Through countless Speaking Circles® held over a span of more than thirty years, Facilitators have fielded many questions. Our answers to the most common questions are collected here for your reference.
Feel free to browse. We encourage you to start by watching the short video below of an enthusiastic Speaking Circles participant.
- How are Speaking Circles different from other public speaking trainings?
A stellar difference is the focus on “being with” rather than on “presenting.” Speaking Circles prioritize connection and authenticity over content.
Freed from the need to “make a speech,” participants experience an organic process of noticing themselves from the inside out, supported by the deep listening of the Facilitator and fellow participants. Relational Presence, the key communication skill practiced at Speaking Circles, is the foundation for this self-awareness, which develops into more ease in front of groups and the ability to build rapport while delivering content.
Rather than being critiqued or evaluated on their presentation skills, participants receive recognition of their being through Essence Appreciation. Acceptance and support are basic features of Speaking Circles that allow participants to expand their authenticity, move through fears, deepen their listening skills, speak from the heart, and develop their natural expressiveness.
Facilitators typically provide participants with privacy-protected video recordings of their individual turns in front of the group so that they can deepen their learning, listen again to the appreciation given them, and appreciate their own presence and eloquence.
- What happens at an in-person Speaking Circle?
While each Facilitator brings their own style to their Speaking Circles, each gathering follows a uniform format. You can relax knowing that each Circle you attend will feel familiar.
A typical Circle of 6–10 participants begins with the Facilitator opening the session by standing in front of the group to model Relational Presence (being with one person at a time) and explaining the three Speaking Circles guidelines for (1) the person up front, (2) the listeners, and (3) confidentiality. Participants then take turns in front of the room as speaker (a.k.a. the person up front) and engage as listeners when they are in the audience.
Participants have three turns up front: an opening turn of 2–3 minutes, a middle turn of 5–7 minutes, and a closing turn of 2–3 minutes. Because connection rather than content is the first priority, there are no set topics for the turns. Middle turns are followed by Essence Appreciation, in which listeners express a positive quality they see in the person up front. The receiver of the Essence Appreciation repeats what participants express, deepening the experience of receptivity.
After all turns are completed, the Facilitator stands in front of the group to thank the group and close the Circle. Usually, each person’s three turns are video recorded by the Facilitator and given to them on a flash drive. (For purposes of confidentiality, participants do not receive video recordings of other participants’ turns.)
- What happens at a virtual Speaking Circle?
While each Facilitator brings their own style to their Speaking Circles, each gathering follows a uniform format. You can relax knowing that each virtual Circle you attend will feel familiar.
Virtual Circles typically meet for 60–90 minutes with 4–5 participants. The Circle opens with a moment of stillness in Relational Presence, after which the Facilitator explains the protocol. Participants have three turns of different lengths of time in front of the virtual “room.” Because connection rather than content is the first priority, there are no set topics for the turns. Middle turns are followed by Essence Appreciation, in which listeners express a positive quality they see in the person who just took a turn. The receiver of the Essence Appreciation repeats what participants express, deepening the experience of receptivity.
A sense of mutual presence and connection is fostered during virtual Circles when the person whose turn it is calls on another participant to look into the camera. When that participant comes to and looks into the camera with their gaze, the speaker can then experience a sense of “being with” that listener.
Participants are asked to be aware of how to frame, mute, and light themselves. Participants usually receive a privacy-protected recording of the meeting from the Facilitator (you may request not to be recorded) for further review and appreciation.
- Can Speaking Circles help me overcome my fear of public speaking?
Yes. Speaking Circles guide you through a gentle process for becoming more comfortable with being seen for who you are. Person after person has testified that the sense of acceptance and safety experienced at a Circle helped them move through fear, performance anxiety, and self-consciousness at being a focus of attention. These feelings transformed into a sense of inner security and ease in front of groups.
The practice of Relational Presence is what makes this transformation possible. With Relational Presence, the core skill taught at Speaking Circles, you learn how to connect naturally with ease, one person at a time, no matter how many are in the group. Through using a soft-focused gaze of receptivity and welcoming, and by becoming aware of your breath, you begin noticing from the inside out how it feels being seen and heard when you are in front of a group. You adjust as needed, in real time, until gradually fear dissipates.
