Small talk, big feels. When you’re talking to someone, how do you keep the conversation going? Nyge Turner and Dominique “Dom” French listen to and speak with each other and “Hang Up” podcast host Zakiya Gibbons about ways to make meaningful connections through the art of conversation.
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Nyge: Welcome to Adult ISH produced by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. I'm Nyge Turner.
Dom: And I'm Dominique French. And in this episode we're going to be talking about the Art of Conversation.
Nyge: It's so many people who get nervous during conversations, including - surprise, surprise - me.
Nyge: Look though, like it can be, it can be a lot when you're meeting someone for the first time and you're just figuring out how to keep the conversation fun, interesting, all of those things at once. It's hard to not stress yourself out. Like, I am just like the type of person to where like, I'm – my mind is just going like 500,000 miles a minute and in conversation sometimes that leaves me like, “Wait, what did you say?” (laughs)
So, Dom, I want to know, do you ever get nervous too, in convos?
Dom: You know what, Nyge? If you stay nervous, you don't have to get nervous. (both laugh) I think that having conversations is something I'm objectively good at. Especially when it's, like, one-on-one context. But if you literally add one more living being into that dynamic, it doesn't even have to be a person, like if there's a dog in the room, I all of a sudden feel like I am juggling. Like it is a professional juggling act and I am in the circus. I, I definitely have a knack for like, deeper conversations, which can be a little bit hard and weird if you just met someone at a party. But I also always have like, a bit of silliness to my conversation, which can be misplaced if you're talking to someone about. (laughter) You know…
Nyge: Something more serious.
Dom: Yeah. A little more serious! It could be a little off-putting if that person doesn't know your vibe. So oftentimes I, I do feel like the moment before a conversation starts, especially with a new person, like stretches on for infinity. And I, like, look at myself in a mirror inside of my own mind palace. And I'm like, ‘Don't fuck this up for us.’ (laughs)
Nyge: Right? I'm… I'm so not, like, good small talk. As soon as people ask me, like, “How are you doing?” Like the, the real, like pops into my mind of like, how I'm actually doing and that's all I can think about. And then, like, my internal monologue is just like, ‘Tell the truth. Tell the truth. Tell the truth.’
And I'm like, “Great. You know. It's good.” (laughs)
And then my mind is again, like, ‘You know you need to talk about it. You need - they need to know.’
Dom: (laughs) A montage of you're like crying in the shower, and like burning breakfast. (laughing)
Nyge: (laughing) And I'm like, “Man, yeah, naw. Nothing, nothing new.” And I just immediately just like, default to talking about TV and movies. But…
Nyge: Because that's, that's the only small talk I know. Like, I can talk about TV, I can talk about movies. Anything else? Like, I'm going to be telling you about (laughs) therapy. And that's just what it is.
But I really wanted to… to do this episode because I really wanted to just get another perspective on conversations. Just even when you're having conversations with other people, you can almost feel it sometimes on people. You can feel like, the nerves coming from their end too.
Dom: Ah oh, like radiating.
Nyge: Yeah, you. And you're like, ‘Look, we're in this together, somehow let's figure out a way (laughter) to make this work for both of us.’ And I thought, who better to guide us through that and guide us on how to find that middle ground with someone, or whoever you're talking to, than the queen of conversations herself - Zakiya Gibbons, host of the amazing Radiotopia podcast “Hang Up.” So we sat down with her and got her perspective on everything.
Zakiya: “Hang Up” is a reality dating competition show with no rings attached. It's a fun, gay time. (laughter)
Dom: It is a fun gay time. It is a gay, gay time. And, I've been listening to it to prepare for this. And I've just got to say, in a world where, like reality television shows are being hosted by like Nick Lachey and like Mrs. Nick Lachey. (laughing) Who are just like, not really charismatic, I'm so sorry to say.
Zakiya: And, ask all the wrong questions.
Dom: Ask all the wrong questions! Like, not only are you a breath of fresh air, you are a star Zakiya!
Dom: You... Oh my gosh. Like you could take away, like, the dating stuff and I would just be like, ‘What is Zakiya up to this week?’
Zakiya: Oh my goodness!
Dom: Oh my – you add so much to every single part of the show and it is just so heartwarming and invigorating to hear your voice.
Zakiya: Oh my goodness. That is so kind. Thank you so much.
Dom: You're so welcome. And I just want to know, like, how did you come to be the host of, “Hang Up?”
