit I admire that showcases recorded conversations between people who know one another. In the past they hosted professional recordings. Now anyone can record an interview for the StoryCorps archive and share it with friends, colleagues or family members. I recently began a project to record conversations with people close to me. It’s a challenge and a pleasure. After reading this post, call a loved one and record a conversation you’ll be glad to have.
How to make your own StoryCorps interview 🎙
With the free StoryCorps app, you can record someone nearby. Or use StoryCorps Connect to record a remote interview through your Web browser. StoryCorps has a helpful handout with 10 tips on recording a great interview and a one-minute guide to ensuring good sound quality.
Choose a partner. Pick someone whose voice you'll want to listen to in the years ahead. The best StoryCorps interviews are between people eager to discover things about one another.
Prep the question flow. Jot down a batch of meaningful, open-ended questions. This collection of thoughtful questions from the StoryCorps team is an excellent starting point, with hundreds of options for interviewing a parent, grandparent, friend, colleague, or anyone else.
Steal these interview tactics
This Stanford d.school (a leading design institution) has a great one-page empathy interview guide. Its 10 insights on interviewing include asking why frequently, encouraging stories, looking for inconsistencies to follow-up on, and allowing for lengthy silences.
StoryCorps offers this useful 2-page handout with 44 open-ended questions that help elicit thoughtful reflections. They recommend focusing on six big questions over a 40-minute interview, including follow-ups.
This NYTimes how-to piece on writing a profile, including tips on interviewing, is a helpful resource. (Thanks to my colleague Carrie Brown for sharing that).
Another NYTimes piece on handling prickly interview subjects has additional tips like saving uncomfortable questions for the latter phase of an interview.
Listen to notable StoryCorps interview collections
Seven interviews that StoryCorps founder Dave Isay can’t get out of his head
American Pathways — stories of refugees and immigrants in the US
StoryCorps Justice Project — stories of those impacted by mass incarceration
StoryCorps Legacy — People with serious illness share memories and reflections. The theme: “If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be? How has your life been different than what you’d imagined? How would you like to be remembered?”
What the best interviewers do
Keep your questions to 10 words or fewer.
Avoid asking binary questions to encourage your subject to elaborate.
Avoid “usually” questions to encourage specificity.
Wait five seconds after an answer ends before jumping in with another question. That pause opens up space for an add-on to the prior answer that may otherwise remain buried.
Nod and maintain eye contact when listening, but avoid verbal “uh-huhs” or other sounds that can clutter up your recorded audio.
With whom will you schedule an interview? What will you ask them?
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