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Rediscovering “Being In-Person” By Relearning Our Human Connections

It’s time to rediscover “being in-person!

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to present a humorous, motivational live to an in-person audience. After sixteen months of talking to a Zoom gallery of muted heads, I got to stand in the same physical space as my audience and have a full-on shared human experience. Honestly, it felt exhilarating and strange.

I shared my enthusiasm during my opening comments: “I am going to be able to have eye contact and see your facial expressions. I am even going to be able hear you breathe and chew! How exciting is this?”

So, I approached my group with the exuberance of someone who had finally escaped from her 9’ X 12’ home office. And I also became a social behavior scientist, exploring a new exotic land, as I observed how we experienced each other during these first momentous moments.

As I drove home for two and half hours in traffic (yes, it’s back!) I had ample time to reflect. I asked myself “What was I able to accomplish in a live setting that I could not do in a virtual setting?”

I found being in person more different than I imagined. When I was standing in a room populated with breathing, living fellow humans, I was able to:

  • Converse with the attendees on a one-to-one basis – I experienced the joy of saying “Hi! Nice to meet you.” And I could spend a few moments giving the individual my undivided attention. How cool is that?
  • Listen aka eavesdrop on attendees’ banter – to hear people in real-time provided an appreciation of “where they were” at that moment. Like any other good speaker, I conduct prep interviews, but nothing beats a “really up to the minute” update.
  • Adjust my remarks – I could acknowledge the topic of the prior presenter. There’s an old-time showbiz adage that goes “never work with children or animals.” Well, the 2021 adage should be: “Never follow the cyberspace vulnerability, hacking, and related costs presenter.“ Yes, that topic is quite an effective mood shifter, guaranteed to take everyone from positive to stressed. So, when it was my turn to address the group, I had to address the “negative thought bubble” looming over our heads.
  • Pivot and shift – I made my way through the session in ways that I would be unable to do in a virtual session. I was adjusting my material as I went to build on the group’s energy. I could do this only because I was able to experience it first-hand. Instead of making assumptions from my side of a Zoom rectangle.
  • See people laugh, turn to each and comment – As they listened to my “Learned It-In-Queens Lessons Learned “ during 2020, they could interact and sympathize with each other.
  • Swat someone on their shoulder – I reacted to their comment impulsively! Listen, I was surprised as you would be when I realized that I touched someone in person. 
  • Quietly stand in front of someone and glare  – The attendees’ reaction helped me when I caught someone looking down at their cell phone from their front seat! They clearly need to read my book!
  • Eat! – As I’ve written on multiple occasions, a shared meal and good conversation is the best way to build a connection.

Remember “in real life” is different. We not only have to wear shoes, we also have the opportunity to really interact. It’s an opportunity to make deper connections, listen more acutely and learn faster.

Whether you are gathering your team for an in-person meeting or attending an in-person event, try sharing stories about what you’ve learned, why it mattered, and how you plan to use it going forward. That added personal touch will help you during the small and big moments of reentry, reconnection, and eye contact. Enjoy!

Julienne B. Ryan is an applied storyteller, speaker, and the author ofThe Learned-It-In-Queen Communications Playbook — Winning Against Digital Distraction“ She likes to find humor and irony in everyday situations and use it to guide her clients’ communications, teamwork, and productivity!.