A way to explain the thrilling alchemy at Speaking Circles recently came to my attention through the words of philosopher William Segal (1904-2000), from a 1995 article in Parabola Magazine.

When asked “Is there a way in which I could practice developing the sensibility and the sensitivity to speak with the kind of freshness which now is missing?” Segal responded:

It’s as if there is a center that can vivify all parts of the circumference– a center that illuminates. When we speak and listen from this center, a relationship is set up where words have more meaning. A hitherto unused energy is added. Most people speak, as the expression goes, from the top of their heads, so the words issue mechanically-dead words. A stop, a moment of pause, brings unsuspected energies. There is a change, the quality of energy that’s transferred is quite different. But that is not so easy. It’s easier to speak from our knowledge, from accumulated experience, from imitation of others. 

The “moment of pause” Segal points to that energizes fresh expression corresponds to the breath of Relational Presence/Stillness at a Speaking Circle that invites and attunes the listeners into communion with the speaker. It is the moment that marks the shift from “speaking from knowledge” to being “easygoing in the not knowing.” And it is the pleasurable portal through which public speaking anxiety dissolves and leadership communication is mastered without performance technique.

Embracing One’s Sense of Awkwardness

Segal then nails why this simple exercise may feel unnatural at first:

At the beginning, when one speaks from this center, one feels awkward, as if one has lost the support of the known. To remain related to the unknown, at the same time keeping in touch with the knowledge that one has accumulated through experience and education, is not so easy. Still, if one lived more from one’s center, one would speak with more sincerity, would find unexpected resources within oneself. One might even open in oneself conduits of expression and of material which are pretty well closed in us. One would tap material which is now dormant. Combinations of impressions would come together to produce more original, more effective language.

And this is the delicious nature of what happens at every Speaking Circle.

My sadness is that many who have shown up at a Speaking Circle over the years compare themselves unfavorably to the “regulars” and do not return. They feel that the sense of awkwardness they experience up front is terminal, or would be too painful to move through. They do not realize that experiencing such discomfort in a masterfully facilitated supportive environment is a huge first step in moving through it, and that relief is on its way in just a few sessions.

My hope is that some of you reading this will relate and take heart in William Segal’s vision and come back to a Speaking Circle. And that those of you who have never been to a session now have a clearer picture of what this path is about.

It is my pleasure to communicate every day with people around the world who have questions about this radical approach to public speaking, and how it might relate to their own needs and dreams. Let me know what questions of yours I might answer.

© Copyright 2014, Lee Glickstein. All rights reserved.