From Online to IRL

“I wish the presentation covered how to be successful in meeting people online and meeting them in person safely in more detail. Many people are afraid to meet people online because it is ‘dangerous.'”

An audience member that attended one of my workshops left that as part of their feedback and I’m glad they did. This is important and not something I covered because it could easily be an entire workshop by itself. So how do you go from meeting people with whom you have interacted with online to meeting them in “real life”? I’m going to address this from the professional connection point of view (networking) and not a personal point of view (dating).

Meeting People Online
What do you want to engage and meet people online? That’s the first question you need to ask yourself. The connected world is a buffet of people and ideas and if you don’t know what you want you may end up, like I do, with a heaping plate of…stuff. Cookies dangling into marinara sauce. (Ew!) Coleslaw oozing into apple cobbler. (Oh, gross.) Vanilla ice cream slowly taking over your french fries. (Hey, that’s actually delicious!)

The goal here, whether you are starting out or just having the epiphany now of “I should make a plan!”, is to make sure you know what you are expecting to get out of your online presence so you know where to look. No one goes walking into a Hallmark store looking to buy Oreo cookies.

I have three easy steps to help you with this; find your tribe, listen, and share.

Find your Tribe
I love the concept of tribes. Small, or large, groups of individuals rallying around an idea, topic, brand, movement. Harley-Davidson owners are a tribe. Cross-Fitters are a tribe. Jeep owners are a tribe. Runners are a tribe. I like to think of tribes as people who are sharing in a deep interest, respect, and pride for a product, place, idea, or movement. Ever been at an athletic event where your team is the visitor? Everyone else is wearing the other team’s colors but not you, you rocked your team. What happens next? You immediately seek out other people who are in that tribe. “Ah, I’m not the only Sox fan in this section. Phew.” Maybe nothing is said between the two of you more than some eye contact and a head nod but that doesn’t matter, another tribe member is there and you are at ease. You are no longer alone. This happens with runners all the time, “I don’t know you but you are running, just like me, here is your friendly head nod/wave.”

Finding your tribe online without knowing what tribe you are looking for can be like walking into a Costco and just wandering the aisles with no rhyme or reason. You must have an idea of what you want to get and where to get it. Search for who the contributors are in the tribe you want to join. Are they on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube? Find them, follow them, and listen.

Don’t jump in with both feet. Don’t even dip your toes in. Just watch and listen. Watch how the tribe interacts. How often they share, what they share, how the conversations get started and what keeps them going. We don’t do this enough. People are sometimes surprised to hear that with #SAchat, I watched and lurked to get a sense of what was going on for a few weeks (shoot it may have been more than a month). I suspect many, many, many people do this. It is a great way to learn. There is no need to participate in every chat by tweeting. You can participate by lurking and learning. Whether it is Twitter, a Facebook group, or a Linkedin group – join and then sit back and see how things work.

Now that you’ve seen how the tribe is functioning you can jump in and start sharing. Don’t do this all at once. You can start out by commenting on what other people are doing. Offering encouragement and support where appropriate. Ask questions. Engage, frequently. Connections grow through regularly occurring interactions and contact. The more they see your name, the more you will come to their mind when it comes to a certain topic or area. You don’t have proclaim yourself as a resource, other people will put you on that pedestal. In the meantime, you should just be doing what you do whether that means sharing insight, opinions, articles, or provocative questions. Do what you do, let the tribe determine how (and if) you are useful.

“Meeting” People Online
If you have joined a tribe, listened for a while, and have started sharing you can start “meeting” people. This takes some time. You don’t plant a garden one day and expect fresh ripe tomatoes the next. It could be a week, it could be a month, it could be a few months. Put the effort in and then make the move. It could be as simple as this:

“Hey Jane, I wanted to reach out and let you know that your blog post the other day really hit home for me. It was exactly what I needed and I just wanted to let you know. Thanks for writing it and keep on writing!”

