Developing a virtual presence

Dec 29 2011 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

In Zen, one of the guiding principles is to be present. In managing your career, it's to have "presence". After all , having the right answers is no use if no one notices you or thinks you have the credibility to present them. This is hard enough, but what about in this matrixed, virtual world? Can you, in fact, have "presence" when you're seldom present in the same room?

Kristi Hedges is a communications coach and author of The Power of Presence- Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others". In a recent Cranky Middle Manager Interview, she discussed the paradox of creating a virtual "presence".

Why does establishing an "online presence" matter and what does it really mean to remote workers and leaders?

An online presence is beneficial to anyone looking to elevate their executive stature and credibility. There's no faster way to become a thought leader than to be actively engaged in social media on a topic you're passionate about.

It's the perfect way to gain visibility by idea promoting rather than self-promoting. For many people, that's a whole lot easier to swallow than being out there tooting your own horn.

Remote workers have the added need to find ways to get in front of influencers in their organization - without having the option of physical interaction. You can't walk down the hall and let co-workers know that you just nailed an important client project. But maybe you can put a case study about it in the corporate blog and reach even more people.

What are some of the factors that make up presence…especially when you're not in the same room as everyone else?

Presence is your ability to connect with and inspire others, so many of the same qualities apply either in-person or otherwise: communicating in alignment with your intention, building trust, establishing commonalities, and speaking with passion and purpose.

However, remotely you're showing those qualities through keystrokes and your voice. Take, for example, conference calls. Most are approached as after-thoughts, and interaction is limited. If you're running one, you should approach it as an opportunity to showcase your presence and to build trust with others. Have a firm agenda beforehand, play the role of facilitator on the call rather than presenter.

Use the time judiciously by sticking to key discussion topics, and practice diligent follow up. Because that's the setting where most people experience your leadership skills, you should take advantage of the spotlight.

What are some of the concrete things leaders need to do to establish "presence"?

My book, Power of Presence, is filled with ideas for building presence, but I'd suggest these two actions to start. Neither takes much time, but each can have a profound outcome.

1. Know the impression you want to make, and use a "swing thought."

We carry a lot of destructive thoughts around in our heads that show up in our body language, our actions, and our impressions. Neuroscience research has shown that what we think even shows up in facial expressions interpreted below the conscious level! If you're walking into a meeting thinking, "let's get this over with," you are putting yourself at a keen disadvantage.

Instead, determine the impression you want to make, and carry that thought into your meeting. For the golfers out there, you can compare it to a swing thought --or that last thought you have before you hit the ball.

It only takes a second to do! When you make a conscious effort to align your thoughts with your actions, you're far more likely to hit your target.

2. Pick specific opportunities in your everyday job where you can elevate your visibility.

Many people want to increase their stature but can't imagine adding extra work to their lives. Here's the good news: you don't have to. There are more than enough opportunities -- meetings, networking events, conference calls, strategic planning sessions, conference panels, etc. -- to showcase your presence.

Once you understand what you want to convey, the next step is to determine where others observe your leadership chops. I used the conference call example above. You can enhance your presence by choosing to use that opportunity as a platform, and preparing differently, running the call strategically, and keeping team members accountable. If you run a meeting unlike anyone else in the company, that will get around.

I once had a client decide to use a weekly meeting to discuss the type of items that couldn't otherwise be shared on a status report. His meeting ended up being a weekly debate of ideas that produced some of the most strategic projects in the company. And he looked like a rock star.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.