Presence August 21, 2015 January 25, 2017 Gill Brabner

Presence is a frequent topic of discussion in personal development work, and it is easy to see what a difference it makes when we are fully ‘present’ in our work.  Speaker and coach, Nigel Risner, often uses the phrase “if you are in the room, be in the room” as a reminder to audiences to stay focused.

The inspirational and world renowned voice teacher, Patsy Rodenburg, has written about presence and I know from attending a workshop she provided just how she uses her ‘second circle energy’ to connect with her students and work with them to understand the meaning of being fully present and to attain presence.

But with so many distractions available to us how can we help learners to stay fully present in this age of digital learning?  The academic Kwan Min Lee (2004) poses the question: What makes human minds not notice the virtuality of incoming stimuli? And there is plenty of incoming stimuli for people working online!  He suggests the answer lies in one of the following; either it is “due to the willing suspension of disbelief consciously orchestrated by technology users” or it is the “evolutionary tendency to accept incoming stimuli at face value without close scrutiny.”

Asking learners to suspend their disbelief is something we know about In our face to face drama-based training programmes we regularly work with groups of 30 delegates, where we invite them to engage with a piece of drama about a work-place issue, acted out in front of them by professional actors, using minimal props and sets.  The majority of learners willingly engage with the process and become so enrapt by the story that they suspend belief further by discussing the issues with the characters from the play, advising them what they need to do differently. Even the most reluctant delegate usually becomes hooked into the story – sometimes despite themselves. The immersive, cathartic quality of forum theatre helps us break down barriers and tackle some difficult subjects.

Can this level of engagement be achieved in online learning? Well we know from the video gaming community that participating in online games can be a fully immersive experience but all too often online learning is viewed as a tick box compliance exercise.  One of the challenges of the digital space and its opportunity for asynchronous learning is for us as L&D practitioners to convey ideas and learning in such a way that is presence inducing across space, time, language and culture.

What helps you to stay fully present when learning?



Lee, K. M. (2004).  Presence, Explicated.  Communication Theory, 14(1):  27-50