Whether you are a reporter, a PR professional, or anyone in the communication world, you probably rely heavily on email to connect with others throughout the day. Many prefer the comfort and the anonymity of online interactions compared to the riskiness of an in-person meeting.

On Wednesday, June 21, the Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) hosted a panel of experts to discuss why so many professionals are reluctant to have in-person meetings and how those meetings can be beneficial to not only yourself, but to your work.

Alex Gangitano, panelist and reporter for CQ Roll Call, discussed how in-person meetings are vital to maintaining relationships with her contacts and are “always worth the time.” Gangitano says that being able to put a face to the name not only creates relationships between reporters and their sources, but can also build trust that may prove to be invaluable in times of need.

But is the Internet to blame for the lack of in-person meetings? Panelist Dr. Mary Alvord of Alvord, Baker & Associates and former president of the American Psychological Association’s Society for Media Psychology and Technology , says that a lot of people have some degree of social anxiety that can be avoided through sticking with online interactions. Most of the anxiety related to in-person interactions is anticipatory, Alvord says, and will ease as the conversation begins.

Alvord outlined three dimensions of interactions: texting and email, phone and video chatting, and in-person. Texting and email can be useful for an initial contact, while video chatting provides the comfort of online communication with some of the benefits of in-person interactions. Yet, neither emailing nor video chatting create the same effects as in-person meetings.

While in-person meetings can create meaningful professional relationships, they’re not always necessary, according to Washington Post reporter and panelist, Michael Laris. Laris says that it’s not necessary to schedule in-person meetings with organizations that make information widely accessible and understandable on multiple platforms.

In order to prepare for those nerve-wracking in-person meetings, Seth Turner of the Congressional Management Foundation, says to remember your ABCs: acknowledge, bridge, and communicate. Practicing your talking points and doing your homework will set your in-person meeting up for success.

As moderator, Aaron Ellis, says it’s all about balancing online interactions with face-to-face communication. Finding a happy medium between sending out emails and grabbing coffee or lunch is the key to success and building strong professional relationships.

Stay tuned…