“Someday not too far down the road, everyone will find the right balance between optimizing technological tools and fully embracing the joys of real human communication.” –Michelle Smith, former president, the FORUM

The key to successful marketing and relationships is finding a balance between technology and reality. Active listening and conversation have been replaced with looking down at screens and talking to Siri, text messaging, online sharing and “like” buttons. When I joined the Baggers in 1962 (my childhood street gang), I joined with a couple of intentions: to have fun and to play sports with friends on the fields of Chicago. My experiences with the Baggers taught me to be in the moment, an important tool I would carry with me throughout my career. Over the years, I developed four tips to help others stay “in the moment” and positively impact their careers.

1. Engage with people.
Strive to enhance your skills by surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals. Become part of local business associations, clubs, committees or charitable organizations. Play softball, ride a bicycle, join a bowling league or go to a gym and initiate a pickup game of basketball. Practice teamwork and camaraderie. Smile, say hi and talk to people you don’t know. Shake hands. Make friends. I can tell you from experience that some of my best friends and clients came from being “in the community.” In fact, when I hire someone, after reviewing his or her credentials, I look at what the person does outside of work, e.g., clubs, sports teams, internships, charitable groups.

2. Put the phone down.
If there is an opportunity to talk with someone face to face, take it. Don’t hide behind a text message or phone call. Practice active listening in meetings or presentations; don’t be rude. Actively engage yourself by watching a person’s body language and expressions. Before meetings and during breaks, find time to talk to someone. During meals, listen and talk. When speaking to people, focus on them and not on your computer screen or phone – and don’t look off past their shoulder, like you’re hoping something better will happen. I once fired an agency whose administrator took three phone calls in a meeting.

3. Use technology to extend your reach.
This is one of the most important tools to understand for successful use in business. Follow only the people who provide news, or the ones who educate or amuse you. Don’t follow folks because they follow you; that old rule of thumb is stupid and a time-waster. Drop anyone who does not contribute or add value to you. Show your personality and thought leadership in your tweets, through a blog or on Facebook; forget about saying where you ate or last went to the gym. Use LinkedIn and Facebook to keep track of folks, but actually contact a few once in a while. Keeping in touch with people is why social media was created in the first place, right? Facebook evolves relationships only if you balance your online interactions with face-to-face meetings or calls. If someone is having a bad day or is ill, communicate with that person.

4. Use common sense.
This one piece of advice should be the easiest to understand, but not everyone has common sense. Be confident in your everyday life. Use street smarts in regard to what you share. Leave the nudity to Kim Kardashian and Prince Harry. When using social media, don’t assume people will go to your online portal page, YouTube channel or website to see photos or videos. Market yourself by sending a few with a note or an email with the YouTube link and say, “I thought you might like this.” Don’t always text. Make the phone call. It’s not like you’re not near the phone, folks. Got a problem? Call that person. Al’s rule of thumb: If you can’t personally contact the person, then don’t hide in cyberspace to expose him or her.