Hello-Hello to my Association Friends;
I have sent you this link to this article so that you may re-publish it in your newsletter or other publication in the weeks and months leading up to your annual conference. This article will help remind people that one of the most valuable assets they will find at your conference is in the connection with the other attendees.
Please feel free to customize or contact me to edit the article to your specific needs.
Connecting with people in a social media crazy world
By Thom Singer
The last few years nearly every business conference has offered a plethora of training sessions on how to best utilize “social media”. The past decade has seen rapid changes in how people create and cultivate relationships, and smart phones have ignited a mobile revolution. The tools we use to communicate have forever changed and now people can have access to unlimited numbers of contacts at their fingertips.
Yet have we really created more meaningful relationships or are we just substituting “like”, “links”, “shares” and “follows” for real human-to-human connections? Are the live events we attend better for all the digital tools that are now so common?
People are experiential beings and we bond with others through sharing experiences. The problem in is not in the tools we use, but how many overlook the human side of relationships.
This disconnect is never more evident than at in-person events. People are focused on their technology instead of talking with the people seated next to them. It is not uncommon to see a line of people waiting for coffee during a networking break all with their attention on their phones and tablets. People zone out at meals, when talking around the table is a key time to share ideas with other attendees, and instead check Facebook, email, and other online communities to see what is happening with people who are not in the room.
Social media and our digital devices are wonderful tools that can assist everyone in being better connected and more productive, but they also can be a distraction that leaves people more isolated and cause them to miss out on making the meaningful connections that they desire. An October 2017 article in the Harvard Business Journal sites and epidemic of loneliness, stating that 40% of adults in the United States feel isolated.
A main reason that people cite for attending a conference, trade show, conventions or seminar is often the “networking opportunities”, but once present they fail to take the actions necessary to meet new people and instigate the beginnings of a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship. If connecting is the purpose that drives people to be present for these gatherings, we must find ways to establish an atmosphere that encourages people to engage.
The etiquette of when it is appropriate to put our eyes on our phones is confusing for everyone. When others are disengaged while we talk to them we are put off by their actions, but when we do it ourselves we call it “multi-tasking”. Our current society is allowing the rude behavior of people checking their phones while engaged in face-to-face conversations. I recently attended a lunch with two other professionals. One of them had their phone out and was reviewing emails and texts the whole time we dined. The other put his phone away. It was clear who was more engaged in our discussion.
It is often the impromptu “hallway conversations” with peers at conferences that are pointed to as the highlight of an event, and yet rarely do people put a priority on helping these chats occur. This engagement will not happen by accident, as too many people are getting used to always having their phone in-between them and those they are talking with. Anyone who wants more engagement while at a live event must take ownership of starting conversations with those around them. Getting others to look up and talk is an important skill to learn.
There are many special apps for helping people connect at conferences, but mostly they just push people back onto their phones. We cannot get away from social media and electronic devices, nor should we, but we do need to quit thinking that social media can replace the power of a personal business relationship and real conversations. There are no shortcuts to getting people to connect. Much like with “online dating”, there still has to be the real face-to-face interactions if the outcome is a meaningful relationship. The most successful people have a focus on the human experiences everywhere they go.
For years there was a concern that online communities and the internet would replace the need for associations and live events. Today live meetings are thriving in spite of the digital offerings. To ensure that you can maximize the relevance of attending an event you must move the focus away from digital and back toward human connections. Online tools are there to help us all get to more human engagement, not replace it.
If face-to-face meetings existed solely for data we could simply read white papers. The experiences you share with the other people who are in-person at an event are more important now than ever before, as the need for people as a conduit for opportunity can never be replaced by a digital connection.
The next time you are at a conference (or any type of live gathering), leave your phone in your pocket or purse during all social events and networking breaks. You might just make a connection in the real world.
Thom Singer is a professional master of ceremonies and inspirational business speaker. He sets the tone when he speaks at a conference and encourages people to be more engaged while on site and beyond. Thom is the author of twelve books and the host of the “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast. He can be reached at (512) 970-0398 or firstname.lastname@example.org.