The Face-to-Face Advantage

Picking up subtle nuances in communication. Building lasting bonds. Enjoying another person's company. If you've ever had a successful face-to-face meeting, these are just some of the benefits you've probably come away with. In these budget-crunching times, when virtual meetings are growing more popular, there's a new study out that confirms what a lot of people already know: face-to-face meetings are most rewarding. According to a Forbes Insights survey of 760 business executives, "Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face," more than 84 percent polled said that they still preferred in-person contact to virtual meetings.  [more]Of those, 85 percent said in-person meetings helped them build stronger, more meaningful relationships, while about three-quarters polled relished both the "ability to read another person" and the superior social interaction.Also, at least 80 percent of executives liked face-to-face events because they felt interaction with co-workers is essential for effective teamwork, and downtime at in-person conferences built stronger client bonds. I can personally attest to all of the above benefits. I've experienced them at my most rewarding in-person meetings--whether they were gatherings with current or potential customers, meeting industry colleagues (such as at conferences and conventions) or sit-downs with my boss or fellow employees. Now, if you're a meetings manager who oversees hundreds of events every year, imagine the satisfaction--and the resulting productivity--you're creating for your attendees and your company.But this survey by no means discounts the value of web-, tele- or video-conferencing. For certain types of events, these technologies are growing in usage, and I think it's very important that meetings managers incorporate them into their overall strategic meetings management programs, in order to competitively source for services and control costs, among other benefits. (Read more about this strategy here.) In the Forbes survey, 59 percent of executives interviewed said that their use of "technology-driven meetings" increased during the recession--in part due to lower costs and greater reliability of the technology.  Savings were important to those who like virtual meetings, as 92 percent cited paring event times and 88 percent valued trimming budgets.The most advanced virtual technologies like Cisco’s Telepresence and HP’s Halo Room have been the only industries to grow about 30 percent year over year during this recession, according to media reports. That's a clear indication that companies have elected to invest in this technology to perpetuate their costs savings, and that they plan on continuing to remain fiscally responsible even after this recession is over. On the downside, there are attentiveness issues to less sophisticated virtual meetings, mostly teleconferencing, for example, the insane amount of multi-tasking that goes on preventing full focus on the meeting. The Forbes survey confirms: 58 percent frequently surf the Web, check their email, read unrelated materials and handle other ancillary work during digital meetings. Let’s be honest, how many of you are guilty of playing Solitaire, Freecell and other games during a teleconference?  I’ve even heard dishes being washed and the occasional toilet flushing for people who forgot to mute their phones, plus a variety of animal noises in the background.  None of the above would be happening in a face-to-face meeting!But whether your company is having more virtual or face-to-face meetings these days, it's important to note that both types of events--managed properly via enforcement of spending rules, centralized sourcing, automated attendee registration and other best practices--can produce savings and great ROI, tighten control over costs and build better leverage with suppliers.As all of the above are part of “Enterprise Mobility”, a concept of travel and meetings that I’ve been evangelizing around the world during speaking opportunities or customer forums, the management of all virtual technologies belong in the portfolio of company Travel & Meetings departments.    I recommend reading more details from this survey here. Perhaps this information can help you make decisions about when to go virtual and when in-person events are best. Good reading!

Kevin Iwamoto is vice president of enterprise strategy at StarCite. This post is syndicated from his blog, Strategic Meetings Management.