Speaking Circles® move you beyond the typical performance orientation so common in public speaking and get to the root of effective communication. What you'll learn will change the way you see and feel about the whole process of speaking, and, most importantly, listening. The Speaking Circles process is very powerful on a professional and personal level.Dave Bueche, Corporate safety/environmental manager
Simple Concept, Valuable Skill
Speaking Circles offer a gentler, more relaxed and intimate view and experience of public speaking than conventional teachings.
First of all, they teach you that effective public speaking is more about your natural presence and your relationship with the audience than it is your spoken words.
It is about your capacity to simply be with yourself and others, open and receptive to the moment.
When you bring your full presence to interactions with others—whether in person or virtually, with one or many—you engender a natural sense of connection, belonging, and safety among people. This is a powerful way to be.
The skill—and practice—that lets you show up this way in public speaking and life is Relational Presence.
What Is Relational Presence?
Relational Presence is a term coined by Lee Glickstein, the founder of Speaking Circles, and is the foundation of the Speaking Circles method. In the context of public speaking, it is defined as the practice of a speaker or person in front of a room “being with one person at a time” in an audience or group of listeners. With Relational Presence, speaker and audience feel as if they are participating in a joint activity, rather than a disconnected experience of a speaker talking “at” an audience.
You can use this practice with ease in any human interaction—one to one or one to many. It is most effective when it involves positive regard (a.k.a. soft eye gaze), gentle breathing, occasional quiet and stillness, deep listening, and mutual awareness.
As the core practice at Speaking Circles, Relational Presence is also the heart of numerous other communication trainings offered by our global network of Facilitators.
How Do You Learn Relational Presence?
The simple answer is—Attend a Speaking Circle!
Recognizing, embodying, and developing a state of relaxed receptivity to both your audience (or whomever you are with) and yourself is the main practice at Speaking Circles. This is the state of Relational Presence, the foundation for eloquent and impactful speaking.
The first step in mastering Relational Presence is to get comfortable—or even more comfortable than you already may be—in front of groups, simply by being your natural self. You do this by practicing settling into and speaking from your own inner stillness when you are in front of others, either in person or in a virtual setting.
The second step is to trust yourself in Relational Presence to be able to access everything you need in the moment, just as you are. This is where you begin to find your stride by enjoying the space you’re in and letting your natural presence, thoughts, and emotions in the moment guide your self-expression—rather than prepared words or a need to perform.
The third step is to allow your authentic presence to deepen. You do this by taking your time being with your audience and yourself, sensing the connection without feeling a need to do something, and being with whatever emotion or energy emerges.
Relational Presence is a lifelong practice of strengthening your connection with yourself and others that is developed and supported by attendance at Speaking Circles. Three participants reveal what the experience meant for them:
This work has helped me be more spontaneous and present during stressful circumstances.Samantha Berressa, Attorney
The gift of Speaking Circles has been incredible for me. I feel heard and listened to and I also learn to listen to others. I am overcoming the world I used to live in of over-achievement and performance, and this has been a true gift. Thank you!Virginia N, Business coach, marketing communications expert, workshop leader
I think that the techniques introduced were great for helping me to center myself before speaking and to increase my connection with my audience.Bill Proctor, Organizational development and industrial engineering consultant
The Benefits of Relational Presence
Relational Presence can be beneficial in any interaction or setting, including through virtual platforms. It allows the natural, authentic connection between you and others to reveal itself—with or without words. This kind of “being with” can transform communication.
It is a simple yet powerful tool that can give rise to authentic expression and deeper listening, as well as enhance connection, relatability, trust, understanding, and appreciation between people in any setting (including large audiences and virtual platforms).
Whether using the practice in a one-on-one conversation, or interacting in a small group, or speaking to a large audience, you and others can experience a natural and palpable connection in that space.
