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I've always prioritized face-to-face meetings when I'm able to secure them. Why? Because the greatest business partnerships are purely successful relationships, something that can't be changed by the stroke of a pen. Rapidly evolving communication tools such as social media, email, text and virtual meetings are essential, and I use them all of the time, but they do not make up the DNA of a lasting relationship. The integrity of a handshake, the power of looking someone in the eye or the connection of sharing a meal or drink with someone cannot happen over a Zoom call.
When making critical decisions in business, you need to have interpersonal connections. At my global leadership and talent advisory firm, Boyden, if we are recruiting or about to place someone for a company or trying to land a valuable client, the final decision cannot be made over Zoom. We will hop on a plane or prioritize meeting people in person because we are human beings. We have to be with one another. While virtual calls, texts and emails have their place and are highly effective, we must return to the normalcy of being with one another "in real life" situations where critical decisions need to be made.
I grew up traveling the world with my father, where all business interaction occurred in person, whether on a sports field or over a glass of wine. When I launched my Marketing and Public Relations agency, SMACK! Media, I trademarked "Public Relation(ship)s®" because I learned the importance of face-to-face meetings. Below are seven reasons why in-person meetings will help you be more successful, grow stronger teams and build the best relationships, and why I'll never stop having them.
Body language and facial gestures are subtle visual cues that reveal what people are or are not saying — an 'aspect' that can be lost when communicating virtually. Posture, hand and feet movements and even someone checking their watch while you speak to them reveal much about how you connect with them and vice versa. I would not hire someone that appears unengaged or that I do not feel chemistry with. You're unlikely to feel this emotional chemistry and connection over a virtual meeting.
It's much easier to assess how well our ideas and goals are accepted by how quickly others respond. Virtual meetings have disruptions, distractions and delays.
A few years ago, when I was looking to land a big client, I drove a couple of hours to meet with them and had his undivided attention. Our questions and answers flowed well. At the end of the meeting, he admitted to me that he had interviewed other agencies for a marketing role but that I impressed him in person because of how well I expressed my ideas for driving growth for his company. Our meeting went longer than expected, and it was evident that he was confident in his decision to hire me on the spot because we had no distractions and our conversation flow was fluid. And he did.
It's easier to interpret non-verbal cues when you are face-to-face. Be it a smile or direct eye contact, these interactions make for much stronger engagement and help build stronger relationships. Up to 93% of communication occurs through non-verbal cues that include small movements of the face and body and voice quality.
Having traveled around the world and being fluent in three languages and proficient in two others, I've learned that body language and gestures vary throughout cultures and can easily be misinterpreted over a screen.
It's proven that people spend a lot of time looking at themselves during virtual meetings and can be self-conscious. It's one reason why I wrote a piece on why you should feel free to turn off your camera on Zoom and, especially as a leader, encourage teams to do it if it's not necessary.
People are distracted on virtual calls. Many tend to multitask by responding to texts, reading articles or having a muted TV in the background. In-person meetings foster an environment for focused attention.
I'm a visual person and love whiteboards. How words are written, or images are drawn stamps an impression in my mind that sparks creativity for more ideas. In-person collaborative meetings are useful for strategy where team members can engage in conversation and share their thoughts without feeling like they have to raise a virtual hand and/or that they are speaking over one another. Live meetings encourage camaraderie and company culture growth, and it's much easier to read someone's emotions and passion when you are with them.
How many times have you lost a connection in a virtual meeting, have been unable to hear someone, have spoken only to realize that you are muted, or even worse, you do the opposite!? Between software updates on virtual meeting platforms, poor service and camera and audio difficulties, these nuances are distracting and will certainly encourage people to hold back on effective communication. We have all been on virtual calls that are inefficient or a waste of time because of the technology challenges during the meeting.
Transparency, trust and an open communication culture are integral to difficult conversations. Technology creates barriers that make these conversations even more challenging, as there is less trust when people don't know each other personally. When you look someone in the eye, you can express empathy, and you're better able to read their body language when you are with them. If there is transparency and a human connection, it's easier to establish a deeper comfort level amongst one another, even if the outcome of the conversation may have a negative impact on someone. For example, if company revenue is down and the board of directors demands budget cuts, it's easier to explain in person than over a phone call, mainly because of transparency.
Human beings have emotions, passions and goals. We like to be recognized and appreciated for our values, ethics and accomplishments, and also be supported when we struggle, whether with work, family or personally. This can most effectively be accomplished in person because we develop a deeper understanding, empathy, respect and trust for each other. This can most effectively be accomplished in person and by demonstrating that we care, are listening and are fully engaged. On the same note, if you're looking to hire a rockstar or land that big client, you'll be most successful in person for the very same reasons.