Why Face to Face Meetings Still Matter

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.

Face to Face Meetings Still Matter

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

8 Reactions
  1. Hi Rieva,

    It’s true that these days companies prefer communicating virtually because most of the time there’s no choice due to the distance and time constraints. However, the impact of face-to-face communication is undoubtedly much stronger. What companies need to understand is that they must promote communicating in person whenever possible as it ends up in much better results. Thanks for sharing!

    Riya Sam

  2. Rieva,

    I think the distinction you make between sharing information and creating real relationships is critical. Even though face-to-face meetings might take longer, I believe they’re ultimately more productive in connecting people in meaningful ways.

    That realization has been a challenging one for me, as I work mostly online late at night and am generally considered an introvert. But during the past year I’ve been more successful when I’m willing to step out of my comfort zone.

    And the Universe has provided me some awesome opportunities. An email just last week alerted me to a national educational/networking event being held in June less than five miles from my temporary quarters in Raleigh, NC. With no hesitation at all, I quickly signed up (and qualified for special pricing, too).

    I definitely see in-person meetings becoming more important for my company.


  3. Rieva, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have written. I truly believe that people moreso today will only do business with people they like and trust, regardless of how they first met, be it online/social media or face to face. I have found that by reaching out to clients and prospects in a personal, heartfelt way, by treating prospects and clients as people first, that builds the deeper relationships, the trust factor and then lastly, the business referrals.

    Sheryl, now time for a Schuffy! Good night all.

  4. My contacts I’ve made via online channels are very valuable, but the contacts where I’ve been able to cement that relationship with a face-to-face meeting are infinitely more valuable to me. However, the face-to-face meeting was much easier because of our online interaction. The meeting was more like two friends meeting after a long time, not two new acquaintances.

  5. Rieva- Thanks for the informative post. Seventy percent of communication is non-verbal, so face to face meetings are vital when making tough decisions and lasting agreements. No email, text message, facebook comment, or webinar will ever take the place of an “in person” discussion.

  6. We know the power of connecting in-person, now we need to work on how we actually use that time together. Create engaging and enjoyable ways to share information. If it’s you and PowerPoint, I’d prefer to keep things virtual so I can multitask.

  7. This is certainly a sizzlin’ hot topic! I think social media and electronic communication is great for marketing and lead generation. It can also be useful and cost effective for meetings and some forms of education and training. But to secure and retain longer term relationships and to close bigger investments/sales requires face-to-face, in-person contact.

  8. Great article! I’ve attended several conferences where I met people via Twitter or other social media forums in advance by following the event hash tag. When we did meet in person – it was a powerful connection. I highly recommend using both social media and in person networking but to really cement the relationship…you’ve got to spend time on face to face meetings.