What is Presence Management?

Self-improvement is a wonderful thing. I don’t believe a day should go by in which we do not make an attempt at some form of self-improvement, whether it be physical, intellectual, social, or spiritual. However, self-improvement is usually accomplished incrementally (baby steps).

I own a Presence Management company and operate an image consultant training institute. My company assists individuals, companies, and organizations in improving their personal and professional image, reputations, and public relations through, what I call, Presence Management. At my institute, I teach people who want to enter and succeed in some aspect of the image industry.

When I tell people that I own a Presence Management company, I usually have to explain that Presence Management entails image, etiquette and protocol, effective communication, reputation management, and even public relations. We call it the “360-approach” to improving an individual’s or company’s presence. I’m always a little surprised when I have to explain what presence management is because everyone has a presence and they do, in fact, manage it. The important thing about this presence of yours is that it dictates how others perceive you, react to you, and allow themselves to be influenced by you. It is your presence and the way you manage it that communicates to the world around you about your personality, character, competence, and value.

As soon as you awake, your presence turns itself on and, guess what, you CANNOT turn it off. Communication theorist Paul Watzlawick captured this truth with his axiom, “You cannot not communicate.” Whether you like it or not, your presence is always at work, either for you or against you.

When some people find out that I am an image consultant, they protest in so many words that such vanity as being concerned about their appearance or what others think of them is somehow beneath their dignity. I have had to argue this point on occasion and the argument goes like this:

The Person Who Is Wrong: “I don’t pay any attention to my image.”
Me: “So what happened? Did a cyclone rip through your closet this morning and this outfit was blown onto you?”
The Person Who Is Wrong: “What?”
Me: “No, a cyclone did not dress you this morning; you did. You made a conscious choice about how you wanted to appear to the world today. Your subconscious (or conscious) self said, ‘This is the visual part of my image or presence I want people to judge me by today.’ You also chose whether to shave or comb your hair or brush your teeth. Later, you will decide whether to smile, to be honest, to hold the door for the lady with the baby, or to send a thank you note. In other words, your image is your constant companion, always present and always at work. Like the Energizer Bunny, it never rests; it just keeps communicating and communicating and communicating.”
The Person Who Is Wrong: “Ah ha! But what if I’m staying home today, and no one will see or hear me.”
Me: “Well, you will probably see yourself, and at the very least, you will perceive yourself to exist. Because you exist, you will make judgments about yourself, and from those judgements will grow your self-image, which includes self-respect, self-confidence, and self-esteem or the opposites. This is one reason why many people who work from home shower, shave, and dress up for their work day. They aren’t trying to influence others; they are trying to influence themselves.”

Because our presence is equally a product of our own making and the making of those who perceive us, this concept of not being able to shut it down is vital to our success in all areas of our lives. This is where the principle of influence comes in. Our primary activity as humans is to influence those who affect our lives, and we spend much, if not most, of our time in this activity. Here are a few examples to illustrate this principle:

  • Do you want your children to respect, love, and obey you? If you see room for improvement, ask yourself (or your children) how they perceive you: cool, successful, wise, and fun or harried, harsh, stogy, and weak? Undoubtedly, the way they interpret your image will determine the amount of respect, love, and obedience that they render you.
  • Do you want your employer or employees to respect and trust you? If you see room for improvement, ask yourself (or your employer/employees/peers) how they perceive you: competent, trustworthy, empathetic, and organized or incompetent, untrustworthy, self-centered, and disorganized? Your career will ultimately depend on how your supervisors and co-workers interpret the signals your image continuously communicates.
  • Do you want your significant other to respect, love, and trust you? If you see room for improvement, ask yourself (or him or her) how he or she perceives you: warm, committed, and loyal or cold, distant, selfish? Your happiness is going to be determined in large measure by how this significant other interprets your image.

These are just a few of the people we interact with every day who we want to influence. Do you want to stop a cab, get a good service at a restaurant, make a sale, sell your house, adopt a child, get picked for the team, and on and on? For most of us, our days are comprised of streams of people whom we would like to treat us respectfully, kindly, and professionally.

Beth Strange is CEO at Chapman International.