Important Meetings: In-Person or Virtual?
By Joanne Ireland, President of Ireland Presentations
We’ve all heard it said that there is no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face. But to hear web conferencing companies talk, you’d think that advice had flown out the window. In-person or impersonal? What’s the truth? Does it make sense to meet in person anymore? Or, will all future meetings take place on-screen? Is there a way to determine whether a meeting should take place in–person vs. on the Web? What are the tradeoffs?
We’ve done many meetings of both kinds, and want to help you make the right choice. Which type of meeting is right for you, right for the person or group you are meeting with or right for the subject and circumstances? The following information spells out the benefits of each approach, with explanation that will help you determine which method to choose for your next meeting. Will it be face-to-face or just a voice on the end of a phone line?
First a few words about web conferencing. This technology continually strives to reach the same level of intimacy and user experience as an in-person meeting, through a variety of methods. Most tools work in a similar fashion: The person initiating the conference sets up a meeting in the tool (after having downloaded and installed any required software) and then invites participants to join by sending an email with pertinent information including login instructions. The attendees then download any software necessary, and login at the appropriate time. The initiator shares his or her screen, and, using a teleconferencing capability via a telephone, ensures that the presenter’s voice can be heard, therefore utilizing both the computer screen and telephone. There is often a chat capability, enabling participants to ask questions during the presentation, by sending questions to the moderator of the meeting via instant messaging. Questions are then usually answered by the presenter to the whole group. The entire web conference can be recorded for later playback.
Web Conference Meetings
1 – Cost savings
If your colleagues or your audience are located in a distant location, an in-person meeting can be impractical, inefficient and costly. A web conference can reduce this cost greatly, since it involves only the cost of the software, the cost to administer the conference, and any additional teleconferencing or videoconferencing costs.
Benefit 2 – Electronic record
Unlike in-person meetings, a web-based meeting can be stored electronically, and retrieved for later review or replay. This allows participants to go back to a part of the meeting they might have missed or misunderstood. It enables a company to present the same information to others who might not have been able to attend the actual Web conference. It also allows the presenters to analyze the meeting and make adjustments to their presentation for the next time.
Benefit 3 – Flexibility of Timing
When you need to hold a meeting on the spur of the moment, a Web conference allows you to very quickly invite participants. Depending on people’s availability, you can be sharing documents and information almost instantaneously. This is simply not possible with in-person meetings, which require more time to set up and conduct, and may involve travel time as well.
Benefit 1 – Better Communication
An in-person meeting is face-to-face, giving you the ability to see your participants’ expressions, hear their tone of voice and watch their body language. Communication is a dialogue, rather than a presentation. Even when the web conference takes advantage of chat and instant messaging, the communication is disembodied and devoid of the contextual information that can be so valuable in a sales or marketing situation.
Benefit 2 – Focus
An in-person meeting virtually forces all participants to pay attention and remain focused on the meeting itself. In contrast, a web meeting allows participants to be distracted by all the normal activities taking place around them. Plus, it’s easier to do other things while “participating” in a web conference, reducing the attention still further. (One web conferencing tool even tracks whether the attendee is watching the screen, or has opened another window – perhaps to play Solitaire!)
In-Person Benefit 3 – Control
Web conferencing is less expensive than traveling, but it is not free. In some cases there is technology to buy, install and learn. But it is the “hidden costs” that can really add up. Frequent glitches such as dropped calls, interference on the line, inability of users to see the slides, or other technical problems can spell disaster. While in-person meetings are not glitch-free, the problems are usually relatively easy to fix – and you have the ability to judge the participants’ reaction to them. With Web conferencing, you may never know who has dropped off the call with a bad impression of your company.
In-Person Benefit 4 – Flexibility of Content
When I meet someone in person, I can pick and choose what information to impart based on the verbal and non-verbal cues I pick up from that person. But when I meet via the Web, I cannot possibly put all the information I might want to impart into a single presentation, nor can I include explanations on-the-fly or add my own little sound bites as I read the audience’s reaction to certain subjects. An in-person meeting has a dynamic quality that is very difficult to replicate through a Web conference.
In-Person Benefit 5 – Uniqueness
Today, many companies are ignoring the differences between Web meetings and in-person meetings, and are completely eliminating in-person get-togethers. The companies that remain true to their customers, prospects, partners and colleagues will stand out from the rest. Imagine how impressed your client will be that you are taking the time and effort to meet in person: it says something positive about your company, your commitment, and your financial stability.
There are clear advantages to in-person meetings, including improved communication, increased focus on the topic, control and ability to rise above the rest of the crowd and just simply putting a face to a name! However, with today’s budget cuts and attention to expenses, it makes sense to use Web conferencing for meetings that will not suffer from the lack of intimacy, one-way communication and possible glitches. Save in-person meetings for groups that you would like to see get together in one room to meet, share information and brainstorm together or that special client who deserves extra recognition and your personal time and attention…for that big contract that you hope to land…for that important briefing of the most influential industry analyst. That way, you will get the best of both worlds!
About the Author:
Joanne Ireland, a 20 year veteran of the meeting and event planning industry, is Founder and President of Ireland Presentations, a meeting, conference and event planning company based in San Francisco. Joanne is one of San Francisco’s leading consultants in planning, coordination & management of conferences, meetings & events. Her expertise is design, project standards/content, conceptualization & design of project strategy, and contract negotiations. Joanne and her team continue to produce successful events and meetings for a wide range of corporate and non-profit clients both large and small, domestically and abroad. More about Joanne and Ireland Presentations can be found at www.irelandpresentations.com.