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Why the show must go on!
Why the show must go on!
In my first blog about the importance of face-to-face events for our industry, I focused on the business benefits of attending tradeshows. The evidence supporting this was emphatic. I pointed to a recent survey which recorded that 85% of people believe face-to-face meetings contributed to stronger, more meaningful business relationships, while another estimated that for every dollar invested in business travel, companies bank returns of U.S$12.50!
In this blog however, I want to focus on the personal benefits of attending and participating in face-to-face events – whether they are team meetings, conferences or industry tradeshows. I believe these human factors will be a key driver behind the recovery of in-person events as the grip of the pandemic eases thanks to the vaccine rollout and proven safety measures across the world – particularly in the travel and hospitality sectors.
A little too close for comfort
Before I move on to talk about the personal benefits of in-person meetings, let me first briefly explore the concept of ‘zoom fatigue’. No one would argue that, throughout lockdown Zoom calls and Teams meetings, helped us keep both business and personal relationships alive – and they were novel, necessary and welcome. Now almost two years on, let’s be honest, we’re all a little fatigued by the endless virtual meetings and having to look at ourselves close up on camera hours at a time – every day.
You might be comforted to know that there are neuropathophysiologic reasons for our disillusionment with videoconferencing and a lot of it comes down to missing the subtle cues that humans use during conversations and meetings to fill the gaps in what’s being said.
The rule of seven
Most communication is actually unconscious and nonverbal, as emotional content is rapidly processed through social cues like touch, joint attention, and body posture. One of the better known research projects on nonverbal communication was led by Dr. Mehrabian in the 1960s, who devised a formula to describe how the mind determines meaning. He concluded that the interpretation of a message is 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent visual. The conclusion was that 93 percent of communication is “nonverbal” in nature. However, on video, most of these non-verbal cues are difficult to visualize. Without the help of these unconscious cues, on which we rely to socioemotionally fill the gaps, we have to compensate with more cognitive and emotional effort – leading to fatigue. More succinctly, as the TheSpeaker’sCoach puts it “People do business with people, and video conferencing simply cannot substitute the impact you can have when you are able to communicate your passion through body language, eye contact and the nuances of dialogue”.
“You don’t build a business – you build people – and then people build your business” - Zig Ziglar
There are significantly more substantial reasons to encourage employees to attend tradeshows, other than just the fact we’re fed up with Zoom calls. I honestly believe that by exposing employees to in-person events the company is helping develop a more rounded, more experienced, more motivated and therefore more valuable employee. Companies should be looking at industry events as an opportunity for their employees to hone some of their soft skills – communication and presentation skills, negotiation and conflict resolution. It will also test the mettle of an employee’s ability to manage under pressure.
Employers seeking to motivate, engage and retain staff would be well-advised to let them attend industry events to help them widen their knowledge, meet new people and reignite their passion for their chosen industry. Furthermore, employees who feel they are trusted enough to represent the company at events will feel stronger loyalty towards their bosses – and the company, as well as having a greater sense of self-worth. According to YouEarnedIt.com, a company that specializes in employee engagement, an employee who is happy at his or her job is 12 percent more productive than their unfulfilled counterpart.
Moulding a team that’s greater than the sum of its parts
Rather than just being a jolly at the company’s expense, attending conferences, team meetings and employee events is vital in boosting employee morale. It also gives employees validation by making the individual feel part of a team. My team at Honeywell is as diverse and as geographically separated as can be imagined. I have teammates in India, the UAE, the UK, Switzerland, Singapore, China and of course colleagues in the USA. Without meeting at team events or international tradeshows, we would remain a disparate team of individual talents. By getting together, albeit rarely, and truly engaging and getting to know each other we’ve become a tight unit – a team who together, in the wise words of Aristotle - 'is greater than the sum of its parts!’. What’s more, and of true value to managers is that people who truly feel part of a team will put every effort into defending it and working towards common goals. These people are valuable assets for any company and will play a large part in ensuring its future success.
Networking is not about just connecting people. It's about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities." -- Michele Jennae
We all know that industry events involve a substantial element of networking. Rather than being a glorified happy hour on the company’s dime, these networking opportunities are where relationships are formed, where ideas are shared, and ultimately where business is really done. Networking gives employees the opportunity to interact with colleagues from other departments, and often get valuable facetime with senior leadership. They can meet counterparts from other companies, converse with industry experts, and make lasting connections during their time at trade shows or conferences.
In today’s era of virtual communication, we often forget how effective in-person interaction can be. When your employees attend industry events, they have the ability to forge meaningful business relationships that simply can’t be duplicated via email or telephone conversation. A spontaneous conversation at an event may just lead to a long-term business relationship for the company.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
I suggested earlier that attending industry events develops more rounded employees, I also believe they develop more rounded human beings. I’ve been fortunate enough to organize and attend tradeshow in many wonderful countries that I might not have otherwise visited – Poland, South Africa, India, Russia, Turkey and the UAE to mention but a few. By traveling to these show I have been exposed to many different cultures, traditions and customs. This integration, some just times briefly, with diversity has given me a greater appreciation for the world we live in – and the peoples who call it home. As Mark Twain famously penned “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
It’s easy to understand why many managers don’t prioritize sending staff to industry events or conferences. They can be expensive, and they require time away from the office. However, industry leaders who are looking at the pandemic as the excuse to withdraw from future in-person events need to think long and hard about the impact of this decision on their staff.
Employees build skills, gain confidence and pick up actionable insights while at an event. More importantly they will also feel reinvigorated after spending some time in a new, high-energy atmosphere. You may think that spending time out of the office will hurt productivity – but once employees return, they will likely be more productive than ever thanks to their newfound motivation and inspiration – and that has to be good news all round.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog, I’d certainly welcome your comments on the subject.