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Face-to-Face vs Electronic Meetings

May 26th 2011
Sift Media
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This morning, while waiting in the queue before going on the air with Jim Blasingame, the Small Business Advocate, I listened to the tail end of his conversation with Christina Cavanagh. They were talking about how electronic meetings, even videoconferencing are no replacement for face-to-face meetings. Such meetings are a barrier to establishing those personal relationships so critical to business success.

Is that true?
Not in my experience. In fact, quite the contrary. I have seen how video conferencing and teleconferencing, done right, make close relationships possible with people you would never otherwise have the opportunity to meet.
Goodness, my mind is flooding with stories that have nothing to with the topic I was about to broach. OK, let’s focus.
Several years ago, I started teaching TaxMama’s EA Exam Review Course online. Since the college that wanted to offer the course backed out at the last minute, I scrambled to put together an online chat environment to teach the class. I pasted in the lecture, one paragraph at a time. The first session was, as Jim Banks so aptly put it, “like watching paint dry.” For the next session, we added a teleconference line – and the class came alive!
Since then, we have been using online conference systems where the students can see and hear the lecture. They can text their questions, or raise their hands to be called on, via their microphones, to ask questions or discuss answers.
Still a little impersonal, you think?
Not at all. Looking at all the chat activity during the class, students are busily chatting away with each other – either in the public chat window, or the private chat window. They are connecting with each other, gossiping, kidding around, making friends and cementing relationships.
Of course, it helps that I encourage Study Buddy teams and relationships. So, even across the miles, people become great friends. In fact, from the very first class, nearly a decade ago, I am still seeing conversations between a buddy group composed of several women from Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Georgia. 
Despite the distance, the disparate native languages, cultures and backgrounds, by the time the sessions end for Part 1 of the EA Exam Review, people have become very good friends. And I have gotten to know their personalties, pesonal and family issues, and their skills, strengths and weaknesses.
We root for each other. Build up confidence and boost flagging spirits. We become so much a part of each other’s lives that when the class is over, students miss coming.

What starts out as a daunting burden and time drain (2 hours a night on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 4 hours on Saturday mornings) turns into something to look forward to. After the class is over, people miss the sessions. They are fun.

So, believe me, don’t be afraid to replace your live, face-to-face meetings with online conferencing. Not only can you build good relationships with clients, vendors, employees and students via video or teleconferencing; you can do it without losing hours to traffic, or days to travel. You don’t have to spend a penny on gasoline. You can share desktops and files. In fact, with today’s 24/7 online accounts, you can leave your video screen on all the time and even be with distant co-workers for an entire 8-hour shift, as if you were in a cubicle next door.

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