3 Tips on Listening for Digital Storytellers

We sometimes forget that one of the most important ways to support someone who is trying to tell a story is to listen. Deep and engaged listening is vital when learning about someone else’s point of view.

1. Listen with attention to a storyteller.
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, take quick notes but don’t write a novel!

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.

2. Keep listening even when you don’t understand the 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.

3. Listening deeply can be transformative.
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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