20 years ago I was on the hunt for a way to help people to become at ease in front of audiences. Help came in the form of Lee Glickstein’s book called ‘Be Heard Now!’

Lee was someone who had suffered from severe stage fright for 48 years, he had tried everything, from stand up comedy, presentation skills courses, to all manner of therapies, and he eventually worked out that the answer lay in embracing the very thing that he feared and resisted; the relationship and connection with the audience in front of him.

From this he developed Speaking Circles®, and the concept of what he calls Relational Presence (or Empathic Listening). The answer he found, was simple:

“When we shift from performance to relationship-oriented speaking, relating one-to-one, friendly, personal, real, speaking conversationally to each one in the audience, a miracle happens – the fear is gone! We never again have to be afraid in front of groups.”

What he discovered is, as Jennet Burghard and Koos Wolcken say in their book “Present!”, ‘If you want to be seen and heard by others, then you must be prepared to look and listen yourself’.

So, the big question, is ‘how?’ when we have been stricken by a fast-beating heart, and collywobbles, and our rational mind has stopped working, so that we can’t remember anything anyway?

Koos and Jennet describe Relational Presence in this way:

‘Whether you are listening or speaking, ideally you are simultaneously centered in yourself, while literally keeping an eye on, and giving full attention to, the other. 
By being present and directing your attention towards the other, you create the same effect as in Mindfulness: the more you direct your senses outwards, along with your attention, the more you are, and remain in, the here-and-now. And the less busy you are in your own often-jumbled mind.’

By being conscious of what is present in the moment, i.e. your own physical presence, your breathing, the other, the environment, there arises a true presence of being.

How does this help when you want to speak? This presence of being gives you the space to speak from your heart and with real presence of mind.

I think of it as Mindfulness standing up! Speaking Circles® is a ‘stillness practice’ closely connected to mindfulness, meditation, yoga, which can seem topsy turvy when you are wanting to stand up, be dynamic and wow them with your charisma! However, by coming back over and over again to being with one other person at a time, we can begin to feel safe, the fear melts away, and we start to find the space to think clearly, and speak from our heart, and our natural charisma shines through.

I have been loosely practicing Lee Glickstein’s method, adding elements of Relational Presence into my training days, for the last 20 years. I am now in the process of training to be a Speaking Circles® facilitator; the reason I originally sought it out was to help me with my own lifelong tendency towards Stage Fright, and through this practice of Relational Presence, of being with one person at a time, I look forward so much to engaging with the groups that I work with. They say you teach what you most need to learn!