The Power of In-Person Networking

September 23, 2022

From the Desk of the CEO

News alerts, texts, group chats, email notifications, DMs, calls. With all of these, and more, coming directly to the palm of our hand every day, it’s easy to be sucked into a screen for hours on end. Our eyes and minds are now inundated with an ocean of information spanning everything from messages from friends and family to far ranging news and social media topics that are trending around the globe. That’s why it’s so important to take a step back to reset and recharge.

So, the question becomes, with our lives now largely revolving around these digital connections, how do we find balance? While there’s definitely not one, singular cure-all, I have found that we all need to seek out and discover our own methods of unplugging. We need to find the source of balance that works within our own individual lives on a day-to-day basis.

A while back, I wrote about going for walks. It is a surprisingly easy, yet powerful way to find some clarity and soak up some nature at the same time. However, other than the fact that Northeast Ohio winters are pretty unforgiving, it can often feel solitary. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it was definitely something that struck me on multiple occasions and left me searching for another outlet, which I have since found in, drumroll please … networking.

I know that sounds a little suspect on the surface because it’s something that is very closely tied with digital platforms like LinkedIn, and isn’t exactly thought of as a leisure activity, but I’m talking about in-person networking. Meeting face-to-face with people and getting to know them directly from the source, not a facsimile of who they appear to be on social media or in a DM chat.

Recently, I attended the ICSC Open Air Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. While it was very much a work-related event, it offered so many of the qualities I associate with finding balance and enjoyment. It gave me the opportunity to take in information about topics in which I am very passionate about without a device in front of my face. It also opened up the door to meeting new people and making new connections.

Beyond that, I found the topics and conversations to be very much on trend as well. One of the points that stuck out to me is how everyone touted the death of brick-and-mortar retail. Amazon and other online behemoths were meant to wipe out physical retail as we know it. And that was before COVID hit. The takeaway was this … if the pandemic didn’t kill brick-and-mortar, nothing will.

Time and again consumers have shown that, while they will undoubtedly continue to shop for products online, it simply cannot replicate nor replace the in-person experience. One of the many lasting secondary effects of COVID-19 was the isolation associated with quarantine protocols and social distancing. We collectively craved the company of others. We wanted to get back out and into shops and restaurants. We wanted to experience the energy and spontaneity of being in a public setting. No amount of Teams chats, social spaces, or any other technology can compete with the real thing.

Just last week I hosted an in-person networking event at Chef Michael Symon’s fantastic restaurant Mabel’s BBQ at Eton Chagrin Boulevard, one of our mixed-use properties outside Cleveland, OH. Nearly everyone who attended was a LinkedIn connection of mine, but I knew only a handful of them. I learned more about these individuals in five minutes of face-to-face conversion, than I did in years of being “friends” on social media. Yes, I could have messaged them, arranged a Zoom call, and had a chat online, but who actually does that? And even then, you’re separated by a very real digital divide.

In-person meetings give you the opportunity to really get to know someone. Mannerisms, body language, expressions, intonation, affability, passion and so many other traits come out during face-to-face conversations. You can tap into the intricacies of their personality, and by doing so, create a much stronger, more meaningful connection.

Just like the conference in Utah, I left the networking event feeling invigorated and inspired. It’s hard to say the same when you click “Leave” on your Teams meeting, even if the call was filled with good ideas and substantive conversation. Being physically present only enhances your mental presence and leaves you more open to tapping into the energy and ideas being presented by the person opposite you and the group in general.

So, the next time you’re searching for a way to reset, call up a friend or invite a colleague out for a coffee/beer. Set up an in-person get together with your social media contacts or sign up for a class open to the public. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but trust me, you will leave feeling refreshed and wanting to do it again. What’s more, you will have barely looked at your phone the entire time.


Ezra Stark
Chief Executive Officer