How Launching A Podcast Has Made Me A Better Listener
By Dennis Worden
In 2014, I decided to start a podcast to highlight inspiring perspectives and stories of Native Americans that many people never get to hear. I didn’t have any formal experience as an interviewer or storyteller. In fact, I’m an introvert and generally fairly quiet in groups. But, as a member of the Coeur d’ Alene tribe and a professional navigating the corporate world, I’d been finding a lot of value in hearing Native friends and colleagues (and their friends and colleagues) share their paths and advice. Indian Country has many more impressive professionals in the workforce than a lot of people realize, and my goal in sharing these stories is two-fold: To make them more accessible to everyone and to inspire action.
NextGen Native is a passion project, and a few years and many episodes in, I’ve learned a lot from interviewing guests and editing and sharing our conversations. NextGen has helped me improve my listening skills in ways that extend beyond interviewing people on the show. Whether it’s in work settings or conversation with friends and strangers, I find myself picking up on the nuances of people’s points, asking thoughtful follow-up questions, and being more conscious of those moments when people are speaking past each other. Here are some of the takeaways:
1. Be curious.
As a Native American, I’m part of a relatively small community, and because of that, I’ve always tried to find ways to relate who I am and where I’m from to other people’s experiences. Each time interview someone on the show, it’s like a coffee meeting with someone I’m getting to know. I approach the conversation genuinely excited to learn more about the other person, what they do, and why they do it. People really are willing to open up when you ask them about themselves — a lesson I learned from the book How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve also discovered the value in asking people to go deeper. When I ask open-ended follow-up questions such as “How?” or “Why?” guests almost always expand on their thoughts in ways that yield more interesting and original answers.
2. Get comfortable with silence.
Part of being a good listener is being okay with occasional periods of silence. As I’ve done more interviews, I’ve learned that when you hone in on particular parts of someone’s story and ask follow-up questions, it’s important to then give them space to answer. These interludes are often when people are going to go deeper and inspire listeners. One guest, Waylon Pahona, for example, broke a brief silence by opening up about how being sexually abused as a child led him to create a Facebook group of more than 60,000 people committed to developing healthy, active lives. The best listeners use silence to lean into deeper conversations and let the breakthroughs occur.
3. Don’t be afraid to share, too.
When interviewing a guest, I spend around 65 percent of an episode actively listening and the other 35 percent narrating. As the host, it’s on me to focus the conversation about the guests and their experiences and interests. Asking thoughtful questions is important, but to keep interviews feeling natural and conversational, you need find ways to contextualize and build off of people’s answers. This often means sharing relevant personal stories that either add value or demonstrate vulnerability. During an interview with Dr. Adrienne Keene, a professor and author of the popular blog Native Appropriations, I expressed how I find it hard to balance reacting to negative and frustrating events with focusing on being proactive and sharing my own thoughts and ideas. She connected to that and spoke honestly about how she covers frustrating topics on her website while maintaining her energy. I hope others found her insights as useful as I did.
4. Be yourself.
It’s great to learn from others’ interviewing approaches and listening skills, but it’s also important to use those learnings to inform your own approach. If you’re trying to fit a mold or replicate someone’s style as an interviewer, you’re not going to be able to focus on what your guest is saying or to draw out the nuggets from the conversation. So, listen … to yourself! If you have an idea, run with it and take action. When you’re comfortable with yourself, you can focus your energy on the other person. That will create a much more satisfying show.