Zakiya: Yes, it is all thanks to “Hang Up’s” creator and producer Caitlin Pierce. She had this idea to create “Hang Up” a reality dating show without the toxicity, without the bullshit heteronormativity, because. I love reality TV. I love the trashy sh… I love it all, but. And I, and I watch it all. But, the problem with a lot of the dating shows is that, you know, they have all these like, early 20-somethings, like 22 year olds being like, ‘I need to get married by the end of the year or else my life is over!’
And Caitlin’s, like ‘Umm, or not?’ (laughter) And you know. And what would a fun, cute reality dating show look like without all of those – yeah, heteronormative constraints? Without the toxicity in front of the camera, behind the camera. And so, she was working on “Hang Up” and she was like, ‘I need a host for this.’ And we're friends. And she reached out to me and I guess she thought I had the vibe and I joined on as an editor.
Dom: You are the vibe!
Zakiya: Thank you. Thank you, thank you. I joined on as the editor and the host and we collaborated together to make “Hang Up” and that's, that's what happened.
Nyge: So I have to ask the question we've all been wondering. Have you always been a great talker?
Zakiya: Oh! That is. Y’all are so nice! I feel like your listeners are getting so tired of me being like, “Oh my God, thank you!” (laughter) Have I have always been…? That is a good question. I don't know if y’alls’ parents do this, but they tell like, the same three stories like…
Zakiya: “I remember the day you were born!” And like the same like, two embarrassing story of like, “I remember when you pooped your pants in second grade!” I'm like, ‘Okay, this isn't, very – helping me to understand my journey in becoming myself.’
So to answer that question, I mean, so all I have to go off of is kind of very abstract feelings, memories, not necessarily episodic memories, of certain situations that I can point to and be like, ‘Yep, I was always this way.’ But I remember being a kid, I think I was on the quieter side, if anything. I have an older brother. He, I feel like, was the jokester of the family. And, my sister was a textbook older sister, you know, very much so in charge. And I feel like I kind of just. I don't want to say faded into the background, but kind of just – I was always just did as I was told. I was a polite young girl, which I feel like is coded, you know. Like, ‘Oh, she was a good girl. She was well-behaved.’ Which usually means not too loud, not too boisterous. You know? So I think it was later in life when I kind of found my voice. But, being obnoxiously loud, I feel like I picked up on later in life.
But, have I always been a good talker? I've always been inquisitive and I feel like that's part of being a good talker and I've always been very observant of people, and I think that goes into it.
Dom: It sounds.
Nyge: Oh, go ahead, go ahead.
Dom: Oh no, are you going to call me out and say, like, our life stories are the same? Because, that's also what I'm thinking? (laughing)
Nyge: (laughing) No. Why would I say…? (all laughing)
I didn't know you when you were a kid. Like I was just… (laughing)
Dom: You’re like, “A southern girl, who also became loud…” (laughing)
Nyge: “Yeah, Dom was just like that in the second grade.” (laughing)
Dom: “Dom also pooped her pants in the second grade!” (laughing)
Nyge: (laughing) Yeah…
Dom: No. What are you going to say?
Nyge: I was going to pose the question to you, too.
Dom: What’s up?
Nyge: When, when do you feel like you became a great talker? Do you feel like you always were one?
Dom: Oh, gosh. I do feel very similarly to Zakia, in that, when I was young, I did very much feel like the world was happening around me and I was watching it happen. Like sort of like, like that moment before Double Dutch, which I wouldn't know about because I never actually went in. (laughing)
I was too scared. But where you're like, ‘Hoo. Here I come. Okay. Come on.’ Just like you're waiting for your time to go in.
Nyge: (laughing) Bell rings and you just go inside.
Dom: Yeah, I know. Exactly. Every day. It sort of felt like that. And I think that transition sort of happened when I went to high school and everyone was like, “Oh, Dom's like, quiet and introspective and like, bookish or whatever.” And I was like, ‘I'm going to go to performing Arts High School and like, perform in front of everyone.’ And, everyone was like, gobsmacked. And I was like, ‘I've been waiting in the wings. It's time to take the stage!’
Zakiya: Yes. Yes.
Dom: And so, I kind of wanted to throw back to Zakiya and say that it sounded like you were waiting in the wings a little bit too. When did that transition sort of happen? When did you take the stage and, say like, is there a moment or a memory that you were like, ‘Okay, like, here's me. I'm stepping into the light. Like, yeah, here I am.’
