I recently read “The Circle” by Dave Eggers – an engaging warning of a time in the (perhaps not too distant) future when all online social media and technology conglomerates have been consumed by one giant superpower, with increasingly disturbing consequences. The lead character is soon engulfed in a world where human contact is replaced by a constant and metricized battle to thrive through competitive online engagement. It was a truly eye-opening read and I took away a re-energized passion for the business of face-to-face events – the business that everyone at Smarter Shows is positively committed to.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a technophobe or a member of the anti-social media brigade. I understand that in the modern age, many of us have a very wide network of friends, colleagues and associates with whom it would be impossible to keep up if “face-to-face” meetings were the only option. The fact that I am writing this piece for the Smarter Shows blog is hopefully testament to that fact. However, it also highlights one of the drawbacks of non-personal engagement – being more prone to misinterpretation. I am writing and rewriting this piece. Editing and amending. It needs to be pitched at just the right level – engaging, not too controversial, certainly not offensive – and all the while, my message would be relayed far more effectively in person.
How many times have you rewritten an email because there is a chance the recipient will mistake its meaning? Or hesitated before sending it because it formalizes an opinion that may still be evolving? Picking up the phone negates some of these issues, but can still lack authenticity. Have you ever felt like you were being fobbed off, just so the caller can get you off the line? Or tempered a telephone conversation because you were aware of being overheard in your open-plan office? The call might not have been of a sensitive nature, but someone relaying the general gist might paint you or the situation in an inaccurate manner.
Meeting face to face facilitates a level of trust and understanding that allows you to convey open, honest and sometimes sensitive information and opinion. I have lost count of the number of conversations I have been part of at one of our events that begin with words like “Just to give you the inside track...” or “This is hot off the press... ” or “It’s not common knowledge yet, but…”.
The typical C-level conference speakers will not put the juiciest bits of information into their official PowerPoint slides, but they may treat the in-the-room audience to a bit of insider knowledge, or answer some probing questions over a coffee. Likewise, customers with new business needs are more likely to open up about their requirements in a focused environment without distractions, than over an email they’ve had the time and privacy to formalize.
Recent research* has shown a massive 80% of directors believe face to face delivers a better ROI than other media. To quote said initiative directly: “People naturally relish a multi-sensory experience and everything that comes with interaction as social beings.”
Of course, there is only so much such reporting and statistics can tell us – but that is just the point, isn’t it? A report can provide compelling written evidence, but nothing compares to spending a day out of the office engaging directly with your customers, suppliers and competitors. The right kinds of focused events will leave you with a wealth of insight and information that will be your competitive edge back in the office.
A colleague, Henry Wallis, once encapsulated all this perfectly: “There is no electronic substitute for the occasional exchange of pheromones.” As social technology moves forward at incredible speed, I believe there was never a truer word said.
*FaceTime, July 2012
Pictured: Nuvation Engineering at The Battery Show 2014
If you have any thoughts on the importance of meeting face to face, please leave a comment below: