When Ray Tomlinson hit the send button to initiate the transmission of the world’s first email in 1971, little did he know what he had started. Today he can’t remember exactly what that first email message was but remembers thinking it was “a neat idea” at the time.

Close to 300 billion email messages are sent out every day. The popularity of email as a communications medium stems from its simplicity and ease of use. Anyone can send an email. It’s much easier than writing and posting a letter. It’s more immediate, it’s convenient and it’s virtually free. There’s no doubting the popularity of email, but when it comes to networking, can it achieve the same results as can be expected from a face to face meeting?

Email is impersonal

Email, like any other messaging system, suffers to a large degree by being impersonal. The writer can inject a personal “voice” to some extent, but cannot fully compensate for the simple fact that it is still a remote electronic message that is essentially lacking in real human personality.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of only using email as a networking tool is the social aspect. Eventually, we suffer from the lack of integration with other people. We feel isolated and alone, and this can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations; there is no body language to read in an email.

Face-to-face networking

Face-to-face networking allows no such escape. The participants are exposed to every subtle move made, every faint smile, every raised eyebrow, every stiffened muscle, and awkward shift. We can exchange business cards directly and even write email addresses on the back of them, and we can shake hands.

Annual conferences are perhaps the best places to conduct face to face networking. People attend conferences because they know they will meet others who work in the same field. At a conference, everyone is tuned in to the same basic topic. They expect you to be passionate about it, they expect to be invited to discuss it, and they expect to encounter promotions.

Show interest in the person you are talking to

You can improve your face-to-face networking skills by simply showing more interest in the person you are talking to than about whatever it is you wish to promote. Put them first and their first impression of you will be a good one. Then when you mention what you are doing, they will be much more likely to listen attentively.

Before you go to a conference, do some basic research about the key people you will be meeting there. When you can show that you are aware of their achievements, aware of what they are currently involved in and aware of their future plans, you will impress them and they will be much more likely to pay closer attention to you.

Face to face networking beats email for the simple reason that there is no substitute for real human contact. We are more likely to trust the people we can see. We know we are communicating with the right person and not a receptionist, and face to face meetings are always more memorable than any email message is likely to be.