Hearing the phrase "the new normal" has become our new normal. During COVID, we have all had to adjust to new situations. We are not standing in big crowds watching a parade go by in our community, and we are not crammed together in a convention center listening to a recap of the past quarter’s economic trends. In some places, we cannot sit too close to one another at a local restaurant and watch our favorite sports teams. Even with all these changes, there is one thing that will rebound: face to face meetings.
When I was cutting my teeth in life insurance years ago, we were trained on the importance of non-verbal forms of communication. Before 2020, we've had many forms of digital communication. Now it seems like we have endless options, but a short well-planned meeting can save an incredible amount of time. Fancy tech isn't the end-all-be-all. Just because somebody is using the latest tech, it doesn’t mean it’s better tech.
Here are 12 reasons why I believe face to face meetings are still essential:
- I can’t read non-verbal communications through my email and video calls I only see part of the picture. Non-verbal communication is endlessly more important than the words that are spoken. 7% of a conversation is actual words. 38% is inflection. 55% are facial expressions. These cannot be replicated remotely. This cannot be emphasized enough, so it is my number one entry on this list.
- Face to face meetings leave a lot more room for improvisation. Conversations tend to flow more naturally, lead in many directions, and lead to new opportunities.
- Engaging with people is just easier. We have time before and after for chit chat. While this might not seem important, how it relates to building human capital should be recognized. We never know what small items can lead to a spark igniting an excellent working relationship. It can be something as simple as taking a wrong turn, then one of the attendees tells you that they did the same thing their first time in the office. The two of you shake hands, introduce yourselves, and now you've started building a connection that can lead to opportunities in the future.
- “Sorry everyone. Larry can’t make the meeting today. His internet is down. Can we reschedule for later today or sometime next week?”. Now, here is a historical proverb to bring interest to this article:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the rider was lost
For want of a message the battle was lost
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Will that meeting get rescheduled? Will somebody else have to back out next time? By not having the meeting at the original time, we have opened the door for more potential problems to arise. All we have is now. We can't predict the future, and having to reschedule meetings at the last moment can lead to frustration and ultimately tank a deal.
- Maybe this one is just me, but I often feel that video calls can feel a bit foggy. Face to face meetings are crystal clear. Key points are clear and more easily understood.
- Meeting in person allows someone to go further than just a meeting. After a video conference, what happens? You turn off your computer, and everyone goes back to whatever it is they were doing. If you are the person traveling somewhere, what is likely to happen? Assuming that you are staying the night, more likely than not, someone you were meeting with will take you out and show you around town. Building human capital is what makes an organization's culture. Without these interactions, you have people in various offices doing their own things. When they can meet, interact, and get to know each other, things work out better.
- In my experience, agreeing on an offer is much easier if the buyer and seller meet in person. If the two parties have never met, people tend to get more animated in their responses if things don't go the way they'd like. But when the two groups have met, I see a much different reaction. Parties are less likely to get upset and more likely to listen to each other. Instead of blowing up and walking away from a deal, they take the time to remain calm and discuss items in a more relaxed manner. They've started building a bond. They aren't just trying to get better terms from Really Big Company Inc.; they're speaking with Larry. "Larry is someone that I went to dinner with, and everyone joined from the office and had a great time. I'm going to get on the phone with Larry and see if we can hash this out and find a middle ground." From a broker's perspective, it’s a night and day difference seeing groups that have met in person vs. those that have not.
- A bunch of people in a room and a clean whiteboard can lead to extraordinary breakthroughs and ideas. Ask Mark Zuckerberg.
- In-person meetings show mutual acknowledgment, respect, and action. 93% of people found negotiating with people of different languages and cultures easier. 82% believe negotiating important contracts in person is easier. Overall, 95% of people still say face to face meetings are essential. Also, this one shockingly doesn't have a generation gap.
- Millennials prefer face to face meetings in higher percentages than Gen X.
- Eventbrite ran a study and found that millennials are fueling the experience economy. This means instead of having materialistic items, people age 18-34 (who make up the largest percentage of the US population and the workforce) prefer going to things. Whether that's a vacation, concert, sporting event, younger people like doing things in person instead of remotely. Now, how does that transfer into the workplace? 80% of millennials prefer face to face communication with colleagues instead of 78% of Gen Xers. With this backlog of people choosing to be in person, the future looks bright for sitting across the table and speaking with folks.
- “Now, what about cost? I’m saving a fortune by not paying for my people to travel. Even if my people prefer in-person, the dollars don’t justify their preference.” To quote ESPN's Lee Corso: "Not so fast." Regarding ROI:
- Companies gain $12.50 for every US dollar spent on business travel
- 40% of prospects converted to new customers through face to face meeting
- 28% of current business that would be lost without face to face meetings
- 17% profit an average company would lose if it eliminated all business travel
After reading this, think back to some of your interactions. Could they be better suited for in-person? Gut feeling aside, the data backs the decision to continue face to face meetings. Both for sales, prospecting, company culture, and maintaining client relationships all seem to justify this idea, and this is something that we don't feel will go away in the future despite the tumultuous year we've just experienced.
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