Boasting the twin advantages of convenience and cost effectiveness, virtual meetings have become an important part of the offering that planners bring to their clients.
Indeed, 44 per cent of respondents surveyed in M+IT’s 2016 Meetings Market Report indicated that, in 2015, they used teleconference services to conduct meetings, and 27 per cent employed webcasts.
Those are significant numbers, and they raise key questions: Are virtual meetings posing a genuine threat to planners’ business? Are face-to-face (F2F) meetings in danger of becoming obsolete?
“I don’t think people are talking about ending face-to-face,” said Ruth Abrahamson, CEO of Base Consulting, in Toronto.
M+IT’s Meetings Market Report data supports that view. In 2015, 65 per cent of respondents planned F2F internal meetings that involved travel or off-site venues. Sixty-four per cent planned F2F external meetings that involved travel or off-site venues.
Virtual and face-to-face have different, but equally strong, value, said Abrahamson. Virtual offers an inexpensive meetings solution and an educational tool for companies with limited travel budgets. Webinar participants “are part of a group and can interact with those logged-in.” But virtual offers no opportunity for face-to-face connection, she noted.
In contrast, face-to-face offers “education, opportunities for networking, access to ancillary products and services, and the opportunity to connect with clients, suppliers and colleagues. Face-to-face adds breadth and a new dimension to issues.”
The rise of virtual, however, has meant that the “quality of meetings is even more important because of all the competition. Planners have to be even better to ensure the quality of meetings.”
Virtual and face-to-face serve different needs, noted Abrahamson, and planners “have to be clear about the value of each to clients and their audience.” It’s key to find “ways to build synergies. Look at what each client can do and should do. Clients must be open to both delivery models.”
Lee Larstone, course coordinator at London, Ont.-based Rondeau Seminars, which provides continuing education for dental professionals in such areas as orthodontics, snoring and sleep apnea, employs mostly F2F, but also incorporates virtual.
Each year, the company presents more than 80 seminars, primarily in North America, in cities such as Toronto, Chicago, Dallas and others, to an annual audience of about 3,000 dentists (including in-person and online sessions). Online components include webinars led by founder Dr. Brock Rondeau and posted on YouTube.
Everyone learns differently, said Larstone. “Not everyone has the discipline to sit in front of a computer (for a webinar or other online education sessions).”
At F2F events, however, attendees “engage with Dr. Rondeau and ask questions.” At F2F conferences, Larstone created a Learning Lounge presenting exhibitors offering goods and services of interest to dentists. The lounge enables attendees to “learn from each other, engage in one-on-one sessions, and discuss case diagnoses.”
As a result of that casual, F2F format, “like-minded attendees are so engaged,” concluded Larstone.
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