Three Reasons Face-to-Face Time Matters

Posted on Jun 16, 2021


By Megan McKoy-Noe, CCC

I miss hugs.

At a pre-pandemic conference, NWPPA Communication Manager Brenda Dunn, left, Blachly-Lane Electric Communications and Legislative Affairs Representative Pam Spettel and Pioneer Brand Storyteller Megan McKoy-Noe CONNECT-ed. 

Maybe hugs are not for you, especially after the last 16 months. That’s OK. But after working remotely for almost a decade, I find an important connection happens when I attend a conference. (That says a lot when you consider I’m an introvert. Yes, really.)

This week many of us should be kicking up our heels in Nashville, Tennessee, scooting through idea-packed sessions, CONNECT-ing with peers and finding fresh storytelling approaches for shared challenges. Instead, we’re meeting virtually. Again. 

One of my best friends can’t get vaccinated, and my daughter won’t be eligible till fall.

I appreciate virtual meetings. They fight inspiration isolation.

Our webinars often host up to 100 utility pioneers, and Pioneer Utility Resources loves sponsoring online communication celebrations. But we need to connect without screens. Soon.

My first in-the-real conference will be StoryConnect: The Conference, Aug. 24-26 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we dive into the power of storytelling for utility communicators. And I can’t wait to be reunited with many of you Oct. 11-14 at NWPPA’s Northwest Innovations in Communications Conference.

Learn how StoryConnect: The Conference can
strengthen your storytelling skills
 

 

But after more than a year of virtual learning, some utility managers might be tempted to question the need for a travel budget.

Here are three reasons in-person meetings — and travel budgets — matter.

 

1. Faces Keep Us Focused

A conference doorhangerMy daughter discovered her screen’s background option the last week of virtual pre-K. Her focus (slim as it was) dissolved. You might think this reaction is limited to children, but I’ve seen backgrounds swiftly change while in Zoom meetings with peers, too.

To learn, we need to focus. That will not happen — no matter how hard you try — in a home or utility office. People walk in, not realizing you’re watching a streamed event. We tried to help by creating door hangers to keep people at bay during May’s NTCA conference. The fact that you need a sign on your door tells you something about the pitfalls of online conferences.

GreatBusinessSchools.org reports 84% of people prefer in-person meetings. Using a very busy and detail-packed infographic, the group found face-to-face meetings help us:

  • Generate more (and better) ideas. 
  • Strengthen peer relationships.
  • Think strategically.

Faces — and getting away from your work space — keep us focused and make us more productive. After a year of working weekends and balancing virtual pre-K with streamed meetings, I wholeheartedly agree.

 

2. Hallways Spark Inspiration  

General sessions are great, but they are not why I attend conferences. My best takeaways often happen in hallways. I reconnect with friends, meet new faces, ask people what they’re doing and hear amazing ideas. 

As communicators for community-owned utilities, we sometimes forget not every industry shares ideas and content as freely as we do.

Sharing resources is in our co-op DNA. 

In-person events help you get big ideas and helpful directions from conference speakers. But the true value happens when you use hallway connections to hear how folks are telling their stories, then work on solving common challenges together.

Coos-Curry Electric Co-op Marketing and Member Services Manager Jacob Knudsen, left, Pioneer VP of Content Leon Espinoza and Mt. Wheeler Power Internal Communications Specialist Christina Sawyer trade ideas between conference sessions.

 

3. Brainstorms Rarely Form Alone

Never underestimate the power of brainstorming. While this can be done online (our multistate marketing team holds weekly video chats), there’s something special about thinking through a challenge with a group of people from other utilities in a setting away from the office.

Maybe a “storm” could develop at your desk, but I’ve more often found ideas strike when I’m having coffee with a friend, bowling or enjoying karaoke (a common practice at some meetings; my go-to song is Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”). After-hours conference events are about more than free drink tickets. They’re a prime place for brainstorms to strike, while strengthening much-needed friendships across state lines.

How better to get ideas than to form friendships with your award-winning peers? One of my favorite parts of NWPPA’s NIC conference is the chance to brainstorm with folks like this group of 2019 communication award winners.

See you soon?

I hope you don’t face questions about the value of face-to-face meetings. If you do, use these pointers to explain conferences’ hidden values.

How do you explain the value of attending in-person meetings? Share your ideas below.

Then, the next time I see you IN THE REAL, I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee paired with a real, face-to-face conversation. I can’t wait.

Learn how StoryConnect: The Conference can
strengthen your storytelling skills
 

 

4 Comments

  1. I can’t wait for our in-the-real meetings this fall! I’ll be eternally grateful for the power of online meetings to get us through this time, and the flexibility they will offer in the future, but face-to-face value has never been more clear!

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  2. Excellent essay. The screen of virtual meetings can be a barrier to important aspects of interpersonal relationships. In-the-real (I love that this wise phrase is hyphenated) relationships foster active listening, the magic of body language, and the creation of an atmosphere of empathy and support.

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  3. As always you’ve nailed another hot topic. My sister, a VP sales rep for a conference space has been hearing the “We no longer have a budget for in-person events” story for a while now as she continues to get contract cancelations due to corporate travel budget cuts.
    I’m particularly over the moon about my first post-pandemic conference registration for the PUR Workshop in Newport, Or in September. This event didn’t make our budget for 2021 but with your tips I was able to make a strong argument and now I’m making travel arrangements! (Unfortunately I had to choose between PUR and Story Connect) Your points cover so many facets of our eagerness to “return to normal” that I’m sharing this blog post with my sister so she can help her team defend against mass corporate cancelations from another angle. Yay for face to face time in the future.

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  4. Couldn’t agree more. Went to my first in-person conference this month – CCA National Institute. The energy was “contagious” – pardon the pun. People were so excited to be together and the ideas were definitely flowing. We work better together.

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