Do Your Homework! - The Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ) Meeting

I can close my eyes today and remember those times, night after night during my school-age years, my Mom saying, "Do your homework!" She knew that in order for me to get what I wanted out of school, in that case a good grade, I needed to prepare for the next class. That meant doing my homework assignments. Getting what you want out of interviewing your loved ones for their LifeStories (the "Why" we discussed in earlier blog post ) is no different. Your homework for a LifeStory begins with a Pre-Interview Questionnaire (PIQ) meeting. The catchphrase for the PIQ meeting is the same as that of the radio and TV show of the 1950s and 60s, Dragnet ..."Just the facts, ma'am." The primary purpose of the PIQ meeting is to gather the facts of the interviewee(s)' life. This can be a seemingly daunting task if you are not prepared. To be prepared you should devise your own fill-in-the blank PIQ form. The one I use for my work at LifeStories Alive is 40 pages and covers the following general information: General Interviewee Information, Early Life, Adult Years, Family Background, and General Interview Questions. We will discuss details of each of these categories in following blog posts.

The PIQ meeting fulfills three very important purposes in my LifeStory process. Primarily, it enables me to gather the facts about their life so I can intelligently formulate the questions I will prepare to ask for the actual interview. Here is where the challenge (and fun) begins. Because all I want at this point of the process are the facts, I find myself politely interrupting the interviewee as he/she launches into the stories. For instance, I'll ask, "What were your first three home addresses as a child?" Many will begin to, and in great detail, describe the house and why Daddy could only afford this...and why they had to move at that time ...and on and on. All I was looking for was, "322 Montpelier, San Antonio, Texas"! You get the picture. I'll interrupt by gently telling them, "That's important information for the interview, but now I just want the address."

The second purpose of the PIQ meeting is so the interviewee will get to know me and feel comfortable talking with me. When my clients, who in many cases are the children of the interviewees, hire me to interview their loved ones, the interviewees might envision an in-your-face investigative reporter showing up at their doorstep shoving a microphone in their face and grilling them for the "dirt" in their lives. In most cases, the PIQ meeting is the first time I will meet the interviewees. At that meeting, my interviewees will know that I'm there just to have a conversation with them (during the filmed interview) about their lives that will be recorded. It sets their mind at ease and will make for a much more relaxed interview.

The third purpose of the PIQ meeting is so I can gauge the mental and physical strengths and weaknesses of the interviewees. If their hearing is weak, I want to be sensitive of that (and prepare my videographer for those challenges). If their eyesight is bad, I will not ask then at the interview to read a love letter that was sent to them (a fun surprise during an interview). And if their memory is not clear, I will not ask them specifics like, "What was your father's date of birth?" Instead, I will ask, "Your father was born on June 12, 1909. What stories did he share with you about his youth?" I do not want a finished LifeStory that causes the interviewee to be embarrassed due to the interview highlighting his physical or mental weaknesses.

Your homework can be fun, so make it fun! It will help lead to a successful interview and finished LifeStory.

In my next blog post, I'll go into details of the PIQ form.