When Face-To-Face Won’t Work

By: Yael Shafrir, Chief Marketing Officer, Meet in Place

“The social brain is in its natural habitat when we’re talking with someone face-to-face in real time”. So wrote Daniel Goleman, author and science journalist specializing in brain and behavioral sciences.

For those pitching ideas and services – innovation departments, freelancers, startups seeking investors, creatives prospecting new clients – there’s been no substitute for getting in front of the person you’re interacting with.

Thanks to COVID-19, this has become almost impossible. The questions therefore arise: Can pitching be done online? If so, how can it be done effectively?

In business, some things are best done face-to-face

Many people feel that meeting, pitching or collaborating is best done in person. Research shows that face-to-face meetings are 34% more successful than online meetings or email requests.

An in-depth Harvard Business Review global survey of 2,300 people showed that 79% of respondents believe that in-person meetings are the most effective way to meet new clients and generate business. 89% said that face-to face meetings are essential for “sealing the deal”, and 95% of respondents affirmed that face-to-face meetings are a key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term relationships.

There have of course been cases when this has not been possible. After 9/11, aircraft fleets were grounded, making meeting in-person exponentially more difficult for many. Personal circumstances also crop up – missed flights, or emergency medical requirements.

Another period in which many meetings were canceled en masse was after the 2008 financial crisis, where travel and meeting budgets were cut. In an in-depth analysis piece, Forbes Insights showed that despite 59% of executives saying their use of technology-driven meetings had increased during the recession, executives expressed “an overwhelming preference for face-to-face meetings” with over 80% saying they prefer in-person over virtual contact.

In those cases, just like today, a face-to-face meeting or pitch is not possible, and the conversation has to move online.

“It’s Not Ideal, But Can It Work?” is what many are asking. In some ways, it has to. Already the number of cancelled events is unprecedented.  The current corona-caused situation requires a creative approach to business in general, and meetings in particular.

So how can companies make this work?

Daniel Goleman, an author and science journalist at The New York Times, reporting on the brain and behavioral sciences.

Best practice

If a face-to-face meeting is not possible, it’s instructive to investigate best practice when it comes to online meetings.

Bob Frisch and Cary Greene, partners in the Strategic Offsites Group and authors of “Off-Sites That Work” and “Leadership Summits that Work” respectively, offer the following steps to generate the best outcomes from virtual meetings.

1. Use video. Make people feel like they’re all at the “same” meeting. It also helps to personalize the conversation and to keep participants engaged.

2. Provide an audio dial-in option. Connectivity issues plague even the best-planned meetings

3. Test the technology ahead of time. It’s also wise for your team to familiarize themselves with different software packages such as Skype, Zoom, Webex and Google Hangouts/Meet.

4. Make sure faces are visible. Video conferences are more effective when people can see each other’s facial expressions and body language.

5. Stick to meeting basics. This includes setting clear objectives, and having an agenda, ground rules, breaks, and clearly outlined next steps.

6. Minimize presentation length. Prioritize conversation over presentation to maximize the time people spend looking at each other.

7. Use an icebreaker. People can be feeling isolated.  It’s also important to know if a participant has a close friend or family member affected by the virus.

8. Assign a facilitator. Choose one individual to guide the conversation.

9. Call on people. This helps drive closure and engagement, without the risk of excluding an introverted participant’s views.

10. Capture real-time feedback. A phone-based survey tool like Poll Everywhere can help.

11. Don’t be afraid to tackle tough issues. It may seem natural to wait for an in-person opportunity to discuss tough issues, but that might not be an option for the foreseeable future. Therefore don’t avoid controversial topics.

12. Practice once or twice while you’re still together, if possible. In any event, it’s important to debrief your virtual meeting experience including what was effective and what wasn’t, and constantly look to improve.

For many of those pitching ideas and services, there won’t be a “practice round”. Sticking to meeting basics and trusting your pitch are therefore even more important.

Navin Chaddha, Managing Director of venture capital firm Mayfield, recently participated in a workshop by Steven Rogelberg – author of “The Surprising Science of Meetings”. This inspired him to write down his tips for an effective meeting or interaction; the most relevant being “Follow your instincts”.

Until we meet again

While we wait for things to get back to normal, the current situation – no face-to-face meetings – is something we all have to deal with. 

Armed with best practice, it’s possible to ensure the best outcomes under the current circumstances, while being ready to resume all important face-to-face meetings as soon as the situation allows.

About the Author:

Yael Shafrir is the Chief Marketing Officer of Meet in Place, a global network of innovative meeting spaces designed for an urban boutique hospitality experience. The Meet in Place philosophy is rooted in meeting science, as every design feature and amenity offered serves a unique purpose to make meetings as productive as possible. 

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