The other day I posted a piece about the important role that stories play in engaging your prospects and clients. Stories are among the best ways to connect with them, and convey your potential value while touching another person on an emotional level.
And indeed, it is no secret to most of us that video is a powerful tool to sharing great stories. But on that note, I want to shift gears a moment…and use that segue to talk about something more important than marketing and sales. Yes, you read correctly. There is something more important.
Most of us who are in our 30s, 40s and 50s are watching our parents (and even some grandparents) enter their twilight years. Some of these folks are fortunate enough to retain their health and vitality as they age (maintaining their independence, mobility, and of course, longevity); others, not so much. Regardless of one’s current health, by the time a man or woman reaches their late 70s and early 80s, there is bound to be quite a story to tell.
Such is the case with my father. He is 83 (a widower since my mom died back in 1984), and for the past few years has had more than his share of health issues. Candidly, of late each year we have wondered if this one will be his last, and yet as of this writing, we are still blessed by his presence.
Now, I will go out on a limb here and suggest that if you are still so fortunate to have your parent(s) or even a grandparent with you, it is likely that you have heard them tell the same story more than once (Heck, I’m in my late 40s and my kids have already called me out on this!). Further, when you have heard said story again, might have you had the tendency to inwardly dismiss it or politely imply that they have shared it before (while perhaps acknowledging their point)? I don’t mean disrespectfully–but am I right? I mean, most of us have been there.
Last year I was having dinner with my father and this very thing happened, and it made me wonder: where will those stories go when he is no longer with us? Will I retell them? What was the lesson learned? Will I remember it?
And then it dawned on me: throughout my career, I have used video not just as a means of telling stories on behalf of my clients (starting out 20 years ago doing so for capital campaigns for nonprofit organizations), but as a means of discovering those stories as well. You never know what might be revealed when you engage someone in a deep conversation. And yet, having sat down with hundreds of people for on-camera interviews, it never occurred to me to do so with my dad.
That is, until late last year, when I did just that. Upon one of my regular visits (he lives three hours away), I sat him down in his living room, put a microphone on him (VERY important!), set up my video camera and began rolling.
More importantly…we began talking. I started out just asking him about his childhood…growing up in Wisconsin in the thirties and forties. He didn’t just share stories though–he recalled (and at times I would prompt these memories) what life was like just on a daily basis. For example, as of this writing, most of us have been experiencing the most brutal winter in years. Imagine waking up every morning in this weather, and having to go outside to an outhouse to use the bathroom! I’ll pass on that.
- After 90 minutes, we basically covered events and lessons of his life through his high school years. And that was just the first session. I quickly discovered that this was going to take several sessions to get through 80 years!
- Last week, we did it again–for another 90 minutes. That got us through college, his Korean wartime service, and his completion of law school. Some great stories there!
- I would say we have at least one or two sessions to go. After all, he hadn’t even met my mom yet (and that wasn’t until he was nearly thirty)!
When my dad asked me what I was going to do with all this material, I had only one answer: “I don’t know…yet.” My first priority was—and is—to “get it in the can.”
Indeed this process is not new—it’s been done quite a bit with Holocaust survivors, and other groups have been catching WWII vets on video since we are losing them every day. And while I cannot say that family history and genealogy have ever really been a big interest of mine, I am a firm believer in honoring those who have gone before us—starting with our parents. It is one of God’s Commandments.
And regrettably my own children have not gotten to know my father as well as I would have liked—and they are certainly not to blame for that. But he is as much a part of who they are as I am. And it is important to me that who he is be remembered and recorded with more than just some still pictures on my wall or—more likely—on my computer.
To me, personally, this is the most powerful gift that high-definition video has to offer our generation—provided we use it this way. So today, for those of you with parents, grandparents, or even close friends or business mentors (perhaps your company’s founder?) who are well into their twilight years, permit me to strongly suggest that you make this activity a priority, TODAY.
What will I do with the hours of on-camera conversations with my father? I do not yet know. But I can definitely share one lesson I’ve learned: In my late 40s, I thought I had “heard it all.” In reality, I had not heard nearly enough.