No matter what role you play in the business-events industry, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you spend plenty of time writing emails. From negotiating the fine print of a room-block contract, to contacting a vendor for additional support, to asking the colleague down the hall for advice — your requests most likely show up in electronic form. And you’re probably fairly confident that those emails will get answered. However, new research reveals that in-person requests are significantly more effective.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vanessa K. Bohns, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, and Mahdi Roghanizad, a professor at Western University in Ontario, asked 45 participants to each ask 10 strangers to fill out a simple survey. Half of the study participants asked in person; half asked over email. The study found that people were 34 times more likely to complete the survey when asked face-to-face.
The fact that people are more willing to finish a task when asked in person isn’t that surprising. After all, making eye contact is much more impactful than seeing a line of bold text in a crowded inbox. But the real takeaway came before the research even began. Before asking people to complete the survey, participants who planned to submit their requests via email actually expected to receive more responses than participants who asked in person. They held the same belief that rules so many professional lives: Electronic communication is easy, convenient, and effective. It checks off the first two boxes, but the effectiveness piece — not so much.
Now, you might look at the research findings with a skeptical eye. Of course, you say, people aren’t going to respond to an electronic survey invitation. While it’s true that email users may be more likely simply to delete a survey request, many of them may wind up turning away from personal and professional notes, too. The reason? There is an insane amount of electronic communication traveling throughout cyberspace. A recent report from The Radicati Group, a firm that analyzes email, social media, and instant messaging, predicts that the world is on track to send and receive 246.5 billion emails each day by 2019. Currently, the average business user sends and receives 123 emails related to business each day. So, if you really want to stand out from the crowd, your physical presence can make a big difference.
“If your office runs on email and text-based communication, it’s worth considering whether you could be a more effective communicator by having conversations in person,” Bohns wrote in a summary of her research for Harvard Business Review. “It is often more convenient and comfortable to use text-based communication than to approach someone in person, but if you overestimate the effectiveness of such media, you may regularly — and unknowingly — choose inferior means of influence.”
If you must send that next electronic message, be sure to read the “’Before You Hit Send’ Email Checklist” from Convene first.