The new value we can add to face-to-face meetings
Whilst technology plays an important role when it comes to enabling communication, in-person networking is still the foundation of knowledge sharing, collaboration and innovation in the meetings space.
Virtual conferences, online seminars and daily Zoom calls with our colleagues have been fundamental in staying connected in the current environment. But while we’ve seen exponential growth in digital tools and platforms to make this possible, face-to-face meetings remain catalytic to the kinds of conversations and collisions that spark future innovation.
Meetings make things happen
For businesses, meetings are integral to opening up new markets and attracting investments. In a global study, Harvard Business Review surveyed 2,300 of their subscribers to discover attitudes around face-to-face meetings. More than three-quarters of participants agreed that in-person meetings were the most effective way to meet new clients and promote their business, while 89% said that face-to-face communication was essential in “sealing the deal”.
“Every business around the world has no doubt found new ways to communicate using digital tools at this time, but technology will never replace the authenticity of meeting face to face,” says BESydney CEO Lyn Lewis-Smith.
The corporate and academic worlds place a high value on conferences, events and exhibitions to set agendas, gain feedback from peers and experts, share ideas and build relationships, which can then lead to new clients or partnerships down the track, or grant and research collaborations.
Fostering meaningful connections
Face-to-face meetings are invaluable vehicles to profile expertise, share knowledge, and create and strengthen collaboration. In fact, 95% of those surveyed by the Harvard Business Review believed that meeting in person was key to successfully maintaining and building long-term relationships.
The collective effervesce shared between colleagues and academics across a table isn’t replicable over a screen or chat window, and body language is an important factor. There are a whole range of non-verbal cues, from eye contact to hand gestures and body posture, that contribute to the deeper connections so necessary for building trust to progress a business deal or enter a new collaboration.
“This leapfrog in technology adoption will change the face of business meetings forever, and eventually, for the better, when we can all meet physically and share experiences in a single destination once again,” explains Ms Lewis-Smith. “In blending the immediate and deep connection of face-to-face and the global reach and time-zone ambivalence of virtual communications, hybrid meetings will give delegates and host organisations the best of both worlds.”
Leaving a legacy
Due to the travel restrictions and physical distancing measures that have been in place over the course of the pandemic, many of us are experiencing a sense of cabin fever which, on a personal level, has made the desire to travel and meet in-person stronger than ever. But on a global level, the meetings industry is also instrumental in wider economic recovery, not simply from a standpoint of direct expenditure in the host city economy, but also in the potential investments, talent acquisitions and trade deals and that are cultivated by strong working relationships and networking encounters.
BESydney’s own research with the University of Technology Sydney over the past 10 years highlights the short- and long-term “beyond tourism” benefits of business events, including The Power of Conferences and Conferences: Catalysts for thriving economies.
Beyond the economic benefits, almost 90% of conference delegates surveyed in BESydney’s research said they were exposed to new and innovative ideas and knowledge. This exchange of ideas then resulted in 61% of exhibitors making international sales contacts – and allowed the local industry sector or researchers to showcase their expertise to a global audience, raising their profile by 79%. “We are confident that face-to-face business events will return once again to their role shaping industries and relationships for years, and even decades, after they are held,” says Ms Lewis-Smith. “Cross-border collaborations and business deals get a power hit at high-level international conferences and the resulting legacy is new policy and innovation.”
And the way strategic bidding specialists promoting to the business visitor can bring value to host cities and countries is changing, too. “COVID-19 has given us the opportunity, once again, to reimagine our organisation, the role that we play in attracting business meetings, and working with our partners in the industry to re-design those meetings so we can create new value for clients and their delegates but also for our state and for our country,” continues Ms Lewis-Smith. “We are now more focused than ever on sharing the story of Sydney, our smarts and capabilities, right across Australia and the rest of the world, and creating long-term social and economic impact.”