Convenience is often cited as the winning factor in the virtual vs. face-to-face meetings debate, and there are no shortage of vendors vying for your business while making the case for videoconferencing: Skype, Zoom, Zoho, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Highfive (and we could go on!) There are also plenty of moments that call for this medium. But what are we losing when videoconferencing becomes the default, rather than a convenient substitute? More than you might think.
Body Language Sets the Tone
You may think that body language doesn’t come into play for this comparison, since, technically, you should be able to “see” someone through video conferencing. However, there are subtle body language cues that are much easier to pick up in person, like where the feet are pointed, what the arms and hands are doing, and how near someone is to you. When we have a physical presence in a room, we express ourselves with much more than our words. That’s important for audience members (when it applies) to understand the speaker fully, and for the speaker to understand how the audience is receiving his or her message.
When You’re in a Room With Someone, Trust Is Already Established
Introductions on video conferences tend to be prolonged – you’re not with the other person physically, so you feel the need to identify yourself in a more prolonged way in order to establish trust. When you meet with a group in-person, it’s easier to ascertain the context, and you don’t need to clear that hurdle of trust the way you do while video conferencing. Ever stumble over someone’s words when you thought they were done talking while video conferencing? (“You go ahead,” “No, you.”) Notice how that doesn’t happen nearly as often in-person? We’re hardwired to understand the nuances and intent of a conversation, but that doesn’t translate nearly as well through a screen.
The Meeting “Space” is More Flexible and Collaborative
In-person, you’re free to move around and use the physical space (depending on the meeting venue) creatively. Want to stand up and draw on a wall? Go for it. Want to move to a different space? Take a walk. Want to sketch out that idea on paper, or a whiteboard? No problem. When you’re limited to video conferencing, the meeting is usually fixed in one place, with one format – and that’s if the screensharing is working correctly. There’s something about being able to rearrange a space that makes it easier to communicate our ideas.
No Time Wasted Addressing Connectivity Issues
Another glaring divide in the video conference vs. face-to-face meeting debate: technical problems that always seem to happen at the worst time. The time you spend dealing with those issues erodes the time you have to make your point or accomplish your objective. Sometimes, there are unspoken issues – if there are only a handful of attendees videoconferencing in, they can sometimes feel like second class citizens, and refrain from speaking up if there are some technical issues, for fear of interrupting the face-to-face meeting. It may go without saying, but it does bear repeating: there are no connectivity glitches in-person.
It’s Easier to Convince People of Something
“You are twice as likely to convert prospects into customers with an in-person meeting,” says Michael Massari, Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events at Caesars Entertainment. “The likelihood of getting a ‘yes’ increases, because it is so much easier to say ‘no’ in an email or on a phone call.” The objective of your meeting may not be to make a sale, but you are trying to convey information (and maybe build a relationship), and in doing so, convince someone of something – even if it’s just, “take this seriously!” That’s easier done in-person. Finally, remember: the harder the conversation is, the more imperative it is that you have it in person. There’s too much at stake to risk a point getting lost in the technology.