Face-to-face conversation is unique in that virtually all characteristics of communication are included. Other forms offer a few characteristics, but not all. For instance, a phone call allows for tone of voice, but no body language. Given the rapid technological advances over the years with communication options — text messaging and conference calls come to mind — face-to-face conversation almost seems like a lost art.
Tone of Voice
The English language is unique in that tone of voice and inflection can alter the meaning of a sentence entirely. For example, the sentence "you would know" can have at least three meanings depending on the way it is said. Those three words could be either sarcastic, complimentary or interrogative. If written, the use of italics or capital letters would be needed to convey the different meanings.
What you do with your body is nearly as important as what you actually say in a conversation. In fact, according to Vadim Kotelnikov, author and founder of Ten3 Business e-Coach, body language accounts for 50 percent of the way the message is given. Acting distracted, slouching or fidgeting are all signs of either disrespect or indifference. Conversely, the use of hand gestures, head movement and sitting still are all indicators of both good listening and effective speaking.
Much like body language, eye contact is a significant part of face-to-face communication and speaks volumes. Both the avoidance of eye contact and the use of it are ways to tell how well or poorly the conversation is going. According to Dr. Roel Vertegaal, a Queens, NY computer scientist, regular eye contact leads to more participation in the conversation, especially in group settings.
Face-to-face conversation requires its participants to think on the fly. There is no pen, paper or backspace key, and no matter how prepared you may be, both parties should be able to think on their feet. In some instances, people who obsess over whether or not they are saying the perfect thing may backtrack and repeatedly try to correct themselves. In worst case scenarios, this person ends up rambling and losing his audience completely.