“Hi Mark, Thanks for all the articles you’ve been sharing recently. It seems like we have a few perspectives in common when it comes to vanilla ice cream and french fries. I’d love to pick your brain about this more. If you are interest and available, would you have some time to chat either on the phone or via Google Hangout? Cheers, J”

Just be aware, someone may connect with you that you may not immediately see “value” in. Connections online are not always mutual. I connect with people online who I know will teach me and push me. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will want to follow back. What I value in them, they may not value in me. This is okay. As much as I would like to say that networking is a game based in mutuality, it is often not.

From Online to IRL
Yes, the news likes to make it seem that meeting people from online is this big scary thing. Yes, there are horror stories of Craiglist murderers, kidnappings, and worse things I care not to mention. However, I have had nothing but good luck with the people and relationships I have built online transferring over into the face-t0-face world. Now, I didn’t follow someone and say, “Hey, let’s meet in person!” No. That takes months, sometimes years! If you are having fun conversations and intellectual sparring matches on Twitter, take it to e-mail. If e-mail is going really well and the conversation is flowing on and off, take it to Facebook. Once you both feel like you have a good idea of who the person really is, set up a few Google Hangouts or phone calls. Then, after all that, meet in a public area (just to be safe). “Hey, let’s meet at the park at 11 p.m. by the shadowy gate with no lights!” Should be a red flag. Meet for coffee in the afternoon at a popular place with lots of people to make sure everything and everyone is comfortable. Do this a few times, heck, do it as many times as you need to. No one is saying this person has to come to your home!

The point is, take it slow. Get to know the person and find out who they really are. This again, takes effort but it is worth it. I speak with a great sense of biased because I’ve been very good (or extremely lucky) at picking great people to take from just connections to friendships. My favorite proof to show off (oh yea, I’m showing off) is the two photos below from our wedding. The best is hearing this interaction, “Oh, so who is that person over there? Where did you meet them, at school or something? From where? Twit what? From Twitter?!”  I’ll let the captions and smiles speak for themselves.

What I’m saying is, you wouldn’t invite someone you met at a coffee shop into your home after knowing them for fifteen minutes, would you? The same goes for taking online interactions and turning them into in real life interactions. Take your time. Figure out what you want and where to find it. Once you’ve done those two things then it is up to you to listen, share, and engage. Good luck!


Lisa (@lmendersby) came from Canada. CANADA to come to our wedding. We had only met less than 3 years prior and met IRL at conferences I think three times before that.


I met Chris (@chrisconzen) via Twitter about 3 or 4 years before our wedding. We tweeted. We e-mailed. We Facebooked. We then met at conferences. Then we met for coffee and brainstorms. Then we ran together. Then I asked him to be one of my Groomsmen. From Twitter to Groomsmen in about 3 years. Don’t try to tell me social media isn’t real interactions or communication.

Small Groups in Classrooms & Conferences

This is a special shout out to Amma and Sue because the I’s really do have it.

I recently returned for my second and final semester in the CUNY School of Professional Studies where I am finishing a Graduate Certificate in Adult Learning with focuses on Program Design and Facilitation.It has been a very eye opening experience that leaves me to believe that even without a graduate degree in higher education specifically, much of this material and research isn’t discussed in college-aged adult discussions. This coming of course from the one course I took junior year that was on student development theory (Hi Chickering!).

In any case, in my capstone course that is requiring us to do 12.5 hours of in class facilitation (love it!) we had an interesting discussion about how educators work a room and engage a crowd. The professor posed a question that immediately led me to think of Sue and Amma, as well as my other self-proclaimed introverted friends.

The professor said, “Okay. How many have been in a classroom or a conference where the presenter suddenly says, “Now turn to your left or your right and discuss this with the person next to you” ?

Side bar: I hate when presenters do this. It makes me feel as though the presenters couldn’t fill the allotted time slot so let’s fill some time with the audience talking amongst themselves. I get it. I know there is value in it. If I come to your session, I want to here from you first. I’ll follow up with the person sitting next to me afterwards!