Zakiya: You know, that is so funny because I go straight to this one particular memory where I felt like I felt something shift inside. I remember in junior year of high school, it was like the last day of school. And so, you know, when we were like, ‘Oh, we're now seniors. Yeah.’ And so like, the juniors were like, having a field day and there was like this one section of this courtyard where they had this open mic karaoke thing. And I had never done karaoke before, but something just took over me and I was like, ‘I have to perform “Hey Ya” by OutKast.’ And so I just remember just like, screaming like, “My baby don't mess around because…!”
And, I would never have done that before, because I was extroverted with my friends, but not like, in a in-front-of-other-people or performative in any way. Like I was never like, ‘I want to take the stage,’ but something just took over me. And I feel like that's when I transitioned to be like, ‘Oh, I'm a loud ass bitch.’ (laughing) And, ‘Oh, this is fun! I love being loud and just being myself out loud.‘ And, not really second guessing or editing myself.
Dom: Ooh, I love that. And I feel like that's very – when I think about you. I think about you in, like, all caps, bold font, italicized. (laughing)
Zakiya: That is like, kind of how I text. All caps. Minimum five exclamation points. Minimum four emojis. (laughing) So, yeah, that is correct.
Dom: So, I also think about something that I've heard you talk about before, which is your signature flirtatious interview style.
Zakiya: (laughing) Oh my goodness…
Dom: And we got to talk about it. Tell us all about it.
Zakiya: (laughing) This is, so funny how this is like, becoming a thing now because to add context, this, this was said like, like as an aside. So, for the listeners, all of us were at this conference for Radiotopia – the amazing network that carries out both of our shows. And, you know, we're having an open dialog about, you know, hosting styles. And people are like, “Zakiya, what's your style?” And honestly, I was having trouble answering the question at first because I'm like, “I don't know if I have a style. I'm just me.” People asked, “What's your hosting persona? What are your tactics?” And I just like, “I literally just show up and vibe.”
And so Caitlin and – I was having like, an offline conversation with Caitlin, you know, the creator and producer of “Hang Up.” And I was joking to her being like, “Oh, you know, I guess like, my style is like, flirtatious.” And so she was helping me out cause I was like, kind of hemming and hawing being like, I don't know. She was like, “Well, you like to flirt!” And then. So now, I guess now it’s become a thing. I do want to say – to be clear – as a professional, I'm not flirting with the hopes of sexual or romantic gain with my guests.
But, I guess it is like a flirty style. I think that's just how I talk to people, which gets me in trouble sometimes because I'm just like, ‘Wait, no, I don't like you. I just have really intense eye contact and I ask a lot of questions and I'm smiling.’ But yeah, I mean, I guess that is my, my style. And I guess everyone flirts differently. But when I flirt it's, it's guided by a feeling, an internal kind of warmth, like an orb of light. When I'm flirting, I feel a sense of fun. I feel a sense of playfulness, inquisitiveness, kind of like more of a motivation to ask maybe some prodding questions. When I'm flirting with you, I'll ask a lot of questions. And so, yeah that's, that's kind of, my vibe. And also, just like with flirting, it's like, you know, there's like kind of this, you know, ‘I'll show you mine if you show me yours.’ So instead of just straight up asking people questions, I'll be like, “‘Oh, this is how I feel about a thing or this is my experience.’ What about you?” You know?
Nyge: Yeah, I really like that. I think like – I don't, I don't think there's anything wrong with the word flirting or that being, like, your style just because. I mean, if we're talking about a man, it would just be charming, right?
Zakiya: Yes! Thank you.
Nyge: Flirting, it definitely is, it's a good style. And then also, like, what you're saying, too, is like, you have to give to get in conversation as well, which is like another, like, big point and a big thing that I'm always thinking about that in interviews. Like I'm like, ‘Okay, how do I get this person to open up? It feels like, a little stale right now. I feel like we're both kind of like tiptoeing around it. All right. I'm about to just be extremely vulnerable and take a risk. And either I just get left out here or you join me.’
Nyge: And, yeah, you have to take that risk in conversation. Um, yeah. How did you, like, develop that brand? I mean, you talked about it. You, you talked about, like, you and Kaitlin talked – and I think that's really sweet, her producing you in real life.
Zakiya: Yeah. She was, she was.
Nyge: But, but, yeah. How did you develop that brand of, of interviewing?
