Nuggets From Awakin Hosts & Moderators Call

Posted by Rahul Brown on Apr 19, 2021
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We had the rare pleasure of recently bringing a portion of the Awakin Calls host and moderator team together for a learning circle. It’s truly a privilege and an honor to be part of such an astounding team, where everyone has walked an extraordinary life journey and a fair number have shared their remarkable stories by being prior Awakin Call guests themselves. To say that on any given Saturday, we’ve got all-stars both in the line-up and on the bench would not be an understatement. :-)

In this post-pandemic world, we’re living through a moment where so many podcasts pop up like monsoon mosquitoes, competing for our attention with flashy titles, polished graphics, and heavily marketed lustre. Yet what distinguishes Awakin Calls beyond our remarkable team is our focus and our context. While the filter criteria for mainstream podcast guests tends to aggregate around money, power, and fame first, our focus places the values that animate our guests life journey’s front-and-center, with resume virtues as the context (and sometimes the footnote) to the inner journey. That means that when our guests do happen to be prominent or well-known, they tend to be remarkable for all the best reasons that one might shine. Our team knows this, our guests know this, and our audience can feel it within five minutes of any given call. A natural outcome is that our podcast punches far above its weight. Though our content does not yet reach tens of millions of listeners, there are few guests in-the-know who would turn down an invitation to speak on our program. Quite simply, in a culture distracted by glitter and glam (or worse, addicted to outrage and fear), our content is among the real gold that brings luminosity to life even as it gently nourishes genuine transformation.

The mantra of online platforms is ‘content is king’. Yet despite having content that is golden, our mantra would be that ‘context is king’. That context of Awakin Calls runs deep, and through every aspect of why and how we do what we do. It often starts with the relationship that lead to a guest being invited. Many guests are longtime friends or associates of one of our teammates, or a close friendship of someone within the broader Servicespace ecosystem such that they’re ushered into contact with a heart-based connection. After an official invitation is extended and accepted, the preparation that goes into creating the bios on our site is simply astounding. In the past, the anchor team would spend many hours week after week researching and distilling content into an essential biographical flow through the contours of key values and major life events of our guests. Increasingly, some of our moderators are preparing initial drafts, and the anchor team will then often spend hours more polishing, refining, rearranging, and titrating the story into a crystalline form that both captures the pure essence while revealing the many faces of the gems in our guests’ lives. Though perhaps half or more of our guests are fairy well-known and quite prominent, the bios that live on the Awakin site often become the ones they reference and point others towards after they’ve been guests.

The preparation by our all-star team coupled with the luminosity of our guests often leads to a palpable quality of presence on the call, which by nature invites our audience into brighter possibilities. The best calls are one’s where despite the prep, the learning journey for host & moderator is actively unfolding with the guest in a way that evokes and invites audience participation. While we often move into visceral and vulnerable territory in some of our best conversations, we never venture far from a felt sense of a labor-of-love across both the visible and invisible volunteers. Yet the ultimate transformative agent lies within our ‘open secret sauce’: both the receptivity and the invitation for a more engaged and enduring relationship with the Servicespace ecosystem. The sincerity and power of that invitation is evident not only in how many listeners have become writers or transcribers and sometimes moderators or hosts, but also in how many many prior guests have volunteered to become moderators, hosts, and writers. That kind of engagement spectrum can’t be strategized, marketed, or bought-- but arises organically from the inner work that each teammate has done to become both a beacon and a magnet for the tribe of people changing the world by changing themselves.

In addition to sharing memorable moments from recent calls, the intent of our circle was to learn from the wisdom of the team. Our standing questions were:
  • How do you prepare, both internally and externally, for the call?
  • How do you introduce the speaker in a way that doesn’t rehash the bio but perhaps simultaneously transcends it and deepens it?
We certainly had many nuggets surface from our collective experience.

