August 8-10, 2023 | Wisconsin Center | Milwaukee, WI

Why Is In-Person Interaction So Important to Building a Business?

The pandemic forced us into awkward Zoom meetings. What makes them awkward is the lack of nonverbal communication. Video calls cannot replace or replicate the type of in-person interaction exhibitors get at a trade show.

Over the past two years, we’ve all gone from conducting business in person to communicating through the medium of the video call. The transition brought with it a communication style that was new for a lot of us; interacting on Zoom is not something we take to naturally. Though the technology for combining telephone calls with video has been around for decades, it just seemed too strange a combination of media for the general public to latch onto. The technology was also cost-prohibitive for a long time (the AT&T VideoPhone 2500 retailed for $1,499 in 1992), but aside from that, there was never any real demand for it. People would rather either talk face-to-face or just on the phone, not both at once. Even text and email seemed superior to having to appear on camera to have a brief conversation with someone.

Now that we’re able to meet face-to-face again at the Garden Center Show, independent garden center owners, vendors, suppliers, exhibitors, and other attendees will be able to interact more authentically, face-to-face. There’s something inherent in in-person interaction that forges relationships, community, and trust in a way that other forms of communication just can’t do.

The video call is probably not anyone’s first-choice mode of communication, but the pandemic forced us into this situation where we had to learn how to take part not just in one-on-one video calls, but in video meetings, each of us in a little box, and often just a black box. It seems like no one feels completely comfortable in this environment.

The discomfort stems from the fact that we’re losing out on an important component of communication: nonverbal communication. When we communicate, we’re not just conveying information; we’re building trust. As Tricia Jones, a professor at the Klein College of Media and Communication, says in this article (link: https://news.temple.edu/news/2020-09-16/coronavirus-pandemic-has-made-communication-more-important-ever), nonverbal communication "is so rooted in how we understand the other person that if we have a difference between what we're saying and how we're behaving nonverbally, we almost always trust the nonverbal."

In other words, when we’re seated in front of our computers and not actually interacting with another person, it’s easy for our message to be misconstrued due to a lack of nonverbal cues. On top of that, we’re speaking to our computer screens through a microphone whose output we cannot ourselves hear, so our tone and volume will not match what we would use if speaking to another person standing two feet in front of us, or even seated at a conference table a little further away. Which, again, can lead to misunderstandings and mistrust, as demonstrated by this interaction between the Google CEO and an employee (link: https://www.inc.com/jeff-steen/google-ceos-1-sentence-response-to-getting-called-out-by-employees-is-a-master-class-in-leadership.html).

Often we worry about the content of what we are saying but don’t pay as much attention to how we convey it. A big part of convincing someone of something lies in making an emotional connection, and often that emotional connection is built on nonverbal cues. Everything from how far you stand from someone to how you use your hands plays a part. When that is lost, and you only have a verbal answer devoid of any humanity or character, it becomes easier to question someone’s honesty or motives. Communication isn’t just about our words. It’s about how we interact with the person we’re talking to, how our body language can put them at ease—or make them uneasy when it is absent.

Now that we’re all used to it, we could go on meeting with clients, suppliers, and the like via Zoom, but there are essential parts of communication that are lost in this environment. This is why, even in the age of the video conference, trade shows remain one of the keys to the success of any independent business.

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