How Do I Master Virtual Presence?
Don’t fall into the trap most people do when working virtually
I recently received an unexpected gift. Not a magic set, but it was magical to me — a gift membership to MasterClass, a premier online training platform. A wide variety of topics are taught by world-class masters — Neil Gaiman on writing, Garry Kasparov on chess, and Gordon Ramsay on cooking, to name a few. I had been curious about getting a membership, but wasn’t sure, so this was perfect timing.
What in the world does this have to do with Virtual Presence, Joe? Focus!
Of course. I had flash of insight from one of the Master classes I took.
Most of us, when we think about improving our Virtual Presence, concentrate on the first part of the phrase, “virtual.” It’s natural and intuitive to see the problem as one of being virtual vs. physical. As a result, our minds (and a lot of training courses) concentrate on two types of solutions:
1) How to make the virtual experience more like the physical
2) How to optimize how we look and sound while virtual
What I realized is, when we do this, although it seems right and undeniably true, we are actually looking in the wrong place.
It’s like the trick with the three cups where you are sure the ball is under one cup (in fact, you would bet good money on it), but when the cup is lifted it is not there. The ball is revealed under a different cup.
If you don’t know this trick I won’t spoil it for you, but it wasn’t really under the other cup either! The magician duo of Penn and Teller do a great job explaining how this actually works.
To master Virtual Presence, we need to focus on the right place, which is the second part of the phrase, “presence.” If you don’t understand how to create presence, it doesn’t matter whether you are in the room or not. To put it another way,
Once you understand the underlying principles of creating presence, they can be applied to any context — in-person or virtual.
The Foundation of Virtual Presence
The foundation of Virtual Presence is to be present in 2, very specific ways. First, you need to be present for yourself in a way that you can fully sense what is going on.
Imagine you are listening to a pitch or a potential business partner and you have to decide whether to invest in the relationship or not. The tiniest detail, inconsistency, or potential strength could make or break the deal.
How much focus and attention would you bring to this situation? And because you are fully present, how much more would you learn? This element of presence is the first ingredient.
Second, you need to be present for others in a way provides maximum impact.
Imagine someone has come to you for advice and is explaining their issue. They are clearly worried and are looking for guidance. When do you listen and when do you talk? When a notification goes off do you get distracted or not even notice it because you are so dialed into the conversation? How insightful are the observations you make and the questions you ask? Do they experience you as helpful, credible and trustworthy? This element of presence is the second ingredient.
Now that you know the secret of mastering Virtual Presence lies in the “presence” and not the “virtual,” you can begin to develop and hone the skills that enhance your presence in these two areas.
The amazing part is the actual techniques don’t matter.
Excuse me?! What do you mean the techniques don’t matter? This is real life, not a magic show.
What I mean is, there is no secret list of techniques that you need to master. As long as what you do enhances your Virtual Presence, it is time well spent.
One caveat — no matter the technique, it has to be deployed with the right timing and in the right context. I may be the best magician in the world (I’m not, by the way), but wowing a crowd with magic tricks during layoffs is not an effective use of a skill.
As an example, three techniques I find helpful in improving my presence are:
1) Tactical breathing
2) Minding your Hara (or center)
3) Using a Mantra
What I love about these techniques is they occur before I do anything about the virtual part. Before I adjust my camera, choose my background, or check my lighting or sound, I ground myself in the meeting. If I’m not there, if I’m not fully present, no manner of lighting or technical wizardry will magically transform my Virtual Presence. I will just be a well lit, empty suit with an immaculate background.
If you like podcasts or audiobooks, I talk about these concepts on a bonus episode of my podcast Executive Presence Morsels. If you are interested, have a listen and let me know what you think. It is from Season 5, episode 41, published on Monday, August 30 with the title, “Virtual Presence: The Foundation.”
With more and more of our work and workforce moving to a virtual space, those who master Virtual Presence will have a distinct career advantage over those who don’t.
“Remember, it’s not what you say, do, or wear, it’s how you make people feel that generates Executive Presence. Nothing else matters.”
This material was adapted from the new leadership book, Unlock Your Executive Presence: Feel like a Boss. To find out more about Executive Presence and access free leadership videos, podcasts, and guides, go to www.connectioncounselor.com.
New release! Try the brand new course Executive Presence and the Diversity Dilemma on Udemy.com. It’s the only course that not only teaches you how to generate Executive Presence, but provides strategies specifically for underrepresented professionals. Check out the preview today!
As the Connection Counselor, Joe Kwon helps busy professionals elevate their careers by teaching them how to connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere. His emphasis is on practical learning, delivered in an entertaining, heartfelt, and inclusive manner.
An acclaimed coach and keynote speaker with over 20 years of experience in Corporate America, his goal is to help you unlock the best version of yourself.
Joe holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia (Go Hoos!), a law degree from Georgetown University (Hoya Saxa!), and lives in New Jersey with his wife and son.