Restricted global travel due to the ongoing pandemic has put a halt on all in-person meetings both social and business related. With the Evident team successfully deployed to 100% remote working back in March 2020, it was hard to recall a time all year when we had spent time confined to a conference room with multiple people.
Before Christmas, I was asked by one of our Collaborate partners to attend a pitch for a large-scale project. As someone who typically really thrives on pitching for projects, at first I experienced a level of apprehension – not due to the delivery of the work in hand, but stepping into the unknown in terms of – how will this work with pandemic protocol?
This would be the first in-person business meeting in nearly a year. It would require travel from the South West to the North West, to a city I hadn’t visited in 10 or so years, for a client I had never met before (other than via Zoom).
The reason I enjoy pitching is getting straight into problem-solving for the client – the rapid nature in which we have to conceptualise ideas, create pitch visuals and determine business solutions. Travelling for business is always usually exciting. New places, new people, nice hotels. The pre-pitch nerves usually start the night before, and that’s all part of the buzz, but the actual “being away” part of the pitch felt very different this time. Much quieter with a real lack of energy in public spaces that usually makes you feel energised and adds to the experience.
As part of a report for Future of Business Travel, in a survey of 2020 participants, more than 3/4 of respondents felt that face-to-face meetings for sales and pitches were preferable to remote working.
6/10 businesses felt that a majority of deals and decisions cannot be made virtually.
I have to agree with the 6 in 10. This pitch had to happen in person. With multiple departments involved in evolving a complex, large-scale, legacy system, the room included 15 team members client side, plus 4 from our pitch team.
As soon as we started it was clear to see what you lose from remote pitching:
- The ability to build a rapport with new acquaintances
- The ability to read the room
- The ability to gauge a real response
- The ability to have multiple conversations with different individuals on a 1 to 1
- The ability to observe authentic processes in situ, not just chosen processes orchestrated for an online demonstration
Initially concerned that in-person pitching might be uncomfortable, as soon as we arrived we quickly fell into familiar routines (the only difference being that masks were worn everywhere apart from the conference room). We were able to get to know our audience beforehand, and enjoy the niceties of preparing refreshments and talking about non-work related topics – something you aren’t able to easily do over a call without it feeling awkward or like we’re time wasting. Once the pitch was underway, I realised how much I’d previously taken for granted being able to gauge a live response from an audience. As someone who prefers to present more fluidly without a script, it is essential for being able to tailor your responses and direction. Seeing your audience expressing their interest, and whispering to their co-workers enthusiastically as you’re speaking is a really gratifying experience that you don’t get from video conferencing, and come the end of the day you feel a real sense of achievement when you’re confident you have delivered.
There is something about travelling home after you’ve completed a pitch that is really grounding. Still running on the highs of the adrenaline, debriefing with the team and contemplating in retrospective reflection… It’s not quite the same as hitting the “leave meeting” button before tending to another email or flicking to another browser tab as you continue your work from your desk.
My advice for anyone concerned about in-person meetings post-lock-down would be to determine whether this really needs to be an in-person meeting, and confirm COVID protocol.
- Will this meeting benefit from being in person?
- What limitation(s) does hosting the meeting remotely impose?
- How will that impact the wider project in the long term?
- Is social distancing able to take place at the proposed location?
- What is mask etiquette?
- Do we elbow tap?
It’s important that all parties feel comfortable and the best way to ensure that happens is to ask upfront to ensure everyone is on the same page.
As we all navigate this unfamiliar territory right now, it’s comforting to know that ‘normality’ will be achievable once more and I am looking forward to getting back on the road.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how to become a Collaborate partner, please get in touch.