A few weeks ago, I was walking down the street in Buenos Aires when I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that read, “The internet was closed so I came outside today.” It was funny because there was so much truth to it.
Every year, we develop new ways to communicate with one another. These tools give us more and more ways to build community with friends, family, and colleagues around the world. For example, a few hours after I saw the T-shirt in Buenos Aires, I sat down at the café across from my apartment in San Telmo, tweeted a picture of my perfect coffee and croissant, and used the restaurant’s Wifi to Skype with my family in the United States.
But sometimes these new ways of communicating can dull our interpersonal, in-the-moment responsiveness. Why challenge someone at a staff meeting when I can simply email the whole team and carefully choose my words? Why answer a phone call when I can wait for the other person to leave a message and think carefully about my response?
It’s becoming easier than ever to avoid face-to-face communication. But it’s ultimately unavoidable. At some point, we will be called on to give a speech, pitch an idea, or answer a question in front of our team. And we want to be that same confident individual in person as we are on email.
In this constantly evolving world of overlapping communication tools, the simplicity of face-to-face dialogue becomes more important than ever. The combination of a passionate voice, penetrating eye contact, and an authentic personal story can motivate a group of people like no email or web page can. That’s why I love TED talks, which combine inspiring ideas with passionate delivery.
So my advice in this New Year is: make sure your offline profile matches your online profile. Spend as much time investing in your interpersonal communication skills as you do learning all the new digital tools that will surely come. Tweet from a café in Buenos Aires or Boston, sharing that perfect moment in time with the world - and then make conversation with the person at the next table, enjoying the thrill of spontaneous, unplanned, unprepared dialogue. Go outside, even if the Internet is “open.”
Allison M. Shapira teaches public speaking in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Communication Program and consults to entrepreneurs, executives, diplomats, public officials, and nonprofit leaders from around the world. She is a Boston World Partnerships Connector.
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