There has been quite a bit of discussion about, demand for, and envy of that ephemeral thing called presence. It’s the sort of thing that gets people hired, promoted, and rewarded and yet if you ask most people to define it, they’ll probably say something like “I can’t tell you what it is but I know it when I see it”. It is also one of those things that is very easy to detect by its absence. Increasingly I am working with and hearing from people who have been told in their exit interviews, promotion evaluations or their performance reviews that they need to work on their presence. But what does that actually look like and how do you get there?

If we look at the word presence in its fundamental meaning it really means being here. So, a big chunk of presence is making it clear to people that they have your intent, respectful, and undivided attention. That is a lot harder than it sounds given how all of us are pulled in so many different directions all the time.

Multi-tasking is our reality, but it gets very much in the way of being present. How can you give your full attention to someone when you are also glancing at your second monitor and noticing the emails popping up?  And how do we train ourselves to stop being distracted by things in the background of Zoom meetings? It takes real focus to focus because we are hard-wired to be cued visually so what you see trumps what you hear.

Presence comes more readily to some people than to others, but it can be cultivated with some diligent attention to the basics of strategic communications: focus on your audience; be clear in your objectives; tailor your content to the needs of the audience, not your own need to blather on about things you care about, to the exclusion of others.

Being here sums up those basics: if you are truly present, you are open to learning something new, you suspend judgment, and you focus on what you bring to the table, not what you can grab from it.

Joanna Piros