Do Face-to-Face Meetings Trump Virtual?

Thanks to a tip from @GreenA_V, I stumbled across this article about Intel’s battle between face-to-face meetings and virtual. Even Cisco is measuring the value of F2F vs. virtual. With cost-cutting budgets and sustainable thinking, meeting planners are all starting to accept the reality of the virtual world. For the most part.

Intel hit backlash from some shareholders because, while they didn’t mind a combination of the two, quite a few shareholders wanted to keep the physical meeting on the table as an option. The article quotes a shareholder resolution that states, “Face-to-face annual meetings allow for an unfiltered dialogue between shareholders and management.”

I think this is the most important point to drive home. Accountability. Virtual accountability is a far cry from face-to-face questions that put management on the spot and make them own up to their strengths and weaknesses alike. Immediately.

And from our clients we’ve also heard that next to content, face-to-face interaction is the single greatest reason they attend meetings. Sure, you can host a web cast that provides a content-rich experience, and you can even initiate networking through Twitter streams and other modes (if your attendee base is tech-savvy). But you lose the magic of being in the same room with like-minded individuals that perhaps you only engage with long distance normally anyway.

Integress also experienced unusually low attendee engagement with web casts as an alternative to face-to-face meetings. One of our clients has a long history of scientific meetings that provide outlets for discovering and dispersing cutting edge information of timely topics that are well-covered by both the media and top scientists. You would think busy doctors and researchers would appreciate web casts that allow them to get more done in a day.

We found that when comparing web casts that offered similar information to face-to-face meetings held the same year, F2F stood out head and shoulders above…much to our surprise. We promoted both in similar ways, through eblasts, member updates, and on the association web site. The numbers don’t lie.

  • After promoting the web cast series for 8 months, only 2% of the expected registrations were realized.
  • After promoting the face-to-face event for 3 months, 100%+ of the expected registrations were realized.

This is only one instance in which F2F won out. And don’t get me wrong—I frequently participate in web casts and see the great value in them. I just happen to agree with the hard truth that hit Intel like a ton of bricks—F2F is not dead yet.

I would like to note that, as per the article mentioned, a coalition is apparently being formed to protect shareholder rights during virtual meetings. I can’t wait to see what innovations spring from that well.

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6 Comments

Filed under In Our Opinion, Industry Takes

6 responses to “Do Face-to-Face Meetings Trump Virtual?

  1. I agree Meg.

    I too have participated in both F2F and virtual meetings. As a marketing person, I get much more out of the “bricks and mortar” meeting than what I’v experienced from my partcipation in virtual meetings.

    Speaking as a long-time sales person, there’s no better way to close a deal than getting the nod following a good hand shake or hug!

    Virtual meetings will long be a fact of our lives but have no fear, until we become robots, I do not believe that F2F will ever be secondary to virtual. I equate it to seeing a baby, yes a picture is fantastic but that fresh, wonderful smell of a new born baby can’t be beat by a photo.

  2. Agree with you about the value of F2F. I hope that meeting planners will accentuate the differences by providing opportunities at F2F events which are only possible in-person.

    If your event is powerpoint presentation after powerpoint presentation, many people will find alternate ways to download the content to their brains. If your event provides opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and structured networking; then you may find it is irreplaceable.

  3. As an online community engagement specialist I really should be arguing fervently against your point. However, that would make me stupid.

    F2F is obviously at the top of the “richness of communication” chart (unless you want to include charts from the Kinsey Institute).

    Throughout the ages we have tried subverting distance by communicating in a variety of ways from smoke signals, to cave symbols, to stone tablets, letters, the phone, the fax and now the internet.

    While virtual meetings offer the highest level on these “richness charts” it can only fall short of actual in-person communication. As Sherlock Holmes might say “it really is elementary Watson”. Elementary indeed.

    From elementary school we learn we have 5 senses (lets not argue about PhD level theory or ESP). Technology allows us to near instantly transport audio and visual information to each other. That still leaves out touch, taste and smell (the sense best linked to memory).

    Virtual meetings and communities have their place and can even offer things that real F2F meetings cannot. Still when you can only compete on less than half of the playing field, 2 out of 5 isn’t going to offer you enough.

    Watching the world close in on itself and seeing the barriers of communication continually lifted is quite exciting. However, beating F2F just isn’t in the cards.

    As a subnote, if you are a sci-fi fan, check out Bruce Willis’ movie “Surrogates”. As far as this conversation is concerned, it essentially talks about a world in 2054 where we are able to use surrogate machines to interact with the world in the safety of our own homes, free from the dangers of communicable disease, bodily injury and even death. 5 for 5 on the F2F replacement scale.

    Of course, everyone else is also using these machines, and creating for an odd existence, where everyone is beautiful, perfect and fearless. However, in the absence of the real, in the absence of danger, fear and anxiety, the humanness we know today is lost.

    How close to someone are you when you share a near-death experience or even just gasping together at the crack of thunder? With complete surrogation a near death experience is more like sharing the pain of breaking a cell phone. Therein lies a very different human experience.

    Whether its sharing in the joy of accomplishment or the anguish of defeat, I can’t imagine technology will ever replace what it is to be human in the presence of each other.

    • Meg Hasten

      Cheyenne, such great points from the movie reference to the connection between senses (which can only be utilized during F2F) and memory (with some of the key goals of meetings being brand recognition, takeaway knowledge, etc). Thanks for your thoughtful input–it will certainly be interesting to see how the world of virtual meetings evolves to meet the competition and even shortfalls of F2F.

      Swan, love this sentence: “If your event provides opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and structured networking; then you may find it is irreplaceable.” You’re exactly right that F2F still has to provide meaning deeper than what people can download to their brains on their own.

  4. aditya452010

    All great ideas but I would also add another item to it: consider doing a virtual event/meeting. Virtual events and meetings are a great way to stay in front of customers, generate new leads and help close business already in the pipeline. These solutions are being deployed so rapidly by companies that the market is projected to exceed $18 billion by 2015. If you are interested in how you can use virtual environments attend the Virtual Edge Summit Feb. 22-23 (virtually or in-person if you are in/near Silicon Valley). There is no registration fee if you take a short survey.

    Virtual Edge Summit 2010 is the only event that focuses exclusively on providing education, training and solutions for planning and producing virtual events, meetings and communities. Over 2 days, 80 experts will share their experience with you, and be available for one-on-ones. The event also offers a rich program for featuring experts from Cisco, Stanford, IBM, Disney SAP, Oracle, Intel as well as top virtual technology and service providers like InXpo, ON24, 6Connex, Stream57, CGS VirtualEvents365, George P. Johnson, Unisfair and Digitell.

    When: February 22-23, 2010 8am until 6pm

    Where: At the Santa Clara Convention Center in California and virtually in browser based virtual environments offering 2D and 3D experiences.

    Register at http://www.VirtualEdgeSummit.com

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