CEOs Predict the Future of Face-to-Face Meetings

Twelve ways that meetings will change in the post COVID-19 world.


Coronavirus and Meetings
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There is no crystal ball to see the future. If there was, we all would have been better prepared for COVID-19. 

In the past month, the world did a dramatic "about-face," with thousands of organizations cancelling meetings in light of health and safety concerns. While no one is certain when we will return to normalcy, we can, however, peek into the future of face-to-face meetings by speaking with CEOs. 

I've spent the last two weeks discussing the future of meetings with CEOs and meeting industry leaders. These conversations can be summed up with one statement: Face-to-face meetings and interactions will be more important and valuable than ever, but they will be different.

Here's what they will look like. 

Meetings Are Here to Stay

Despite some benefits to video conferencing, studies show there is simply no substitute for the effective experience of face-to-face communications. In fact, research from Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, shows face-to-face interactions are 34 times more successful than emails. 

CEOs know that trust and camaraderie build great teams, create loyalty, and are the basis of moving business forward. Wealth and success depend on it. That success comes from, and is built through, face-to-face interactions and experiences and cannot be replaced in the same way with virtual experiences.

"People still feel they are at a disadvantage when they are remote," said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the technology advisory firm Enderle Group, in an article for CIO Magazine. "Side meetings, individual breakouts and even social interaction after meetings are not addressed by current video conferencing solutions." 


Face-to-Face Creates Memorable Experiences

Yes, conference calls get the job done. But you are unlikely to remember who was on a conference call, what you discussed, or how it differed from the many other conference calls you had.

Face-to-face meetings not only build trust and foster camaraderie, but also create memorable experiences. Good leaders know that these experiences lead to retention of information and are mission-critical for organizations. 

Meetings drive business forward. That's why more than $135 billion dollars are spent annually in the meetings industry, according to Meetings Mean Business.

People Will Want to Go to Meetings

The phrase "shelter in place" has given many folks the harsh reminder that personal interactions with people are precious and impactful. The value of meetings has sky-rocketed -- for the entire human race.

At meetings, people feel important; they feel included. They feel they have a seat at the table and are a part of something bigger. Meetings are where good things happen and where things get done.

Once the pandemic has passed, teams will be anxious to convene in-person. They crave leadership and personal interactions. Meetings offer an opportunity for people to add to their valuable network, share their stories and experiences, and most importantly, create new experiences and stories together.

Meetings on a Mission

Expectations of meetings in the future will be different. "Meetings on a mission" will become a standard for successful leaders. 

These principles represent clearly defined goals and objectives covered in minimal amounts of time. Time and interaction with others have become even more precious commodities due to the coronavirus crisis and should not be wasted. Going forward, meeting planners will be focused on providing more value to their attendees and to one another in potentially abbreviated time frames.

Collaboration Will Be Crucial 

Content is king, but collaboration will be emperor in a post-COVID-19 world.

There has been a strong push over the past several years to make sure that content is at the focus of every good meeting. That should not and will not go away, but collaboration will dominate future meeting success.

Smart CEOs already realize that collaboration, discussion and inclusion are important. These values can be hard to accomplish in a virtual setting, however, and will be critical when in-person meetings resume.

We will need to go well beyond traditional practices and find more thorough ways to capture everyone's thoughts and opinions. Failing to be maniacal about getting individual input from everyone before decisions are made will be met with extreme dissatisfaction. This is particularly dangerous, as we were already facing the challenge of attracting and retaining top talent, with arguably less than desirable results. 


Corporate social responsibility is out, and individual social responsibility is in. 

We used to judge companies by their CSR choices and efforts. We still will. However, now we will hold one another to even higher standards. Did you stay home during coronavirus? Did you donate to those in need? Did you wear a mask? 

People will also challenge their companies to see how their own products, services, or skillsets can be applied differently to help contribute to the greater good. Companies that win will involve employees in their charitable choices going forward.

Simplicity is Key

The days of lavish meetings are over (for now). Over-the-top meals, entertainment, décor and table settings will be a thing of the past. 

The value of being together has gone up, and that in most cases is privilege enough in the new world we are in. Dare I say, North American meetings will operate similar to how most of European meetings already operate: with a focus on simplicity? Maybe it is the shot in the arm that business meetings needed.

Costs Will be Reviewed Carefully

The microscope on responsible spending will be adjusted exponentially. In general, moderate pricing will be expected. Quality will have to be present, but pricing pushback will be relentless. The highly debated resort fees will now suffer scrutiny of cost, value and perception. 

Superfluous Attendance is Out

CEOs will evaluate attendance even more closely to make sure only the necessary people are at future meetings. This will help minimize costs and allow people to stay closer to home whenever possible. 

In the short-term, regional meetings are also likely to be on the rise, as people slowly ease back into travel and departing from their home base.

But this does not always mean attendance will go down. In the quest to include the right people, coupled with an emphasis on collaboration, it may be necessary for some meetings to be even more inclusive. Regardless of the result, the evaluation process will be more rigorous, and invitations will be coveted.

Zoom and Other Forms of Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is not a replacement for face-to-face meetings. Nevertheless, it will become a more common form of supplementing communication and will be integrated into meetings moving forward.

In addition, contingency planning for video backup will become a norm. Meetings that are interrupted or cancelled due to disruptive events affecting travel, whether they be health/safety related or weather related, will have to push on. Business must still be conducted, and last-minute scrambling can be avoided with a video conferencing back-up plan. 

New Safety Standards

Just having hand sanitizer on site will no longer suffice. Facilities will need to be spotless and more hygienic than ever before. Customers and employees will get even more particular about cleanliness, with more frequent cleaning and sanitation schedules expected. 

Creativity around new ways to create safe environments, and constant leveling-up will become the norm for meeting spaces and hotels. Communicating with meeting attendees prior to their arrival about the sanitation practices will also be essential to ensuring a company's credibility and attendee comfort. 

Consiglieres Needed 

More than ever, CEOs will be leaning on meeting professionals as their consiglieres, or advisors. Receiving genuine and educated feedback on more effective meetings will become a requirement.

Large organizations with budgets for full-time equivalents will continue to value internal professionals to assist them, while other companies will rely on full-service meeting companies for professional assistance.

CEOs want to be advised on the best locations and partners, but even more importantly, it will be critical to have a professional managing the many variables of meetings.

Keeping attendees safe, improving communication and retention of information, minimizing costs and contractual exposure, as well as managing potential risks are all now considered basic requirements for meetings.

What It All Means

Executives far and wide know the value of face-to-face interactions. They wouldn't be in the positions they hold without that knowledge. 

Recent events, however, have identified core values that need to be revisited and enhanced. 

Many businesses have, in the past, viewed face-to-face meetings as a cost center or a luxury. The residual trauma of this global experience and the absence of in-person time with one another has now reconfirmed the value of such interactions. 

Successful leaders know that people are their most precious resource. Now they are also realizing that those people, meeting with one another face-to-face is a critical part of business, and more important than ever before. 

Jordan D. Clark is the CEO and managing partner of FACE2FACE Meetings & Incentives. A meeting industry veteran of more than 30 years, he has operated meetings in more than 100 destinations throughout the world. Clark served the industry for more than seven years on the International Board of Directors and the Global Board of Trustees of Meeting Professionals International.