Magic happens when people meet. I have argued before in Hang On To The 9-5 Workday that nothing can replace the energy of a group of people in the same room at the same time. Face-to-face meetings are one of the most under-rated, highest value competitive advantages in a faceless age of digital communication.
Last Thursday, after spending two wonderful days in Pittsburgh with leaders in the Financial Services Industry I swung by New York before returning home, for a meeting with my publicist, Jane Wesman. I have been working with Jane for several months but had never met her. Jane asked me what other business I had in New York that day, and was taken aback when I said, none, I had come just to meet her personally.I explained to Jane how I could not expect her to excel beyond her already high standards for someone she has never connected with. We proceeded to talk about the value of face-to-face meetings in the digital age — something which she said had become rare in her line of business. I thought later how much more powerful and valuable our meeting might have been, had Jane made the trip to meet me, her client, early on in our working relationship.
We spend fortunes of money and other resources creating and sustaining competitive advantage, but relatively few people invest the time and money to make a trip to connect meaningfully with the people we say we serve or work with. There are 5 primary advantages to a face-to-face meetings that cannot be simulated electronically, even by video-conferencing:
Emotional experiences, not data, bring about changed attitudes and behaviors. Experiences become embedded in our subconscious memories, not information. Transmitting an emotion doesn’t mean informing another person about how you are feeling; that is data. Transmitting emotion means making another person feel the emotion that you are feeling. Works of art are infused with so much feeling and passion from the artist, that if he or she is skillful, the work can create some of those same feelings in someone who ponders the work. Even a carefully composed and beautifully hand-written letter can be a work of art and convey emotion. An email or text message cannot — even if it uses a smiley. Emoticons tell you how I am feeling but do nothing to your feelings. Digital communication has global reach but it doesn’t touch.
Notice how many emoticons represent facial expressions. This is because the face is the most powerful transmitter of emotion. When you remove the face from the communication equation, you have lost your most potent tool of connection. I can’t explain why, but I am sure your experience supports my assertion that the face loses most of its capacity to transmit emotion even in a Skype or other video-conference session. As nice as it is to see your counterpart on your screen, the connection is not direct enough to transmit emotion with any meaningful level of energy.
We know how reliant we are on facial clues to inform us about the trustworthiness of our counterparts. Trust can be developed in a relationship over a long time of consistent behavior, but the spontaneous trusting (or mistrusting) connection created when you look someone in the eye, cannot be made in any forum other than face-to-face.
We empathize with people who we see with some degree of vulnerability. It is hard to experience a person’s vulnerable side through the protective mask of their digital technology. We connect empathetically with someone whose presence we can feel much more effectively than with someone we can hear or see but cannot feel.
Taking the trouble to meet with someone shows a high level of respect; a willingness to invest time and money in the relationship. People naturally reciprocate, and so the gesture of a face-to-face sets in motion a cycle of ever-increasing levels of mutual respect.
In a world starved of friendship Facebook was smart to call the people on our lists of contacts, Friends! Users are not as smart if they get taken in by the illusion and confuse their Facebook contacts with their friends. Friends are people you enjoy hanging-out with and either do so regularly or did so in the past and have continued to stay in touch. Friends are people you can share intimate confidences with in the knowledge they will not judge you or betray you. Friends are people who you know will be there for you no matter what. Friends are people who “get” you and whom you “get“. It is possible to begin a friendship with a business associate you meet and spend time with. You cannot have a friendship with someone you’ve only spoken to on the phone or to whom you have sent emails and Tweets. If neither party has taken the trouble to facilitate a meeting, it is unlikely they will be there for you for anything else. People do more business with friends than with strangers.
Magic happens when people meet. Think of the palpable human energy you feel in a city like New York. This is caused by the confluence of real people in one time and place. The human energy of a large city cannot be simulated technologically. The same applies on a smaller scale when two people meet. There is a moment of romance, excitement, sharing and transmission of energy. In trying to differentiate yourself, don’t drop the face-to-face. It is magical and nothing differentiates you more than the magic that only you can create when you meet someone in person.