There are many facilitators and presenters that will typically set a meeting room up in the round, where the presenter is in the middle of the room. Most that do this feel that such a configuration creates a sense of intimacy because more participants are closer to the presenter.
From a purely scientific perspective, the data doesn’t support this thinking. From a Leadership perspective (which in my experience, is as much about Psychology as it is about leadership fundamentals), physical proximity is one thing, but connection and intimacy come from eye contact, from hearing and being heard, from being acknowledged, and from being invited to engage.
Of course, all of these things are risky, which is why most Leaders, whether in a seminar setting or a workplace setting (which by the way, is a daily workshop in Leadership waiting to happen) won’t take those kind of risks. Why? Primarily for two reasons:
- They’re either not equipped to do so.
- They’re simply unwilling to do so.
Those in the latter category typically choose to default to “I’m in charge so we’ll do what I say.”
Think about it. Networking events typically involve too many people in too small a room and rarely create interactions that are significant enough that they’ll be remembered the next day, much less 5 minutes after everyone leaves.
The majority also believe that the digital world eliminates these barriers of proximity, supposedly enhancing our ability to make a connection. There’s only one component that enhances the ability to connect and that’s presence. Proximity alone isn’t enough.
Most will often use physical configurations or digital proximity to push others away instead of inviting them to engage. Think about how often you’ve hesitated to lean in or to raise your hand. Think about how often the presenter has turned their back to the participants and avoided physical or visual contact, which would give them a sense of what’s going on in the room.
In the hundreds of interactions we have every single day, proximity gives us the chance to connect, but it doesn’t ensure that will happen.
Truth be told, presence does!