Reportback: How to Organize a Successful Listening Event!

 How to Organize a Successful Listening Event

PSN Reportback

October 2, 2013

Listening events can be an effective way to share oral histories and create public dialogue around them. However, they can also be challenging to organize. How much audio can people sit and listen to? How can we engage people in conversation, community building, and action after hearing oral histories together? This PSN call was a space for participants to share what worked, what did not, and build a collective toolbox of strategies for organizing a successful listening event.

This call was co-facilitated by Amy Starecheski, member of Groundswell’s Core Working Group & Practitioner Support Network Working Group and Associate Director, Columbia Oral History MA Program and Rachel Falcone, Co-Producer and Creator, Housing is a Human Right; Director, Sandy Storyline. Participants were Cynthia Tobar, Manissa Maharawal, Ellen Brooks (who took these great notes), Eileen McAdams, Sarah Loose,Rebecca Lorins, Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz, and Scott Price.

We broke down the process into four steps: preparation, listening, dialogue, and follow-up. Here are some strategies we shared:

1. Preparation

Audience (Participants)

- partnering with other organizations à who is their audience

- taking measure to have the “right” people in the room; ex: people who are dedicated     to the movement, organization, etc.

- event will look different if you’re working with an audience of committed organizers v. a group newer to activism.


-finding a space that facilitates listening and dialogue


            - recording quality audio with the future listening event in mind

- having the right sound equipment for the size of the room and the size of the audience (having the ability to control bass and treble are key, computer speakers should not be relied on for anything but very small audiences)

2. Listening: building an intentional scaffolding to prepare the audience/participants for listening.


- lighting, comfortable seating, snacks/drinks


- keeping audio clips to under 5 minutes

Encouraging engaged listening

- suggesting a writing activity or note-taking

- leaving time for reaction after every audio piece (allow people to process what they have heard, only play one clip at a time)

Defining listening

            - as an introduction to the event, start out talking about the uniqueness of listening and the human voice

- introduce the concept of sound memories

- if using visuals or video in another part of the event, be sure to start with the audio pieces

Using potentially controversial audio

            - the concept of “The Third Thing”: talking about something related but not directly about the conflict

- decide what the purpose of the event is and if the controversial content will benefit this aim

- work with facilitators who can handle conflict – don’t be afraid of conflict

Editing clips

- editing is deemed appropriate as long as the edited clip stays true to the intent and content of the original audio

- makes audio easier to listen to

- perhaps share edited clips with narrators before playing


            - How much about the narrator is revealed before the clip? With the permission from the narrator is might be helpful to give their name, a brief bio, a picture and/or the question that led to the response

3. Dialogue

How do you facilitate a potentially controversial dialogue?

- small group discussions

- be direct, encourage honesty, use open-ended prompts

- read the group, know as much as possible about the community you’re working with

- transition between dialogue and audio, especially during difficult conversations

- enlist volunteers to help facilitate

- open the space for hard discussions, consider inviting disagreement and don’t work so hard to avoid conflict


- allow enough time for collaboration and brain-storming

4. Follow-up/From Dialogue to Action

Basic organizing logistics

            - sign up sheets, flyers for upcoming events, announcements, follow-up emails

Encouraging on-going story sharing

- encourage participants to share what they have heard at the event

- gives ideas of how participants can be effective catalysts for the stories, organization, or cause.