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  • Ed Lawson

"Aren't face to face events dying out?"

A question posed to me about twelve years ago. It’s obviously stuck with me.

No. Face to face events are now more valuable than ever before. Why is that? In an age of high quality virtual platforms, avatars, GC backgrounds and smart visuals, why is face to face still the best? Intent Group’s next meeting is now fully booked, and no, there’s no dial-in option!

I think it’s because we’re human, because face to face is still the most natural, easy, and open way to interact. With in person, IRL if you like, events, you

  • Get full non-verbal communication - pick up the subtleties of what’s being said, the unfiltered opinions, get the undivided attention of the conversant

  • Look someone in the eye - it can’t be replaced when building trust and relationships

  • Have a one to many conversation. In a web conference, you aren’t really ‘there’. The eye darts around, and perhaps is distracted by that phone or message notification…

Talking of distraction, I’ve been reading the excellent ‘Mind Change’, by Prof Susan Greenfield. I did a double take when I read that the human attention span is now LESS THAN THAT OF A GOLDFISH - at just 9 seconds. Shocking, but perhaps unsurprising when we consider a digital lifestyle - that red dot, that pop up, that buzz. A face to face environment is the only way to escape that distraction, to hold the full attention of those you’re talking to.

There are fewer face to face events than there were 12 years ago: evidence to the contrary of my argument perhaps? Actually, the fact that we’re travelling less, that we attend fewer events, immediately increases their value. There are now fewer opportunities to shake hands, to make human relationships, to win the trust of those you do business with.

And ironically, those face to face meetings are now enjoyed much more than they were a decade back.They now represent a break from WfH, a break from the office - a chance to step back from firefighting, and to take time to think strategically. Being amongst others who face the same sort of challenges as you do is reassuring. Discussing challenges with others is freeing, rewarding, and can immediately make you less isolated.

I spoke last week to someone from a multi billion t/o FMCG company to welcome him to the Intent network. He told me that, organisationally, they were often too inward, too complacent. If they had a question that required advice, they’d look on the intranet. But, his words not mine, you can’t find new perspectives by looking inward. For that reason, he explained they were now deliberately attending external events, even those peripheral to their core market, in order to harvest innovative ideas, to see what else they should be thinking about adopting, adapting.

I’d argue that anyone who has a strategic role is probably neglecting their duties by not ‘getting out there’, by simply focusing on the day to day and relying on inhouse experience. That’s borne out by the comments of those who join Intent meetings - they tell me that one of the most valuable outputs of their time with us is to get ideas from outside their own sector, to draw parallels with other companies. The fact that our meetings are under Chatham House rule means you get amazing honesty and insights - you hear about the shared pain points and what’s working for them. You don’t, and can’t read that in a neatly packaged corporate case study pdf.

If you’re interested to take part in Intent Group’s face to face meetings, give me a shout, I’m always happy to advise.

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