Richard has been interviewing artists for decades before Awakin calls were born, and we sometimes call him ‘The Michael Jordan of Interviewers’ for his mastery of evoking surprising openings and stunning insights in conversation even as he makes an otherwise athletic feat look graceful and easy. Like a mystic, his advice was to prepare, and then forget. He reminded us about the foundational and formative nature of childhood experiences, and how probing into them can evoke major themes in a guest’s life journey. Paying attention to little moments that seem different, and asking guests to expand on what might be present there is often revelatory. In the end, he gets into a flow by dropping his agenda and staying with what has appeared in conversation to follow the interesting threads and discover where they lead.

Diana has been working behind-the-scenes as a scribe and writer for many months, and recently had her first chance to moderate a call. Her internal prep consisted of sitting & breath meditation before the call to anchor and center herself. Externally, she prepared by writing lots of notes on the bio and distilling those notes into key questions and themes. She told us how toggling between her questions and the live interaction presented a challenge that was mirrored in the tension between embodying pure presence on a call vs following an preset agenda. Even then, the easiest part is noticing and feeling held by the co-presence in the rich field between moderator, guest, and audience which often is a gentle and calming guide in and of itself. Her learning edge echoed Richard’s advice in developing the capacity to keep the research in mind while also being fully present, or walking the path of both knowing and forgetting.

David draws on a luminous career of extensively interviewing people for grants, awards, and fellowships. Given the selective and sensitive nature of these kinds of conversations, they’re often both one-on-one, private, and structured around finding a special ‘it’ that a prospect may possess to qualify them for what may be offered. Given that historic momentum that’s informed his style, his learning edge with Awakin calls is around orienting interviews to reveal the authentic self rather than moving toward a pre-formulated criteria of specialness.

Gayathri has recently parlayed her behind-the-scenes service with Awakin Calls to moderate the Awakin Talks, a more India-centric twin of our program. Coincidentally, she’s been fortunate to moderate conversations with luminous spiritual musicians whose work and journey’s are not only well-known (esp. Within our worldwide community) but who have also touched her life personally. In fact, she transcends the constraints of introducing these famous figures by sharing how they’ve impacted her own journey, creating an immediate intimacy and rapport in conversation. A moving moment she recalled was in her interview with Parvathy Baul, whose performances are like a love affair with the divine revealed on a stage, almost too private to be watched by those not participating in the act itself. She asked how such intimacy was able to be shared so openly, and found a thrilling yet humbling answer in response. Gayathri reflected how often our guests are so remarkably real that half our work is already done for us.

Aryae has also spent decades in conversation with religious and spiritual figures, and looks at his interviews as primarily relational. His mantra is ‘less is more’, skillfully holding the attention between wanting to ask a question and also wanting to be surprised. He recalled a humorous and challenging situation that arose when he was slated to interview someone whose views he didn’t agree with. In seeking a way to perhaps build a bridge of understanding, he attended a sermon by that guest and appreciated the music that was played in the service. Rather than risk clashing with his guest over a differing viewpoint, he played some of that music he heard in the service on the call and used it as a gateway to get past the surface difference and arrive at the heart of an insight that could be shared with the audience. His general approach is to start with a focus on the outer work to get it out of the way and provide the framing context to orient the audience. He finds that this often opens the space to reveal the inner dynamics that our calls are known for.

Janessa humorously surfaced the internal pressure she experiences whenever she is asked to host or moderate. With so many deeply grounded people in our ecosystem, the need to appear always centered and spiritual can be a subtle or implicit expectation that is sometimes at odds with how she’s genuinely feeling. She takes the edge off by breathing and meditating, but also doing the heavy lifting of bio writing as part of her preparation to moderate. Yet what really drops her into the flow is allowing herself to feel a sense of awe, which gives rise to reverence and sense of love in the conversation. That kind of energy often is a powerful key to really open up the space for something beautiful to emerge.

Cynthia shared about the traps of over-preparation and over-familiarity, especially since she’s at times interviewed people she’s very close with or has known for decades. To counteract that challenge, one technique is to think of a call as a virtual meeting with an acquaintance over a cup of tea, where she and the guest are literally sipping tea together as the audience is a fly on the wall of their conversation. Drawing on both her clinical experience as a physician where there are often only minutes to get to the heart of the matter, and her long-standing qi gong practice, she also uses a technique of ‘sitting energetically with the guest’ where her preparation consists of spending a few minutes silently sitting in the visualized presence of the guest before any conversation has taken place. She cautioned against allowing either inner practice, preparation, or history to make you so relaxed that you lose your incisive edge. Her guidance was also to not get too far ahead of the language a guest uses to describe their own experience or journey, as meeting someone where they are at is key to taking a few steps with them together.

