Being in the Moment

John-Luther-3-luther-bbc-30683033-1024-768Yesterday I was leaving a client meeting in Dumbo, Brooklyn, when all of a sudden I stumbled onto the set of The Dark Tower, the movie adaptation of the popular Stephen King novels. As I watched the impressive set come together (the movie is scheduled to film in Dumbo all weekend), I decided to turn down a nearby street to keep investigating. Well, who do I see standing there but none other than Idris Elba in the flesh! Elba is starring in The Dark Tower along with Matthew McConaughey. He’s also known for playing the London copper John Luther on BBC’s Luther, one of my all-time favorite shows. Of course, I didn’t hesitate to tell him that!

In fact, I refused to curb any of my enthusiasm. I had run into a big TV/movie star completely unexpectedly in one of those great New York moments that you just don’t get in Iowa. The 92 degree day had gotten even hotter!

The way I approached Elba made his entourage chuckle. I lowered my sunglasses and said, “I am completely blown away to run into you Idris Elba. I am such a fan!” Mind you, I began my career in television so I’ve come across my fair share of celebrities over the years, but Elba has a star quality that you simply don’t see every day. He exudes charm and charisma, and of course, that sexy accent doesn’t hurt either! Hearing him say, “Thank you, sweetheart,” made my day. As for our handshake, let’s just say I didn’t wash my hand for several hours! I even blew him a kiss as I walked away, and I’m happy to say he blew one right back. It was a memorable encounter and a fabulous way to start the weekend.

Afterward, it dawned on me that perhaps I should go back and take a selfie with him.  However, seeing him with a bunch of people ready to go back on set, I decided I didn’t want to be too disruptive. I opted to soak up the moment, to enjoy the interaction and savor the memory that was created. I went the old school route. No iPhones, no Instagram, no hassling him to get the perfect two-shot. Just him and me havin’ a laugh and a handshake on a summer afternoon. That image doesn’t have to live on a phone; instead it’ll live in my mind and create a smile for years to come.

 

 

 

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Long live the business card

Remember when business professionals always carried a card on them? “Here’s my card,” was an undeniable part of business speak, especially when wheeling and dealing.

Now, you don’t see that as much anymore. You’re referred to people’s LinkedIn profiles or Facebook pages or Twitter handles. One quick search on all these sites and you’re able to connect with a person in minutes.

While a lack of paper business cards might be good news for tree-lovers, I think it’s getting in the way of our identities. A business card is an extension of our brand; it’s a way to present your contact information in a compact, portable channel – something that people can keep handy when they want to give you a ring or drop you an email. If people want to find you on social media, your handle names are right there on the card – all in one place.bizcard

Sure, not having business cards means less to carry and yes, it is a cost-saver if you don’t create them, but if you want to build a business rapport with someone, you must carry some with you. It’s simply more personal. And most importantly, they make you stand out. They have your unique design on them. You’re not just another LinkedIn profile blended together with all the other Richard Joneses or Jennifer Smiths.

Heck, even in the social scene, people don’t write down their phone numbers any more. If I meet a guy at a party, he’ll tell me to find him on Facebook. Um, bad idea. Do I really need to see photos of his ex? Nope. A simple pen and paper to write down a phone number is fine; but nobody carries around writing instruments any more (except us writers).

Socially, people also type their numbers into people’s phones. “Put in your number and I’ll text you so you have mine.” What if I don’t want your number in my phone? What if we go out once and the date is horrible? Yes, you can delete the number easily, but there’s something about physically holding a piece of paper (or a business card) that’s more relaxed. I feel comfortable knowing that the number or email address is there should I decide to reach out. Once a number is programmed into a person’s phone, it immediately leads to a deluge of texts. It’s added traffic I don’t necessarily want. You don’t make the address book cut unless I know there’s going to be a repeat connection.

On a sentimental note, I’ve cherished cocktail napkins or post-its containing names and numbers of guys I’ve liked. They become warm and fuzzy mementos of the time we met. You can’t say that about an electronic contact; they’re just digits in a phone sandwiched between your accountant’s and your hairdresser’s.

How to Cure Vacation Envy

If you’re a busy freelancer like I am, odds are you don’t have much time for a vacation this summer. 

