In today’s business world of video meetings and teleconferences, the value of face-to-face encounters can often get overlooked. That is unless you, like Michael Massari, believe that face-to-face interaction is and will continue to be our most effective form of communication.
Massari is Ceasars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events, and he has been featured in virtually every meetings trade publication, including on the covers of Meetings & Conventions and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. I had the pleasure of interviewing him about the future of business meetings and importance of in-person communication.
Carol Kinsey Goman: You and I share a conviction that face-to-face meetings are crucial to business success. Why do you think this personal connection will continue to be important in the future?
Michael Massari: No matter what industry you work in, we are all in the people business. Regardless of how tech-savvy you may be, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration. If we don’t continue to nurture strong and positive personal relationships with our clients and coworkers, we won’t build trust, understanding, or a sense of a shared mission – all of which are critical elements to successful partnerships and business success.
Goman: How specifically do you see in-person meetings driving positive business outcomes?
Massari: Organizations depend on face-to-face meetings to win new customers, close new deals and develop high-performing talent. For example: You are twice as likely to convert prospects into customers with an in-person meeting. The likelihood of getting a “yes” increases, because it is so much easier to say “no” in an email or on a phone call.
Goman: I often speak at business conferences about the impact of body language on leadership effectiveness. Do you see nonverbal communication as a key element in face-to-face meetings?
Massari: Absolutely. Without the ability to read body language, a critical form of communication, we miss crucial elements to conversations that can positively or negatively impact a business.
Goman: One of the generalizations we often hear about the Millennial Generation is that they are attached to technology to the extent that they don’t value face-to-face interaction.
Massari: On the contrary, millennials are highly collaborative and want instant feedback. They want to meet, learn, and grow. If we don’t engage millennials through active participation in face-to-face meetings, and if we don’t help build their professional relationships, we will lose their talent and attention to organizations that do.
Goman: You began working in the hotel industry in 1995. How have you seen business meetings change?
Massari: There has been a material shift in the way people think about meetings, beginning with the financial recession in 2008 and 2009. Before that time, it seemed that meetings were just a routine part of doing business. The recession changed that attitude, and the number of large meetings was considerably reduced. Now I find that meetings have been added back to the organizational agenda, but in a more thoughtful way, based on questions like: What are we trying to accomplish? Who needs to be there?
Goman: How is visual technology influencing meetings?
Massari: I think of visual technology like Zoom (which I use for weekly staff meetings) as an enhanced phone call. The ability to see each other is a great improvement – but it can’t replace face-to-face. That’s why at staff meetings I use Zoom to reach remotely-located team members, but ask the local group to attend in person.
Goman: My advice to leaders is to arrange for their virtual team (even if it’s a global one) to meet at least once face-to-face – especially at the beginning of a project – to build the personal relationships that are essential to effective collaboration.
Massari: I totally agree. The money spent in getting a remote team together (initially and at regular intervals) will be paid back over and over again in terms of increased productivity.
Goman: How about the added time it takes to have a face-to-face meeting? Even if you are in the same physical location, isn’t it faster to make a phone call?
Massari: On the contrary, face-to-face is a time saver. For example: If I have to go outside my division to ask for resources from someone I don’t know, I can usually get what I need in a five minute in-person conversation. If I have to rely on a phone call, it is going to take over 30 minutes to explain who I am, why my request is important, and why the other person should help me. That’s because it is so much faster and easier to establish trust when people physically meet.
Goman: You mentioned a company “mantra” that Ceasars uses to illustrate the importance of face-to-face interactions within the organization.
Massari: We say: “If it’s not that important, send an email. If it’s important but not mission critical, pick up the phone. If it’s critically important to the success of your organization, go see someone.”
Goman: Love it! Thank you.
Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events.