Forbes Insights published a study titled “Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face“, in which the key finding was this: “the majority of executives polled believe face-to-face meetings are still crucial for building stronger, more meaningful and profitable business relationships.” Excellent points were made in the blogosphere this week regarding this study:
- Forbes in a Funk over Virtual Meetings and Events (Virtual Edge)
- Virtual Augments Face-to-Face – Reply to Forbes and HSMAI Surveys (Virtual Insights | InXpo)
I don’t wish to question the conclusion of the Forbes Insights study – nor do I wish to have a debate on “face-to-face vs. virtual”. Despite the fact that I’m passionate about virtual, I’m a true believer in the value of face-to-face. What I would like to highlight is that face-to-face and virtual have unique capabilities. Meeting planners must consider these capabilities and apply them appropriately.
With virtual, an often-touted benefit is that they’re green and carbon-friendly. And while that’s certainly a nice side-effect, I think it’s important to focus on unique in-meeting capabilities of virtual – here are a few that come to mind:
- Participatory training with seamless presenter transitions – while it’s true that a face-to-face meeting is hard to beat with regard to audience participation – in a virtual meeting, there’s still plenty of room for audience participation. In fact, with a shared whiteboard, participants can annotate a technical diagram simultaneously, which is trickier to do with more than 2 people (annotating) in a physical space. In addition, participants can be “handed the ball” and take turns serving as the presenter – without having to stand up, walk to the front of the room and plug their laptop into the projector. In an instant, a new presenter can start sharing her desktop applications for the rest of the meeting participants to see. In a 3D virtual meeting (e.g. Second Life, Lotus Sametime 3D), participation becomes even richer, allowing medical students, fighter pilots (in training), computer technicians, etc. to learn by interacting with 3D objects.
- Meetings On Demand – what if your technical meeting needed to split up into a set of smaller focus groups? In a physical meeting, you’d need to gather up each sub-group and go seek out new conference rooms (or, migrate into corners of the same room, which could be distracting for everyone). Or, take another scenario whereby a senior executive wants to faciliate an ad-hoc face-to-face meeting during the coming weekend – all required participants would then need to make the necessary travel (and lodging) arrangements to get to the meeting venue. With virtual, meetings are truly on demand – you create the meeting with the click of a mouse and the participants arrive with the click of a mouse.
- Putting the cards on the table – while this is difficult to quantify or prove, I believe that participants are more “at ease” in a virtual meeting and more likely to reveal thoughts that they’d otherwise be hesitant to do in person. A virtual tradeshow is a good example. Exhibitors have found that visitors to their booth are more transparent and revealing about budget, timeframe, decision making process, etc. – when interacting via text chat. The same person in a physical booth may be hesitant to reveal those details. So for meetings that can stand to benefit from more transparency and openness (and not all of them do!), virtual can be a boon.
- More efficient person-to-person interactions – if you’re the chief executive of a company with 500 or more employees, I’m sure it’s hard for you to achieve the same quality time (with employees) as when you had 50 employees. If you assemble the company at a physical meeting, it’s a challenge to mingle with the crowd and achieve any true quality – you’ll be more akin to a president or dignitary, who walks down a receiving line shaking hands and patting folks on the shoulder. If you invite the same 500 employees to a virtual meeting or virtual event, you’ll find an easier ability to have meaningful interactions (via text chat) – including the potential to carry on multiple chats at the same time. Employees will also find that they receive more access to the chief (and other execs) than they would in a (crowded) physical space.
So those are some advantages that come to mind for me. What advantages have I missed?
For virtual meetings I suggest you try http://www.showdocument.com – its a tool that allows document sharing and web meeting in real-time. all the participants in the session see each others’ drawing, highlights, etc. It is free and requires no installation.
Hi there Dennis.
You make some really great points here and I think we have to go beyond the ‘virtual versus face-to-face’ argument and start educating meeting and events organizers about the possibilities. It’s obviously not going to be a cut n dried case of one way of doing things or the other – but a mix of real life and technology. That’s the way life has always been!
I attended a conference last week run by C&IT magazine, http://www.kinura.com/2009/09/the-changing-face-of-events/ which was about running events in these times of major budget cuts. The subject of teleconferencing and virtual meetings came up and there was a general consensus in the room that the actual meetings and events industry still is way behind with understanding what’s out there and how to BEST use the technology available. It’s down to service providers and associations to make some impact here, to get out there and start talking to end-users withing companies, charities and government orgs.
Thanks, Sarah – I agree with you – the right mix is the right answer.
Came across this post during some research and wanted to highlight something that you touched on with the on-demand argument. One of my big pet peeves at a face to face meeting is when there are two sessions that I want to attend that take place at the same time. That problem doesn’t exist with virtual events because you can just view the other on-demand… or even jump from room to room in seconds rather than getting up and trucking all the way down the hall.
This brings forward the point that in a virtual event each attendee can experience MORE content than at a face to face event. If not more, then certainly more relevant to their needs because they can pick sessions based on their interests, not on the meeting planner’s agenda choices.
Hi Steve – agreed. The ‘on-demand archive’ of a virtual event is indeed useful. It’s not just the Webcasts, Videocasts, etc. that are available to consume at your schedule, but I often like to go back to the ‘archive’ to review the activity in group chat areas (e.g. Lounge, Auditorium, etc.).
That can often be some of the best ‘content’ of the event.
[…] I wrote about the advantages of virtual meetings – whereby certain types of collaboration are more efficient online vs. in-person. For […]
Virtual meetings certainly have a massive benefit over face to face meetings and they will definitely cut down the amount of time and money that goes in to every company’s conferencing budget!
However, I don’t believe that face to face meetings will ever be phased out. Humans are very social creatures and thrive under interaction with other humans.
Janette: I agree with you on both points. On your second point, I think some face-to-face meetings can be augmented with a “digital extension,” whereby web-based tools can be incorporated to allow online participants (who could not attend in person) to join the meeting.