Everyone has a different experience from which the fear was created, so everyone’s timeline for releasing and moving through fear to transformation is different. Beyond the Circles themselves, your own willingness, open mind, and commitment to ongoing participation at Circles and to following the guidance of the Facilitator will support you to release the fear. Viewing the recordings of your turns will also aid your transformation.
- What are the Standards of Support for safety?
Safety is a vital component in Speaking Circles. Because public speaking fear, performance anxiety, and the fear of being judged by others are so common, Speaking Circles offer an environment and a set of protocols that help you alleviate these fears (if you have them). You feel safe and comfortable being seen and heard by everyone in a Circle—and at ease in silence—without judgment, critique, or expectations from others.
When you experience a deep sense of safety and you feel genuine appreciation from others, you typically become more confident to say what you want to say and be how you want to be during your turns in front of the group. A high level of authenticity and spontaneity comes through you, which is often a direct result of feeling safe and being appreciated by your listeners for exactly who you are.
Speaking Circles guide you in the development and practice of Relational Presence, which allows you to settle into and speak from your own inner stillness in front of others (either in person or virtually). Sensing a strong, safe connection with your listeners—with no pressure to perform or even to speak—you naturally feel more at ease. Practicing Relational Presence can make it as comfortable and pleasant to be with and speak to a group as to a close friend.
The three pillars of our Standards of Support that ensure consistency and trust in this safe container are:
• Be an acceptive/appreciative listener. Offer full acceptance and receive support from others.
• Be with one person at a time. Feel no pressure to perform or do anything for others.
• Hold confidentiality. Feel safe to express whatever you want without anyone referring to your turn after it is over.
In addition to feeling safe being with and speaking to a group, you also feel affirmed by others in Speaking Circles, receiving recognition of your being through Essence Appreciation. Safety, acceptance, and appreciation from others are basic features of this teaching that allow you to move through any fears, expand your authenticity, and develop your natural expressiveness.
- I enjoy public speaking. What can I gain from attending Speaking Circles?
Notably, attendance at Speaking Circles will groom your ability to connect with an audience (or whomever you are speaking to, whether with many or with one, in any setting) to deliver a message that resonates.
Practicing the Speaking Circles principle of Relational Presence will:
• Bring you into presence in connection with others
• Expand your natural expressiveness and eloquence
• Connect you with your heart so that you can share authentically and be comfortable with vulnerability
• Let you be seen and heard as your genuine self
Mastering Relational Presence, the key practice learned and developed in Speaking Circles, will enable you to deliver a more powerful message as well as heighten your enjoyment of public speaking by deepening your sense of ease, flow, and connection—with yourself, your message, and your audience.
- I’m not interested in public speaking training per se. What can Speaking Circles offer me?
As a path of personal growth, Speaking Circles and Relational Presence bring you:
• A sense of inner security and groundedness
• Deeper self-acceptance and self-appreciation
• Expanded natural humor
• More ease with emotions—yours and others’
• Departure from “performance mode” and people pleasing
• Greater natural comfort and flow as you express your genuine self in connection with others
What you learn at Speaking Circles will spill over into your everyday communication to transform your relations with others.
- What core skills will I learn at Speaking Circles?
Among the skills you will learn are:
Relational Presence. This is the practice of “being with” one person at a time in a group/audience. Relational Presence helps you relax, fosters connection, and evokes your natural presence and eloquence.
Speaking confidence. The supportive listening and positive feedback received at Circles affirm your charisma and compelling self-expression. This gives you confidence to speak in front of a group or audience of any size.
Stillness and silence. In your turns at a Circle, there is no pressure to speak because the emphasis is on “being with” people rather than delivering content. This allows you to grow comfortable being in stillness and silence while in front of a group.
Listening. As an audience member at Circles, you learn to listen with your full being and to simply “be with” the person up front rather than needing to respond to what someone is saying. This benefits your communication overall, whether you are speaking with one or many.
Mindfulness. Your turns in front of the group bring you more in tune with your own thoughts, feelings, and presence while speaking. Your turns as an audience member teach you how to be mindful of another while they’re speaking.
Soft gaze of kind regard. The soft gaze of kind regard practiced at Circles welcomes people into connection with you. Opening yourself to connection when speaking and listening in a group or in one-on-one conversations creates richer interactions.