Zakiya: Yeah. I think just as I've gotten older, as I kind of became more extroverted – and not to say that to be a “good talker,” quote-unquote, you need to be extroverted – but I think just, as I grew into myself and my personality… Not that I was edited before, but just – I don't know. I think I just, as I got older, I just became more extroverted for whatever reasons. And whenever I would talk to people and just be myself, it just felt really good. Like I would get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. And just, everything I do in life, I chase that warm, fuzzy feeling. I'm all about pleasure and doing what feels good, big and small. And so what feels good for me is human connection and understanding people. You know, even as a little kid, I was one of those people that was always asking “why” and asking hypotheticals. And so I realized like, asking questions feels good. Having – being like a safe space for people to talk about their feelings feels good for me. Like my internal state and my feelings has always been my compass in life. And so. That's just what I follow. And so the more I realized it felt good to just talk to people and just like to joke and be myself, the harder it became to not be myself – if that makes sense. So I'm just, I'm just out here being me. Which I feel like is an unsatisfying answer. I feel like I'm wanting – I'm feeling myself wanting to give like, concrete tips and tricks like: “Step one, do this. Step two…” But it's just like, I'm just out here just being me. I don't know.
Dom: No, I feel like.
Dom: I don't think that that's unsatisfying… I mean, I hear what you're saying. I know why it feels unsatisfying to say, but I think it is greatly downplayed, the ability to be able to harness yourself in a public setting or on mic to be able to take the things that make you special and that your essence, that like ball of light within you, and utilize it in a specific time, in a specific space. That's like, that is a skill that is something that is so beautiful and like, that's what storytelling is about. That's what connection is about. And you have that. And, it makes me think of Nyge as well. Nyge, you also have this, this ability to be yourself in moments that are so not conducive to being yourself. And it's a skill that seems to like the untrained eye, like you just showed up, but you didn't just show up. You did something incredibly difficult. So like, do not downplay yourself.
Zakiya: Oh my gosh, Dom…
Dom: Not on my watch.
Zakiya: First of all, I – I appreciate that you are so affirming and such a good listener. And, and you have that too. And I think and I think. Yeah, you saying that helped me to hear like. Yeah. And I guess what I'm saying is just authenticity... Like, you know, when you're at a party and like – It's not like I love talking to just anybody. Like my friends can tell you, they can tell when I'm not feeling someone or a conversation. I will literally just be like, “I can't fake the funk, so I'm going to excuse myself,” or I'll just be like, “Eeuuhhh.” Like they say in the movies, they're always like, “I'm going to get some punch.” Like, you know what I mean? Like, I can’t just harness it.
It's, it definitely helps if I'm talking to someone or talking about something that I'm genuinely invested in, genuinely interested in. So I think often – and people can feel when someone's being inauthentic. So even, you know I've – it's kind of like, and like I said, everyone is different. So I guess if I'm going to, like, stick with the whole flirting thing, I guess I just be like, okay, you like when you're having a good date or if you're hanging out with a friend, like what made that interaction feel good? So for me, since everything isn’t a one size fits all, but for me, if there's laughter, if I feel comfortable making jokes, if there's emotional range… Am I laughing? Am I also like, are there moments of vulnerability? Do I feel touched? Moments of like, like sensitive moments. You know? And to get there.
This is more of like, a producer answer. It's just about like having a good outline and kind of like, mapping the emotional beats of something. Because, you know, you don't want to go from like, like, “Oh, my God. Tell me about your childhood dog! What was their name? Oh, cute!”
“So, how did it die?” (laughter)
You know what I mean? Like you want to have some kind of, we want to – I feel like a good conversation feels like you're, you know, easily jumping from lily pad to lily pad. And, it all kind of makes sense. And you kind of end up somewhere different from where you began. And I think doing that, is a good back and forth where it, like I said, “I'll show you mine, if you show me yours.” Where it's just all – I like to show and not tell that it's a safe space and I’m a safe person to talk to you by being like, ‘I am also a flawed individual who has gone through this thing. The sensitive thing that I'm about to ask you about.’ And if you – I also like to tell people, like, “If you don't want to answer this, that is totally fine.” Or like, you know – I like to like, you know – informed consent. Let people know that they don't have to talk about anything that they don't want to. I think that helps people to feel safe enough to open up.
