Monday, November 01, 2010

Twitter is Today's Civic Club - #140conf Speech in Hutchinson Kansas.

Today was the 140conf in Hutchinson, Kansas. It's the first ever smalltown one, and they're making plans to return next year - tentatively on Sept. 20, so make your plans now.

I was thrilled to be invited to speak, and despite last minute editing and rewriting of my speech it went well, I think.

We each had 10 minutes, so I knew I needed a script. Generally when I speak I just use bullet points, but if you ramble when you have 30 minutes it's no big deal - there's plenty of time to get back on track. If you ramble in 10 minutes, it's bad. So, I wrote a script. And stuck to it.

I thought I'd share it with you here....

In May of 2001, I sat in Kentucky with my best friends on either side of
me. Their arms were draped over my shoulders, literally and figuratively holding me together, through my mother’s funeral. If I’d had any doubt about the importance of friends, it would have been quelled that Mother’s Day.

Humans are instinctively drawn to form bonds. Building connection made sense as a way to share the chores of hunting and gathering, and it still makes sense regardless of where we are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

When we connect with people amazing things happen in our bodies. Our stress levels plummet, we are less likely to be depressed and we can even fight infection more effectively. Connection is a magical thing – for our physical and mental health.

Developing friendship requires two things:
1. an opportunity to meet and
2. a willingness to engage.

Opportunities often arrive through a connection – we go to the same school, live in the same neighborhood, work at the same company, believe the same things, or know the same people.

Throughout our history, we have created these opportunities. After the industrial revolution took people from rural areas to more urban ones, they created civic clubs as a way to connect. All of the major ones were formed within a few years during that time period.

They gave people an opportunity to organize around a cause, and to have a chance to interact with people they might not otherwise have met. Within that structure some meaningful friendships were formed. Not psuedo friendships that didn’t exist outside of the club, but real friendships.

Real friendships are never formed over Roberts Rules of Order, just like they’re not made because you happen to work down the hall, go to the same church, or both tweet about marketing. They’re created through repeated interactions that deal with life. And not all of life is about major events, much of it is about the daily bits - Those seemingly insignificant occurrences of day to day living are what end up creating a lifetime.

Membership in civic clubs has steadily declined since the mid 1960s. We haven’t lost the interest in bonding, but that model isn’t serving our lives well anymore. One of the new ways we’ve found to meet and connect is through social media. We don’t have to live on the same street now to have a chance to meet each other, we can search out those with similar interests and even eavesdrop on their recent conversations to see if our initial instincts about them were right. Wouldn’t that be convenient in real life, too?

We share the happenings in our daily world with hundreds of people at a time through status updates. We connect with a whole twitterverse of people and our relationships get the Facebook Official stamp of approval.

Social media allows the conversation to continue even if geography prevents a face to face interaction. It helps us stay connected to people we have a history with and to develop new potential friendships.

But, there’s a second part of friendship, beyond the opportunity to meet - the willingness to engage.

Unless both parties are willing to engage in meaningful interaction, the relationship never goes beyond the “hi, how are you?” or the “oh, you should read this” stage. Just like people who met every Thursday at noon for a civic club, friendships only deepen if we go beyond the superficial. The same skill set is required online or off. Friendships require constant care and feedingThey demand that we put forth effort to connect, engage and repeat. And some risk is involved.

And we still seek that face to face interaction. We have tweetups and social media clubs and 140confs. When we do meet, our interaction online allows our real life conversation to start in a different place. Part of the reason we are driven to meet in person is that it’s easier to engage that way, no emoticons necessary. How many times have we read or written, “things don’t always come across the right way online.”

The friendships that support you at your mother’s funeral don’t come from casual conversation about a shared interest or because you work down the hall from each other. But they may start that way. They grow through repeated, meaningful interaction.

Every friendship starts somewhere - maybe at a club meeting or maybe through a tweet. That’s the opportunity to connect. The challenge is to have the willingness to engage.