Return To “Being In Person” A Welcome, And Good Exhausting Reminder Of What We Missed…
Usually after not doing something mentally or physically for quite a while it takes a bit of a restart to get back into the flow. Amazingly we found it true about the return to live business events as well. Tuesday I made the trek to midtown to the CAA World Congress of Sports, the first live in person business event I have been to since leaving the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference in Boston 18 months ago.
It was mentally exhausting, but as they say, a good exhausting. I was surprised at the end of the day to hear how many people say that their frame of mind and their focus had been noticeably altered by being away from such larger scale events for such an extended period of time…the slight complaints of headaches and tiredness, both of which were offset by high fives and hugs…was pretty universal by six o’clock cocktails, and more than a few people from out of NY had retreated to their rooms, some to admittedly take a nap.
Regardless, the return to live events brings back the randomness of showing up and connecting with colleagues new and old, something that was lost during the past 18 months. While we hid behind screens and events promised special “networking rooms,” there is nothing like being there and getting a smile, or a high five from someone you would rarely see directly in any online platform. In a business of human contact and relationships, that randomness is a treasured tradition that we have all missed. It brings back increased focus on conversations, forces one to be less distracted, and really helps reengage the mental skill of listening and conversation, something which slipped away, probably for all of us, during this time.
That focus is also something I have noticed in classroom settings as well. Since we are back in the room at Columbia, but cannot have guests come in yet, we are in a bit of a hybrid more. What has been interesting to watch is the subconscious shift of attention when groups are watching a screen vs, when someone is right in front of them. No matter how hard one tries, the distractions from a device, from something else in the room, from something you notice elsewhere in the area, are pretty rampant. The lack of need for eye contact allows one to wander a bit, and even the most focused seem to lose just a bit of focus after just a few minutes. When you are in the room, any room, with an actual person in conversation, your focus, and your mental acuity is in the moment. When we are in front of a screen, it is less so.
Now not everyone is yet ready for the big networking events of the past, and frankly, there is still a great deal of time management involved with travel and other factors that still make the occasional look in for streamed events worthwhile, not to mention the ability to view, or listen, to things going on when you want, not when they occur. We also have such more engaged social channels to bookmark and highlight things, that always “being there” may not be the best bang for the buck or the minute.
However now that I have been “back,” even in a New York City that is still nowhere near “back” to what it was in the past decade, I will take the occasional mental exhaustion and headache from seeing and laughing with and learning from people “in person,” over the docile time in front of a screen, any screen.
For those I ran into Tuesday in New York, great to see you. For those we missed, I hope to see you soon, it’s been too long.