Study Shows Negative Impact of Virtual Meetings Trend

by Harvey Chipkin

At a time when meeting planners and business travelers must justify every penny they spend, there is new research that may help their cause.

Crowne Plaza, a hotel brand that focuses on the meetings market, released a study showing that businesses globally may be missing out on an estimated 24% in additional revenue because they are not investing enough time in face-to-face contact.

While technology has allowed people to save time by connecting on virtual platforms, the report, "Business Meetings in a Modern World," shows that meeting face-to-face delivers significant benefits that are much harder to obtain through virtual meetings.

Losing business
In a survey of more than 2,000 businesspeople worldwide, nearly half said they believed they had lost a contract or client because they didn’t have enough face-to-face meetings.

Fully 81% said face-to-face meetings are better for building long-term trust and ensuring strong client relationships.

Unfortunately meeting planners are up against a strong trend toward more virtual meetings.

Nearly two-thirds in the study reported that the number of virtual meetings they attended had increased in the past five to 10 years. Clearly the value of face-to-face meetings is being overlooked in favor of cost and time-saving technologies, such as videoconferences.

Bottom line benefits
“It’s important that planners understand how relevant their job is to really impacting the bottom line for their clients,” said Gina LaBarre, vice president, Americas, brand management, upscale brands, for IHG, which operates Crowne Plaza.

“So many people choose to meet virtually because they think it saves time, but our research showed that by not meeting in person, businesses could be losing out on nearly a quarter of their yearly revenue, which is a significant loss,” LaBarre told Travel Market Report.

The survey findings can help planners demonstrate the ROI of face-to-face meetings. “This kind of information is extremely helpful when counseling clients on the right mix of virtual and in-person meetings. You’re not just planning a meeting;  you’re helping your client make money,” she said.

Maximizing meetings
The Crowne Plaza report also contains information that can help with meeting specifics and logistics, such as preferred meeting times and environments.

“The research shows that meeting earlier in the week and in the morning is preferred. Meeting planners can make these recommendations when scheduling meetings for clients,” LaBarre said.

“The right environment is also very important to ensuring that a meeting is successful. People want comfortable chairs, a tidy room with natural sunlight, plenty of refreshments and a meeting room that isn’t too hot or cold.”

When in-person meetings really count
While in-person meetings have many benefits, they are especially critical in certain business situations. Respondents said that the situations when face-to-face interaction matters most include: starting a new business relationship, finalizing a deal and negotiating contracts.

A key advantage of face-to-face meetings, according to respondents, is that all the visual clues needed to avoid misunderstanding are present. A full 96% said they had correctly predicted a positive outcome from a face-to-face meeting based on nonverbal clues, with the most predictable being good eye contact.

Among other survey findings:
•    small talk is recognized as a good business meeting tool, with the average meeting starting with about 7.5 minutes of light conversation
•    the ideal number of attendees for a face-to-face meeting is an average seven people.

Next time: Tips on optimizing the benefits of face-to-face meetings.

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