I remember it all too well

all too well
“It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well.”

Listening to Taylor Swift’s lament in her beautiful and evocative “All Too Well: The Short Film” I feel my own grief well up. My last in-person engagement was a wonderful two-day workshop with several hundred cardiologists in Texas. January 28 and 29, 2020. As I’m writing this, that was twenty-two months ago.

Since then, I’ve worked with many groups online. But it’s not the same.

I’m sure you can relate. Yes, it’s wonderful to be instantly connected, with video and sound, to likeminded folks, friends, and family scattered around the country or globe. So much better than the only option in my youth — the telephone. Long-distance phone calls then cost so much that speaking to someone far away or, heaven help us, internationally was a rare treat.

But it’s not the same.

I miss doing what I love to do. Facilitating connection between people around what matters to them. Creating meetings that become what the participants want and need. The magic of the unexpected that appears when you least expect it, and, sometimes, changes peoples’ lives.

Yes, that magic can and does happen online. But, in my experience, it’s much rarer.

In-person versus online meetings

Online, we meet using group-focused platforms that don’t have the power, nuance, and flexibility of in-person meetings.

  • We can’t touch, hug, or connect physically.
  • Even if an individual’s camera is on, the resolution still isn’t good enough to read their micro expressions of emotion and body language that inform our experience of and connection with them.
  • We can’t move to different environments online like we can in person: from sharing in a circle to learning about other participants via human spectrograms, from sharing with a neighbor to talking while walking.

The platforms themselves impose additional restrictions. In Zoom, for example:

  • Spontaneous side conversations are restricted to private chat — if it’s enabled.
  • A facilitator can’t “feel the room” during small group work, because there’s no way to simultaneously monitor breakout rooms. This important task is far easier to do in person, by simply walking around and noticing what’s going on.
  • Attendee attention is hard to sense. Are they listening intently, ignoring what’s going on, or browsing TikTok? Even when their camera is on, it’s difficult to tell. And if their camera is off…

Online social platforms can provide an experience much closer to that of an in-person social. Participants can see who’s “in the room” and decide whom to talk with, either one-to-one or small group, in public or private. In the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed holiday parties with folks who could never have practically got together in person, and these platforms are well worth exploring if you haven’t already.

But it’s not the same as hanging out with and making new friends in person.

The grief

And we’re back to the grief. “It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well.” I see a photo of a meeting I attended with so many friends, and I miss them, and wonder if/when I’ll see them again in-person rather than on a screen.

September 2, 2011, Event Camp Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN

I feel it. It’s good to remember the past, to feel the pain of its absence now, to be in touch with it, to acknowledge its presence. And then I return to working on being in the present, with my grief a part of me.

Have I Met You Before? Three ways to minimize embarrassment when meeting people

Have I Met You Before
An embarrassing incident
I was hanging out at the Marlboro South Pond Regatta, a whimsical affair where local sailors of all stripes and abilities casually “race” around a few buoys in the lake, sometimes stopping to chat mid-race with each other or watch our beautiful loons. (They carry their babies on their backs — see photo!)

A man passed, and our eyes met for a moment. “Have I met him before?” I thought. “He looks very familiar.” But I couldn’t make the connection, and said nothing.

A few minutes later, my wife, who was talking to a woman I didn’t recognize, turned to me and said, “You remember Lisa don’t you?” Memory flooded back, and I realized that I’d met Lisa on Anguilla 18 months ago when she and the familiar man, whose name I now remembered as Willy, had visited the island.

I felt a little embarrassed.

This happens all the time
As a facilitator of conferences and meetings, I meet and talk with hundreds of people every year. I used to be pretty good at recognizing people I’d previously met, and was invariably able to remember their name, the circumstances, and what we talked about.

These days, my memory for these things…well, it sucks.

While I’m with people, I remember them well and can be with them effectively, using the information they’ve shared to explore new areas and deepen the relationship.

But within a few days, my recollection starts to blur. Circumstances, names, and details of our conversations disappear from short-term memory, and if I later see someone again I often can’t put them in context. A reminder brings my memory back, but needing one can be embarrassing. I don’t want to forget the people I meet — but my aging brain is less cooperative.

What to do?
I don’t want to fake remembering someone when I can’t initially place them. Having an aide with flawless recall at my side wherever I go, ready to whisper “that’s Merrigan Pertussis; you met her at the 2012 Nutrition for Athletes; in September you water-skied with her younger brother Placido in Ibiza” would be nice, but, unfortunately, is not an option for me or, I suspect, most people.

So here are three ways to minimize embarrassment when meeting people whom you might have met before.

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