The notion of presence is a critical idea for those of us in user experience. At the risk of sounding like Yoda, presence is tied to self-knowing. During ten years of writing, lecturing and coaching on “interviewing users”, many of the questions that Steve Portigal receives are about controlling or influencing another person’s behavior. Yet these interactions with others are really about ourselves, what’s inside us, who we are.
In this workshop, you’ll tap into a new level of personal authenticity to unlock a powerful boon. Together, we’ll explore this point of view and participate in a range of exercises to learn more about these ideas – and about ourselves.
The experience was a compelling one for all of us. I can not wait to do this workshop again (so hopefully someone will arrange for that to happen before too long). Taking a cue from Marina Abramovic (as well as performance and couples therapy), we tried an exercise where people gazed silently into the eyes of another person for 30 seconds. Which felt like an eternity, especially when done a second time. Everyone in the group was crazy brave and willing to try anything I asked of them, and even better was willing to really share honestly what these exercises revealed for them.
At other points we did a simple improv exercise (something I deal with a lot more in Yes, My Iguana Loves to Cha-Cha) about “accepting offers” – essentially one person waits on stage while another approaches and says something like “Hi, I’m a baker and here’s a loaf of bread.” The initial actor responds with “Thanks, I’ll go get some butter!” or something else relevant, and then walks offstage. That’s it – all we did was a series of saying “yes” to other ideas; ideas we couldn’t plan for. Even that simple and silly activity produced a lot of powerful reflection.
We also explored how reframing (especially bad ideas into good ones; something I deal with more extensively in The Power of Bad Ideas) can help with keeping us in the moment and not letting catastrophizing whisk us away.
It seemed that these ideas had a real impact; several speakers were present and reflected on the workshop in their end-of-event summaries the next day. Konrad Sauer even shared some of his experience in a blog post:
Steve then asked us to turn to the person beside us and for 30 seconds, stare into the other persons eyes. We were all strangers and the experience was amazing. After the exercise, we were asked to describe the experience. Most people had a strong sense of discomfort – this was an incredibly intimate thing to do with someone let along with someone we did not know. Many people found strategies for dealing with the discomfort – to focus on a single feature on the persons face – usually to avoid the eyes. Some people laughed, some people looked away. Some people paid attention to their breathing, the noises outside. But we all observed that we had made a much deeper connection to that person sitting across from us. Throughout the rest of the conference, whenever our eyes re-connected, it felt like seeing a very old friend again and there was a an immediate re-connection. That is how one of the other speakers described it and I think he was bang on. It was very cool.
I put together a reading list with various podcasts, websites, articles and more. You can check it out here.
Finally, I’ve embedded the slides below (although they are really only a pointer to the experience we all shared together).