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Face-to-face works best

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After two years of travel restrictions, we can finally meet again! You can now start planning conferences, events and meetings in cities with beautiful surroundings, close to nature. Research shows that meeting face-to-face is both necessary and highly productive, and inspires closer collaboration.

Although digital meetings have become routine, demand for direct human interaction is rising exponentially as restrictions are lifted. There was proof of this recently, when Norway lifted almost all of its restrictions and everyone was free to meet in person again. People eagerly returned to the office. In addition, experts believe that virtual meetings can never truly replace physical interactions.

“I think you build relationships faster in person. This can still be achieved online, but it may take longer. Virtual is good for a group who have already met and want to keep in touch,” says Alexandra Wolridge, Event Manager at Russel Reynolds.

She adds: “I think we’ll attempt to combine the best of how things were pre-pandemic with the best of the virtual world. Hosting meetings and events virtually is more inclusive, allowing more people to attend. Virtual meetings give you a reduced carbon footprint, and allow people in different time zones to attend the same event. However, some things cannot be replicated virtually, such as networking, effective team building and natural group conversations.”

Meeting in Norway
Photo: Håkon Jørgensen - visitnorway.com

Stronger relationships build more trust

Video conferences and meetings are much more demanding, and attendees can often lose concentration. We have all witnessed meeting participants becoming engaged in other tasks or dropping out of a meeting altogether. The concept is called ‘Zoom fatigue’, and it's everywhere.

Researchers at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab have identified four reasons why Zoom fatigue occurs. One of the reasons: Watching yourself constantly during video chats is fatiguing.

“Just think about the medium – just because you can use video doesn’t mean you have to,” Professor Jeremy Bailenson, of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, told Stanford News.

Virtual meetings will never be able to replace the relationship and chemistry building opportunities that arise during lunch, a round of golf, a group yoga session, or coffee break at a conference. This is well documented in research. According to Forbes, 84 percent of respondents prefer physical meetings to digital ones, in part because meeting physically builds better relationships. Face-to-face meetings also create greater trust between participants, according to Science Direct.

“Video conferencing cannot replace the rapport and energy you get from in-person meetings. You lose nuances in body language and fluidity in conversations. Disadvantages include lack of engagement, and you lose the ability to mingle or network easily. It’s very easy to tune out/turn the video off and get on with something else,” says Wolridge.

Meet in Norway
Photo: Håkon Jørgensen - visitnorway.com

Norway is a rising star among destinations

“The most important elements of in-person events, I believe, are building rapport with your audience quickly and connecting with people on a level that is impossible to do virtually. You also miss the spontaneity of bumping into someone you didn't expect to see, or having someone introduce you to an interesting person they just met. Virtual is a great way of connecting with a large audience quickly, however, to really develop a relationship and have it flourish, you need to meet in person,” says Wolridge.

Is it safe to meet in person now? Studies have shown that many people have higher health and safety concerns as a result of the pandemic. During the past two years, Norway has been recognised as a safe and secure country. The Norwegian authorities have been praised around the world for taking infection control seriously and achieving excellent vaccination coverage.

Read more: Congresses in Norway

"Thanks to its vibrant cities, home to strong academic communities, and a skilled meeting and tourism industry, Norway has become the rising star among conference destinations. You can be sure to find venues with modern, safe and reliable high-tech facilities, including advanced solutions for hybrid events," says Frode Aasheim, acting director of tourism at Innovation Norway. Norway is recognised as a global leader in digital innovation and tools.


Meet in NorwayPhoto: Håkon Jørgensen - visitnorway.com

"We are all in the people business"

Our perception of people is influenced by how they carry themselves during a meeting. Although we can see someone's general demeanour during a video conference, physical presence creates another layer of non-verbal cues through body language. Considering that participants are often in a home environment, they are not necessarily presenting themselves the way they would in a formal meeting room setting. There may also be external factors, such as children and pets, that may distract from or influence their presentation.

René Siegel, a professor of public relations at San Jose State University and founder and chief executive officer of Connext, a Silicon Valley marketing and communications agency, says that “it all comes down to the fact that no matter the industry, everyone is ultimately in the people business”. She emphasises that there is a fundamental difference between business conversations and deeper, more meaningful business relationships. Such bonds are forged only when people spend time talking about things that matter to them, whether that’s a particular innovation, or a favourite sports team or recipe.

Check out unique venues in Norway

The power of face-to-face

How important is it for existing colleagues and potential business partners to spend time together in the same space? Research shows face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than those sent by email, and that a physical handshake boosts cooperation and positively influences negotiation outcomes.

MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab spent hundreds of hours tracking performance drivers across industries by collecting data from electronic badges that capture everything from tone of voice to body language. The results unequivocally showed that the most valuable communication is done in-person. In addition, it was revealed that 35 per cent of the variation in a given team’s performance can be explained by the number of times team members actually spoke face-to-face.

Read the MIT survey here

Let’s face it, recent events have brought both new challenges and new opportunities. It’s time to get reconnected and meet again, in person.

"In Norway, when you attend a conference or event, nature is right outside your door. Norwegians believe spending even a bit of time in nature can do wonderful things for a person. Give your team the opportunity to meet again, experience nature, relax, reconnect and become rejuvenated and re-energised to work," says Aasheim.

Plan ahead

MICE will hopefully be back to normal soon. In the meantime, start making plans for your upcoming Norwegian event today!

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