Friday, September 4

Considering Effectiveness: Face-To-Face vs. Technology?


According to a new survey conducted by J. Spargo & Associates, Inc., meeting planners believe that technology cannot replace specific benefits related to face-to-face meetings. However, based upon the six benefits meeting planners said cannot be replaced by technology, those surveyed demonstrate that while they are right in general, their conclusions only demonstrate they may not be using technology to its full potential.

What Meeting Planners Said Technology Cannot Replace

1. Socializing and networking spontaneously. Half True. Social networks do provide a social outlet and spontaneous networking built around topical interests and an opportunity to learn more about people on a social basis. However, face-to-face does provide an opportunity for participants to experience something beyond other connection points. Where social networks win out is in the ability to establish more consistent engagement.

2. Helping attendees best put names with faces. False. Actually, social networks and blogs that include accurate photos and full names can be more powerful than meetings. Anyone who has attended any conference consisting of social network participants and bloggers know that when they meet face-to-face, social networking not only makes people immediately recognizable, there is an immediate connection that would require dozens of face-to-face meetings to establish.

3. Allowing more free and open dialogue between attendees and vendors/presenters. Half True. Social networks and blogging can create a free and open dialogue between attendees and vendors/presenters, particularly on networks like Facebook. Where face-to-face might win is often in the depth of the conversation and provide the ability to enjoy a private and candid dialogue (assuming someone won't post it later).

4. Training effectively via live and personal interaction. False. While face-to-face can provide an effective arena for training via live and personal interaction for some skill sets, Webinars and online presentations have come a long way and sometimes provide better retention as the formats require more focus.

5. Paying greater attention to others when face-to-face. False. As mentioned, Webinars and online training can provide more focus on the material being presented as opposed to conducting meetings where note passing/texting/breaks often become more important than the material. Online meetings eliminate the emphasis we place on body language.

6. Engaging in real-time conversation that is not interrupted by technical glitches. False. Anyone who has spoken in enough forums knows that face-to-face meetings that include any audio-visual component have an equal opportunity to be set back by technological glitches. It's why most people never speak unless they have a contingency plan.

Technology And Face-To-Face Work In Tandem

There seems to be ample discussion that centers around the concept that face-to-face and technology can operate independently of one another. On the contrary, they tend to work best in tandem. Here are six examples:

1. Face-to-face provides a greater opportunity to establish corporate culture, with technology providing a means to reinforce it.

2. Face-to-face provides a greater opportunity to conduct impromptu gatherings after structured events to discuss what was learned, and technology (instant message services like Twitter) can be used to help facilitate it.

3. Face-to-face clearly provides a better venue to communicate change, deliver bad news, and provide meaningful recognition, with technology allows such information to recapped, defined in depth, or shard beyond the face-to-face audience.

4. Face-to-face deepens relationships in that online relationships, even those that seem intense, are sometimes turned on/off as easily as a television program. Conversely, as noted, technology increases the opportunity for engagement between such meetings.

5. Face-to-face provides a 360-degree view of how people interact whereas technology tends to provide a glimpse of how people think. Both are equally important.

6. Face-to-face education can provide some tactile advantages in teaching someone how to do something whereas technology provides an ability to review specific sections of the material over and over again. Sometimes, it takes less time.

I always chuckle when someone runs in to me someplace and then follows up with a note that says it was great to see me in "real life" as if online communication is somehow artificial. As communicators, we can serve our clientele better by looking at how to bridge face-to-face and online communication rather than think the two streams somehow work against each other.

Harvard Business Publishing recently released an update entitled "Creating and Sustaining a Winning Culture" by Paul Meehan, Darrell Rigby, and Paul Rogers. In the article, the authors use Sydney, Australia–based St. George Bank as an example, the CEO broke down departmental silos by bringing executives together to jointly define a new culture and then allowed the executives to drive that message into the organization with a singular voice.

Considering this example of effective culture building as it relates to face-to-face meetings vs. technology provides an opportunity to chart an effective approach using both. Had it been available, St. George Bank could have defined the message after face-to-face meetings, allowed the executives to deliver the message, reinforced these messages via online internal and external communication channels, and encouraged cross-departmental interaction.

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