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Why Face-to-Face Connections Still Trump Digital Ones

As of 2016, more than half of U.S. workers were video-conferencing regularly, lowering travel costs by 30 percent, and improving relationships and productivity. So, when it’s as easy to chat with your intercontinental counterpart as your next-door neighbor, is a sit-down meeting becoming obsolete? Here’s what experts have to say.

by Antonio Gabola

Face-to-face interaction fosters trust where online interaction doesn’t.

Leadership expert Ulrich Kellerer told Forbes’s Carol Kinsey Goman, “Face-to-face interaction is still by far the most powerful way to achieve business goals. Having a personal connection builds trust and minimizes misinterpretation and misunderstanding. With no physical cues, facial expressions/gestures, or the ability to retract immediately, the risk of disconnection, miscommunication, and conflict is heightened.”

In-person communication amplifies the potential to build the authentic connections that foster trust. And, whether it’s acquiring new business, asking for honest feedback, or requesting a referral, it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of trust in professional relationships.

In-person interaction creates opportunities for vulnerable, honest connection.

Chris Winfield has made a career of helping people connect authentically through curated events and thoughtful introductions. The entrepreneur and super-connector echoes Kellerer’s sentiments, further describing the effectiveness of face-to-face meetings in creating high-value connections: “The people you want to work with are people you like, people you want to build friendships with, people who have the same values as you. It’s so much clearer who those people are when you meet them face-to-face.”

It’s not online versus offline; it’s learning to use the one to enhance the other.

According to Mark Shapiro, a creator of the podcast Are You Being Real, there’s a way to utilize virtual and tangible connection in concert, as tools that complement one another.

“Online communication is an amazing tool for making initial contact, as well as for ‘in-between’ correspondence, which can help sustain a connection over time and distance. But finding my co-founder, my podcast producer, and the person I would fall in love with—those life-changing moments happened through in-person connection. Connecting face-to-face is still the most meaningful, rewarding, and opportunity-rich decision you can make.”

The more virtual connections we amass, the less valuable those connections become.

According to Winfield, “Social media has made it easier than ever to connect with people. Ironically, because it’s so easy, the value of a connection made online has decreased.” 

It’s a belief tech/social-media researcher Alexandra Samuel expressed in  Harvard Business Review as far back as 2016: “With an enormous collection of friends or followers on a network, you lose the benefits of intimacy, discoverability, and trust, all of which can work better when you have fewer connections.” 

In other words, if you want to build a high-value network, you need to think in terms of quality rather than quantity (both online and off). Here are two recommendations to help you make your network less high-volume and more high-impact. 

Be intentional about the online connections you make.

Is this suggested LinkedIn connection someone you want to sit down and brainstorm with? Someone whose accomplishments you admire? Someone with whom you can have a mutually beneficial relationship? If not, then maybe you don’t click that “Connect” button. 

Reinvest the time you were spending online in meeting face-to-face. 

If you ask Chris Winfield, sitting down with someone in person is always worth the extra effort: “I made a commitment to meet with one person every single day—nearly six years later, I’m still doing it. I’ve found that 5-10 minutes of time spent truly connecting with someone in person is worth more than a year of online correspondence.”

Technology may have transformed the world we live in, but there’s still no facsimile for simple, honest human contact. So, as you navigate the ever-shifting landscape of commerce going forward, know that in a world where virtual connection has become the rule, going analog packs an even bigger punch.

Vasiliy Ivanov, CEO at KeepSolid: ”We used to attend up to 15 big events, like WebSummit, Techcrunch, and smaller ones, a year. Unfortunately, they were useless for us in terms of finding clients, partners, or even getting meaningful feedback that could help us improve our apps. We are a bootstrapped software company and not interested in finding investors. Most of the contacts we were able to make at WebSummit, for instance, were interested in either acquiring or investing in the company. Since Q3 2018 we’ve slashed the number of events we attended, but for the PR purposes, and haven’t felt any negative impact.”

Rika Khurdayan, CEO at Dilendorf & Khurdayan: ”We recently organized a private event in Hong Kong with a local partner devoted to structuring and launching security token offerings (STO) in the US. We carefully selected the guest list and invited people that could potentially benefit from each other  – from blockchain projects to advisors, to broker-dealers, to investment funds and bankers, to marketing agencies, to technology experts and thought leaders.  The event allowed us to establish lasting relationships in a new market, grow and strengthen our network and generate new business.”

Katia Gaika, CEO at Baza: “To grow our Executive search and IT recruitment business (Baza.one) participation at relevant events proved to be effective. For example, our stand at Fintech on the Block resulted in 4 new clients. Additionally, we got an access to 500 smaller companies that we plan to stay in touch with for the future.”

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