Tips on Listening to Digital Storytellers

Image of woman in mural for 3 tips on listening
Still from Searching for my Sister’s Eyes by Michelle LaFlamme. From workshop at grunt gallery 2018

We don’t usually think about how we listen to storytellers. We sometimes forget that one of the most important ways to support someone who is trying to tell a story is to listen. I’ve worked with novice directors for many years. Deep and engaged listening is vital when learning about someone else’s point of view during a digital storytelling workshop.

Tips for listening with attention

The first tip on listening is simply to pay attention. Others can tell when your mind wanders and when you are thinking about something else. Whether you are conducting an interview or asking someone to tell you a story, pay attention.

Listen and take quick notes if you want to remember details.

Listen to someone’s story and continue to listen as they refine their story. Do not let your mind wander – give them your full attention. Composer Pauline Oliveros developed a musical philosophy, “deep listening”, which can also be applied to digital storytelling. Listen deeply and recognize all sounds as music. Listen attentively to hear a deeper story behind the initial story.

Tips on listening when you don’t understand the words

The next tip on listening goes beyond language. A few years ago, I was one of the mentors in a Digital Storytelling workshop for LGBT cancer survivors at Montreal’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling. Everyone in the group spoke French except for me, and they were willing to translate so that I would understand. The first night, someone did simultaneous translation for me, but that meant she was not able to participate fully in the group. I realized that it was not necessary for me to follow every conversation, and that translating for me interfered with the group’s cohesion and expression. I asked the group not to worry about me, just to let me know what I needed to know.

My high school French from the last century did me little good. I had to listen in a way that saw and heard emotion and body language, disregarding most of the language that I did not understand.

While limited by my language skills, I was still able to participate in the workshop and to collaborate with Verena Stefan – you can watch her story just being on this site.

Listening deeply is transformative

When we share tips on listening, we also listen to ourselves. Like many people in our modern world, I often feel anxious. My doctor suggested attending a Mindful Meditation workshop led by the nutritionist at our medical clinic. I was taught to use meditation as a way to control my feelings of anxiety. What a profound feeling – listening to someone’s voice encouraging me to breathe can actually improve my mood. Waiting for an appointment, I closed my eyes and created a guided meditation soundtrack. It was partially inspired by Verena’s story, when she recalls a therapist asking her if she is the kind of person who is always doing something, or if she is able to just be.

Listening to Verena’s story reminded me of the importance of listening. Listening to her story gave me clues to use in my own healing journey. Letting go of conscious control and just drifting can help restore me. I share my short meditation with you – I hope that listening for 5 minutes helps you feel a little less anxious as you continue with your day.

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