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Carol Kinsey GomanResearch by imago and Loughborough University School of Business and Economics examined the favoured forms of communication for learning new skills, retaining important information and enhancing business success.

A total of 779 respondents made up of conference and meeting organizers, conference and meeting attendees, undergraduate and post-graduate students, academics and lecturers participated in the interviews. Findings from the research showed that meeting planners and students shared the same preferences.

  • 97 percent of meetings attendees cited small face-to-face meetings of fewer than 10 participants as their preferred form of communication.
  • 81 percent percent of students echoed this preferences for smaller meetings.
  • Group interaction and discussion is considered the top benefit of face-to-face communications by 78.4 percent of delegates and 69.4 percent of students.
  • On a scale of 0 to 100, delegates ranked engagement during face-to-face meetings at an average of 85 percent, with students at 73 percent.
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From a body language perspective, here’s why you have more impact in face-to-face encounters:

In face-to-face meetings, our brains process the continual cascade of nonverbal cues that we use as the basis for building trust and professional intimacy. Face-to-face interaction is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us only partially from the words they use. We get most of the message (and all of the emotional nuance behind the words) from vocal tone, pacing, facial expressions and body language. And we rely on immediate feedback – the instantaneous responses of others – to help us gauge how well our ideas are being accepted.

People in face-to-face exchanges watch each other’s expressions to monitor reactions to what’s being said and heard. Even when some words are missed, observing the expression on a speaker’s face can help the listener follow a conversation. People remember much more of what they see than what they hear – which is one reason why you tend to be more persuasive when you are both seen and heard. So potent is this nonverbal link between individuals that, when we are in genuine rapport with someone, we subconsciously match our body positions, movements, and even our breathing rhythms with theirs. Most interesting, in face-to-face encounters the brain’s ”mirror neurons” (the neural mechanism that fires when we perform an act or see another perform that same action) mimic not just behaviors, but sensations and feelings as well.

Human beings are born with this innate capability. In fact our brains need and expect these more primitive and significant channels of information. When we are denied these interpersonal cues, the brain struggles and communication suffers.

Another nonverbal component that comes solely with face-to-face encounters is touch. Usually considered to be the most primitive and essential form of communication, touch is so powerful and effective that clinical studies at Mayo Clinic show that premature babies who are stroked grow 40 percent faster than those who do not receive the same amount of touching.

And touch retains its power – even with adults in business settings. A study on handshakes by the Income Center for Trade Shows showed that people are twice as likely to remember you if you shake hands with them.

We are programmed to feel closer to someone who’s touched us. The person who touches also feels more connected. It’s a compelling force and even momentary touching can create a human bond. A touch on the forearm that lasts a mere 1/40 of a second can make the receiver not only feel better but also see the giver as being kinder and warmer.

This is crucial to your business success. If you want to be optimally persuasive, effective and memorable, make that meeting face-to-face.

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence. For interview requests, click here.

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