Presence Skills Arena | Training For Change

Presence Skills Arena


3rd Party Nonviolent Intervention icon3rd Party Nonviolent Intervention




Training Tool

  • Increase flexibility in applying presence;
  • Develop confidence and experience in responding to a range of difficult scenarios;
  • Practice using a video camera (optional)

2-3 Hours

  • Video cameras (enough for a ratio of 1 camera for every 4-5 people)
  • Video players (some way for the group to watch the video they captured, preferably at the same ration) [optional]
  • Presence skills arena set of instructions (below)
How to Lead

In this activity, participants get to practice presence in several different contexts (different “stations” in the “arena”). Before the group gets together, set up the various stations. While the group is all together, carefully explain the purpose of this activity and its design. (Since much of this tool is really run by participants, their clear understanding is necessary, especially regarding a fairly complex design.) Using a visual, explain that there will be different stations around the room. Facilitators will place participants into small groups (use groups of no less then four people). Each group will rotate to different stations every couple of minutes. A facilitator will be the timekeeper and announce when people need to switch stations.

After explaining the set-up, give an example of the type of situation participants might find. Explain what would happen at a station. At each station will be a set of instructions. Before reading the instruction, participants decide who will be the actors, who will be the video camera taker, who will be the nonviolent intervenor and (if extra people) who will simply be observers/ supporters. Those roles will keep shifting in the group- so that everyone will get a chance to be actors, video camera takers and intervenors. Re-emphasize that this is a learning activity: so if there are skills people particularly don’t feel comfortable doing (such as using a video camera), this is a great time to practice that skill. [This tool does not require video cameras; but as a skill-building session it can benefit participants to have a video camera for their own feedback and to learn how to use it effectively.]

The actors (and the actors alone) will read the instruction, prepare if needed (props will be at the station) and then begin acting in the scenario. The nonviolent intervenor will then come a practice the presence technique (not the interposition) in that situation. During the entire incident, the video camera person will be keeping distance but capturing the exchange on tape. After the intervention has been successful (or when time is up), turn off the camera and begin a short debrief from the following questions:

  • For the actors: What things did the intervenor do that worked?
  • For the intervenor: What was it like intervening?
  • For the observers: What did you notice that looked helpful of successful as an intervention?

Take questions and clarify about the running of the exercise. Then, put participants into groups of four or more. Send each group to a stations. Review what will happen at the station- including having groups decide who is going to actors first (have them raiser their hands), who is the intervenor first (have them raise their hands), and who is video taping (have them raise their hands). And begin!

During the running of the exercise, facilitators will watch to make sure the logistics of the exercise are running smoothly. After assuring participants understand and are running it properly, facilitators support debriefing and generally supporting the group. At various stations facilitators will teach participants specific skills: for example, at one station will just be breathing skills.

Make sure one faciliator is “Time-Keeper” and watching time for the entire group- including announcing when groups need to switch to the next station.

After groups have attended at least six to eight stations (enough so each participant can do each role at least twice) or when the energy seems done with the exercise, call time. Send the group into buddy pairs for feelings debrief. Then, bring folks to the large group and debrief for learnings around what behaviors worked (don’t write them up just yet). Get some examples.

Have folks return to their group they were working with to watch the video of their group’s work. Encourage the learning to continue as people watch- as well as some laughter and relaxation. Tell participants to look for things they did not notive about themselves or about their behavior.

Finally, bring everyone back to the plenary to write up learnings.


(Summary; extended is below)

Guns: At this station, two people will be arguing. At one point, one of the participants will flash a gun. The presence of intervenors will be videotaped the whole time and try out some presence (not interpostion!) technique.

“Button-Pushing”: At this station, the presence of intervenors identify something that pushes their buttons (such as being called a certain derogatory name). Then two actors role-play a conflict and, while the intervenor is trying to use presence techniques to affect the situation, they use that “button” to potentially through off the intervenor.

Culture and Physical Distance: At the station, the role-players will have a cultural norm of expecting large (or very small) physical distance between people. Thus, they would interpret the person with presence getting too close as invasive.

Level of Emotional Expression/Body Language: At this station, the role-players will be highly expressive and actually (in their role) have a cultural norm that is ok with lots of threatening body language.


Where This Tool Comes From 

Designed by Daniel Hunter and George Lakey, Training for Change (PO BOX 30914, Philadelphia, PA 19104): *




For Actors Only

The two actors will be arguing very loudly and threateningly. One of you will be a political demonstrator. The other will be an angry police officer (with a gun). (Decide who will be who.)

After having a heated argument for a while, the angry police officer will pull a gun and threaten to shoot the demonstator.



For Actors Only

You two actors will be arguing very loudly and threateningly. One will be a political demonstrator and the other will be a disgruntled citizen. (Decide who will be who.)

When the intervenor tries doing presence, you will harass them.

First, get from the intervenor some things that “pushes their buttons”- something that specifically annoys them and gets them irritated. Some ideas (in case the person has trouble thinking of some):

  • Being called a derogatory name;
  • Being given certain disrespecful hand signals;
  • Being told they are certain things (E.G., not wanted, needlessly intervening, arrogant users, docile); etc.

So, when the intervenor does presence, begin harrassing them.


For Actors Only

You two actors will be arguing very loudly and threateningly. One will be a political demonstrator and the other will be a disgruntled citizen. (Decide who will be who.)

When the intervenor tries doing presence, whatever distance the role-player does first, you will find it very invasive. (So if they step close, you will feel invaded and react with hostility. If they watch from afar, you will feel spied on and react with hostility.)


For Actors Only

You two actors will be arguing very loudly and aggressively. One will be a political demonstrator and the other will be an angered counter-demonstrator. (Decide who will be who.)

While yelling, you two will also be listening to each other. You will be highly expressive and have a cultural norm that is ok with lots of threatening body language and loudness.