Category Archives: Communications

What role will journalism, technology, and media play in reshaping society ? This category explores needed changes and new possibilities in how we communicate.

The Multidimensional Meaning of “Presence”

By Deborah Vrabel

What do we mean when we talk about our “online presence?”

I think it’s multidimensional. It means:

  • Be there.
  • Pay attention.
  • Adapt.
  • Lead.

Being there. Woody Allen once said that “80% of life is showing up.” That quote captures the most literal meaning of presence It’s raising your hand and saying “Present!” when the teacher calls your name–whatever your academic preparedness or intentions to participate, you have cleared the first hurdle. You are there. Sometimes that simple kind of presence—being there with no distinction, no defined role, nothing unique to say or do—is all that is needed or required. You show up.

Occupying space–whether physical or cyber–is only the beginning of presence though.

Being Present to the Moment. To be present is to be mindful. When observing, it is noticing even the tiniest things. When interacting, it is listening carefully. When working, it is being invested and “in the moment.”  In other words, you are present when you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.

Showing “Presence of Mind.” To be present is to think quickly and respond appropriately and competently when something unexpected happens—whether a threatening situation, an awkward moment, or a good opportunity.

Having Presence. Finally, presence describes an outward demeanor some people have that enables them to capture and hold attention and admiration. Ask ten people to think of someone they know who has “presence” and describe that person in one word or phrase, and you could easily receive several different answers:

“lights up a room” … “commands attention” … “star quality” … “elegant” … “poised” … “shows grace under pressure” … “unruffled.”

I would contend that part of what gives them this demeanor is the inner quality of attentiveness, as described above, along with self-confidence, purpose, and inner strength.

I think all of those forms of presence are relevant to anyone who wants to share ideas, build a movement, or sell a product online.

You need to be “there” in the search engine and social media milieu. You must show up with meaning and over time. How many times have you heard the plea “Like us on Facebook” and then found a page that serves no discernible purpose and seldom changes? I know I have created a couple of those.

You need to be “attentive and mindful” in the online world. That means learning from others, commenting on other people’s work thoughtfully, noticing things and making your own conclusions.

It means being relevant–which is impossible without paying attention to what’s going on around you–both online and off-line–and taking your opportunity to jump in and participate.

Doing all that will develop the kind of presence that people notice, admire, and find reassuring. It will help you develop self-knowledge and a voice that commands attention. You will be poised to respond with online offerings that resonate.