Ladders: How to re-embrace face-to-face instead of virtual everything

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When was the last time you wondered how to let someone know exactly what you were thinking without using a gif or emoji?

“The increase in technology within recent years, although bringing about many positives to society, has had a detrimental effect on communication,” said Neil Shah, founder and director of The Stress Management Society who’s working with RESCUE on sharing ways to help people reduce stress.

All that screen time also has resulted in “people becoming less effective and comfortable communicating face to face,” said Shah. More than that, “face-to-face communication is becoming increasingly uncomfortable and stressful for many, and a lot of people tend to overthink it. The less we engage in personal communication the harder it becomes.”

We can all agree that socializing in person is important, but increasingly difficult and confusing after all that screen time.

In a previous professional incarnation, I used to produce a lot of glittery events including schmancy celebrity studded parties around Fashion Week and the Academy Awards, and international networking events. I’ve always been fairly gregarious, but even I would get nervous at times.

Here are some things I learned about how to socialize successfully:

1. Plan in advance

If you head to a conference and panic when faced with a room full of hundreds of strangers, you may end up just heading back to your hotel room and skipping everything — and then kicking yourself for wasting an opportunity. Try researching any relevant hashtags in advance and pay attention to conversations happening online and then join in. You’ll find familiar faces and potential kindred spirits in advance, so you won’t feel like you’re walking into a room alone. It’s also a nice way of blending your social media self with the 3D version of yourself!

2. Have a wingman … or three

One of my schticks when hosting an event was to position myself near the door and greet each and every guest. I understood that not everyone loves to socialize, and that on some level they were there because I invited them (or because of the swag). But even the most socially gifted among us can sometimes blank out on a face or name. For that reason, I’d always have one or more of my interns positioned near the door and I’d ask them to escort in each guest and introduce them by name. It wasn’t just a nice touch, it made the guests feel welcome — it also reminded me who I needed to be extra nice to. If you’re at a networking event, you can ask a trusted friend to keep an eye out for anyone you really want to talk to, and take it from there.

3. The rule of one

Professional networking can be excruciating. For that reason, I always remind myself that I don’t have to connect on a deeper level with everyone in the room. In fact, I tell myself that if I only get one great result from the event, it will have been worth it. One new contact, one interesting industry related conversation, one new resource — If I manage that, my time was successfully spent.

4. Choose wisely

As I get ready to launch a brand new professional networking group this spring, I am ever mindful of my past mistakes. Life is too short to spend listening to long schpiels about widgets. Don’t feel bad about turning down invitations to events that sound boring or feature nothing beneficial to you for the long term. Conversely, if you’re the one doing the planning, carefully curate your guest list and then cull as needed. You’ll build a loyal and interesting group instead of a huge one filled with people everyone will avoid.

5. It isn’t always fun

If you realize that cocktail parties involve both cocktails and the word party but are, in essence, about building your professional standing or network, you’ll have a better mindset. Know that enjoying yourself is the bonus, but networking and work lunches still have the same bottom line — business first.

Shah also offered some tips to help stress less when face-to-face:

  • Try progressive muscle relaxation; tensing, holding, then releasing muscles, has also been proven to lower both physical and mental stress.
  • Mirror the other person’s movements and expressions: mirroring someone creates a social bond
    in the other person’s brain and lead to rapport, lowering any potential conflict.
  • If you make a fool of yourself, stay positive. Often when we mess up, no one really notices, or even cares.


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