Joe recalled both a touching moment and an edge from a couple of his interviews. In one case, he stepped into the fascination and awe of the guest’s work by actively engaging in a mini session that demonstrated how the guest would work with one of his clients. As he perceived it at the time, he felt like it illuminated the special capacity the guest possessed and was done in reverence for his contributions in the world. Yet when feedback from the audience came in on the call, a handful of listeners felt as though Joe went down a rabbit hole by using the common air time for his personal benefit. On the flipside, in another call where he had done a lot of preparation, he felt a deep shared enthusiasm with the guest and revealed that resonance in conversation. In that case, it opened a vulnerable and beautiful moment with the guest that might not have otherwise emerged. The meta lesson was perhaps to temper the reverence and resonance we often feel with guests with sensitivity around what the audience may be expecting to unfold through the call.

Chris sensitively conveyed his surprise at being present on the call, both because he hasn’t been so available to participate lately, and that he was willing to join the conversation at a time when the last few months of life have felt like a bumpy ride. In a very gentle way, he doubled down on the sentiment Janessa shared and took it a step further by sharing about the inner danger of doing anything inauthentic, including projecting a happy, centered, or spiritual image when one is feeling challenged, off-kilter, or painfully human. As for Awakin calls, he reminded us that there is rarely a cookie-cutter formula for making a conversation come alive. Instead, the trifecta of deep listening, reflectively refining, and genuine curiosity go a long way in any context.

Preeta rounded off our call by sharing how her focus has shifted from capturing the inner journey of our guests to gravitating toward what about them touches her own heart. When she can connect to that, it's often easy to draw others into that space. One technique she shared that is effective at going deeper with guests, particularly well-known ones with polished answers to nearly every question, is to simply ask them to say more when they’ve finished an answer that sounds as if they’ve said it a hundred times. Ultimately her practice is to let go of any expectations on where she’d like to take a conversation, especially as a nod to honoring where someone is at.

As the team anchor, Preeta also shared that the vision for our calls moving forward is to increasingly make them self-organizing. The idea is for moderators or hosts to suggest guests they’d like to speak to as part of their own journey, and then – with support from the anchor team – participate in the process of highlighting key facets of the guest’s story and helping the guest’s bio, and helping select or suggest other team volunteers with whom they’d like to work with on the call. As much as we produce content that is for the audience, we are ultimately organized as a platform by and for our team and their own inner transformation journeys. With the permeable membrane between audience, guest, and team, that’s an exciting invitation rich with the possibility of amazing conversations for years to come.

Posted by Rahul Brown | | permalink

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Comments (7)

  • Preeta wrote ...

    What a tour de force, Rahul! Thank you for holding space for such a rich conversation, and for capturing the nuggets so beautifully. Your words manifest the formless beauty underlying this volunteer effort.

  • Aryae wrote ...

    Amen to Preeta's comment. An amazing job Rahul of summing up the soul of what each of us had to say. Thank you!

  • Richard Whittaker wrote ...

    And ditto to what has been said about your summary, Rahul. Thank you. It was such a fine exchange we all had and lovely to see it captured so well...

  • Diana wrote ...

    I feel blessed to have been part of this call, and ditto again :) to the accolades on Rahul's write-up! :)

  • Cynthia wrote ...

    A beautiful and illuminating circle and summary. Thank you, Rahul!

  • Rohit Rajgarhia wrote ...

    Thank you so much Rahul for this summary. I was also looking forward to join the call, but couldnt due to being a bit under the weather that day. This summary is a beautiful gift.

  • Janessa Wilder wrote ...

    I was so grateful to connect with other facilitators and talk about this work. Thank you for making that possible and for capturing the wisdom in this beautiful write-up!