download (1)Each year for the past five years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to attend the World EAP Conference, which is held in a different city in the U.S. each fall. Employee assistance professionals from roughly 40 different countries are in attendance. So even though I have never traveled abroad, I’ve still met people from all over the globe! Pretty cool, huh?

I also have the opportunity to email with people from different cities, parts of the U.S., and even other countries the remainder of the year. It’s also a good reminder how small today’s world has become to be able to tell someone, “Hey, I got an email today from China” or wherever it may be, but it still isn’t quite the same thing as face-to-face. You get to actually meet this individual, listen to him or her, even get to actually “know” this person… especially over time when you see some of these same professionals at events like annual conferences. As a result, you are able to engage in important face-to-face networking at conferences… as well as the professional development you’re able to gain in your field. Interaction and coursework is more difficult to do online… certainly not impossible in this day and age… but in my view at least it’s harder and … might I add… often not as good.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I find the whole conference experience a very refreshing, invigorating change of pace from plunking away at my computer all day, sending emails, and (sometimes) talking over the phone… which helps some, but it still isn’t the same as being in person.

It is fascinating to me that in a day and age in which we are more connected than ever in some ways... downloadin other ways, with more and more of us working remotely than ever – and even busy texting and staring at a screen even when we ARE in person… it seems as though we are also more DISCONNECTED than ever, too! Talk about irony! Remember when talking over the phone or seeing someone in person were your only options?! Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes I miss those days.

Several friends of mine travel a lot on their jobs, and so I asked them once, “Couldn’t you just set up a video conference on Skype? Why do you have to fly there?” Over time, as I’ve been to more conferences myself, I’ve seen that it wouldn’t be the same thing. There’s something about meeting someone in person, responding to nonverbal cues – and the individual responding to you! – that remains quite different. Of course, there are also often-subtle cultural differences you would never pick up on without being face to face.

So the moral of the story is this… The next time you are at a conference…. seminar… workshop… whatever you want to call it… be sure to introduce yourself to at LEAST several new people… AND… if it isn’t possible to eliminate hauling out your smartphone… and it probably isn’t realistic… at least cut back on the time you spend texting or otherwise focusing on your mobile device. For instance, spend the time you’d otherwise spend on your smartphone by “absorbing” your environment. Who in the room (large or small) is smiling? Laughing? Engrossed? Bored? Take note of roughly how many people are in the room. And so on.

You’ll have loads of other times you can be completely engaged on your mobile device, so while you’re at a conference or other event, take advantage of all the face-to-face opportunities you can. There is no reason to be “disengaged” when you can be engaged! As I say, maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it’s been my experience that you won’t regret conversations or other interaction.