Forbes in a Funk over Virtual Meetings and Events

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The new Forbes Insights document titled Business Meetings, The Case for Face-to-Face poses the question: Can webconferences, videoconferences and other virtual meetings really take the place of face-to-face contact?

The answer is presented somewhat ambiguously in the report as they state “business executives overwhelmingly agree that face-to-face meetings are not just preferable but necessary for building deeper, more profitable bonds with clients and business partners and maintaining productive relationships with co-workers.” Yet buried toward the end of the document is a little statistic that suggests the opposite. When asked “Which do you think best represents the ideal meeting/conference execution strategy?” Only 40% said “Mostly in-person, face-to-face” while the majority said “Mostly technology-enabled” which also explains why 42% reported significant increase in use of technology enabled meetings with almost 60% reporting an increase overall.

For a little background on the Forbes Insights program I called and talked with the Director, Christiaan Rizy. As this study quoted several hotel industry executives, I was wondering if these travel companies had paid for the program. Christiaan confirmed that these are usually projects for hire but that this one was done for free because “Forbes took a strong opinion on how business travel seems to be hurting right now. We hope to get everyone back to thinking business travel is ok.”

I don’t have a problem with this kind of research where you have a position and you simply want to create data to support it, it’s done all the time in business. I’d even say that the title of document “Business Meetings, The Case for Face-to-Face” is pretty clear about the objective of the survey–to make the case. The problem is that it goes too far in trying to support a premise that is obvious (people like to meet face-to-face and if they can do it at a great property like a Ritz or Four Seasons even better) and not enough into addressing the real problem–people can’t meet this way because of time and money and in the future, you might add carbon into the equation.

I can’t say there was a lot in the study I would disagree with but I did ask Christiaan to share the raw data (which he said he will but maybe he won’t) so that I can better understand the answers in relation to among other things, age. Forbes did another survey recently (for Google) called The Rise of the Digital C-Suite that looked at the overall use of the Internet and web2.0 technology by executives based on their age. There is some data in here that is somewhat contradictory to the Business Meeting survey like:

“Executives find the Internet more valuable for locating business related information than references from colleagues, personal networks, newspapers and magazines, TV and radio, and conferences and trade shows.”

“In fact, the value of the Internet outstrips even personal recommendations from colleagues and networks.”

“Ask older executives how they feel about Web 2.0 tools, and they’re likely to dismiss them without a thought. Asked about Twitter, the chief legal officer for a major U.S. energy company and a member of Generation Wang gives a simple, ‘Frankly, I don’t see the business value in it.’

In short The Rise of the Digital C-Suite study said be prepare for profound organizational evolution as younger executives move into the executive offices. I would like to suggest that part of those changes will include even more use of virtual meeting and virtual events technology. Could it be these up-and-comers that are driving the tremendous growth of technology enabled meetings and events today? Physical meetings and events will never be eliminated but as the data shows in the Business Meeting survey; they will become less frequent compared to technology enabled meetings.

To me, a more meaningful and helpful effort might have been to show the way the two face-to-face and virtual actually help businesses achieve their objectives. There is lots of benefit to using the right mix of both and in the end, the increase in virtual event and meetings may make for more productive face-to-face meetings and further the case for face-to-face.

As for the list of reasons why the executives surveyed prefer face-to-face, that is a great list of things every virtual events and meeting technology platform and event or meeting planner should have taped to their computer screen so they can improve their virtual events and meetings with these ideas in mind.

An alternative headline I was toying with but didn’t seem right when mentioning the Ritz and Four Seasons: Survey says long lines, bad food, delayed flights, lumpy beds all better than virtual events.

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