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F2F v virtual meetings: what are the pros and cons?

Coronavirus could fundamentally change the way we meet. Corbin Ball looks at the different types of virtual meetings and how they compare to face-to-face…

Webinar:

A webinar is simply a seminar conducted over the internet. Typically, the webinar size ranges from dozens to a few hundred people. There are many software options in terms of pricing and capabilities with a variety of presentation options including sharing of PowerPoint slides, screen sharing, polling, Q&A functionality, audio/video streaming and some type of registration automation.

Strengths:

Webinars are good for relatively short information exchanges with some attendee interactivity. They are less expensive than F2F with no room rental, catering, AV and travel costs. Unlike F2F events, they usually do not require significant preparation and promotion time. Also, in these days of significant pandemic concerns, a big benefit is that they do not require travel and possible exposure to contagions.

Weaknesses:

Major weakness are the lack of visibility of the attendees and time limitations. As the attendees are invisible to the presenter and to each other, there is no social contract to at least look like they are paying attention, unlike F2F events. Due to increasingly shorter attention spans, webinars generally should last no more than one hour. In today’s distracted office environment, it is difficult to keep a viewer’s attention fixed on a screen for longer than this.

Some of the major players are:

Webcasts:

A webcast is a video broadcast of an event across the internet. Similar to a television broadcast, it is usually a one-to-many format, similar to a large lecture hall with little or no interactivity between the presenter and the attendees. Typically, there are recording functions for on-demand playback at a later time.

Strengths:

Webcasts are good for presenting short, time-sensitive, urgent or highly-valued information to a large number of people such as a corporate-wide news announcement from the company CEO. Built-in on-demand playback provides round-the-clock access capabilities for those not able to attend the live broadcast. Like webinars, they are less expensive than F2F meetings and do not require travel.

Weaknesses:

Similar to webinars, there are time limitations based on how long you can hold a passive viewer sitting behind a screen with, usually, very little audience interactivity.

The major players are high-volume video steaming services and/or learning management systems. These systems can also be used for high-end webinars as well and include the following:

 

Video Conferences:

A video conference is when participants in different locations are able to communicate with each other in sound and video, typically using internet-based systems. Video conferences are the virtual equivalent of a group of people sitting around a conference table.

Strengths:

As everyone is visible to each other in a video conference, there is a social contract to look like you are paying attention leading to less distraction and more group involvement. Higher-end telepresence systems represent participants in high-definition and often life-size as if they were sitting across the conference table.  These systems are the closest approximations to small boardroom-like F2F meetings and can last as long as material needs to be discussed. They are less expensive than F2F meetings and do not require travel. Also, unlike F2F, they do not require significant advance preparation.

Weaknesses:

Video conferences are usually limited in the number of people and locations that can be accommodated and do not work well for large group training or interaction.

Some of the major players are:

 

Face-to-Face (F2F) Events:

As the name implies, this involve meeting where people meet together in the same location.

Strengths:

Meetings take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. At the minimum, we share a social contract to at least look like we are paying attention at a F2F event.

The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at F2F events than online. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors of interest – all together in one location, categorized and mapped for your choosing.

Face to face meetings provide a richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than nearly any virtual meeting.

Weaknesses:

There are costs involved with F2F events such as travel, room rental, AV, catering, onsite staff and more. Additionally, there are environmental impacts due to travel. There are also concerns regarding disease exposure and spread during the current Covid-19 crisis with many event cancellations. F2F events can also be affected by weather, strikes, riots and other types of social discord.

Face to face meetings provide a richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than nearly any virtual meeting

However, despite what hopefully will be relatively short-term disruptions from a pandemic, in the long term the benefits mentioned above can be very well worth many or all of the costs. F2F meetings bring people together, provide significant points of business interaction, and very significant economic benefit to venues and event stakeholders.  Because of this, F2F in some form will remain a very viable option well into the future.