About this article:Industries such as travel, culture and events that traditionally rely on in-person participation continue to suffer from pandemic lockdowns. In this article I look at a digital technology solution that is solving a specific virtual event problem that simultaneously impacts the events, education and business sectors - virtual career fairs.
In this article:
Events, Education, Travel - Digital Transformation
Many of us have experienced disruption and significant change during the pandemic, many industries have changed beyond recognition, and many others are struggling for survival today – and will continue to struggle for many more.
In many cases returning to the rates of growth and prosperity that we all became accustomed to is going to require societal, leadership and organisational transformation.
However, some businesses and industries have already gone through massive digital transformations and are providing new services to both existing and new clientele. It could be argued that some of these industries were technology laggards and were already late with their digital strategies, however there are many whose entire existence is predicated on physical presence, interaction and participation in the real world.
These physical-world-dependent industries, include hospitality and hotels, travel, construction, real-estate, mining, events and entertainment, and to some degree education - to name just a few.
Of these, technology can play a lesser or greater role in the future of their survival and development. A few that I have been looking at with particular interest are events, education, travel and entertainment industries.
Many forms of entertainment are already digitised, in particular music and films have been on the digital journey for many years, with lockdown e-sports popularity has risen, along with virtual spectators. There are still some forms of entertainment that are very difficult to recreate in the digital world, in particular theatre. Interestingly, recently I noticed a theatre in the Slovakian town, Spiš now offers real-time streaming of theatrical productions, along with international giants from London's Westend and New York's Broadway.
Even before the pandemic there are many 360° virtual tours available for all sorts of wonderful destinations across the planet like this one promoting Chile. Most of these seem to be aimed at stimulating the viewers interest in actually visiting that place as a next travel destination (i.e. when travel is once again possible).
Other concepts have sprung up since the pandemic such as Airbnb's digital experiences that include making tacos with a chef from Mexico City, checking out the street art in Buenos Aires, and wandering around the streets of Chernobyl with the local dogs. Airlines like Emirates and Hawaiian Airlines have launched a series of video tours and there's even a virtual tour of the tomb of Rameses VI in Egypt.
I'm really interested to see how all of this develops, I feel that we will start to see the development of digital virtual travel agencies, and, as we continue to see developments in telepresence avatars and multi-sensory immersion this whole industry will rapidly transform.
Education And Events
Even though the last decade has seen the emergence of a plethora of digital training and digital learning platforms, these have typically been more targeted at vocational, hobbyist, up-skilling and adult learning.
In general, formalised education has been one of the industries that has found it harder to adopt digital techniques in the day-to-day education of students.
My own experience in both the UK and Slovakia highlights the differing attitude to the adoption of online education tools. There still seems to be a lot of resistance in some places, whereas in others it is more welcomed and energetically embraced. Over time as the institutions gain the required skills, tools and regulatory support, education will continue on the path of digital transformation.
In a previous article I touched on the how Blockchain and self-sovereign ID (SSI) are being used in the digitisation of student certification, the reduction in qualification fraud, and improvement in qualification portability and ownership.
Whilst digital events have been growing in popularity for a while, specifically webinars and even some virtual trade-shows. There's been a persistent human preference for in-person events and trade-shows. Even today, many industries rely on regular events and in person get-togethers to do business. In a conversation last week I discovered that many mechanical engineering firms still rely on paper catalogues and handshakes at trade-shows to drive all of their business.
However, the events of 2020 have really driven the growth of the virtual and hybrid events space. One UK based events management company I looked at was previously running between 100 and 130 physical events during the years of 2017 to 2019, but in the beginning of 2020 this came to a complete halt. Another business I know that was heavily dependent on in-person networking and seminar style events was quick enough to pivot their business to digital delivery in April to mitigate disaster. They were able to deliver not just their existing services, but additional, new and innovative services and products to their customers, too.
Challenges with Virtual Events
From a personal point of view, the amount of time I could save and the extra convenience of doing everything digitally initially seems to be a huge benefit. It enabled me to take part in events that I couldn't otherwise have carved the time out of my schedule to attend. However, this was a novelty that was short lived.
Speaking with many people across different industries, the time and convenience benefit of online business has now translated into schedules being filled, back to back with one Zoom/Teams call after another. The idea of being able to squeeze in a digital event, even if it is far more condensed than a traditional in-person event, now seems a luxury.
But this is where virtual events are evolving, providing new structures, formats and value compared to their physical ancestors.
Whereas you may have carved out an entire chunks of your week to wander around enormous conference centres to have the occasional useful meeting and to stumble across previously unknown suppliers, virtual events now need to be highly personalised and optimised.
Virtual events need to cater for an audience that is time poor and is digitally fatigued. This means they need to allow for the attendees to customise their experience, allow them to dip in and out as needed, and be in complete control of what they get out of the event. All from their mobile phone.
From an event creator point of view, organisers need to make it easier for exhibitors and visitors to find each other and interact in this way, but also to manage expectations, delivery and outcomes in the virtual world.
Confluence of Change
Stuck amidst these changes are students and employers.
Many aspects of our lives have been put on hold, but when it comes to planning and building for the growth businesses, recruiting top, fresh talent is not something that can be put on hold for too long. Businesses still need to engage with their future employees, in what was traditionally done through job and career fairs.
Career fairs continue to be an essential part of the transition from education to employment and are critical for both students and employees.
