The benefits of face-to-face meetings (according to science)

published on March 25, 2021
Trends and Technology Working Smarter

For more than a year now, most of us haven’t gathered at face-to-face events. Whether conference or cocktail party (or any event in between), our normal social calendars have been replaced with Zoom calls or simply spending the evening with Netflix.

While we can collectively recognize the value of virtual meetings and events, many of us have reached a saturation point. (Zoom burnout anyone?) Many positive things can occur when we interact in-person that don’t necessarily happen virtually. Here is a quick glimpse of just some of the benefits of face-to-face meetings.

Touch can lead to trust

An experiment by researchers at the University of Chicago and Harvard discovered that negotiators who shook hands were more open and honest, and reached better outcomes. Handshakes increase cooperative behaviors, affecting outcomes for integrative and distributive negotiations. Shaking hands activates the centres of the brain associated with rewards; with a handshake, we are literally conveying warmth. In other words, a handshake can humanize the person you are with.

The camera consequence

During video calls, we often long to “turn camera off.” This is understandable. And while this is sometimes due to not wanting to be seen by others (bad hair day!), the reality is that we’re also fatigued at looking at ourselves speak. We’re simply not accustomed to simultaneously speaking and watching ourselves speak.

Prompted by the recent boom in videoconferencing, communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, studied the psychological consequences of spending multiple hours per day on video platforms. One of the main takeaways was that seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing and sometimes even stressful. While many of us still experience minor stresses when gathering face-to-face, we also have the advantage of not having the sensation of a camera on our faces. And this is one less thing to think about.

Access to non-verbal cues

While digital platforms can give us access to faces, nonverbal communication is often read holistically. What does that mean? Essentially, we need more than faces to read nonverbal cues. We can detect a person’s emotional and cognitive status through a variety of methods, such as the angle of their shoulders, how they are holding their hands, if they’re tapping a foot, and much more.

Some scholars state that most people trust forms of nonverbal communication over verbal communication. In fact, Ray Birdwhistell — the American anthropologist who founded kinesics as a field of inquiry and research — concluded that nonverbal communication accounts for 60–70 percent of human communication. And while the social stakes are higher in a face-to-face situation, that’s where the opportunity is even greater for deeper forms of connection.

Smells are sensational

Scent and emotion are intertwined. Whether it’s the delicious aroma of a gala dinner or the pungent whiff of a sweaty group of people attending an outdoor music festival in the heart of summer, most of us can be easily “triggered” by odours — smells that suddenly bring back emotions. Neuroscientists are substantiating the link between odours and emotions. “Smell and memory seem to be so closely linked because of the brain’s anatomy,” says Venkatesh Murthy, chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard.

And that’s a fundamental benefit of face-to-face events: we get to use the full spectrum of our senses. While virtual events enable us to access visuals and sounds, in-person events also permit touch, taste, and odour. Yes, even if it is the smell of a sweaty human.  



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