Online communications are fast, easy, convenient and expected, but are they as effective as face-to-face communications?
The Harvard Business Review reported on a study suggesting that face-to-face communications are 34 times more successful than emails. If your primary method of marketing is cold emailing for new business, that adds up to a great deal of lost opportunity. Indeed, people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness in emails, and underestimate their power in face-to-face communication.
Of course, email is wonderful for quick feedback or the green light on a project change. However, in-person meetings can go a long way to building and maintaining your business relationships. How well you understand and navigate human behavior—in face-to-face communications—can make you a strong influencer and highly successful entrepreneur.
Still not convinced? Read on.
1. Touch Builds Trust
Trust is the foundation of any relationship. Strong relationships (and word-of-mouth recommendations) are catalysts for business growth. When a satisfied client makes an introduction, the person will view you as a colleague—someone like them—rather than as a stranger impinging on their time.
You need engagement to establish trust. Trust is never static; it’s always increasing or diminishing depending on behavior and how people interpret that behavior.
While email removes the pressure—and sometimes the awkwardness—of in-person discussions or disagreements, we’re losing out on the ability to fully connect and the opportunity that connection creates.
Moreover, consider that the recipients of our emails are bombarded by emails and texts in their professional and personal lives as well, so they are far less likely to be fully engaged or connected.
In person, you can make eye contact, smile and offer a handshake. Research has shown that despite our need for personal space and caution about touching, we’re wired to interpret the touch of our fellow humans. Touch promotes cooperation and bonding. Studies have found that seemingly insignificant touches produce better results: bigger tips for waitresses and more purchasing if people are touched by a store greeter. Even strangers are more likely to help someone if a touch accompanies the request.
When talking face-to-face, your tone of voice, facial expression and posture all communicate to your client that you’re sincerely interested in their thoughts and feelings. You can take notes, and even say their words back to them to confirm that you’ve heard and understood them. That builds trust, too.
2. You Pick up Hidden Messages
The nuances of communication can really only be felt in face-to-face communications. Great business communicators become adept at reading even the tiniest facial expressions and body language, and picking up on changing emotions. About 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by non-verbal cues.
As with most things, practice makes perfect in reading and reacting to non-verbal cues. Pay close attention to the person’s posture, hand and feet movements, body movement and placement, appearance and gait as they walk toward you for the meeting. Every gesture is communicating something. Also note if someone’s words say one thing and their non-verbal gestures say another. Listen to the non-verbal communication or your gut instinct, and respond accordingly.
Consider how simple it is to misinterpret an email or text. If you’re discussing sensitive or important information, tone and body language makes a difference. You can readily pick up cues and minimize or quickly mitigate misunderstandings and miscommunications. Face-to-face meetings ensure engagement will be higher and communication will be better understood.
3. Face-to-face Communications Make You Mirror More
In person, you naturally begin to build a rapport by giving the other person your full attention. You make eye contact. You nod as they speak to you, showing your engagement and encouragement—letting them know you are on the same page. This should feel genuine and authentic to you. If it doesn’t, your client may feel as though you are faking your interest and attention.
Mirroring should unfold subconsciously, but it can start out with intention on how you dress, your gestures, vocal pitch and tone, posture, distance, eye contact and body orientation. Of course, you want to mirror positive non-verbals and nothing negative such as turning away, blocking with your arms folded, looking away or closing your eyes.
Research has shown that people increase mirroring of another person when they are engaged in a task or working on a collaborative project. When your face-to-face meeting is a collaborative exchange of ideas and solutions (you’ve clearly demonstrated your value and expertise), you’ve spent your time well.
4. You Like the Person More
Face-to-face interaction is a reminder that we are, at our core, social animals. You feel the human connection and you like the person more. Automation and artificial intelligence surrounds us, so that human imprint can be memorable. A text or email can’t truly convey your personality and warm people to what you have to offer.
People want to do business with people they like. And everyone tends to like someone who appreciates them. So make those face-to-face communications count by showing your appreciation. Be punctual, prepared and enthusiastic. Thank them for their time and insights.
5. Face-to-face Communications Make You More Influential
Digital marketing is an ever-changing art form, but words and images on a screen will never be as inspiring and influential as meeting someone in person. How many times has an email rallied you into action instead of feeling like a chore? How many times have you felt that soaring inspiration from a text message?
People “sell” themselves and their ideas better in person. Their conviction and passion comes alive and animates their words, faces and voice. If you’re trying to sell an idea or business solution to a client, do it in person.
Two Rules to Live By
Now that you can’t underestimate the power of face-to-face communications, here are two rules to live by:
1. Always Kick Off New Client Relationships with an In-person Meeting
When possible, make that first face-to-face communication a priority. That time to bond, exchange ideas, and understand your client’s needs and expectations at the outset will set you up for success and establish a rapport that can continue to warm email communications.
If you don’t get on the same page at the beginning of your relationship, you could spend the work project crossing signals and under-delivering. First meetings are crucial to keeping yourself and your client happy.
2. Schedule a Semi-regular In-person Meeting with Steady Clients
If you have a long-standing relationship, you want to make sure you stay “real” to those valuable clients. Meet them once a quarter or twice a year for a cup of coffee to understand whether your projects are working for them, and what you could be doing differently.
These are also the meetings to bring up your own agenda: Do you want to raise prices or have ideas to pitch them? Want to upsell them on additional services? Do it in person. Remember: You are 34 times more likely to get a “yes!”
about the author
National Post, contributing articles on business, food, culture and travel for affiliated newspapers across Canada. She now writes from her home office in Toronto as a freelancer, and takes breaks to bounce with her son on the backyard trampoline. Connect with her on LinkedIn.Karen Hawthorne worked for six years as a digital editor for the