Last week, I had a great time at the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors Annual Meeting. Held each year, it's a chance for over 1,000 student life, higher education, Greek life, and other industry professionals to get together for networking, learning, entertainment, and the general wearing of nametags.
I don't know if it's the largest of its kind, but it's a big conference. I was lucky enough to get to showcase there - to be allowed 20 minutes to preview a speech of mine - and went to learn more about AFA and meet the people who work with students every day.
Before going, I knew that a hashtag (#AFAAM) would be used for attendees to watch what was going on and to let others know who would be in attendance. The week prior, I watched as people were packing, planning, and primping.
After I got home, I realized I didn't use the hashtag that much. Compared to my usual frequency, I tweeted far less at this event than many others. Why was that?
Because I was busy.
Busy meeting people.
With a smile, a handshake, and moderate social skills.
I completely understand the educational value to be had by tweeting during sessions at events. In fact, in nearly all of my keynote talks, I ask (beg) the audience to share something they find valuable and accompany it with a particular tag. But when we're tweeting every meal, picture, idea, thought, complaint, praise, question, burp, and reaction, we have a strong chance at missing out on something way bigger and better.
When the most viewed posture of an attendee at a conference is slumped shoulders, elbows at hips, arms at a 90-degree angle, and fingers tapping away on a 4-inch screen, we have a problem. If our conferences and conventions don't allow for fantastic and meaningful interaction when someone is not speaking on a stage, we're missing a very important learning and social opportunity.
Instead of "No phones allowed during the keynote session" rule, it should be "No phones allowed during breaks. Meet people, for God's sake."
The introductions I made at #AFAAM were just that - introductory. Over the next few years, some may become friendships, working relationships, or god-parenting opportunities, and many will fall by the wayside. But that's the happenstance of socialization. When we meet someone and share our name, our goals, our identity, and our personal space, we stand a chance at having a meaningful human interaction. When we stare at our glowing screens that don't give a crap about us, we miss out on something vital to our wellbeing.
These lessons don't apply just to conferences. Replace that word with any other one that is rife with potential for human conversation: church, work, family dinner, school, volunteering, eating, festival-ing.
So, here's to tweeting less at events and to hanging out a lot more.
You know - like it used to be.