TL;DR: Presence is such a driver in how much someone can offer value and how good the quality of their interactions are. How much you can give (or get) out of an interaction depends on how present you are.
A couple of things got me started thinking about presence. One was this instance in a brainstorming session. It’s a brainstorming session so as one would expect there are a lot of inputs and feedback being shared. It’s anything but a passive activity. But then there was this guy who appeared to be doing admin stuff — email and maybe some approval of overtime work. He didn’t end up joining any of the breakout groups which maybe why he wasn’t actively listening in the first place. It feels like such a waste though — to be there and not contribute, to have such potential to contribute (being a senior guy and all) and not contribute. This also just goes to show that your actual presence — not attendance, not just being there, but being engaged in the discussions — plays such a big part on how much value you can contribute.
Then there’s this other thing. A friend shared that her colleague was in a one-on-one meeting with her manager and her manager dozed off. Turns out, the same thing happened to my friend wherein the same manager fell asleep during the meeting. That’s a one-one-one meeting — a venue for you to raise your concerns, share successes if any, or just give relevant updates; and worse, there’s only the two of you in that meeting. Just how unimportant do you think that made those employees feel? Again, presence is such a key thing in the quality of the interactions.
Just to be fair, I don’t know their side so they might have some valid reasons, and I can’t really make excuses for them.
Now, useless meetings isn’t a new and rare thing (sadly) as there are memes and mugs on how a meeting could’ve been an email. But I’m not saying this to shift the burden or blame inattention to the organizers of the meeting. One one hand they do have that responsibility of making sure they get the right people into the meeting to make sure it’s relevant to attendees. But on the other hand, it’s really up to the attendees or participants how much they can give and get out of the meetings they attend.
So long story short: if you’re in a meeting (or more so in a conversation), and you can improve the conversation or you have the potential to add value with respect to that discussion, please try to do that starting with being actually present.