Speaking Circles International (R)

The Pleasure Principle

of Public Speaking



What to Expect At Your First Speaking Circle®

By Lee Glickstein

Speaking Circles are the result of my lifelong journey from severe stage fright to absolute ease and joy whenever I stand before a group.

A Speaking Circle consists of up to 10 people, often ranging from newcomers with some performance anxiety – or a lot – to professional communicators who simply want to be more natural and engaging in their presentations.

A first timer will enter an environment of warm support, where judgment, criticism, and evaluation are left at the door.

The Circle begins with the Facilitator taking 5-10 minutes in front of the room to introduce the guidelines while modeling them.

The Three Guidelines

The first guideline is for all of us as listeners, since that is what we will be doing 90% of the time. We are asked to maintain soft attention on the person up front at all times, so that whoever the person looks towards, they see a pair of listening eyes … gently available. We practice listening for the best, without judgment, and without overtly signaling encouragement or approval.

The second guideline is for the person up front. Notice we don’t call that person “The Speaker” – because when you’re up front there is no expectation that you speak at all! Your full priority up front is to be in Relational Presence with one listener at a time. Words may arise naturally, or silence may prevail.

The third guidelines is privacy and confidentiality -- see more on that topic below.

Relational Presence

The Facilitator will model and discuss just what we mean by Relational Presence.

Briefly, for now, it is a non-obtrusive, neutral gaze as of communing with a natural wonder, like a mountain or a flower, rather than staring, or evaluating personality.

These two primary guidelines lead everyone in the room to practice – to the best of their ability – the same soft attention at all times. It is this shared ideal that fosters an environment of patience and respect for each person no matter where they are on their path toward presence, ease, and power with groups.

The First Turn

After the Facilitator’s introduction, each participant is introduced for a three-minute turn up front to do nothing but see what it’s like to notice and return the soft attention. First timers go toward the end so they can benefit from first witnessing the others.

Most people do speak, but they usually don’t know about what until they first come to a complete stop, and see what arises for them in this listening field. They may stand in silence the entire time if words do not come naturally, and they are not judged for not speaking. The audience is able to offer pure listening since there is no need for anyone to plan what they might say in their turn.

Newcomers often find themselves trying to figure out “the rules” for what may seem like a game with arbitrary restrictions. It often takes until the second turn to begin to realize that following the simple guidelines leads to the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to be who you are in public; to take your time and your space – all of it; to live and breathe and express what arises in your own unique way as the veil of self-consciousness drops away.

You will soon discover that speaking to a group is exactly the same as speaking one-on-one to a dear friend or a trusted colleague. And when you practice the two guidelines in our supportive greenhouse until this sense of expanding presence gets under your skin and into your cells, you will become just as comfortable speaking to any group, even business audiences, as you are one-on-one at your best.

But it all starts with that first turn, and you need to understand that first turn may cause you some turbulence. Old habits may be threatened. You may not be comfortable; your wheels may be spinning. Or … you may immediately feel the sweet sense of having returned home. And then perhaps the second turn will make you feel like jumping out of your skin. You can’t figure it out, you can’t finesse it, you can’t control the process.

Be willing to let the process work on you one turn at a time. If you are feeling disoriented you can take heart from the profound ease and magnetism you will witness in other participants who have been to at least a few Circles.

Some cases of severe stage fright may take a few months of persistence to crack. Typical performance anxiety takes 3-6 sessions to dissolve, though there is usually vast improvement after one session. Some professionals come without anxiety but with a sense that something is inhibiting their full expression in the world.

Most continue to attend after all anxiety and blocks are gone because the work, which soon becomes more like play, continues to attune them to natural rapport with Audience. Such rapport is a microcosm of one’s presence and power in the “real” world, and there is no end to the nuances of that relationship and to the potential for exquisite ease, joy, and professional development that flows from it.

Should you choose to take the ride, over a period of weeks you will find yourself on a self-learning, self-correcting course put into motion by being part of a team practicing the two guidelines under the attentive direction of a Certified Speaking Circle Facilitator.

The ride may be like a thrill-a-minute river-rafting adventure, or a leisurely luxurious moonlight cruise. More likely, some of each. You WILL have a unique learning curve.

The Second Turn

After the initial round of 3-minute turns is a longer round (perhaps 5 or 7-minute turns) in the same order. Same exercise. Same guidelines. New experience. After the second turn, those who wish are given the opportunity to briefly express appreciation to the person.

The nature of this appreciation brings us to the third and final guideline of this work.

This is the guideline that makes the Speaking Circle the safest possible container in which to practice the first two guidelines and bring the full magic of this approach into the lives of everyone it touches. It is the guideline that brings into the room full consideration for the absolute dignity, uniqueness, and self-determination of each individual.


An obvious aspect of Privacy is confidentiality. We do not take what we hear in the room outside the room. But another aspect of Privacy that is critical here is that we do not mention or refer to any content or material that arises in another person’s turn even inside the room, unless explicit permission is given.

You see, what makes it absolutely safe for a person to give voice to the vulnerable content, exploratory material and expansive expression that often emerges over time is precisely that their turn up front is held by all as an absolutely private experience for them. This means that any intrusion or involvement at all in their content or process contaminates the safe container that allows for the full potency of this work. Inside that room we let each person have their experience and they let us have ours.

It may not be immediately apparent why this guideline is imperative for this process to work over time. At first it may seem arbitrary, overly protective, or downright picky. So some newcomers are prone to miss it or even dismiss it. But regular participants come to feel as protective of this guideline as a sky jumper of their parachute, and for the same reason: you dare not leap without it. These participants track exactly when this guideline is breached and they look to the Facilitator to gently coach.

There are three segments of a Speaking Circle where the guideline of Privacy comes into play. The most complex and challenging one is the positive feedback session after the 5-minute turn, when those who wish give what we call “brief essence appreciation.” We suggest that newcomers not give feedback, but rather listen for what is being elicited here until it fully computes.

In another report (which you may ask for) I detail exactly what we mean by “brief essence appreciation” and enumerate the kinds of feedback that jeopardize the safety net and elicit coaching from the Facilitator.

A second segment of the Speaking Circle where the Privacy guideline comes into play is during socializing times: at the break, after the Circle, and while gathering for the next Circle. We do not approach another participant about what they said or what happened during their turn, unless we ask for and receive specific permission. And even then we don’t ask for such permission if the intent is to be helpful or engaging.

In the course of months, many regulars tend to get to know each other and find mutually supportive ways to interact to their hearts’ content outside of Circles. But we are careful to not rush this natural process at the expense of the work, which requires a continuity of safety.

The third segment of the Speaking Circle where Privacy is at stake is during one’s turn. Up front, we do not respond in any way to anyone else’s content, refer to their process, single them out or otherwise intrude on their personal space. A clean point-of-departure reference is okay, such as “When Jim talked about living in Paris, it made me think about my trip last year to France…..” But not: “When Jim talked about living in Paris, I realized that my experience of French people was different from his…..” Can you see the distinction?

In facilitating more than 3,000 Speaking Circles in the past 15 years I continue to be impressed by the great warmth, intelligence, and willingness of the people who show up. And I am gratified by how many of them return week after week, sometimes year after year, as they significantly expand their personal presence and public power. Every session is a rich and unpredictable medley of adventure, authenticity, courage, inspiration, and humor.

Are you ready to join us?



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