The best advocates for the positive return on investment of in-person meetings may very well be members of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International. The meetings industry has been hit hard by the media and public scrutiny of the actions of major companies that received bailouts from the federal government. But members of the industry remain adamant that face-to-face meetings are a crucial part of every business.
Mindy Gunn, CMP, AVP, senior meeting and event planner with Wells Fargo’s bank technology and operations group, and an MPI member for four years, is the first to admit that times have become increasingly challenging for professionals in the meetings industry.
“We are in a very transparent environment, and the meetings industry is being scrutinized from many angles,” she says. “This, combined with technological advances, has created a movement toward more virtual meetings, whether they be via Web, video or teleconference.”
However, she does not believe these technological advances can entirely supersede face-to-face meetings.
“I don’t think that in-person meetings will ever be completely replaced by Webinars or video conferences, especially those that are designed to build relationships and network with teams,” she says. “I do think, however, that the smaller meetings with existing teams can and will be replaced with the virtual approach.”
She adds that face-to-face meetings facilitate a form of relationship building that simply cannot be done via the telephone or Internet.
“The meetings where interaction plays a key role, such as large project planning, team networking and sales coaching, requires at least periodic face-to-face contact in order to create solid teams,” Gunn says.
Bernadette Daily, meetings manager, corporate meeting solutions with American Express and an MPI member for four years, agrees that in-person meetings offer something that other meeting formats cannot: the human touch.
“Yes, technology has changed meetings, and attendance for in-person meetings has lowered,” she says. “But we are humans. We like to see, feel and touch. People like to put a face with a name, and they like the camaraderie and personal touch that you get with an in-person meeting. Face-to-face interaction and body language mean a lot.”
Technology and recent media scrutiny may have changed the way meetings are being held, but MPI members are united in their belief in the benefits of face-to-face meetings.
There are obvious benefits of in-person meetings, according to Kathi Overkamp, CMP. Overkamp has been an MPI member since 1995, is past president of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter, past board director for the international board of directors for MPI, and manager, special events and client hospitality for US Airways.
“In-person meetings are important for a number of reasons: better learning environment, networking, peer-to-peer interaction and accountability,” she says. “Our meetings are all business.”
Overkamp also thinks that conference calls and the like can be less effective as a result of daily diversions and interruptions.
“Have you ever been on a conference call at your desk? Do you check e-mails? Handle paperwork? Put the call on mute and talk to someone? How can you be engaged when there are so many distractions?” she asks. “Being able to see your counterparts face to face and meet folks you may have only communicated with via e-mail or on the phone is important.”
In Overkamp’s opinion, the biggest return on investment of meetings is face-to-face communication, whether it is a company or business update or training.
“You can communicate via the computer, conference calls and Webinars, but to have the leaders of your company in the same room as you, giving you important information about the direction of your business and then being able to network with these same leaders and talk to them up close and personal — that is priceless,” she says.
Gunn adds: “Meetings create a venue where strategy can be discussed efficiently and key decisions are made. In my industry, especially in the current economic climate, this is critical in doing business.”
She thinks that without effective meetings, the strategic and decision-making processes slow down and critical business suffers.
“Meetings, when planned and executed efficiently, bring together the key players and allow them to communicate in a way that other venues cannot duplicate, thus saving time and resources,” Gunn says.