The life of a business professional can often be hectic, especially when work demands frequent meetings in a variety of locations. Naturally, video conferences have changed the way meetings are conducted. No longer must professionals and entrepreneurs hustle from one city to the next to conduct meetings. In many ways, it seems video conferences are just another way digital technology has improved normal business functions.
While video conferences are certainly useful tools, the benefits of face-to-face meetings should not be discounted. Unfortunately, there are elements of an in-person meeting that video conferences simply cannot replicate. These elements can have significant impacts on business relationships and potential deals, which is why I’ve often made it a point in my career to schedule in-person meetings whenever feasible. Here are some of the key benefits of meeting face to face that I’ve recognized in my more than two decades as a business founder and executive.
1. Feeling out the room
In a video conference, there are often people off camera or so far away from the screen that you cannot visibly see their facial expressions and non-verbal cues. When you’re in the same room, their emotions are palpable. There’s no better way to feel out the whole room than physically standing in front of your audience. Video conferences do not create the same emotional connection.
You’re also likely to get a more thorough introduction to each person sitting in, which is not always the case in a video conference. Once you are acquainted with everyone, you can often pinpoint who the major decision-makers and influential people are in the room and gauge their reactions accordingly. This information is useful whether you’re trying to make a sale, strike a partnership deal, or even just conduct a basic fact-finding mission.
2. Getting beyond the meeting
Once a video conference is done, the screen is shut down and everyone goes their separate ways. When you meet someone in person, especially in a different city than your own, they are likely to show you around or take you out for a meal. The importance of connecting with others in these more informal settings cannot be overstated. In my career, the breakthrough conversations have very frequently happened casually, before or after the meeting itself. While video conferences might be convenient and save you a trip, they never provide for the interactions that occur on a tour, at dinner or during a chance encounter.
3. Opportunities for small talk
Along with chances to get to know your meeting partners outside the conference room is the opportunity to engage in small talk with a broad range of members across the organization. Many people dismiss small talk as a waste of time, but it can often be more revealing than it’s given credit for. Whether it’s an aside with a business executive or coffee pot chatter with rank and file employees, small talk can often provide you with details that you otherwise would not encounter.
In business, the personal can also be powerful. Remembering things about another professional’s family or the things affecting their life could be key to ultimately working together in a productive and fruitful way. People work with those they like and trust, and the best way to establish trust is through remembering personal details about someone and showing them you care. Those details are often initially revealed through small talk, but small talk rarely occurs through a video conference.
4. Understanding context
Flying to another city to see someone else’s office or meet with their team helps give you an understanding of the context that surrounds their business operations. What is their company culture like? What kind of problems are they facing? Are their employees satisfied? Where does your skill set fit and where are the opportunities to work together? It’s tough to answer these questions with a quick video conference, but when you’re immersed in a work environment, even just for a day, you can start to get a better idea. When you better understand the context in which an organization is operating, you start to better understand the organization itself. Armed with that understanding, you can better pitch your ideas, products, services or whatever it is that will ultimately cement your working relationship.
5. Establishing stronger relationships
Each of these elements feeds into the main point I like to emphasize when promoting the need for face-to-face meetings: they help build stronger relationships. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a business founder and leader is that relationships are everything. Your internal relationships to your team members are critical, of course, but so too are your external relationships with clients and partners. Making it a point to see these important people in person at least once a year (if not more often) can help strengthen your relationships and develop them in a way that is mutually beneficial. After all, when you’re working with someone who is just a face on a screen, it’s harder to feel connected to them. But when you have real memories of the times they came to visit, whether it was in the conference room or outside of it, that person becomes a real, tangible acquaintance and, many times, even a friend.
For all these reasons, face-to-face meetings remain superior to video conferences. While I often employ video conferences myself, I still prefer face-to-face meetings, whenever possible. The difficulties I experienced when frequently traveling as the CEO of a multi-million telecom company, though, led me to found Flewber, an on-demand air taxi service that lets passengers skip the crowds and security at major airports to get there and back quickly and easily. While video conferences make it easy to meet from a distance, our goal at Flewber is to make it easy and affordable to meet face to face.
In-person meetings simply have more to offer in the way of forging relationships and picking up on information that isn’t on the meeting agenda. For the serious business professional, travel and relationship building is an integral part of work. It shouldn’t be relegated to the past simply because new digital tools exist – to do so would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.