After attending our annual PRConsultantsGroup conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I came away even more convinced of the power of the in-person meeting. Discussions by phone or email or no substitution for a chat over a cup of coffee or a margarita, and learning that a new contact is a marathon runner, a theater lover or a soccer coach helps you remember them and feel more connected. Brainstorming or problem-solving activities are enhanced by the ability to quickly read an audience’s facial expression, instead of waiting for a reply via email. Some replies may seem terse, when in fact they’re only short and to the point. Facial expressions and tone make misinterpretations less likely.
That’s why I insist on in-person meetings with new clients, and check-ins with existing clients a few times a year, even if we both know materials can easily be emailed, and details discussed by phone. A lunch meeting allows discussion of progress and ideas and goals more freely, without feeling like there is a specific agenda.
In Brene Brown’s book, “Braving the Wilderness,” she points out that historically humans related in small groups – working together, banding together for safety, and discussing ideas and issues face-to-face. It worked pretty well for thousands of years. Then technology offered other options- mailed letters through a postal system, telegrams, phone calls, and eventually email, texts, and virtual video meetings.
While all of these – with the exception of the telegram- make our lives easier, they also make us more , and less connected to our work or social groups. It’s impossible to gather 45 people for in-person meetings once a month when we live all over North America, so video chats are better than email chats. But any conference call can have technical issues, with jerky video, scratchy sound and the person who forgets to mute and eats potato chips while their dog barks at the doorbell. Distractions and inattention make participants uncomfortable and therefore, less attentive.
An article in Fast Company backs this up, with this excerpt below:
YOU PAY MORE ATTENTION IN PERSON
Partly this is just practical: There are social consequences to looking at your phone when someone is talking with you if she can see you do it. But also, as all your senses are engaged in noticing things about the other person, including aspects that wouldn’t be picked up by video conference, that forces your brain to work harder and be more engaged. “A new environment offers the opportunity to introduce novel experiences and situations to wake up our brains.”
The Fast Company article also says a lot of things happen when we interact face-to-face that don’t necessarily happen virtually- like touching.
When people meet face-to-face, they touch each other. This can be ritualized (a handshake) or just in the course of holding doors, or a business-appropriate touch on the arm at the end of a meeting. An experiment done by researchers at the University of Chicago and Harvard found that negotiators who shook hands were more open and honest, and reached better outcomes. Shaking hands causes the centers of the brain associated with rewards to activate. You are literally conveying warmth.
“That feeling is something so rare, you cannot communicate it digitally,” says René Shimada Siegel, president and founder of High Tech Connect, a consulting firm. “People who trust each other work better together, and face-to-face interaction facilitates that. Video conferencing can produce many of the benefits of face-to-face interaction (Siegel estimates it at about 80% as effective), “but it still doesn’t replace someone literally walking in and shaking my hand,” she says.
Social scientist Susan Pinker declares “there is no substitute for social interactions. They are proven to bolster our immune system, sending positive hormones surging through our bloodstream and brain, and help us live longer.”
Even our quick speed networking activity was based on person- to- person interaction and lots of storytelling. We could probably look up any of the information learned about our networking partner, during our 4- minute discussion, but it stuck in our brain much more effectively when we heard it from the source, and we were actually making eye contact. People are hard-wired to connect.
How do you decide whether to meet in- person or virtually? Let us know!
Lisa Faulkner-Dunne is the principal of Lisa Faulkner-Dunne and Associates Public Relations in Dallas. Lisa has received numerous awards including a Women in Communications Matrix Award, two PRSA Silver Anvils and a Lifetime PTA Membership award, and the Most Likely to Pick Up a Stray Dog award. She is known for creativity, her cowboy boots, and her business sense.