Educator Janet Surrey wrote: “To be in connection with another human being a person needs to see and be seen by the other.”

So what does it really mean to “see” the other? In Speaking Circles we do this through practicing a warmly attuned gaze of positive regard with one listener at a time (“I see you”) before allowing words to arise. And even as we speak, and when we pause to breathe, we continue to “see” one listener at a time in Relational Presence.

These days I’m being called to work with university faculty in “teaching from connection,” as it inspires students to better listen, learn, discern, and participate authentically.

More than anything else, people want to be seen, really seen. Students, audience members, colleagues, clients and potential clients, customers, friends and lovers very much want you to see them and for you to let them see you. The predictable resistance to all this “seeing”–both among some faculty and in the world of public speaking–is that it would obviously take too much time and personal involvement.

BUT… Relational Presence is not about personal intimacy, and it actually saves copious amounts of time and energy. How can this be?

Relational Presence is not about personal intimacy

Educator Nel Noddings writes about the relational nature of presence as a teacher, distinguishing it from the kind of connection found in more intimate relationships: “I do not need to establish a lasting, time-consuming personal relationship with every student. What I must do is to be totally and non-selectively present to the student–to each student–as he addresses me. The time interval may be brief but the encounter is total.”

I would suggest that this absolute presence extends to when the teacher/speaker is addressing a student/listener, whether one-on-one or from the front of the room.

Relational Presence, once in your bones, saves time by promoting succinct clarity in your teaching and more pleasurable listening and thus accelerated learning for your audience.

My message to educators is that Teaching from Connection as a practice is a simple matter of expanding the percentage of classroom time in which you are truly seeing individual students through warm, available eyes, and letting them see you. And that is my fervent message to all speakers, leaders, change agents.

All it takes is practice, and that is what Speaking Circles provide. (See Scenes From a Speaking Circle on our homepage).

I’ve found that even university professors experience public speaking anxiety, some of them around addressing groups of their peers or out in the community, or in class when they are challenged by a situation. It has been gratifying to see that Relational Presence practice alleviates these issues, just as it does for newcomers to Speaking Circles who enter with high anxiety.

Are you essentially an educator?

One of the propitious results of this new direction is that I’ve begun identifying as an educator myself. The books and articles related to classroom presence I am being referred to eloquently point to the radical need for systematic training in Relational Presence for faculty.

Meanwhile, among the millions of educators out there from pre-K to university, many have been teaching for years in full and courageous presence. These are my heroes for their creative tightrope walking on the front lines of the real world of impressionable young people, day after day.

I vividly recall those few of my own teachers, from kindergarten (65 years ago!) through college, who made me feel really seen. Without their kind and intelligent regard I would not have been able to do what I do in life, and I have taken them for granted. No more.

I’d like to leave you with these suggestions:

  • Take a few minutes to recall some teachers who made a big difference in your life, and imagine how you can utilize them as role models for your own speaking.
  • If you do not identify as an educator but are called or drawn to transmit what you know through speaking to groups, try on the identity of “educator.” This will open you up to a body of brilliant thinking and practices regarding presence and connection in the field.

© Copyright 2014, Lee Glickstein. All rights reserved.