Truly Virtual: Can Face-to-Face Meetings be Replaced?

By Jim Cathcart

There’s so much talk about “virtual” versus “in-person” lately. Let’s put it to rest.

Take the word “virtual” — it means to have the virtue of, but not necessarily the nature of … something.

Truly Virtual: Can Face-to-Face Meetings be Replaced?Teleconferences are, by virtue, TV shows. But by nature, they have something more. They have live interaction. Above all, they are conferences. The main difference is just the format. You’re still talking with the same people about the same things.

For example: GoToMeeting via your computer is a meeting. Expectations, behavior, and communication are much the same as an in-person event. The technology simply changes some of the rules of it, and what works in person may not work as well online.

Likewise, a Skype conference is still a conference. It’s no different from a telephone, a large room with a microphone, a screen and special lighting. Just cool tools, that’s the only difference. But …

The one quality that emerges from in-person events and not so much from virtual meetings is … trust. We are hard-wired to connect best when we’re interacting face-to-face. There are thousands of subtle messages we send and receive via sound, movement, timing, eye contact and touch that are essential to human bonding. So, if the purpose of your meeting is to build bonds between participants, then do it in person. Once the bond is created, then you can use more virtual contact.

I recall a day years ago when my insurance agent sent my wife and me a summary of our coverage. The same day, I’d received a mailer from a competitor offering better prices. My wife and I liked our agent, but the price was really an issue. I said, “You know, we’ve been with Dave for 13 years now, and he’s treated us well. But we haven’t seen him in person for over 2 years. Let’s check out this other company.” Paula said, “Okay, but first let’s call Dave.” (Loyalty and consideration are strengths of hers.)

When Dave came through our door, everything changed. Upon seeing his smile and shaking his hand, I remembered how much I liked and trusted him. He sat down with us and listened, then summarized our needs and recommended several changes. We dropped some coverage, and added others. The net effect? We increased our insurance expenditures! Yes, we spent more, but were happy to do so because we knew that we now had the right coverage and an agent we could trust. Sometimes a face-to-face meeting is vital.

We still don’t see Dave in person very often, but we do get phone calls and personal notes. We also know that he won’t let much time pass without an in-person visit. When is the last time you met in person with your key contacts?

Truly Virtual Vs. Partially Virtual

Partially virtual means you are connected with the real person, but you’re using virtual means. Truly virtual is when you are interacting with a website or an avatar. When the other person is not actually present, that does change the deal. If your coach is a series of recordings instead of a live person, then the “nature” of your coach is not natural. So the process and the data must carry the load.

The bottom line? There is great value and convenience to such artificial experiences, but they will never actually replace human touch.

In short, there will never (in my humble opinion) be a viable replacement for face-to-face, hand-to-hand human contact. But then again, an iPhone can’t replace a hammer. Some needs call for direct contact and many others can be delegated to the dance of the digits (1s & 0s) in your technology. Keep your options open and don’t forget to try something you’re not yet comfortable using. Growth requires resistance, so embrace your challenges daily.

Here’s to the spirit of growth!

Jim Cathcart is the bestselling author of 16 books and a “hall of fame” professional speaker. He has worked with 2,700 clients worldwide over his 35 years as a trainer and consultant. Jim is the founder of and a frequent coach to many of his colleagues and clients. He is also a professional guitarist and singer.
Originally published: Oct 20, 2011

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