From the students point of view, when contemplating their choice of career, attending a job fair will likely impact entire careers, not just their first job - as it did in my case. For employees it helps to identify outstanding talent, but also helps set a cohort benchmark, across educational institutions and year groups.
Today virtual career fairs are filling this need more than ever, and offering even more opportunity than the career fairs that I remember.
Recruiting for distributed teams
Unlike years gone past, as the world has embraced distributed working the physical location of offices and recruits matters less and less. This is a fantastic opportunity for employers to reach out and discover talent that would otherwise be excluded from even applying for the roles in the first place. For the student or graduate exploring their choice of career, new distributed recruitment could open a whole new world of opportunity.
Virtual career fairs seem an ideal opportunity to help indoctrinate fresh talent and graduates into the practice of working with amazing companies across the globe, no matter where they might be based.
Successful Career Fairs
Given everything I've said above, and the changes we are going through right now in our societies, I think there are a few key technology elements to look for when planning a modern day virtual career or job fair.
When looking for an online platform to manage fairs, some of the key elements to look for should include:
Probably this goes without saying nowadays, but the participant experience has to be led primarily through a mobile device. The participant should be able to engage with exhibitors take part in conversations, watch keynote speeches, take part in seminars, request additional materials, submit CVs, request and take part in interviews all from the comfort of their smartphone.
Asynchronous Personal Agenda Management
Working remotely, distributed in our homes has meant that our schedules are busier than ever, and breaking away from the desk is a luxury many of us find difficult to enjoy. Virtual events should allow participants to easily manage their own agenda, customising it to suit their needs, and scheduling time to take part in presentations, events and interviews, asynchronously, as their schedules allow.
For event planners and exhibitors alike, the experience must be data driven. It should be possible to understand the performance of any given stand, and to use data to inform improvements, as well as understand return on investment.
For exhibitors (or in the case of virtual career fairs, future employers) they should be able to interact with candidates and set up interviews immediately, on the spot. Data should also allow employees to identify potential candidates that have not yet visited their stand, and proactively invite them for interview.
Integrated Interactive Video
Whether it's for one-to-one video call interviews, or broadcasting live sessions, video communication needs to be integrated as part of the platform, with recording and playback options as well as transcription.
Where appropriate, sessions should enable two way participation and interaction.
Participants should be able to interact with digital, virtual stands in natural ways. Online chat should be available to connect with the exhibitor, allowing real-time discussion.
Promotional videos should be easy to place on the stand and to watch from the smartphone.
Hybrid events and a return to normality
At some point in the future we will be able to meet in person again, and as such when planning an event today we should always be looking for a solution that supports a gradual return to normality. Platforms that support seamless integration of virtual, physical and hybrid events would be a tremendous benefit for any event organiser today.
Speaking with beamian
A young company I found that it has an impressive track record of delivering these kind of events, is beamian, based in Portugal. Established in 2019 they have already supported more than 250 global events, and captured over 15 million data points between 15,000 exhibitors and participants.
Their online platform to manage fairs of all types, was initially launched for physical events, and leveraged a variety of technologies, including Near Field Communications (NFC) in smartphones and traditional style card badges, RFID tags, and IOT devices. Through these, they captured data and insights to help improve return on investment for both the event organisers and the exhibitors.
However, in a stroke of genius, their strategy had always been data first and mobile first, with virtual events being a priority for them from day one. So, when the physical events world came to a halt, they were ready with a solution.
I spoke with their CEO, Sérgio Pinto, about how this strategy played out.
Scott: "As the CEO of a young events technology company, it must have been a panic when COVID struck, and all the physical events were postponed or cancelled?"
Sérgio: "Actually, not really. The global pandemic did change the events industry massively. However, the situations our exhibitor partners needed to face are the exact scenarios that we built for from the outset. Not specifically because of any social restriction, but because it’s intrinsically connected with our mission and vision"
Scott: "So you've been building for virtual events since day one, do you think physical events will ever come back as strong as they used to be?"
Sérgio: "Our digital-first strategy to event management paid off when events went virtual, yes. We were able to help our event partners swiftly adapt to 100% virtual events for recruitment and other types of events. However, our mission is to provide event organisers the tools they need for deep digital transformation, as such, our platform will help them pivot back to hybrid and physical events as and when needed."
Scott: "How has this worked out for some of your partners recently?"
Sérgio: "The last three virtual job fairs we've supported had participation rates between 71%-91%. The exhibitors at these events had very positive experiences and interacted with hundreds of potential candidates."
Scott: "Do you see Virtual Reality as being important in these events?"
Sérgio: "I'm a fan of VR, but I honestly don't think its right for these types of events, just yet. We need to remember participants are going to be using our technology as part of their day, from their phones, in between other things. The use of VR isn't yet ubiquitous and we think it would actually be a barrier at this point. It's on our roadmap, but not something we're focusing on just yet. Our priority is to help make virtual career fairs as accessible and rewarding as possible, whilst helping prepare for a pivot to hybrid events when it becomes possible again."
I continue to pay attention to how technology will change industries that have traditionally relied on physical, in-person attendance. In this instance, I think virtual event platforms like beamian are playing an important role across several sectors. The impact of these technologies will serve the near term needs, but I think, as with recruiting for new distributed teams, new socio-commercial behaviours will emerge on top of the prevalence of such platforms, and I look forward to spotting these evolve.
And of course, if you're looking for an online platform to manage fairs, you should check out beamian's article on the 4 steps you need to take when hosting a virtual career fair.
Tell me what you think
What do you think? Share your thoughts with me, and leave a comment below.