We’ve all become a lot more comfortable with virtual webinars and exhibitions recently for obvious reasons and the benefits which include greater reach, easier data collection and financial efficiency, are numerous. However, “zoom fatigue” aside, we’re definitely missing something… it’s just not quite the same. We’re missing making connections – both as individuals and as communities.
Your attention please
Can you remember what it’s like to have someone’s undivided attention? The virtual environment is full of distractions… technical malfunctions occupy many a conversation, with external microphone noises and laggy video making it very difficult to engage fully. The environment surrounding participants is equally distracting these days… children, pets… all experiences that are not being shared directly with the other party. It’s easy in an online webinar to pick up your phone and browse the internet, check in with your instagram account or send emails and messages unrelated to the current meeting. The level of focus on the conversation at hand is seriously depleted and therefore your chance to build a relationship or close your sale is in jeopardy. By having someone’s complete attention, people are able to pick up on non-verbal clues, gain information that wasn’t necessarily on the list of prescribed questions therefore conversing more freely, forming emotional connections and forging business relationships.
There’s so much more to building business relationships than words. We gain a great deal of information about a person from their facial expressions and body language both of which can be obscured during a virtual meeting. Clients often appreciate the personal touch – the pleasantries, the going out for lunch, the trade show freebies and (hopefully soon to be reinstated) the handshake. Face to face contact makes it easier to gain trust and overcome any difficulties – together developing a shared context that is impossible to create online. Something as simple as eye contact – not easy to manage with the variety of cameras available to the virtual attendee – shows someone that you are actively listening to them, showing that their enquiries are important to you and that the conversation is worth your time and theirs. Asking questions and looking like you actually want to know the answer continues to create the trust, contributing to building a relationship that is mutually profitable. The time it takes to build a successful business relationship is markedly less when conducted in-person – just by being able to build a camaraderie, sharing jokes (previously mentioned shared context) and potentially creating memories, this relationship will be stronger.
How’s it feel/ smell…?
Obviously the best way to get a feel of a product is to actually see and touch it. A live event of any kind is by nature a feast for all the senses…that whole immersive experience you get when attending a live exhibition is something a virtual platform will never be able to replicate. From the sound of a room full of people to the aforementioned handshake we are soaking in so much more information. A virtual event has a tendency if anything to be a bit too efficient – funnelling attendees towards certain events and site pages that exhibitors feel they should see. What is lacking is the spontaneity of wandering around an exhibition hall… having your attention grabbed by something unique, exciting graphics (or even delicious smells)… and finding the new product or service that you were looking for but was not on your set list of companies to visit.
Don’t get us wrong, there is definitely a place for virtual exhibition platforms and when used correctly, even alongside live events they are a powerful marketing and sales tool… but we are a sociable lot. Exhibition venues have a great deal of work to do to convince us psychologically that they will keep us all safe at events where many people are gathering but at the end of the day, we all still need that personal touch – at a socially acceptable distance, of course.