Virtual Contact: Not the Same as
by Marcia Yudkin
In today's era of computer-mediated contact, what's the role
of old-fashioned face-to-face, in-person business contact?
Should we all get used to making sales and sealing deals
over the Internet and the phone? For the sake of
efficiency, should we try to maximize our tally of at-a-distance experiences?
Yale professor and award-winning author/publisher Edward
Tufte specializes in ways of communicating complex, three-
and four-dimensional information in two-dimensional visual
formats, both on paper and on computer screens. So it was
ironic that a seminar he presented got me thinking about the
advantages of in-person contact.
Tufte attracted a sell-out crowd of 300, each paying $320,
the day I attended. I couldn't help musing about what could
have attracted so many to spend a day with him instead of or
in addition to reading his books.
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Perhaps it was the chance to soak in his latest thinking, to
get a painless overview of his work or to soak in the flavor
of the man as one can't from the printed page. For me, two
moments in the seminar stood out. He'd brought along an
edition of Euclid's Geometry that had belonged to Ben
Jonson, Shakespeare's contemporary. He also showed us a
first edition of Galileo's greatest work. The experience of
contemplating those 400-year-old or so still-readable
volumes could not have been duplicated outside that room.
As someone who's been selling my writing to publishers and
magazines for 20 years, I'm accustomed to negotiating
and sealing deals by mail, by phone, and more recently by
fax and email. This makes me appreciate physical, real-world encounters all the more.
When I finally meet some business contact with whom I've
corresponded, I always realize some dimension has been
missing. At best, my mental picture of them was partial.
At worst, I'd misconstrued their age, sophistication,
lifestyle, caring or attentiveness. Usually I like and
trust people more after we meet. Occasionally inexplicable
feelings make me back off from someone I'd gotten along with
fine by email and phone.
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So as much as I appreciate the convenience of
email, whenever something significant is at stake, I try to
escalate communication to the telephone, which enables a
better exchange of all the subtle dimensions of communication, and then where feasible to a face-to-face
meeting. Misunderstandings occur less frequently this way,
and a more solid foundation of trust gets laid.
Even if you feel that your web site and your brochure
represent you perfectly well, recognize that others may need
the missing dimensions to feel fully comfortable with you.
Providing a photo, embuing your written words with
personality and making yourself accessible by phone all help
bridge the gap between fragmentary, flawed impressions and
who you really are.
Bask in the feeling of success when when remote business
buddies tell you how great it is to finally meet you. As
with those ancient first editions and Professor Tufte
himself, physical existence can have an irresistible appeal.
Copyright 2000 Marcia Yudkin. All rights reserved.
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