Sunday, 23 November 2014

Vicar's Study: Presence by Patsy Rodenburg

My latest church placement has me in the centre of Oxford, a place where people treat having a PhD how the rest of the country treats having a smattering of GCSEs. It's pretty standard to find yourself sitting next to a Professor of Philosophy or, in my case, someone who just a couple of months ago was lecturing me as part of my Theology degree. To add to these esteemed clientele there is also the small matter of the church being impossibly grand with every role done to absolute perfection. It is completely intimidating.

A few weeks ago I went to visit our Voice Coach at college to get a few tips for holding my own in this new world in which I have found myself. I felt so nervous leading services in that setting that I found it hard to connect to the words on the page in front of me. Quite frankly I just wanted to get to the end of the page unscathed! She asked me how I was approaching it so far and I said 'Well, I just fake confidence and no one seems to really notice.' She smiled at me knowingly and sent me off with some homework to look up the work of Patsy Rodenburg on Presence and to come back to her.
Patsy trains actors for a living and, as you can see in this clip, first came up with her theory of Presence on the basis of mulling over what people mean when they say that some actors have 'it' and other simply do not. Call it what you like, presence or the X factor(!), on some level we all know it when we see it. Whether that is at a play or watching a film where the actor just connects in an extraordinary way or whether it is the flip-side and experiencing a disconnection in our interaction with someone. You know how it goes, the lights are on but no one is home! We know when we are experiencing real human connection and it is that connection, that the person is bringing who they are to the table, that makes the interaction real and influential.
Patsy's theory is based around three circles. The First Circle is someone who is withdrawn, hiding from the world as a form of protection. Their body language is hunched, their voice is soft and quiet, they are drawn into themselves. On the other hand a Third Circle person is completely out there. People in Third Circle take up lots of space, speak really loudly and have a presence that can come across as overbearing. Third circle can be controlling. It keeps people in their place but it doesn't deep down connect to the other. And lastly there is a Second Circle. The Second Circle person connects. They have 'it' because you are seeing the real deal. They have the confidence to let you see the truth about who they are. Patsy argues that for a number of careers, including being a Religious Leader, you must operate predominantly in Second Circle.

This all makes an awful lot of sense to me because I have seen it over and over again. Whether it is one on one or from the pulpit people need to see the real you to get anything from the message that you are bringing. Too often sermons land way over people's heads because they don't come from a real and vulnerable place in the person who is speaking. Connecting with people means being willing to take the walls down. It means growing in real confidence and it means not being afraid to show people who you really are.

So there we have it, I've talked myself into quite a corner, haven't I? This book has made me realise that I need to continue on the road to genuine confidence in this setting because it is the only way I will really be able to do my job well. It has made me reassess what it is about this environment that makes me doubt myself. It is one of my core values that everyone is equal and should be treated as such. As great as it is to be intelligent, it is just as great to be creative. As wonderful as it is to have eloquence, it is just as wonderful to be able to speak from the heart in whatever words you have. Flare can be learned but integrity runs much deeper.

Being present means offering to others the most precious thing you have, yourself. Only then will people really trust you, really know you and really connect to what it is that you bring. That is no small task but, I'm convinced, it is a worthwhile one.

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