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Digital Versus Face-to-Face

The importance of events

Hashtag Awards, event by Boom Goes The Drum. Photo courtesy of Neil Zeller Photography.

In a world ruled by technology, there’s no denying that face-to-face interactions are becoming few and far between. More companies are taking advantage of apps like Skype and Google Duo to conduct interviews or host large group meetings. Even in our personal lives, most of us tend to text or FaceTime to communicate with others. Events used to be one of the only ways to make meaningful connections with clients, and those clients looked forward to attending them. How important is it for businesses to ensure and maintain face-to-face interactions and how relevant and valuable are events in today’s digital age?

According to Derek MacDonald, president and event producer at Boom Goes The Drum, “Face-to-face interactions are becoming more important. So many businesses and industries rely on having face-to-face interactions, not as a traditional way of meeting but more as a way to formalize connections. We all know the difference between talking to a machine and talking to a real person. Business events are the same – things like CRMs (customer relationship management) and LinkedIn could never replace the connection created by a face-to-face interaction.”

United Way of Calgary and Area president and CEO, Karen Young, agrees and says, “Bringing people together to solve complex social issues to improve local lives is what we do. Relationships and partnerships, we believe, are key to getting things done. Our mission of mobilizing communities for lasting social change enables us to bring people together in person and build a sense of common purpose. This allows us to probe deeply into issues through interactive conversations and questions, and energizes us to further our work as milestones and successes are recognized together.”

For many businesses, face-to-face interactions will continue to be an important way to connect, regardless of how digital the world becomes. “It allows people to establish deeper connections through body language signals, facial expressions and hand gestures, rather than relying on audio or digital solutions alone. It creates efficiency in decision-making and problem solving and allows for direct lines of communication between both parties,” says Meredith Trueman, event director and partner at Bijou Events.

And for businesses where the client’s financial well-being is at stake, face-to-face interactions are even more key to building trusting relationships. “Relationships are the foundation of our business at Raymond James,” says Christina Chow, financial adviser and member of the Raymond James Canada Foundation Advisory Committee whose role is to help facilitate philanthropic efforts and events across the firm.

Events create networking opportunities for advisers at Raymond James, something that would not be possible virtually. “Networking opportunities and personal, genuine interactions with our clients still matters. You can’t build those types of relationships virtually or digitally. We have our clients’ financial well-being first and foremost in mind. Face-to-face interactions help to build trust and an understanding of their financial goals. It’s too easy to misinterpret an email and very impersonal over an app like FaceTime.”

Event professionals, says MacDonald, are becoming very sophisticated at designing events for the specific purpose of creating interaction and sparking new connections. “The use of technology format and social media are all areas where planners are getting really good at designing environments that spark new connections and facilitate meaningful interactions between attendees for this exact purpose.”

Young says, “Bringing people together who have a common concern or purpose from across a continuum of services and walks of life ignites passion, compassion and new ideas. Events build affinity not just with our organization, but with our city, our communities and our residents.”

Trueman echoes Chow’s comments and says events allow people to connect in person and therefore help to establish trust and transparency. She adds, “Events allow the client to control their brand and the message they want to send to their audience. It gives a company the ability to showcase their product or service with context and have staff on site to walk a potential client through their brand. Beyond increasing brand awareness, it leaves a potential client with a positive impression that your company is willing to give a personal touch in an increasingly digital world.”

MacDonald believes the value of live events is growing more than ever. “Most large brands are moving towards including live or experiential communications tactics as a way to have people experience their message. Whether it is for sales and marketing, employee engagement, relationship building or just being in control of the tone and messaging of their brand, many organizations are now blending their digital communications efforts with live events.

“We all know that feeling of ‘you just had to be there.’ But the exciting thing is that organizations are thinking about their investment in live events as a way to fulfil their digital goals and vice versa. Events can now go beyond the live moment and reach a digital audience,” says MacDonald.

Young adds, “In today’s business environment, we connect more digitally than ever before – emails, video chats, digital platforms, texts, social and more. Digital is a core part of how United Way is building the future of philanthropy. However, I believe this makes true, human, face-to-face interactions more, not less, important. For this reason, events are a strategic part of our work; they are rare windows of opportunity for real human connections in an increasingly digital world, and every minute in an event is an important moment to maximize those connections.”

In response to the digital era, Young proudly announces that United Way and Salesforce.org, the non-profit subsidiary of Salesforce, have partnered to create Philanthropy Cloud, a game-changing technology platform to advance social purpose “unlike anything else in the marketplace.” She explains, “Philanthropy Cloud does not replace the work we do – it enhances it. As a tool, it provides another medium for people to engage in ways they are most comfortable with.”

Trueman understands face-to-face events will always be necessary, but she also points out that “digital meetings are becoming more important as they allow companies to connect with distance audiences and speakers from all over the world and provide a cost-effective alternative to having someone or everyone come together in one place.”

Knowing this, Bijou Events plans hybrid events that use both digital and traditional methods. Hybrid events, according to Trueman, are very effective in reaching an extensive audience and provide attendees with both digital and face-to-face aspects.

For Raymond James, events are beneficial for both the team and their clients. “Our event strategies bring advisers and clients together on a social basis. This assists in breaking down barriers and helps to get to know your client better,” says Chow.

“People develop ‘felt memory’ around an experience in a way that they never could through a digital experience. So at a time when our digital experiences are becoming cluttered and ubiquitous, a live moment is refreshing and attention grabbing. But more importantly, finding ways to balance the digital and live experience that people are having is really effective to building meaningful connections,” explains MacDonald.

Young says, “The relationships and networking within a room full of people committed to a common purpose is irreplaceable. However, we recognize that as the world of technology evolves, many people prefer to engage and network online. To successfully realize lasting social change, we need to harness the support of the entire community, including online communities so they too can be involved and support causes they care about.”