So I think, like the foundational thing of what I'm saying is emotional safety, you know, having the person you're talking to feel safe enough to open up to you, and you lead by example. And just being an active listener as well. Like, you know, what does this person want to talk about? It's just, I guess, the energy of authentic human connection. And I can't feel – I can't do my job of authentically connecting, if, like I said, if I'm not interested or if I feel uncomfortable. So for me, I find what is interesting about this person or situation and I want to learn about.
And, am I uncomfortable? Do I need water? Are we talking about something that like, I don't feel comfortable talking about? So then I can reroute the conversation? So it's just always, yeah, making sure you have your own oxygen mask on and making sure the other person has their oxygen mask on. And again, providing that safe space and feeling – creating that, that feeling like that, you are a confidant.
Dom: Oh my God. Talking to Zakia is so lovely! Talk about the Art of Conversation. I feel like when a conversation is going really well, you feel like the sun is shining on you and it is just a beautiful day. And I feel like having a conversation with you and Zakiya and myself, that's what that feels like for me. It's just, there's highs, there's lows, and you feel like there are people there helping you get through all of it. And I want everyone to have the chance to experience that.
I am a person who experiences social anxiety, regular-degular anxiety, depression, all kinds of stuff. So there are times when connecting with other people can seem like so much more work than it's worth. But being able to, like, say syllables and exchange meaning with a person can be so, so fulfilling and so healing even in like a tiny passing of a compliment to someone you barely know on the street. It gives me hope. It gives me hope for the world! Just to be able to know that no matter what's coming next, there are people like yourself, like Zakia, who are just like, so amazing at being able to open their hearts and be themselves. Even if you're not a part of that conversation, even if you're just a fly on the wall in something like a podcast, and it really makes you feel a part of something beautiful.
Nyge: I totally agree. I feel like we talked a lot about the signs of a good conversation. And I think what comes to me is like when you're having a conversation and midway through you're like, ‘Should we have a TV show?’ Like. You know? (laughter)
Dom: Is someone writing this down?
Nyge: Right. I think that's like the ultimate sign of, of a great conversation. And I love the tips that we got to do it, like, just to highlight some of those.
One of them that jumped out to me first was, be curious, and that really helps you in conversations. Because, being a listener is like the ultimate part in developing and cultivating a good, meaningful conversation.
And then second, that jumps out to me from our conversation was prioritizing your comfort. That's a big one. That's something that I've never really thought about before we had this conversation. It's like prioritizing my comfort in, in conversations because I'm totally just thinking about other people's comfort the entire time. And so I think that's a great tip as well.
And then lastly, what would come to mind is giving a little bit of yourself in order to get some of someone else. Like you have to create that space in order to bring those conversations out of people. Bring those, some of those anecdotes, some of those stories, some of these, like beautiful parts of people's lives. And so when you give a little piece of yourself, you're creating that safe space. And I loved all of those tips, and I am going to incorporate them in every conversation I have moving forward.
Dom: Joke's on you. You already do.
Nyge: Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network for young artists and journalists creating content for this generation.
Our show is produced by shaylyn martos, Dominique French, and by me, ya boy Nyge Turner.
Our engineer is James Riley, and our audio engineer fellow is Christian Romo.
Dom: YR’s podcasting director and EP is Sam Choo.
YR’s Senior Director of Podcasting and Partnerships is Rebecca Martin.
Our interns are Menelik Ransom and Jalen Black.
Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR: Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza and David Lawrence.
Music Direction by Oliver Kuya Rodriguez and Maya Drexler.
Nyge: Art for this episode was produced by the youth co-led design team at YR Media.
Creative Direction by Pedro Vega Jr. Design by Marjerrie Masicat and Brigido Bautista.
Dom: Project Management by Eli Arbreton.
Nyge: Special thanks to Jazmyn Burton, Shavonne Graham, Donielle Conley, Kathy Chaney and Kyra Kyles.
Dom: Adult ISH is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, a network of independent creator-owned, listener-supported podcasts. Discover audio with vision at Radiotopia.fm.
Nyge: And if you haven't reviewed our show on Apple podcasts, please be sure to do so. Five stars is much appreciated.
Dom: You can follow us on all the socials at Y, your adult ish. And on that note… I saw you sitting over there and I just thought maybe we should (laughing) have (laughing) a (laughing) conversation… (laughing) That was me flirting!
Nyge: (laughing) That's your approach?
Nyge: (laughing) I saw you sitting there…? Yeah, try that out y’all. Later. (laughter)