If You Build It, Will They Record Their Stories?

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Eric Winick has a dilemma.

He wants to help people tell their stories orally through his company, Yarn Audioworks.

yarn.jpg But he’s having difficulty persuading folks to come forward to record their narratives. “I’m just looking for the best incident-based 10-15 minute stories I can find,” he says.

Winick, a full-time marketing director at an off-Broadway theater in New York City, came to storytelling through the medium of theater. “For many years I fancied myself a writer — first of short stories, and then of plays, which is where I found a niche for almost 20 years,” he explains.

In 2005, after becoming a fan of the kinds of stories he heard on public radio, Winick had the idea to record audio pieces myself. “I blew an entire tax refund one year on audio equipment,” he says. “That was the year I started working on my first audio documentary. My model, obviously, is ‘This American Life,’” he says, although Yarn doesn’t follow a particular theme. “

Three of Winick’s pieces have made it to public radio in the last six months, in places as far-flung as Birmingham, AL, and Urbana, IL, he notes.

Winick wants to expand Yarn by recording more stories — his own and those of others in the NYC metro area (or elsewhere for would-be storytellers with the ability to record a .WAV file). He’d like to get some of these stories on the radio.

After Winick wrote to me, I gave him a few suggestions about his Web site and approach. I told him I think the idea of recording stories is much more intimidating than writing stories. That fear factor may explain his difficulty in getting people to speak their tales.

I now throw this dilemma open to readers: How can Winick coax more folks to record their stories?

In the meantime, Winick has a terrific set of story-prompting questions on his site that are not only good for brainstorming stories to record but for all kinds of other uses:

  1. What was the most frightening experience you’ve ever had?
  2. What was the funniest experience you’ve ever had?
  3. What was the funniest and most harrowing experience you’ve ever had?
  4. Who was the most influential person you’ve met? What experience with this person typifies the influence he/she had on you?
  5. Have you had an experience in which you accomplished something you did not think was possible?
  6. Have had ever triumphed over what you felt at the time were the forces of evil?
  7. Have you had an encounter with a celebrity/well-known individual that made an impression on you?
  8. Have you ever made a complete fool of yourself in front of others?
  9. Have you ever done something you wished you could take back?
  10. Have you ever had a near-death experience?
  11. What was the most ill you’ve ever been? How did it cause you to reflect on your life?
  12. What was the happiest you’ve ever been?
  13. What was the most trying experience of your life?
  14. Have you ever done something for which you did not apologize, but still wish you could?
  15. Have you ever had an experience in a foreign country that taught you a lesson about yourself/your culture?
  16. Have you ever been arrested?
  17. Have you ever been mistaken for someone else?
  18. Have you ever carried out a practical joke that either succeeded or failed?
  19. Have you ever had an experience while working that made you think about the nature of your work/vocation/yourself as a worker?
  20. Have you ever had to make a life-or-death decision for yourself or someone else?
  21. What’s the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done on a date?
  22. What’s the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done in the name of love?
  23. What’s the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done, period?
  24. What was your bravest or most courageous moment?
  25. What was the worst injury you’ve ever sustained?
  26. Have you ever had to make the choice between doing the right thing and the wrong thing?
  27. What was the one moment in high school you’ll never forget, for all the right or wrong reasons?
  28. Have you ever been so lost you couldn’t find your way back?
  29. Have you ever lost or broken something and then not been able to admit it?


Adding a “What happened” at the end of the questions would help in getting longer answers.

Good suggestion, Stephane. The bigger problem seems to be getting people to want to record their stories in the first place.

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Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...


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