Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself believe. Those were – or, rather, we should say “are” – the words of a young Winston Churchill, who knew that the best speaker is who is able to reflect people’s emotions. This means he (or she) must feel those emotions himself. In the so-called “Digital Era”, with social media ruling our way of living, we should try and ask ourselves: how can we even imagine each others’ emotions, without really being in touch with people? Human beings cannot survive without having frequent interactions with the environment: communication is such an essential needing for us, being our whole Society nothing but the sum of these relationships. Effective communication skills have been influencing Society since the dawn of time.
Let’s think about the huge reputation someone could get in Greece or Ancient Rome when he was recognized as a master in managing the so-called Ars Orandi, both in public and private life. Cicerone taught us: The best speaker, who is worthy of such a prestigious name, is the person who is able to talk knowingly, with the order, style, good memory, and a certain gestures dignity, no matter the subject to be put in words.
But how can we manage all this through virtual meetings?
They are obviously cheaper and immediate, you can host them anytime and everywhere, saving employees’ time and Company resources at the same time. But can they fully replace the – let’s say – “traditional” ones? This COVID-19 global emergency did not give us any other options than completely move to digital. It was “digital or nothing”. This, of course, suddenly changed our daily life routine and caused disruptions at all levels as well (e.g. economics, psychological, sociological, physiological, etc.), but we should admit this way we all found out to explore new business horizons. Here at Lo.Li. Pharma International, we experienced a not-so-international term, given that lots of meetings, events and worldwide exhibitions, too, were canceled in order to prevent the Virus contagion. Some Countries were hit by a severe emergency and, for this reason, they were forced to experience a total lockdown situation by trying and reduce as much as possible human contacts in order to flatten the contagion curve. At the same time, others, instead, were able to come back to kind of an “ordinary” life after a month only. I think we generally agree in saying that COVID-19 crisis significantly gave an impulse to the face-to-face to virtual meetings switch, and this obviously shoke up the whole business landscape. However, even before COVID-19 hits, 92% of Companies was already implementing a huge digitalization process in its business model. In particular, Companies enlisted under the S&P 500 Index count an employees’ average age of 22 years old, while – just to enlight the gap through the years – in 1958 was about 61. Generally speaking, as always happens, it is not so easy to leave an old and already crossed path in order to explore a brand new road. In addition, moving to virtual meetings means losing a significant part of both human and professional synergy, being in touch with aseptic laptops’ or smartphones’ screens instead of people. And what about the technical issues that may occur due to internet line fluctuations? Besides, we should also consider the technological barriers in Companies made of various aged employees.
However, here at Lo.Li. International, the average age is 32 years old. This, of course, means social media-friendly people, who are resilient and changing-oriented. During this global lockdown, we took every opportunity to set new virtual meetings with our Partners, in order to let them feel every day our full support through this tough situation. Despite the general digitalization process, Steve Jobs – a strong believer in face-to-face meetings – said as long as many years ago: There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by e-mail and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. A study by FactTank, involving the so-called Millennials – who are currently the largest generation in the U.S. workforce – pointed out that 80% of Millennials prefer to meet face-to-face while communicating with other colleagues, versus the 78% of Gen Xers. That’s because almost 90% of everyday communication is non-verbal. Nowadays, thanks to the implementation in Modern Society of information and communication technology – which show a strong synergy with the digital world thanks to the prevalence of computers, smartphones, social networking platforms, and digital communication channels – virtual meetings are increasingly personal and captivating, but, in the end, don’t you think in-person meetings are still offering a value that virtual ones can’t (yet)? Face-to-face meetings, particularly when focused on one-to-one business and commercial discussions, do have several advantages that are not achievable through digital ones. Let’s think about empathy. Everyone chooses his (or her) partner for many reasons, both in private and public life. In our business, it is not just about the price: in a long-term vision, it is also about emotions and how you are able to feel and reflect other partners’ ones. In fact, building a relationship with a business partner by sharing, for instance, with him friendly moments – like a dinner or even just a coffee break – gives you the chance to consolidate the link between you and them, creating a long-lasting memory that you could never have reached through a Skype call. Besides, in-person meetings also allow us to reduce misunderstandings. We use to use lots of e-mails and short messages in general. This gives us the opportunity to better manage discussion timings, as well as to take our time to think and properly react.
E-mails are useful in finalizing pertinent matters as well. But how much can we succesfully let other people understand through writing the message we mean to deliver them? This is crucial in Companies like Loli Int in particular, where e-mails fly from Italy to China, or even the USA…
Last but not least, what about body language?
This is kind of a significant aspect to take care of, and it is really not so manageable by using digital tools. Face-to-face meetings help us understanding our partners a little more precisely by watching their moves, their usual gestures. And who knows better than Italians the importance of gestures? Business meetings are always a challenging field on which you can explore the best and most profitable way you can communicate with a potential partner.
So when would you better choose an in-person meeting? As it always happens, it depends on your final aim.
Nevertheless, in cases of business meetings like ours, Accounting Managers’, the virtual option must remain just support when traditional ones are not feasible. In light of the above, face-to-face meetings haven’t surely made their time, yet, and they won’t be fading away for a long time to come…
- Winston S. Churchill, Randolph S. Churchill, The Sinews of Peace, Post-War Speeches, Cassell, 1948.
- Marco Tullio Cicerone, De Oratore, 55-54 a.C.
- McKinsey & Company Report, Digital led the recovery from COVID-19, Five questions for CEOs, 2020.
- Pew Research Center FactTank, Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, 2018.