Freedom from evaluation. Listening to someone with full presence requires letting go of any judgment, analysis, or expectation of that person while they’re speaking. Practicing this kind of listening at Circles allows you to escape the cycle of evaluation and begin to more clearly see people for who they are.
Essence Appreciation. The special feedback given at Circles means that you’ll become aware of the positive qualities of others as they’re speaking, and be able to succinctly articulate those qualities as a way to affirm others.
Clear expression. This skill is an outgrowth of Relational Presence, stillness, and mindfulness. Listening to yourself as you speak in connection with others brings clarity of thought and expression.
- What are the benefits for the audience at a Speaking Circle?
The audience (a.k.a. the listeners/other participants) at a Speaking Circle is key to the sense of support experienced by the person whose turn it is up front. As an audience member/listener, you offer the person up front:
• Deep, nonjudgmental listening
• A soft attentive gaze/positive regard
• Essence Appreciation for a positive quality seen in the speaker
• Warm, receptive silence
The benefits you receive from these activities include:
• A feeling of belonging
• A sense of closeness and connection with others
• Expanded listening ability
• The pleasure of experiencing another’s humor, wisdom, storytelling, and uniqueness
You can read more on the skills developed by audience members at Speaking Circles in the previous question.
- Is every Speaking Circle the same?
Every Speaking Circle is unique because of the participants and the Facilitator. What is the same is the basic format learned and used by all certified Facilitators. That format may be enhanced or slightly adjusted with variations that Facilitators also learn. Some Facilitators provide privacy-protected recordings of participants’ turns, and some do not.
- How many times do I have to attend before I experience a shift and become proficient?
Every participant has their unique experience of Speaking Circles, based on their needs and wants. Consequently, there is no exact number of times to attend to achieve a shift and proficiency. It is recommended that you participate in at least three Circles to feel into the transition to more authenticity, self-awareness, and confidence. Repeated attendance anchors the practices you are learning, developing, and expanding.
- What advanced programs are available?
Advanced programs are offered by Founder Lee Glickstein as well as a number of individual Facilitators. To find out what other programs Facilitators offer and the different fields they work in, see Find a Facilitator on this website and the Relational Presence Facilitator Directory at our sister website.
- Is there any scientific research that explains why Speaking Circles are transformative?
We have a collection of fine research articles on the powerful effectiveness of Speaking Circles. Such topics as stage fright, speaker confidence, and audience trust are covered. See the list of articles.
We also have in-depth articles on the essential elements of Speaking Circles: Relational Presence, Eye Gaze, Breathing, and Essence Appreciation.
- What is Relational Presence?
Relational Presence is the foundation for powerful connected communication, where speaker and audience (a.k.a. a person up front and their listeners) feel as if they are participating in a joint activity, rather than a disconnected experience of a speaker talking “at” an audience.
The key practice taught and developed at Speaking Circles, Relational Presence involves using the breath to settle into yourself and your inner stillness, and from that place coming into connection with others through a soft-focused gaze of kind regard.
Relational Presence happens even before you begin to speak, or even without words. It is a space of “being with” others, without agenda, in any given moment.
In public speaking, Relational Presence helps you relax and tap into your innate charisma and eloquence. Beyond public speaking, Relational Presence invites the kind of quality listening and articulate self-expression that enriches interactions with others.
We have a collection of fine research articles on the powerful effectiveness of elements of Speaking Circles. More information on Relational Presence is available in this article.
- What is Essence Appreciation?
Distinctive to Speaking Circles, Essence Appreciation is feedback about your natural presence, expressed as positive words describing qualities that your listeners saw or felt in you during your turn up front as “speaker.” As you receive the words, you repeat them back, to help yourself take them in. Through receiving and reinforcing such affirming feedback focused on who you are being rather than on what you are saying, your mind and heart will open to the power and beauty of your natural presence. The more you fully take in these words describing qualities your listeners saw in you or felt about you, the more your self-confidence will grow.
- How are Speaking Circles different from Toastmasters?
Speaking Circles focus on developing ease and authentic self-expression in front of groups. Participants allow words to arise in the moment, as they connect with one person at a time in the audience using Relational Presence. Listening and Essence Appreciation play key roles in the meetings. Direct feedback on presentation skills is not given, though many Facilitators provide privacy-protected videos of participants’ turns in front of the group, for later viewing and learning.