We all groaned and sighed as a response to her question. She then gave me something that I will forever take on to any conference or presentation I give should I ever see the need for small group discussions.

“What if instead we said, “Okay, now turn to the person to your left or right and discuss this with them or if you prefer to, take a few moments to your self and write out what you think about this,” what would happen then? 

Mind blown. Why hadn’t someone thought of that before? I’ve never heard of such a concept. I’ve heard of free writes sure but never offered as an alternative to forced group discussions.

I’m an extrovert 80% of the time but I think when I’m prompted to speak to my neighbor in a session, I’m going to opt for the pen and paper and spar with my thoughts.

The self-awareness, capability, and talent to make powerful use of time to reflect whether it is in writing, doodles, or drawings on the paper is something that we all could use from time to time. And that, my friends, is what the I’s have.

Avoiding the Conference Hangover

You’ve just returned to campus from a somewhat exotic location with hopefully better weather than what you are seeing outside of your window right now.

Next to your desk you have a reusable recycled bag filled with flyers, hand-outs, triangle highlighters, USB keys, a key chain that has the world’s smallest computer mouse attached to it and a notebook full of notes. That or you’ve opened up your Evernote account and realized how many notes, ideas, questions, and strategies you’ve heard about from the sessions you’ve attended and quickly close it to handle the 50+ e-mail messages, 10 voice mails, and desk full of Post-It to-dos.

“I don’t have time for this yet. Let me get settled then I’ll go through the conference stuff.”

A day goes by, “Ugh, I have to handle this mini-crisis first. Let me get this settled then I’ll go through the conference stuff.”

It’s Friday. “You know, let me tackle this on Monday when I have a fresh start. I need to give my brain a rest and recover from the traveling. Let me get that settled then I’ll go through the conference stuff.”

Monday comes and so do a new round of e-mails, voicemails, and to-do. All of a sudden you are in April making the rounds of the chicken and cheesecake banquet circuit, then comes May with graduations and hall closings, then June with Orientations, July with vacations, and September you realize that bag in the corner with a layer of dust hasn’t been touched.

Here’s the thing – whenever it is you do decide to digest, decipher, and discuss what you’ve learned I have three simple tips you should follow.

1. You need to STOP
Seriously. Stop. That amazing orientation idea that involved Twitter, balloons, a scavenger hunt, and the faculty in grass skirts cheering students on sounded great in the hotel conference room but stop. Stop before you share it. Stop before you send that e-mail saying, “I heard about this great idea, we should do…? STOP. Why? Because…

2. You need to reassess
You are stopping because you need to get off your conference high and really think about what works for YOUR campus. That huge university with the 5-tiered leadership program that includes off-site retreats and on-campus ropes course training complete with faculty mentors and athletic coaches worked for that campus culture. Look at the structure and the purpose of the program to find the main idea, then reassess what aspects of it would work for you. You may have just heard about a recipe that makes the most amazing walnut-chocolate chip cookies but your campus has a nut allergy. This means you have to adjust and see how you can make it work which brings me to…

3. You need to revamp
That great idea with the enormous budget? Subtract the enormous budget and all you are left with is a great idea. Revamp the plan /program you heard about to fit your campus. Find the aspects that worked really well and could be easily replicated without major cost. Did they have an interesting approach to marketing? Did they tap new resources that also happen to be on your campus? Did they share a tactic that could work with your campus politics with a few tweaks? Start thinking how the ideas could be applied to your campus, not how the programs can be regurgitated and re-manufactured.

What makes me a pro at this? Nothing. I simply have been lucky enough to go to a lot of major conferences early in my career and have come back to campus bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to change the world only to realize, what works at XYZ institution isn’t going to work at ABC institution.

When I do go to another conference (looking at you Indy) I won’t be looking for programs, proposals, handouts, or how-tos. I’m going to be looking for ideas.

Ideas are like recipes. There is always a substitute for an ingredient to make it work for your diet, your guests, your audience; it is just a matter of finding it and that’s my favorite thing to do.