At a time when technology is constantly offering new and unique ways to communicate, meetings and events provide vital communications forums for which there is no perfect substitute. That’s according to Richard Foulkes, director of special events and productions at London-based Imagination Group—a large, independent creative agency whose U.S. division is based in New York. Imagination employs a full range of specialists, from brand consultants to event managers, advertising specialists to interior designers, retail and digital specialists to direct marketers and event producers. Foulkes has been at the company for 27 years and has spoken to groups both nationally and internationally. Here are some highlights from a recent speech he gave in the Twin Cities to members and guests of the International Special Events Society’s Minneapolis–St. Paul Chapter.

Engagement: There are a growing number of alternatives to face-to-face dialog—everything from video and Web conferencing to threaded online conversations. All of these continue to get better as technology improves. While there is definitely a role for these technologies to play in live events, both in terms of pre-event communication and messages during the event itself, they can’t replace in-person interaction. How engaged can someone be while they have the chance to be doing multiple other things at the same time that you’re delivering the latest product story training or trying to motivate? Interaction does not always mean engagement, and a successful event requires both. We need the physical realm so that we can deliver multi-sensory experiences, create memories, amplify retention and impact, and—simply put—facilitate a handshake and a smile.

More Than Content: An audience simultaneously processes both verbal and nonverbal cues. Put simply, it’s not just about what is said, but also how it’s said—and the “how” carries the majority of the message. Well-known psychologist and communications expert Albert Mehrabian researched the elements of face-to-face conversation and their effect on emotion, and he found that communication consists of three parts: body language, tone of voice, and words or content. Surprisingly, content accounts for only 7 percent of a person’s overall impression of an event. In other words, an event is way more powerful at communicating your clients’ message than other media.

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