Tuesday 5 July 2011

An eye to an eye: why face to face meetings will always have a place in business

I’m a social media convert. I confess. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn – you name it, I’m on it. Technology has done an amazing job in transforming the way we communicate; from the introduction of the 135-year-old telephone, to the fax machine, email, texting and, of course, social media. There’s no question technology makes our business lives easier, but is it helping us to do more business?

Well. The ‘simple’ answer is no. But let me try and explain why. There’s been loads of research into face to face versus e-communication over the years. Some companies claim that business meetings are a waste of time – ‘an inefficient use of resources with low ROI’ – and, as such, have switched to the likes of telepresencing and video conferencing, even to plain old email.

Indeed, during the recession, businesses were forced more than ever to consider these relatively low-cost business travel alternatives. And this is fine, for internal meetings, or for external meetings where an established business relationship and level of trust already exists.

But where e-communication isn’t so successful is where business introductions need to take place, deals signed, partnerships forged, parties persuaded, negotiations made and decisions agreed. And this is why e-communication will never replace the need for face to face meetings.  

Face to face meetings allow us to develop transparency and trust in ways that are not always possible with e-communications, and also much more quickly. They allow us to engage in and observe verbal and non-verbal behaviour and to spot and react to the nuances associated with hand gestures, the voice and facial expressions that simply cannot be captured in email. It allows you to understand intuitively the dynamics between group members. Face to face meetings also occur in ‘real time’ as opposed to non-synchronised time. They are not subject to delay or technological problems. And finally, they allow for human contact and they permit humour. We are social creatures, after all, and the importance of these last points cannot be underestimated.

All of this explains why the business travel market is on the up once more, despite an increase in use of travel alternatives during the recession. And also why trade shows like the Business Travel & Meetings Show are still an integral part of an organisation’s new business development and marketing strategies. The last two points in my previous paragraph reflect this particularly well, and perhaps also explain why visitors to the show consistently demand ‘good networking’!

At the end of the day, social media is fantastic at opening doors and at keeping long-term, healthy relationships trotting along. But if you want to do business, you need to be sociable as well as social, and that means face to face meetings where you can see the whites of each others’ eyes and share a firm handshake.

Posted by David Chapple, event director, Business Travel & Meetings Show