by Eva Niewiadomski, Catalyst Ranch
Dahlia Fahmy, an international business journalist, has searched through various scientific studies published by universities, information surveys conducted by professional associations and everything in between in an attempt to determine the importance of face-to-face meetings. Here are some of the results of her search:
“In the past couple of years, a variety of groups have published studies on meetings and events, some directly (by measuring the impact of face-to-face meetings) and others indirectly (by, say, focusing on the ROI of business travel).
An authoritative 2009 study by Oxford Economics used a mix of hard data and opinions from 300 senior executives at U.S. companies to show that every dollar invested in business travel earned companies $12.50 in revenue. Face-to-face meetings allow companies to convert 40 percent of prospective customers, as opposed to just 16 percent without such a meeting.
. . . The study is particularly strong because it didn’t just collect opinions, but also ran a statistical analysis of data across the economic spectrum provided by governmental agencies to quantify what kind of an impact business travel has on economic productivity.
Another convincing survey published by the Harvard Business Review and sponsored by British Airways, Managing Across Distance In Today’s Economic Climate: The Value of Face-to-Face Communication, asked 2,300 HBR subscribers around the world to assess the value of face-to-face communication during the economic downturn. The results were powerful: 79 percent said that face-to-face meetings are the “most effective way to meet new clients to sell business” and another 89 percent agreed that in-person meetings “are essential for sealing the deal.” Perhaps not surprisingly, 93 percent said such meetings are particularly helpful when negotiating with “people from a different language and cultural background.”
Another weighty study that measured the impact of face-to-face meetings came from Forbes Insights, a division of the Forbes publishing group, which surveyed 760 business executives. The Case for Face-to-Face found that the majority of respondents (84 percent) prefer personal meetings to “build stronger, more meaningful business relationships” and “lead to higher quality decision-making.”
Unlike other studies of this kind, the Forbes paper also elicited answers about the drawbacks of virtual meetings. Among others, 38 percent said that “technology-enabled meetings often result in disruption and delays,” and 49 percent of respondents said face-to-face meetings offer less opportunity for unnecessary distraction.
And then there’s Why Face-to-Face Business Meetings Matter, largely an academic review of existing literature on small group and organizational behavior research, published by Dr. Richard Arvey at the University of Singapore. Instead of simply examining one group of respondents, the study combed through years of existing psychological research. He found, among other things, that studies show “media rich channels” of communication, such as face-to-face meetings, are more effective when participants express feelings, when tasks must be coordinated or when one is trying to persuade others. He says studies also show that personal meetings let participants develop transparency and trust, and help them pick up nuances of organizational culture more easily. The caveat: This study focused on meetings of small groups, and the finding might not apply in the same way to larger gatherings.”