Face-to-Face Meetings in the 21st Century

Technology is king. Or is it? In this world fueled by technology it would seem that there is no longer a need to meet with clients, colleagues or co-workers in person. With smartphones, tablets and laptops at our fingertips day and night, we can communicate with just about anyone, anywhere, in a matter of seconds. Information can be blasted to hundreds or thousands of people via email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. With the use of services like Skype, groups of people can virtually “congregate” from the comfort of their own homes or offices to meet, collaborate, discuss or simply work “together.”

While this virtual collaboration is being utilized each and every day by just about anyone with internet access, and while it definitely has its benefits, is the need for face-to-face meetings becoming extinct? Recent studies suggest no. Not by a longshot.

Crowne Plaza recently released a study showing that while the number of virtual meetings has increased significantly within the past five to 10 years, businesses may actually be losing an estimated 24 percent in additional revenue because not enough time is spent in face-to-face contact. Additionally, 81 percent of participants prefer face-to-face meetings for building long-term trust and ensuring strong client relationships.

In a white paper published by The Maritz Institute and Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research titled The Future of Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face, findings outlined three main reasons why face-to-face meetings far outweigh virtual meetings.

To Capture Attention. According to Maritz’s participant research, virtual meeting attendees are more distracted and significantly more tempted to multitask during meetings resulting in a decline of achieved meeting objectives among the group involved. Face-to-face meetings are particularly important when new ideas are being presented, and focused attention is paramount.

To inspire a positive emotional climate. Emotions often influence decisions people make and overall feelings people have about those around them, as well as places and organizations, even in the business world. The Maritz Institute study has identified two behaviors that are present, only when people are together physically. First, emotional contagion, which is defined as the tendency people have to express and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by the emotions of those around them. Simply put, emotional states are shared by people who spend time together.

The second behavior people exhibit is mimicking. It was found that the human brain has neurons that react or “fire” in response to intentional visible actions or cues (called mirror neurons). For instance, in the brains of meeting attendees, just by listening to the speaker fires the same neurons that the speaker himself is using to present. It is also common for body language to be mirrored at a subconscious level. This mirroring sends signals to the emotional centers of the brain, which results in shared emotions, leading to a deeper sense of connection.

To build human networks and relationships. Executives surveyed by Forbes Insight said the number one benefit to face-to-face meetings is the opportunity to “build stronger, more meaningful business relationships” followed closely by “more social interaction” and the “ability to bond.” How are relationships made stronger simply by being present? It goes back to our mirror neurons. Simply put, the tendency to mimic others’ external, nonverbal cues increases the likelihood that two people will like each other.

During the recession, many businesses reduced their allotted budget for business travel believing that this would save money. While there are certainly times and instances in the business world where virtual meetings are necessary, in the cases of introducing new ideas, closing a deal, or building relationships, research has shown that face-to-face meetings are the most efficient mode of meeting goals and increasing revenue.