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Finding Face Time

The increasing use of technology in place of in-person business communication has never bothered a naturally introverted person like me. I always have preferred my carefully crafted response to an e-mailed question over an awkwardly uttered

spoken response to an inperson quiery.

But, as much as I’ve come to prefer electronic correspondence, I have to acknowledge that our current economic climate is making face-to-face meetings more valuable than ever before. Of course, inexpensive electronic communication and commerce will always trump pricey airfare and hotel expenses, but I’d still make the case that, in the long run, the oldfashioned handshake will close more deals and seal more friendships.

From regional or local dealer trainings by manufacturers, to on-site visits by trade editors to companies that are often too busy to think straight during trade show meetings, in-person communication is finding its way back as a reaffirming exercise to help one person or company truly understand what the other is thinking and doing in the market.

After learning to conduct most of my meetings and interviews via the phone or e-mail over the years, I’ve found myself on the road more and more lately, conducting the traditional “manufacturer visit” in person again. We typically keep these meetings to no more than 36 hours in total duration, minimizing time away from family and the physical office. The irony, however, is that time away from the office is typically less of an issue than ever before, because the same digital correspondence that has kept us away from one another, now enables us to remain tethered to our workstations despite our physical proximity.

Admittedly, it’s not always so easy to write and edit while sitting in an airport terminal, but a hotel room can often provide more privacy than a corporate or even home office, and I’m often more focused as a result of my travel-shortened work schedule. The point is that by combining in-person communication with the always-connected nature of electronic communication, you can have the best of both worlds.

So what are the remaining benefits of “face time?” I have found that even with my mild case of social phobia, a one-on-one visit will often help transform a purely business relationship into one that means much more on a personal level. Seeing where someone works day-to-day and how their products are created helps me get to the heart of what a company and its people are all about. Simply seeing the way someone decorates his or her workspace also can provide a window into the personality of a person that you may have only known on the surface.

None of this probably comes to a surprise to a career salesperson, and I guess I’d have to acknowledge that I’ve always known that human contact trumped all electronic communication. But now I truly realize that despite the slight hassle and expense of getting on a plane or driving a few hours to see someone, it’s still money and time well spent.

With CEDIA EXPO approaching next month, we all have a chance to get the most bang for our travel buck, because we can shake hands and chat, in person, with so many people in the span of a few days. Yes, a show can be chaotic, but I’m not going to miss out on the opportunity to stop and ask an industry friend about her daughter’s summer camp or his favorite golf round of the summer. This is the stuff that makes our lives worth living. Business is just what makes it all possible.