The Power of F2F

Just returning from our 2023 Global Conference in NYC, I’m on a post-conference high.

Our largest conference in SITE history, this was part family reunion, part welcome for our next generation. It was a nonstop experience of hugs, smiles and connection. Being together for an energy-filled few days always reminds me that I am a face-to-face champion.

We may never go back entirely to a pre-pandemic business model for business events. I mean, who can argue the savings companies have experienced from a reduction in business travel, going digital with their live conference or even transitioning to a 100 percent work-from-home environment? With inflation rising and a possible recession, wouldn’t it be financially irresponsible to go back to our previous models of in-person engagement?

The flood of new event technologies has also brought about amazing, more inclusive design elements that encourage positive audience growth. There is no doubt these online event platforms have spawned an impressive variety of intriguing engagement tools.

And our own incentive travel research continues to show the value qualifiers place on incentive travel versus other types of rewards. But beyond that data, there is science that supports my belief that in-person engagement will never be replaced by other options.

In her 2017 TED Talk, psychologist Susan Pinker investigated one of the world’s Blue Zones, where people live the longest and are healthiest: Sardinia (the full list is Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, Calif.).

In addition to some clear consistencies in diet and lifestyle, key differentiators in these zones revolve around community, belonging and relationships. In a very basic sense, people that have healthy social outlets and community live longer.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta reiterated this mind-body connection in his new book Keep Sharp, noting that one key factor to maintaining brain health is a vibrant social life.

So, what do community and social interaction have to do with events? There are many studies that show increased brain activity and oxytocin release when people are with each other in-person. Oxytocin is the neurochemical that has allowed us to become social creatures. It makes us feel empathy, which helps us feel close and bonded to others when it’s released. And it is activated best by human touch.

In addition to the neuroscience, we know that non-verbal cues are most of how we communicate, and can be best read when we are together.

Finally, being in a community can help one battle the feelings of depression and social isolation, which has run rampant these last few years.

So call me old-fashioned. I’ll take a hug and handshake, a good debate while sharing a cup of coffee, and a celebratory toast over a digital experience any day. I believe that the human spirit has a deep need for in-person interaction, and always will.

Adapted from a 2021 article in The Meeting Professional

Written by

Annette Gregg

Annette Gregg


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