Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Case for Face-to-Face Meetings

As a meeting and conference planner – I am always interested to know what people “out there” are thinking when it comes to the practicality of Face-to-Face meetings as opposed to an electronic format such as web conferences, videoconferences, or another virtual meeting. I personally have a hard time with the electronic type or TelePresence meetings. I can make all kinds of excuses to avoid the meeting, re-organize my priorities, check my emails repeatedly throughout the electronic meeting, surf the web. I get easily distracted or totally forget that it was on my calendar to “log-on”. Depending on what you are reading there are plenty of pros and cons out there to justify both. Your preference is exactly that…a preference for your own style of meeting: Face-to-Face or TelePresence. In my opinion, there is a time and a place for all.

For years, I have heard that the meeting and conference arena will be shrinking and that the new technology will be replacing it. However, even with all the hype and so many agencies still in the throngs of budget cuts & belt tightening, I am still finding that face-to-face meetings are still the preference among attendees and business executives. It seems that the face-to-face meetings are not only preferred by most, but that they are the primary channel for building deeper bonds between people and agencies. It seems to be a style that cannot be readily replaced on-line.

In Forbes Insights’s Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face, the case is made that face-to-face meetings are still important. Furthermore, “…it’s not just one-on-one meetings where face time is crucial. While tides have turned against holding larger corporate meetings, many executives noted the importance of driving profitability and value from these events – where “down” time can be priceless for building bonds with clients and colleagues.” In this article more than 750 business executives where surveyed about their meeting and travel preferences. In many cases, meeting budgets have been the first discretionary expenses to be cut and, as the recession has continued, these same expenses have been the hardest to recover. With all of these cuts, the virtual meeting has become more popular. However, 8 of 10 executives have a preference for the face-to-face meetings. It was felt that the face-to-face meetings build stronger and more meaningful relationships. Meeting face-to-face is better “for persuasion, leadership, engagement, accountability, and decision-making." Forbes went on to say, “There’s more to a business meeting than closing the deal. The benefits of in-person social interaction—from bonding with co-workers to using time at the pool or café to cement a client relationship—are among the more subtle, less measurable advantages executives cited.”

According to John Russell, chief executive of NYLO Hotels and former chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, “People don’t want to sit in their office looking at each other on computer screens. That personal interaction—getting together to talk over dinner, drinks or a cup of coffee—is the foundation on which business relationships are built. It’s what drives business.”

The Forbes article also points out, “With executives under greater pressure than ever to justify the return on business travel expenses, how can they best make the case for greater use of face-to-face meetings and conferences? Clearly, most executives surveyed see tangible benefits to in-person meetings that outweigh the time and expense related to travel. With economic recovery in sight, it may be up to leadership to relieve some travel restrictions and encourage more face-to-face interaction. Web-, video- and teleconferencing have their role, but the executives in the survey do not expect them to make the need for face-to-face meetings obsolete. Rather, many see the ideal as a mix of face-to-face and technology, enabled meetings and conferences.” A realistic middle ground that will benefit everyone would be an ideal compromise. “In some cases, technology may take the place of smaller meetings. Hotels should see this as an opportunity and offer virtual meetings on property. It would be a great way, for instance, to bring branch offices together for virtual regional meetings across five or six different markets. That would be a win for everyone: Hotels would continue to serve as meeting venues, and companies would reduce travel costs.” The majority of those surveyed felt that the virtual meetings will never replace face-to-face time required for building solid business relationships among businesses and the people that can make a difference.

This is great news for those of who plan meetings and conferences, for the airlines, and for the hotel and tourism industry in every state and country. Survival is dependent on the success of all partners involved in travel in the real world.

Interesting additional comments can be found on this LinkedIn Forum.

~ Cyndy Hutchinson • Executive Director, RDL enterprises