Other benefits of engaging in the practice of Relational Presence include:
- Access to your natural magnetism and charisma
- Increased capacity to foster trust and influence others
- Richer conversations and more meaningful interactions with others
- Deeper understanding and appreciation of others
- Enhanced ability to “think on your feet” and speak spontaneously with confidence
- Stronger personal and professional relationships
- More engaging and enjoyable virtual conversations and group interactions
Here, three participants at Speaking Circles describe how Relational Presence benefited them:
Through practicing Relational Presence, I am finding a place of comfort and joy on stage that transfers even to my business groups.Jennifer Wallace, Business consultant and filmmaker
Being able to take part in groups where Relational Presence has been used has helped me rethink how I talk and listen to my students, colleagues, and communication partners. It also has helped me become much more comfortable connecting with my audience and understanding what it means to listen without judgment. I plan to incorporate Relational Presence into every part of my life for the rest of my life.Steve L., School board speech pathologist
Having practiced Relational Presence gave me a whole new depth of speaking confidence.Ann Farris, Author
Relational Presence in Virtual Settings
Until 2020, when the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic hit, Relational Presence had been taught exclusively at in-person Speaking Circles sessions. Since then, our Speaking Circles Facilitator community made the welcome and important discovery that Relational Presence is just as effective online as it is in person.
At virtual Speaking Circles, participants develop their virtual Relational Presence with others on the screen and in the camera. As the precondition for masterful communication, Relational Presence means simply being with others without judgment, analysis, requirements, or expectations. It also means being available for connection through a neutral gaze without agenda, or even a need for words.
Put another way, the three elements essential to Relational Presence are:
- Your breath
- Your soft available gaze
- Natural (silent) pauses
In virtual settings just as in in-person sessions of Speaking Circles, these three elements converge to give people a feeling of connectedness through each other’s presence—an atmosphere of safety for authentic self-expression and a container for deep listening. This happens when you:
- Let your breath guide you to a sense of inner stillness and calm
- Look into your computer’s or electronic device’s camera lens with a gaze of soft focus
- Allow silence as you are with one person at a time on the screen
The experience of our founder Lee Glickstein and our Facilitators worldwide testifies that the power of Relational Presence evident in virtual Speaking Circles sessions can be applied to virtual presentations and online meetings and events of any kind: business or personal, formal or informal, with people you know or people you’ve just met.
Four participants at virtual Circles were excited by this discovery:
I can feel you when I look at the camera—it’s a fantastic thing!Anonymous
This new [virtual] Speaking Circle format has allowed me to work on improving a skill that I want to be great at.Luciane Musa, Geographer
A wonderful [Circle] today . . . I felt so uplifted. I understand more precisely what you mean by really looking [in the camera] at the audience, every individual in the audience.Carol King, Ph.D., Author
I feel I did just get the magic. . . . If it’s this good on camera, I can’t wait to see how it is in person.Anonymous
A fifth participant experienced a meaningful outcome to applying Relational Presence in a virtual setting:
When COVID hit, I thought my dream of speaking and creating a business with my message was over. I started attending virtual Speaking Circles and soon became clear about my message and how I could deliver it to online audiences, which is what I’m now doing. Thanks to Speaking Circles, I have revived my dream!Marc D., Alternative doctor and speaker
Relational Presence Mastery
With Relational Presence, you develop the capacity for being comfortable in any situation, virtual or otherwise. You learn to trust yourself to be present and to access whatever you need in a conversation or group setting.
Mastery of Relational Presence yields a genuineness that creates psychological safety for you and others. Ultimately, Relational Presence is an opportunity to connect with your unique inner voice that brings greater mindfulness, authenticity, connection, and confidence to your life. It can help enhance your public speaking skills and expand your leadership capacity.
Speaking Circles Facilitators are ready to support you. Our Find a Facilitator page search will lead you to our global network of Facilitators who conduct in-person and virtual Circles in several languages in a convenient time zone or a location near you. To find what other programs Facilitators offer and the different fields they work in, see the Relational Presence Facilitator Directory at our sister website.
In-depth commentary on the power of Relational Presence is available at our Relational Presence in Action YouTube channel.
Information on the science behind the effectiveness of Speaking Circles and Relational Presence is at Research on Effectiveness, and our Resources page lists readings to guide you.
We answer common questions here, and we welcome you to contact us with specific questions.