John Paval workshop: Presence vs. Telepresence

Today, I had the opportunity to see something really special in my role as Tech Specialist for the Cross-Cultural Rhetoric Project — I got to see a speaker transcend the limitations of video conference technology (the flattening out of “presence” into two-dimensional space) and really become PRESENT in a live and active way in our classroom.  I’m talking here about a workshop for Alyssa O’Brien’s “Rhetoric and Global Leadership” class led by our friend and colleague, John Paval.

Now, John (who is based in Stockholm) has led many virtual workshops on public speaking and oral rhetoric for our Stanford Writing & Rhetoric classes over the past two and a half years, but today was really special.   In today’s session, he focused much of his time on oral delivery and what we in PWR like to call “embodied rhetoric” — that is, how to use your own body, your own presence, as a rhetorical tool.

What really amazed me about how he did it was that from thousands of miles away, he got the students up and on their feet, literally, leading them through an active and engaging practicum on how posture, gesture, and expression can all be used rhetorically.

Quite an accomplishment for a speaker, sitting alone in an office in Sweden on a Friday evening, speaking into a webcamera.

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4 Responses to John Paval workshop: Presence vs. Telepresence

  1. Kelly says:

    It was a fun activity, definitely something out of the ordinary for me, and I learned a couple pointers on embodied rhetoric that I will certainly bring to my upcoming presentation for PWR!

  2. Shahryar says:

    For most of the workshop, I felt John Paval was in the room with us. I think the interactive style of the presentation really added to this. I found his critique of the public, social, private spaces interesting.

  3. Ravshan says:

    It was definitely a great learning experience. This lecture made me realize the importance of appropriate body usage during presentations and the strong effect it have on the audience. John Paval did a great job keeping us engaged throughout the class.

  4. John Paval says:

    Well, I am glad to see that the students felt genuinely engaged in interaction with me during this session. One of the challenges of virtual communication is the fact that the speaker does not have many of his or her usual frames of reference for determining how involved the audience is. In a live presentation in real space, a good presenter takes in a great deal of information via direct sight, sound, smell, and additional physical and psychological feeling of what is going on with the audience. These is part of the pleasure of live performances. Many of these indicators are simply not present with the same immediacy when you are working in virtual space. It is perhaps akin to the difference in the way a pilot feels when he or she is only flying by instruments. There may be certain technical indicators which signal that the plane is flying right, but it doesn’t have the same feel as flying using your own direct senses to guide you. This also reminds me of a lesson which all performing artists come to realize, and to encounter again and again, you cannot judge how well a performance went based on your experience. The experience that counts is the audience’s experience, and sometimes they have a great experience when you are not at all sure you have done your best work. During this particular workshop, I felt I was laboring a good deal to create interaction, and was somewhat more aware of the efforts involved than of the success or failure of those efforts from the point of view of the audience. So, it is great to hear that the work paid off!

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