The power you get from “real” meetings

This post from financial writer/editor Art McPherson was written as a follow up to our recent discussion about the virtues and pitfalls of today’s “virtual” meetings and the value of meeting face-to-face with real people.  Perhaps his most cogent point:  “A virtual beer just doesn’t taste the same.” What do you think? –PJW  (Thanks, Art!)

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By Arthur MacPherson [amacpherson01@gmail.com]

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’” — Dave Barry

Admit it. You cringe at the mention of “meetings.” Even if well-planned and tightly run, they eat up your time, taking you away from the work you already have and creating more work. But they’re an integral part of business life.

When I started my business career, a meeting always involved people gathering in a conference room or convention hall, coffee mug in one hand, and pen and paper in the other. But today we live in an age of “virtual” meetings — teleconferences, video conferences, online presentations, Webinars.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that companies are increasingly turning to electronic gatherings, particularly when budgets are tight. For a convention or company sales conference, virtual meetings can mean significant savings (50%-80% by one estimate) on travel and hotel expenses, and creating and shipping displays and boxes of brochures and trinkets.

In a company setting, meeting virtually allows you to sit at your desk instead of being held hostage for an hour in a conference room. You can even “attend” a meeting sitting at home in jeans and a t-shirt. There’s another advantage, discussed with a wink and a smile, if at all; you can multi-task. (Don’t deny it — you’ve done it, too.)

Cheaper, more convenient and less demanding on your time. Virtual meetings are clearly better than face-to-face in a conference room. Then again, maybe not, for a couple of reasons.

First, going “virtual” lacks the personal contact and connections that can make a meeting productive and worth the effort. Getting together in person lets you chat with others before and maybe go out for a drink afterwards (a virtual beer just doesn’t taste the same), building a sense of “team” and stronger relationships with co-workers. A glance across the table or someone’s body language can give you an insight into the dynamics of a project and the people on it. It’s human interaction that even the most sophisticated technology can’t replicate.

The second reason that some question the value of virtual meetings is the very thing that many of us value. Multi-tasking may seem more productive, but that email you’re reading (while listening in to make sure nobody asks you a direct question) is a distraction and you may miss an important detail or two. In fact, multi-tasking can prevent information from being retained in long-term memory, according to a widely quoted 2010 white paper by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and marketing services company Maritz.

I dislike having my calendar clogged with meetings as much as the next person (especially the day last year when I had eight of them). But as Victor Torregroza, event marketing manager at Intel Corp., said in a 2011 article on BtoBonline.com, “The impact of people coming together for a common cause is extremely powerful. The quality is much more everlasting and impactful.”

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