Face-to-Face Meetings – Can They Be Replaced?

April 16, 2020
Ben Erwin

The current environment across the globe has presented the meetings and events industry with a clear focus on virtual opportunities. As a result, there are some natural questions that come to mind. Are virtual meetings the new normal? Will they ultimately replace live meetings? And, can people do without face-to-face events?

The answer is understandably nuanced.

Technology to deliver virtual events continues to improve and offers a credible alternative in an environment where people cannot physically gather. Dramatic increases in use of webinars, livestreams – even the reality that ‘Zoom’ is becoming a verb – all demonstrate that virtual events are thriving. And with more of us becoming comfortable with the medium and more thoughtful in how to design virtual events, we will absolutely see an increased use in purely virtual meetings as well as hybrid events, even after governmental restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.

But this does not mean face-to-face meetings can be fully replaced. At their core, meetings and events are meant to connect and inspire people. This happens not just in general sessions or breakouts, but also in moments of serendipity on exhibit floors and the social networking times outside the formal program. According to Meetings Mean Business, 84 percent of executives agree that team productivity is at its best when people meet face-to face. We learn, change, and innovate when we are together. This is due to real value we all get from human connection.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Our world is certainly forever altered. Virtual meetings will have their place and all of us need to learn how to leverage technology to increase the opportunity that our meetings can connect even larger audiences. Face-to-face meetings will also continue to have an important role as virtual cannot satisfy the purpose of every event. The opportunity for us all is to understand how to create hybrid events that give attendees the best of both solutions in order to multiply the impact of our meetings.

On Global Meetings Industry Day on April 14, 2020, I sat down to discuss this topic in detail with Tara Higgins, President at Hargrove, Tricia Rawh, Executive Director of the Cardiovascular Research Foundation’s Center for Education, and Jim Huss, Director of Employee Events at Intel. We discovered that now, more than ever, we’re positioned with a wealth of tools at our fingertips to go virtual. But as we move forward, when is the right time to use which format? It boils down to strategy and purpose.

“Now our toolbox is bigger,” said Jim. “Now we have more ways of accomplishing things. Sometimes that’s a great thing, sometimes that’s daunting because – which one do I choose in which situation. But if you start getting very clear on what the purpose and goals of your events are, I think that leads you down the right path for what technologies to deploy.”

Tricia agreed, astutely stating that “meeting objectives will have to drive the delivery method whether that’s virtual, in-person or a combination of both.”

There’s an opportunity for all of us to have louder voices around advancing the strategic goals of our organizations with the right combination of virtual and in-person for our events. The time to start these conversations is now.