Networking 101: Meeting In Person
Connecting via LinkedIn, email, or text is commonplace in today’s working world, but no experience compares to meeting in person. While entire virtual teams work on projects without seeing each other and consultants are hired after quick phone interviews or email correspondence, the quickest, cheapest meetings do not always lead to the best results. While keeping the business world virtual can be far less expensive than paying for lunches and gas mileage, many entrepreneurs are missing out on the opportunity to grow their businesses and get ahead of the competition through handshakes and shared experiences.
Drawbacks of Textual and Audio Communication
Before delving into why meeting in person is superior, it is important to acknowledge the drawbacks of communicating solely over cyberspace.
One major downside is that the information exchange over text is not as powerful as it is in person. When face-to-face, it is easier to bring up side-notes about projects or future work that can evolve into dynamic conversations. This creates possibilities to win additional work without writing formal proposals or serves as an opportunity to softly cross-sell.
Additionally, tone can be difficult to assess between people that have never met. An innocent joke or off-handed remark from a strong personality could offend someone without the other party having a clue until their emails fail to be returned.
Unfortunately, conference calls are often moments for workers to multi-task. That means a significant drop in engagement as the other party mutes their mic and does everything from answering emails to laundry at home.
Shoot the Breeze
Meeting in person is one of the best ways to put potential clients and business colleagues at ease. Small talk becomes a purposeful tool to find common ground and skyrocket comfort levels. Depending on the culture, talking about family or comparing notes on recent vacations may sell the client just as much as talking shop. In many cultures, shop talk only begins after spending a few hours talking (and sometimes drinking) about anything else.
Remember, business is conducted with individuals, not corporations. People want to feel like they have a sense of the person they are about to do business with.
Non-verbal Communication Speaks Volumes
Perhaps the biggest strength of meeting face-to-face is the ability to send, receive, and interpret non-verbal communication. An undisputed and powerful tool in understanding and influencing others, it can be critical to help us communicate more effectively.
For example, when discussing a tough subject or issues with a project, a client’s awkward shift in the chair accompanied by a pained or angry expression may signify the need to back off the subject, use sensitive language, or redirect the conversation to a different subject altogether.
A sideways look may signify the need for further clarification, which could be the difference between providing a thorough explanation and winning a job or leaving the client with too many questions and fear of moving forward. The type of dress, posture, and confidence level you carry sends direct messages about whether or not someone can trust you. Taking a crash course in the psychology of communicating non-verbally with others could enhance your client satisfaction levels and pay off in spades.
Pay attention to natural mirroring. This is what happens when people like others; they mirror them physically. This includes actions such as crossing arms or legs in the same manner. Knowing that can help you identify the perfect moment for a pitch or big ask.
Build Trust and Empathy
Trust and empathy, two of the cornerstones of relationships, are directly enhanced by in-person meetings. From shaking hands to a friendly pat on the back, few actions are shown to build trust quite like the appropriate level of touch. Likewise, sharing the experience of bumbling your way through a new restaurant, telling a family story, or accidentally spilling coffee can help humanize you to find common ground, and ultimately empathy, with another party. As you read clients’ non-verbal communication, they will also read and empathize with you.
Work Through Issues
Even though it can be challenging talking to clients about project issues and tempting to send an email rather than looking someone in their face and seeing anger or resentment, working through issues in the same room may have better outcomes.
As you explain situations calmly and express verbal and non-verbal regret, the chances of finding common ground increases. A person’s natural desire to minimize another’s distress or willingness to find a solution will kick in and you can move forward together.
Boost Effectiveness of Demonstrations
When it comes to showing off your product or service, textual communication will never reach the same level of effectiveness as an in-person demonstration.
Unlike a cold pitch in an email or a sales page, helping someone interact with your product brings it to life immediately and shows them how it can impact their work or life. Even if you sell a service, showing visual aids like a case study or website with photos of your work and handing it to them to peruse on an iPad is a way to help them engage and think more critically about it.
The point of demonstrations is to educate the client about what your product can do for them, to help them imagine purchasing your product, and to give them the opportunity to buy. Having something tangible in front of them that they can touch is a powerful tool.
Video Conference When Necessary
If you are unable to meet face-to-face, video conferencing is the second-best solution. The next time you are unable to meet with a client, ask them about their capacity to use webcams, Skype, or FaceTime.
While you may not be able to put a person at ease instantly after shaking hands or small talk seems more contrived, you will still be able to measure reactions and adjust your speech accordingly. Non-verbal cues are still existent; you may have to work slightly harder to catch and respond to them.
Business is About People
The key to business and life is relationships. While everyone else sends emails, concentrate on building robust personal relationships and the ability to read others in person. Refocusing your business development strategy in this way may be the reason you win work instead of other companies.
Shake hands, smile, converse, and go get that next client or business partner! Let us know when you do.