We recently held an in-person event for our Producers Club members for the first time since lockdown. We could have opted for a 100% virtual event (as we did for Boot Camp) and saved ourselves a considerable amount of money, long hours and the inevitable nasty lectures from a few about how we’re the deplorable scourge of the earth despite all the precautions we and the hotel took to responsibly avoid spreading the virus, so why did we bother with the actual in–person event?
For starters, MANY of our clients have been clamoring for one, begging us to please give them a reason to leave the cave and be around other humans. But also, despite what everyone is saying about how excellent virtual is, it’s definitely NOT the same experience as getting together with each other and having productive conversations AWAY from your home or office, AWAY from distractions. Believe it or not, you learn more, are more focused and have a more productive experience when you’re in-person than half-attending the event by sitting on your bed by yourself, in your PJs, brushing the potato chip crumbs off your shirt as you multitask checking e-mails and social media while Netflix is on in the background.
Of course, I’m NOT against virtual events – and I’m a big fan of blended events (online and in-person) like we did on this last one because some of our members can legitimately pay attention when virtual and had legitimate reasons for staying home. In fact, we’ve been doing a virtual component to our events for the past 10 years. But sticking to ALL virtual events, sales meetings and communications is, without a doubt, a BIG mistake.
Even before the plague, a lot businesses had attempted to cut out the in-person experience. Virtual gym memberships and training. Virtual weight-loss check-ins instead of meetings. Zoom support groups for addiction. Virtual college degrees. They ALL try because it IS easier, cheaper. But more effective? Absolutely not. Have you tried to participate in a virtual happy hour? Yep, me too. ONCE. It’s just not the same. When on-demand movies first appeared on cable TV, movie theaters feared it would be the end of them. Turns out people LIKE being in the theater. There’s a reason for this.
Studies have estimated that 85% of online courses NEVER GET COMPLETED. On webinars, it’s common for 60% to 70% to NOT SHOW UP. Think about it – if you can get a 50% show rate, it’s considered “good.” Compare that to our in-person events where we get roughly an 8% to 10% no-show rate – and members who attend REGULAR quarterly meetings are growing 5% to 10% faster than their industry peers, and are in the top 20% of the entire IT services channel.
If you want Weight Watchers to work, you need to commit to DRIVING to be weighed by your coach, in front of your peer group, IN PERSON. Knowing this is required helps to discipline you far more than simply texting in your weight. I also know many people who have friends/kids in support groups for drug addiction who are seriously struggling with anxiety and worsening addiction problems because the Zoom meetings aren’t cutting it for them (by the way, I’m not saying they made a bad decision – just pointing out that the virtual meetings simply don’t have the same impact as the in-person ones).
In business, deal makers get in a room TOGETHER and make deals. Yes, Zoom is a good tool to have right now and can continue to be extremely useful even after the plague dies down, but you don’t want to eliminate the getting together with people in sales situations. Vendors know this as well. The virtual side of things is good, but should not totally and completely replace the in-person.
Last, I want to make a prediction about the “more productive at home” movement. It’s not going to last. I’ve repeatedly heard people in real estate concerned that businesses are going to realize they don’t need the big office rent to get everyone together when they can work from home. I give it about a year and they’ll start dragging them back in when they realize MOST employees do NOT have productive home environments that allow them to work. They need the discipline an office imposes and the benefit of the hallway and lunch conversations you have with your team. It’s also just too damned tempting for many to take a little longer lunch and extra break when you’ve got a home project staring you in the face and the kids/dog/husband/wife there distracting you. It worked temporarily because a) there was no other option, and b) there was absolutely nothing else to do BUT work.
I, for one, can’t wait until we can all get together again without the fog of the plague hanging over us to break bread, have a drink and a laugh. And most important, to learn, share and collaborate in the most productive way possible – IN PERSON.