Can web conferences and other virtual meetings replace the value of face-to-face contact?

A Forbes Study (Summer 2009) of more than 750 businesses provides a strong argument for the value of face-to-face meetings. It also supports my very own belief that in-person meetings go deeper than “at your desk” webinars and virtual events.

Their study, “Business Meetings: The Case for Face to Face,” highlights the following:

  • 80% of the executives said they prefer face-to-face contact to virtual meetings
  • Top three reasons executives preferred face-to-face meetings:
    • (1) To build stronger, more meaningful business relationships (85%)
    • (2) Allows them to read body language and facial expressions (77%)
    • (3) To have greater social interaction (75%)*. The less than 20 percent who favored virtual meetings feel that the technology saves time (92%), money (88%) and offers more flexibility in location and timing.
  • When asked to choose the meeting method most conducive to fostering specific business actions or outcomes, executives overwhelmingly preferred face-to-face meetings for achieving almost every business objective, including:
    • Persuasion (91%)
    • Leadership (87%)
    • Engagement (87%)
    • Inspiration (85%)
    • Decision making (82%)
    • Accountability (79%)
    • Brainstorming (73%)
    • Strategy (73%)
  • Web-based conferences were preferred only for data oriented presentations (44%) and information dissemination (43%), although they held less than a 10 percent margin over face-to-face meetings in those two areas

According to John Russell, chief executive of NYLO Hotels and former chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, “People don’t want to sit in their office looking at each other on computer screens. That personal interaction–getting together to talk over dinner, drinks or a cup of coffee–is the foundation on which business relationships are built. It’s what drives business.”

>> Download their Free Study

What does this all mean?

It means face-to-face meetings are important, and associations and meeting professionals need to demonstrate how their meetings will offer their potential attendees AND exhibitors something better than average.

  1. Offer Better Sessions and provide a meaningful takeaway for your attendees. The elimination of handouts sort of makes sense from a cost-savings perspective, but attendees want something they can sink their teeth into.
  2. Provide more networking opportunities before, during and after your event. If you are doing the same thing you did last year at your meeting, expect worse results. An online event community can help create event awareness and provide pre-event networking opportunities between attendees and speakers. Mike McCurry, a Strategic Account Manager for Experient, shares how he has met extraordinary people by using social networking sites in his article, “Face2Face Connections Enrich Your Online Network!”
  3. Provide more value to your exhibitors and sponsors. Remember, this group of conference participants pay a lot more than the attendees do, in most cases. They are a great source of event revenue (expo booth fees, ads, etc). Allow your exhibitors to market to your attendees beforehand and set up your breakout sessions so that it optimizes attendee/exhibitor time.

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