When the goals of a meeting include persuasion, leadership, engagement, inspiration, decision-making, accountability, or candor, U.S. business executives overwhelmingly believe that holding a face-to-face gathering is the only way to go.

In a June 2009 survey of 760 executives from businesses of all sizes, Forbes Insights found that 84 percent of them prefer in-person, face-to-face business meetings, citing those as more effective than webconferences, videoconferences, or teleconferences for reaching a dozen goals, including those listed above. (Forbes Insights is a custom research division of Forbes Media, publisher of Forbes magazine.)

However, technology-enabled meetings have their place as well. The respondents deemed virtual meetings best for “information dissemination” and “data presentation.”

The survey findings are confirmed in the real-world experience of David D'Eletto, managing partner at Meeting Alliance, the Robbinsville, N.J.-based meeting and incentive company. “Our clients have told us that while the ‘presentation’ portion of a sales meeting is extremely valuable, the networking and personal interaction among the reps from across the country improves the ROI of the meeting significantly,” he says. “Face-to-face meetings allow them to bounce ideas off each other and thus improve their approach to their customers. They are also opportunities to bring upper management and the field together to develop personal relationships.”

The 16 percent of executives who preferred virtual meetings overall cited a savings of time and money as the top two reasons for their preference, followed closely by “flexibility in location and timing.” Their fourth reason for preferring virtual meetings — “allows me to multitask” — is one of the reasons other executives worry that virtual meetings do not meet business goals as well as face-to-face meetings. (And in fact, more than half the respondents said they surf the Web, check e-mail, or do unrelated work while “attending” virtual meetings.)

Despite the clear preference for getting face to face, economic and other conditions have made this a tough year for business travel. Some 58 percent of respondents said they are traveling less frequently than in January 2008, with just about one-third reporting that they're traveling “much less frequently.” Meanwhile, a corresponding 57 percent reported their companies' use of technology to conduct meetings has increased compared to January 2008.

D'Eletto has found ways to help clients reduce costs. “For example, using airport properties reduces transportation costs,” he says. “Also, reducing a three-day meeting to a two-day meeting by being aggressive with agenda planning can save significant guest-room and F&B costs while retaining the benefits of being face to face.”