As you look at people’s Facebook photos or admire the tans on friends just returning from week-long breaks, it’s hard not to feel a little envious. Of course, it’s great to have work but sunny skies can make us long for a bit of down time.

What to do if you don’t have time to book that Expedia package? Create your own little vacationland. 

1. Download a pretty screen saver – Just because you’re not in Bermuda, doesn’t mean you can’t gaze at its turquoise waters.IMG_2191

2. Pick a scenic spot to grab lunch – If there’s a park or river views nearby, sit on a bench and take in the scenery as you unwrap your sandwich. sceniclunchspot

3. Plan a day trip or a quick weekend getaway – Okay, it’s not a 1-2 week vacation, but sometimes a short jaunt is all you need to recharge your batteries. I just returned from a weekend trip to Mystic, Connecticut so I speak from experience!Mystic

4. Get your drink on – On the weekends or after work, order a daiquiri or a margarita and you’ll suddenly be transported to a tropical island. frozendrinks

5. Look toward the future – You may not have time to travel now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t book a trip for the fall, winter, or spring. It’ll give you something to look forward to and soon, your screen shot will come to life!

Look Me in the Eye – or Can You?

The other night, while I was having dinner with my friend, there were two young women seated next to us. As my friend and I were enjoying a nice meal and stimulating dinner conversation, we noticed our “neighbors” weren’t saying a word to each other. Why, you ask? They were texting!

No, they weren’t texting each other. They were messaging other friends (or boyfriends), and carrying on separate, “silent” conversations. They did momentarily converse with one another to compare messages and have a giggle. But through it all, they didn’t look each other in the eye.

That got me thinking how little eye contact there is left. When I’m on the subway pressed against my fellow straphangers, we don’t look at each other. You see the tops of people’s heads because they’re playing games on their phones or they’re reading their Kindles.

If you’re seated at the bar waiting for a friend to arrive, you don’t make eye contact with people; you gaze at your phone, perusing the Web or checking your text messages. Don’t be surprised if the number of people meeting in bars has gone down. Instead of people checking you out, they’re checking themselves “in” on Facebook or FourSquare.iPhoneTexting

So where do you draw the line? Is it possible for people to balance digital and face-to-face conversations in their social lives?

With all the distractions our smartphones have (e.g. camera, Internet, SMS, games, apps, social media), there’s just too much temptation. Unless some type of etiquette is set, interpersonal communication will continue to be disrupted.

Perhaps restaurants (like gyms and movie theaters) can discourage the use of mobile phones. Or they can establish mobile-free zones, much like the old days of smoking and non-smoking sections.

Otherwise, “social” settings will be anything but.

Everyone Loves A Good Story

In corporate communications, storytelling has long been recognized as a successful tool to communicate important messaging. It’s easier to reach employees with engaging content that pertains to them. People want to read about people – the faces behind the words. Image

Of course, the power of storytelling extends beyond the workplace. We might enjoy a good story at a party, over a gossipy lunch with the gals, or while reading weekly issues of our favorite magazines.

Okay. So we’ve established that people love a good story but do we ever think about why we’re so attracted to the technique?

The love of stories dates back to our childhood. How many times did our parents read us a story when they tucked us in at night? Their soothing words would lull us into a deep sleep. We felt comforted by the strong bonds that formed. And a good night story was our opportunity to wind down after a long day of school and homework.

Fast forward to adulthood and not much has changed. Effective storytelling provides escapism. Whether it takes place at a water cooler in the office or on the phone with a friend, storytelling is our chance to relate, engage, and entertain. Without storytelling, there would be no rapports. It’s an opportunity to share and keep things personal – whether you’re in an office or enjoying a Friday happy hour with friends.

Without storytelling, we wouldn’t be human. It’s what connects us. If we didn’t have it, we’d all be machines, just carrying out our day-to-day tasks with a bit of small talk here and there, at best.

Having covered a plethora of conferences over the years, I’m pleased to see more executives relating their own personal experiences to connect with audiences. And it’s working: surveys are revealing that employees want to hear from bosses, and that they want to feel connected to companies’ visions, missions, and values. It’s those stories that will help keep staff feeling connected. Effective internal communications tools will help to ensure that employees will also receive a voice and have the chance to share their own stories and experiences inside the company.

Thanks to social media, we all have platforms where we can share stories, whether they’re on Facebook or on a blog post like this one.

