Wednesday, May 18, 2011

4 Advantages of Face-to-Face Meetings

When the economy is as tight as it is, many companies and government agencies see meetings and conferences as easy places to eliminate spending. Training budgets are slashed and, in some cases, agencies are outright forbidden to attend or support conferences even if there is little or no cost to the agency. However, this approach is rather short-sighted in my view – and not just because I’m a meeting planner.

True, there is the potential to save time and money by cutting trainings or by reducing or eliminating participation in face-to-face meetings. But, the way I look at it, much more is lost. Here are four advantages of face-to-face meetings that often get overlooked when too much attention is focused solely on fiscal issues.

1. People prefer to do business – and better business deals are often done – with people they have a relationship with and building meaningful relationships is much better done in person. And, the social interactions that take place during a live event help to build those relationships. In fact, in recognition of the importance of social interactions, many conferences build in time for networking and relationship-building. Yes, you can build relationships with others through virtual events but it takes much longer to accomplish than through face-to-face interactions. How much more time (and money) does it take to find and build new, meaningful, business relationships compared to maintaining and strengthening the ones you have?

2. Meeting face-to-face allows you to read body language, see facial expressions, and get a better “read” of others present. Non-verbal cues are important to human interaction: you can look them in the eye when conversing, note changes in body posture, observe what they are doing with their hands, etc. When you can instantly “read” the other person, you can react more appropriately to the conversation – and the situation. This is crucial if you are trying to build consensus, lead a group, or persuade potential partners to agree to your position – or trying to build a professional relationship.

3. Face-to-Face meetings allow participants to engage in more complex thinking, particularly “strategic” thinking, especially when you have more than just two or three participants. In a face-to-face setting, conversation can flow naturally, moving from one topic to another with relative ease as participants share information and build upon ideas and concepts already shared. As the number of participants grows in a virtual meeting, it tends more towards becoming a lecture-style presentation instead of an interactive discussion, which ends up stifling creative and constructive conversations. Conferences, in particular, involve large numbers of people – too many to effectively participate in a virtual event.

4. Fewer Distractions. This may not seem to be the case but consider how easy it is to “tune out” on a conference call, or work on another project at the same time, or walk away from the conversation. The ability to multi-task is often cited as a reason why people like virtual meetings but turn that perspective around. Do you really want the other party (or parties) to set you aside during the conversation so they can work on something else? When you are meeting with people face-to-face, it forces them to be more engaged in the discussion and it is easier to tell if they are no longer engaged so you can move on to the next issue or shift the discussion as appropriate.

A successful meeting is dependent on many things but the manner in which the meeting takes place is an important factor. Do you meet in person, or simply connect by phone or video chat? For many things, a phone call or an email may be all that is needed but, if you want to build long-term, meaningful relationships (whether personal or professional), you need to do more than that. You need to be there, live and in person

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises