In today’s social media-focused economy, it’s become increasingly common to have long, complex and lasting business relationships with other people without ever speaking to them in person—or even on the phone. More of the average business’s sales support, customer service and other customer-facing functions are moving to the Web instead of being handled in person. And with cost-cutting foremost on everyone’s mind, conventions, conferences and meetings are all going virtual, too.
In this environment, you might suppose that there’s no longer much need to meet face to face. Well, you’d be wrong. The white paper from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and sales and marketing services company Maritz analyzed scientific research and found in-person events are better than virtual events at capturing attendees’ attention, creating positive emotions and building relationships and networks.
“The Future of Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face” aims to help companies planning events use scientific criteria to figure out when a virtual approach, an in-person approach or a combination of the two is called for. The researchers found that face-to-face works best in three situations:
- To capture attention, especially if you are launching something new. Speaking to BtoB Online, study co-author Mary Beth McEuen noted that attendees at virtual events are more likely to multitask and filter certain information out. “[Multitasking] engages a different part of your brain, and information doesn’t make it into long-term memory,” she says. In contrast, the range of stimuli at an in-person event–from speakers to meals to meeting new people—creates novelty, which helps people be more open-minded and creative.
- To inspire a positive emotional reaction. An event that involves interacting with other people in the flesh creates a positive emotional experience. Those positive emotions become attached to the companies involved in the event, as well as contributing to make attendees more open to new experiences.
- To build networks and relationships. The study draws a distinction between sharing information—which can easily be done virtually—and creating networks or relationships, which still requires in-person human interaction. The research shows relationships forged in person are stronger. As McEuen notes, “Trust is built more effectively face-to-face.”
This study focused on large events and meetings, since the organizations involved were meeting-related. However, I believe the same applies to every meeting—even just between two people. You can email, tweet and even talk on the phone all you want, but there’s no substitute for the kind of energy and connection that happens when you actually get together with a colleague or customer in person.
That’s why, no matter how busy I get, I always make time for face-to-face meetings. In my experience, they’re invaluable for building relationships that last—and that help grow your business.
How do you feel about face-to-face? Is it more—or less—important in your company these days?