Storytelling helps us to feel, to empathize, to understand, to appreciate, to take action, to vent, to connect. It keeps things real.

Has technology made us lazier communicators?

Remember when we used to wait by the phone to ring or when we checked our answering machines when we got home, in anticipation of a special phone call? We relished the communication and our hearts skipped a beat when we heard the person’s voice.

Now, it’s Facebook. Or Twitter. We get a ping. Or a poke. Or a Like.

HiRes

We don’t get a Happy Birthday phone call but there’s a post on our walls. Any recognition is nice, of course, but what’s missing is the personal aspect of communication. I won’t dwell on this too much because by now, there have been countless articles and blogs about this. But a newer trend I have been noticing is that blogs and Facebook/LinkedIn posts have been getting less comments. But they are getting Likes.

Similarly on Twitter, you tend to see a lot of re-tweets or favorites, but there are fewer conversations. And rather than personally messaging people to thank them for a follow, many tweeters are programming annoying auto-responses with a link to their websites. Boy, that’s personal.

My point: technology is resulting in less effort to communicate. It only takes a second to hit a Like button but to actually have to comment and participate in a back-and-forth conversation? Forget about it. People just don’t have the time these days. However, they do seem to have time to play Candy Crush or Pengle. Games win out over thinking and communicating any day.

Technology and social media are great, but through all our gadgets, texting, and tweeting, we mustn’t let our brains turn to mush. We need to remember to keep engaging, keep conversing, and keep building the relationships that we want to grow. We need to actually be SOCIAL.

A lesson in commuting etiquette

Apologies for the lack of blog posts in recent weeks. I recently took on an exciting long-term editorial assignment so I’ve been happily busy amid scores of print and digital copy.

Unlike many of my other freelance writing gigs, this job requires me to work in an office, putting me back into the 9-5 commuter world. Being shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of New Yorkers in tight subway cars is actually a job in itself! You never know what sights and smells you will encounter on any given day.

Rather than sigh and complain, I’ve decided to post this lesson in commuter etiquette which will hopefully inspire slightly better behavior and more pleasant train (and bus) rides across the city.

Here are 5 ways in which our commutes can be made more bearable. Riders, are you listening?:

1. No perfume before 9am – The other morning I nearly gagged on a floral scent worn by the woman sitting next to me. At 8am, a strong smell like that is hard to take, yet alone at any time of day. My advice? Save the heavy perfumes for your hot Friday night dates, not an early morning subway ride. And gentlemen, that means you too. The only old spice I want to smell at that hour is the cinnamon in my cappucino. If the offensive perfume smell wasn’t enough that morning, the woman wearing it was sitting so close to me, she was practically in my lap, which brings me to Tip #2.

2. Mind the gap – No, I’m not talking about the gap between the train and the platform, I’m referring to the amount of space between seated riders on a train. If you see there’s hardly any room, don’t sit there. If I had a choice between being squashed or standing up, I’d choose standing every time. So why don’t other people feel the same?

3. Listen to the music (but quietly, please) – Okay, we all like our music (myself included), but is there really a need to blast it from your iPod or iPhone? Maybe the rest of us don’t want to hear “Blurred Lines” for the 1000th time or the latest Justin Timberlake song. So do us a favor – by all means, enjoy your tunes, but do so responsibly. Hey, you’ll benefit too – you’ll reduce your chances of going deaf!

4. Get a grip – Actually, #4 is not about griping; it’s about gripping. My “tips for grips” when riding the subway is to hold onto the poles via the palms of your hand (instead of grasping them with your fingers). It’s simply more sanitary. And if you do wind up fully gripping the poles, make sure you have some hand sanitizer nearby. (Frankly, I don’t know why the MTA doesn’t install hand sanitizer dispensers at subway stations – if gyms and hospitals can have them, why not subways? We pay enough for our metrocards!)

5. To the left, to the left – My final tip is an organizational one. In London, what I like most about riding the Tube is that commuters are instructed to stay to the left of stairs and escalators so those in a hurry can pass them on the left. It’s very organized and works well. Why New York does not follow in London’s footsteps is beyond me. Every morning it takes several minutes for people to navigate the stairs at the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center station. With so many people moving in all different directions, transferring lines or exiting a station can become a complete headache. Why not implement a system like London’s that will keep foot traffic flowing?

Got that, MTA?