The Speaking Circles approach is organic. You learn and develop the core practice of Relational Presence, a foundational communication skill that can be used in any circumstance with anyone, anywhere—personally and professionally. Through speaking from the inside out, as it were, participants become more self- and other-aware. For many, this results in eloquent, inspiring, and impactful communication. You can participate in as many Circles as you’d like, with different trained and certified Facilitators, with no attendance requirements. Advanced programs offered by individual Facilitators may include focus on content and delivery, with Relational Presence as a foundation.
In Toastmasters, the focus is on developing polished presentations as well as meeting management and leadership skills. Participants practice giving prepared and scripted speeches, and receive evaluative feedback from peers at regular meetings and from judges at periodic speech contests. Impromptu speeches based on a prompt are also included in meetings and contests. Dues-paying membership in a club is required, with initial enrollment paid to Toastmasters International. Elected officers, assigned meeting roles, and focused assignments in manuals comprise a club, its protocol, and speaking development. There are also elected leadership roles at various levels in the Toastmaster organizational structure. The overall approach is practiced and structured, with regular trainings and conferences.
- Can anyone attend a Speaking Circle?
Absolutely. Regardless of your background, needs, or goals, you will benefit from attending Speaking Circles. At the very least, you will learn to be more at ease speaking in front of an audience, become a better listener, and feel seen, heard, and appreciated by others while you speak.
One goal of this organization is to attract a more diverse range of adult individuals in our Circles and within our Facilitator community. So we invite you to come as you are, join one of our Circles, and experience what this teaching has to offer. And if you love what you experience, we encourage you to consider becoming a Facilitator!
- How do Speaking Circles address diversity and inclusivity?
The Speaking Circles organization is working to learn more and share information within the Facilitator community about how to get the message of our welcoming diversity and the inclusion of all more widely known. The Speaking Circles Standards of Support for listeners, the person up front, and confidentiality exist to ensure safety for everyone at a Circle. Beyond that, we want to understand what else we can do to make Speaking Circles a welcoming community for all.
We’re having discussions, sharing resources, reading books together, and doing inner reflection to see where and how we can enhance the atmosphere of open acceptance at Speaking Circles. We’re happy to hear any constructive feedback regarding diversity, inclusivity, and safety as you experience Speaking Circles programs.
- What if there is a language barrier for a participant?
We have Facilitators all over the world. If you can’t find a Facilitator in your area, that’s okay. Many of our Facilitators work virtually, so you can be anywhere and still experience a Circle in many places worldwide and in different languages. And because Speaking Circles focus on the connection between the listeners and the person taking a turn, it’s not even necessary to be fluent in the same language. In Speaking Circles, we invite connection by focusing on each person’s being rather than on the words they say.
- Do I have to join or become a member?
There is no membership required. You are welcome to attend the offerings of any Speaking Circles Facilitator that you choose. Offerings may be stand-alone Circles or packages of a series of Circles.
- Can anyone become a Facilitator?
Yes. However, to become a Facilitator, you must be able to settle into stillness through Relational Presence. A strong feel for what Speaking Circles are like is a prerequisite to Facilitator training. We recommend attending at least ten Circles before taking the training. We strongly encourage people from all different backgrounds, ages, cultures, skin colors, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, and physical abilities to become Facilitators. If you feel called to become a Facilitator or simply have questions about becoming a Facilitator, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Learn more details about the training here.
- Can I ask a Facilitator to bring Relational Presence to my organization or group?
Yes. Many Facilitators offer customized programs in Speaking Circles and Relational Presence for organizations, groups, leaders, and other specialized fields and populations. Search Find a Facilitator on this website. In the Relational Presence Facilitator Directory on our sister website you will find Facilitators listed by areas of expertise, industry, and location.
- What is the difference between Speaking Circles® Global Network and Speaking Circles International?
Speaking Circles® Global Network presents the Speaking Circles work and provides access to the worldwide community of Facilitators who offer Speaking Circles programs in person and online. Learn what is unique about Speaking Circles and why they are so powerfully effective for so many people. Get answers to common questions and find a Facilitator whose Circles you’d like to attend.
Speaking Circles International is the website and company of Speaking Circles Founder Lee Glickstein, the authority on Relational Presence in public speaking. Find in-depth information on the origins and central aspects of Speaking Circles and sign up to attend Circles and other programs offered.