Will Zoom Meetings Ever Replace Face-to-Face Meetings?

By Beth Buehler

While I’ve found Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting and all the video conferencing platforms helpful for work and socializing during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve also concluded that I don’t think Zoom meetings will ever replace face-to-face meetings. Online meetings are certainly handy and serve a purpose.  They just don’t make me feel very satisfied or leave me knowing someone better typically.

Sure, saving all the travel expenses of in-person meetings makes those who mind the finances for an organization happy. But me picking up the phone or dropping you an email after networking, attending breakout sessions or taking part in an activity together is way different than seeing you on my computer screen or smartphone. Do we really get to know each other that way? Even in the world of online dating, you have to meet someone in person to know if it’s a relationship that is going to lead anywhere!

Insightful Resources

As I was doing research about why virtual meetings are extremely useful but are not replacements for in-person meetings to add to my own personal insights, I ran across some interesting articles and concepts to share. For example, BENCHMARK, a global hospitality company focused on hotel, resort & conference center development and management, addressed this topic in a 5 Reasons Virtual Meetings Can’t Replace Face-to-Face Meetings article. BENCHMARK has three properties in Colorado: Garden of the Gods Resort and Club, Tivoli Lodge and Manor Vail Lodge.

Tivoli Lodge is located in picturesque Vail Village. Courtesy Tivoli Lodge.

The first two concepts addressed in the article are based on the ideas that subtle body language cues are much easier to pick up in person and that presence in the same room establishes trust more quickly. Also, being in the same physical space naturally leads to one of the other five reasons, which is the fact that it’s much easier to complete transactions and convince someone in person (e.g., sell an idea, product, service, venue or destination).

A fourth takeaway in the Benchmark article is fairly logical: avoiding connectivity issues that online meetings sometimes present. We’ve all experienced that! The last one is my favorite because it laser beams in on the fact that meeting spaces are more flexible and collaborative. “In-person, you’re free to move around and use the physical space (depending on the meeting venue) creatively. Want to stand up and draw on a wall? Go for it. Want to move to a different space? Take a walk. Want to sketch out that idea on paper, or a whiteboard? No problem. When you’re limited to video conferencing, the meeting is usually fixed in one place, with one format—and that’s if the screensharing is working correctly.” Well said!

A socially distanced breakout session held during the 2020 CampExperience Network fall retreat. Photo by Betsy Wiersma.

While we can’t ignore the fact that online meetings and events have a place, they can’t replace the synergy created on a real trade-show floor, sitting at a table together at an interactive breakout session, or talking about the Colorado craft brews and spirits being tasted at a patio reception. They have allowed audiovisual companies and destination management companies (DMCs) to survive the pandemic and find creative new ways to offer clients services. Speaking of A/V, Boulder-based Earth Coast Productions has a good blog about Video and Virtual Meeting Etiquette, and Denver-based Image Audiovisuals offers tips about How to Create the Best Virtual Event Experience.

An outdoor welcome reception on the beautiful Aspen Meadows Resort grounds during Destination Colorado’s Customer Appreciation Event. Photo by Beth Buehler.

What It Means to Be Human

My Google search on the “Will Zoom Meetings Ever Replace Face-to-Face Meetings” topic also led me to an April, 27, 2020 article What’s Missing From Zoom Reminds Us What It Means to Be Human by Steve Blank, who has been part of or co-founded eight Silicon Valley startups and teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford University and Columbia University. He writes, “Over the last month billions of people have been unwilling participants in the largest unintentional social experiment ever run—testing how video conferencing replaced face-to-face communication.” That’s big!

Blank focuses on why video-conferencing apps don’t capture the complexity of human interaction, physical space, context and experiences. “In the physical world the space and context give you cues and reinforcement. Are you meeting on the 47th floor boardroom with a great view? Are you surrounded by other animated conversations in a coffee shop or sitting with other classmates in a lecture hall?”

Also, nonverbal cues are lost on screens and the physical contact of handshakes and hugs that start many business and social gatherings can’t be replicated. Blank also has interesting comments about missing olfactory cues and the exhausting nature of video teleconferencing, which you can check out for yourself.

Lodging was spread out and many activities were held outside at the CampExperience Network’s fall retreat. Photo by Jenn Hogue/Mike’s Camera.

Back in Action

To see two Colorado organizations successfully pull off recent events with good interaction, learning and fun and that had health and safety of attendees and supplier staff at the forefront has brought a big smile to my face.

Destination Colorado held its annual  Customer Appreciation Event in Aspen on Oct. 8-9 with a group of approximately 50 in attendance, and CampExperience Network held its 15th anniversary fall retreat at a camp/conference center near Colorado Springs, with 100 attending in person and 40 virtually on Sept. 18-20. Watch for an upcoming blog about Destination Colorado’s 2020 Customer Appreciation Event.

A toast to meeting in person again at an evening reception in Hotel Jerome’s spacious courtyard at Destination Colorado’s 2020 Customer Appreciation Event. Photo by Beth Buehler.

Destination Colorado and its members are available to help live, in-person meetings and events happen (and hybrid versions, too) and to make it easy for planners. If you are wondering if Zoom meetings will ever replace face-to-face meetings, they will show you otherwise!

Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 15 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.