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.

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.

Share
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!

lisawedding

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.

conzenwedding

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.

Sick Days

photo from Flickr stream of RLHyde (http://www.flickr.com/photos/breatheindigital/)

photo from Flickr stream of RLHyde (http://www.flickr.com/photos/breatheindigital/)

I have a bone to pick when it comes to sick days. A sick day shouldn’t require you to be sneezing, coughing, chugging green tea and sipping soup. Taking a sick day should not make you feel like a lesser employee. It shouldn’t make you feel guilt for your body telling you “hey, you need a break!” If anything, you should feel guilty for driving your body to the point where it can no longer fight off disease and forces you to stop.

In fact, maybe the language of calling it a “sick” day should be expelled from our lexicon. Instead, let’s re-frame it and call it a “wellness” day because that’s what they really should be.

Showing up to work while you feel under the weather, exhausted, or just plain out of it costs employers an estimated $160 BILLION a year. That’s twice the amount it costs employers when you call out!

Wellness days are more than likely part of your compensation package (especially if you are a salaried employee) and you should feel no guilt in using them. Taking a day for your wellness be it physical, mental, spiritual, is good for you and for your office. Physical = you are worn down, physically sore and exhausted. Mental = you have what a friend and I like to call “the dumb” which means your brain has simply reached its limit due to stresses and mental gymnastics of managing work life, family life, etc.  Spiritual = you feel lost, disconnected, disenchanted and need a self-centering, reflective day to get back your sense of purpose and drive. (By the way, we always speak about student mental health as a hot button issue but what about professional mental health?)

Of course, you will need those days for when you are actually ill with a bug or virus so don’t abuse this suggestion. What I am saying is take a day here or there just to refresh and relax, maybe once every other month or so. Doing that may actually decrease the amount of times you are curled up on the couch with a cold and tissues, soup and Netflix to keep you company which means you are more awake, aware, and alert for your job.

Ditch the sick day, embrace the wellness day. I’m willing to be you’ll be a better employee and contributor to your organization as a result.

(I completely understand the situation that those with hourly positions are in. A sick day means less hours, which means less of a paycheck, which could result in more stress. I’m a big advocate for paid sick leave, especially for hourly employees, because we cannot and should not expect ourselves or others to be able to work nonstop without an reprieve aside from the weekends (if you even have weekends off!). Sick days are expensive but having someone in the office who is only 50% present due to feeling under the weather isn’t good for your office and isn’t good for said employee. A happier, healthier workforce is better than a burned out, stressed workforce. What kind of workforce are you leading?) 

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.