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Collaborating, networking, learning, planning, and socializing can be done online successfully—the past year-plus has proven that. We’ve all relied on online tools like Zoom, Webex, Skype, Teams, GoToMeeting, and Meet to get us through the pandemic. Zoom’s daily user number demonstrates how many people are meeting virtually. By the end of 2020, Zoom had 350 million daily meeting participants—up from about 10 million in December 2019.

However, virtual trade shows and other such events can’t replace the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Here’s why.

Value of Face-to-Face Interaction

There’s no question that humans are hardwired to have social relationships. Aristotle knew it (“Man is by nature a political animal”). Scientists know it: At Neuroscience 2019—a conference where researchers from around the world met in person to discuss the social brain—biological anthropologist Michael Platt, Ph.D., emphasized the importance of social connections for humans.

“Human beings are wired to connect—and we have the most complex and interesting social behavior out of all animals,” says Platt. “This social behavior is a critical part of our adaptive toolkit. It allows us to come together and do things that we wouldn’t be able to do on our own.”

In-person interaction also creates a positive physical reaction, says developmental psychologist Susan Pinker.

“Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters, and like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present and well into the future,” she explained in a TED Talk. “So simply making eye contact with somebody, shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust and it lowers your cortisol levels, which lowers your stress. And dopamine is generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain. It’s like a naturally produced morphine.”

Downside of Virtual Meetings and Events

Fortunately, we had the technology to collaborate virtually through the pandemic, so we didn’t completely lose touch with friends, family, and colleagues. Virtual meeting technology helps us maintain relationships and keep meeting when it’s otherwise impossible. But as Maile Keone, Listen Technology’s president and CEO, says, they will never have the same value as face-to-face interactions.

When you’re only meeting with people online, it’s nearly impossible to build a relationship. You lose social cues like body language, and you’re more likely to be distracted by what’s happening around you and opening new tabs on your computer.

Pinker says there’s a distinct disadvantage to virtual communication. “There’s a huge difference between interacting in-person and interacting online,” she told NPR. “You don’t get the same kind of flood of neurochemicals. It doesn’t feel as good. The body language where you echo each other’s movements is missing. And even ways of connecting online are different one from the other.”

Importance of In-Person Trade Shows

For the AV industry, trade shows are where we connect. Listen Technologies participates in trade shows to build relationships. It’s where we interact with distributors and partners, host events like Beer and Gear, and demonstrate how our products can help improve experiences. 

I’ve been going to in-person trade shows for more than 20 years. At first, I was a distributor, but now I’m on the other side of the table as a vendor. Trade shows are where I built successful business relationships. They’re also where I’ve made good friends whom I look forward to seeing every year.

Wendy Griffiths, vice president of engagement and global development for CEDIA, attended one of the first in-person trade shows for the AV industry since COVID-19 started spreading worldwide. At the ISE London event at the end of June, she told rAVe that she hoped the buzz around the show meant that in-person trade shows were on their way back.

“The reality is the live event industry still does what it did then,” she said. “It brings individuals together, allows us to network with peers, with colleagues, do business, and actually just catch up with people, which I think is essential after the last 18 months.”

Virtual meetings, trade shows, and other events serve a purpose. They’ll never replace face-to-face interaction, though. In-person communication is more valuable than online contact because it gives people the social connections they need to thrive. For the AV industry, the connections we make and relationships we build at trade shows help our businesses grow and make us happier people.

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