Hi friends. Here we are. 

How are you doing?

I was honored that the New York Times proclaimed the demise of our humble practice this week, in an article titled There Is No More IRL Now. “The biggest void,” the author writes, “is connection.”

Connection and communication are two sides of the same coin, a yin-yang relationship. Communication is the tactical target of our work at speech IRL, but it is connection (or lack thereof) that creates the need for communication. 

This week, we suddenly lost our most primal and familiar form of communication: face-to-face, in real life. Along with fears about health and wealth, there is another fear that has been palpable this week: how will we connect? 

That’s a big question, with many permutations and contexts. As I’ve struggled to find my own bearings this week, I’ve found listening to others’ questions immensely helpful. I want to share a few of these with you.

  • I’m struggling with this new world of online communication. How do I communicate effectively online? (Especially if I have a communication disability?)
  • My job requires building trust-based relationships. How do you foster intimacy online?
  • We value community and belonging at our company. How do we cultivate culture and belonging when we’re all working remotely?
  • I struggled to communicate and connect with others even before all this happened. Now I’m even more alone. What do I do?

I don’t have answers to any of these. Not yet.

But I am thankful to the NYT, because it helped me realize how strongly I disagree with the assertion that there is no more IRL (figuratively, and also as it applies to my literal business). 

At speech IRL, we put an almost obsessive emphasis on the context of communication. What you have to share, and how you share it, depends entirely on the who, when, where, and why of the conversation. When all of these click together, you get connection.

Our context for communication and connection changed this week. It’s new, different, unknown, unexpected, scary, challenging. There are also new opportunities. I don’t normally attend birthday parties with people currently residing in Italy, but I did this week. I don’t normally share quite so openly about my fears and challenges with others, but I did this week, because it suddenly feels a little safer to be vulnerable with strangers. That’s connection. We're still communicating.

While there’s a lot to be said about communication, I’ve decided to take the next few weeks to listen. The way we communicate has fundamentally changed. There are new needs that we’ve heard about this week, from our clients; we know that more will emerge in the coming weeks.  

We’ve moved our current services fully online, and will continue to provide this established support. But we have a renewed focus on active listening to the world around us, to understand the challenges of communication and connection in this strange new IRL. We don’t have answers, but we commit to doing our best to help our community figure this out as we go, all together. 

We’re also working on a special project to help connect people for the purposes of conversation practice and meaningful interaction, specifically in the context of COVID and social distancing. This will be totally free and open to anyone, anywhere, not just in Chicago (an opportunity of this new IRL!). More updates to come on that.

If there are connection challenges, questions, realizations, or discoveries you’ve had in this first week of our new IRL, I would love to hear from you. I’m grateful for emails, texts, and BYOC virtual coffee chats if you have the time.

There’s lots to be said for this week. Let’s take some time and listen.

In solidarity,