Virtual or in person: what conferences for tomorrow?

Jun 15, 2021

Virtual or in person: what conferences for tomorrow?


The ACSESS Annual National Conference last month was the first opportunity for me to experience a fully digital event. And it gave me material to compare a virtual event with traditional face-to-face conferences. Less to declare a winner between these two modes of presentation than to glimpse what the future holds.


The aroma of freshly ground coffee, rising from the cup in front of me; a bowl of dried apricots – my sweet tooth – close at hand; the comfort of my office, fitted out in the playroom of the little one for several months: on May 12 and 13 was held the Access* National Annual Conference 2021 and it was the first time I attended such a conference via a digital platform. What an experience!


ACSESS National Conference: 24 quality conferences just a click away.


Conferences, exhibitions, fairs, I have done a lot. But to be able to do it in flip-flops and without having to put up with the hotel’s boiled coffee for breakfast? Am I having a dream? The “H” hour struck, I clicked on the connection link which had been sent to me, and I went “in conference mode”. We were thus close to 250 staffing enthusiasts, coming from all over the country as well as the United States.


24 different speakers were invited over the two days to talk about a variety of hot subjects like:

  •  Mental Health Research and the Impact of Covid-19 on Employers and Employees.
  • Balancing the Efficiencies of Technology
  • Automation: How You will Win in the New World of Work
  • Working ON your Staffing business, while also working in it!
  • Talent Curation, how to get ahead of the competition
  • Engagement within the agency.


My favorite: Tom Erb and emotional intelligence.


From the many conferences I attended, my favorite was given by Tom Erb. It was about how meaningful candidates’ conversations can literally transform a staffing business.

“So much time, money, and effort are focused on candidate attraction, yet little focus is spent on optimizing these relationships.” – T. Erb


Tom talked about the importance of truly connecting with candidates and employees, and how to build long-lasting relationships that can propel Staffing Agencies to new heights.


Topics included:


  • What is emotional intelligence and why is it a critical but often ignored skill?
  • How do candidates and employees want to interact with agencies, and how to create messaging that most effectively engages them in different stages of the candidate/employee life cycle?
  • What specific activities are most impactful when engaging candidates and employees?
  • How to leverage different types of technology to enhance, automate, and drive meaningful interactions?


After the first day, I turned off the screen, took off my headphones and … phew! My ears were relieved! Past the excitement and perks of the start of the day, my feeling at the end of the day had changed a bit. This day of virtual conferences was missing something … human.


However, I have to say that the way the whole event was produced and the digital platform it took place on did finally gave very interesting results. The videoconferences were clear, with good sound quality, and participants could easily interact with the speakers. There were also many options available for interacting between participants in virtual rooms. But, once the day is over, who are we going to have a drink with? I turned around in my office: only my son’s plush llama was looking at me, smiling. Well, I will pass.


Virtual or face-to-face conference?


So, I thought to myself: I would gladly attend another digital conference in the future, however, I look forward to attending one where I can meet people face to face and have a good handle. with a firm and friendly hand! It was then that I came up with the idea of this comparison, however subjective it may be, between these two modes of conferences. Not to say that “it was better before”, but to try to know: “How will it be afterwards?”


Obviously, any comparison involves markers, benchmarks, a dividing line between the pros and cons. However, conferences and exhibitions are a very subjective subject, since expectations, approaches and methods differ from one participant to another. So, I stuck to the widest possible approach, as a participant in an event that combines an exhibitor’s booth and thematic conferences. I then compiled a list of the pros and cons of the event being face-to-face or virtual.



Conclusion: what if the future was driving on a hybrid?


One of the major consequences of the months of pandemic that we have just experienced will remain, in my opinion, having reshuffled the cards in our relationship to digital: teleworking, home classes, virtual conferences, online shopping: during the long week of containment, our screens have been our main window to the outside world. As a result, new habits have emerged which will surely resist deconfinement. This is particularly the case with conferences.


While festivals, shows and fairs are slowly starting to organize themselves again in a face-to-face version, the organizers quickly seized the trend and are offering formulas that combine physical and digital events.


This is how, as of June 2020, the Palais des congrès de Montréal communicated on its “hybrid offer” to host events. “Hybrid events are both live and virtual. They are physical events that also incorporate virtual online components. Everything runs simultaneously in real time. The same content is shared, and interactive elements are included. They give audiences the option of participating live in-person, or online via the internet.” We can read on the site.


Rather than a return to normalcy, would the organizers thus be inclined to create a “new normal”, a hybrid formula that could take advantage of the advantages specific to each method? In the context of a drop in the number of trade fairs recorded in recent years, well before the Covid-19 therefore, this solution may in fact have already been launched. In that case, the pandemic will have just, in my opinion, accelerated the pace of a transition that was taking place anyway.


*About Acsess: ACSESS advances best practices and ethical standards for the $15 billion staffing industry through advocacy, government relations, professional development, certification, resources, and research.


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