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Will virtual recruiting events survive the pandemic?

Use virtual events for their efficiency and in-person events for their natural inefficiency. Here's some insight on a very of-the-times challenge, from’s latest Culture Builder newsletter.

Remember when? teammates at Super Meetup Delaware 2019. ( file photo)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink,’s new Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up here to get the next one this Friday.

Early silent films were mostly recorded versions of live theater. One camera, exaggerated expressions: a performance produced by veterans of the old format without yet recognizing how different the new format was.

No one debates whether movies or live theater are better. They’re different categories. So it will be with events generally and recruiting events specifically. Neither virtual nor in-person events are better; they’re different.

With a few exceptions, for 12 years mostly produced in-person events to bring together our community. Then, like the rest of you, we were forced to adapt everything to virtual formats. We took an intentional approach, and we weren’t starting from scratch. Of the two-dozen virtual events we produced over the last 15 months, many were something different and very effective. But a few weren’t special, and a couple were genuine clunkers.

Along the way, I had dozens of honest conversations with other event producers, recruiters and lots of hiring managers who once used events as a key component of their employer brand and recruiting strategy. Some were veterans of virtual event formats that predated the pandemic; others were newer to the model. Their experiences, too, have been mixed. Virtual events with an existing community and organizers with the time to adjust to 2020 fared well. Others were stiff or underperformed.

Now as hybrid events pop up and talk of in-person gatherings returns, there’s a rush to return to in-person. I, too, am eager to be in community again. The world has changed, though. An all-virtual event world killed FOMO. All-virtual events put remarkable pressure on ticket prices. The deck was shuffled, and we won’t return to the same event landscape.

Most I talk to compare and contrast in-person and virtual events, and at present it seems everyone just wants to be back in-person. After 15 months of virtual burnout, the grassy yard of in-person events is looking even greener. But I think this is more like film and live theater: they’re distant cousins, not competing alternatives. It took a once-in-a-century pandemic to force our hand. Companies, hiring managers and event organizers should treat these as very different tools.

Great in-person events are at their best during points of inefficiency — the person you bump into walking to the bathroom, a tip you overhear by the coffee and practicing your pitch to a distracted fellow attendee. Great in-person events use programming as a lure to get the right people to bump into. We’re craving that serendipity again.

In contrast, virtual events are great at efficiency. That virtual event fatigue you feel is exhaustion from that efficiency — but forced over-indulgence doesn’t mean there isn’t value. When designed intentionally, there are strengths virtual events have over in-person. An engaging chat brings a collective second-screen experience; attendee polling is less clunky virtually than it is IRL. Virtual events can be essentially any size and without geographic boundaries — yet I’ve found some of the most effective virtual events are highly-curated small groups. For clients, we’ve hosted recruiting and lead-gen efforts by way of conversations with just 20 select participants.

The point is virtual should be used for targeted and efficient goals. In-person is for the inefficiency that marks humanity. As in-person events return, don’t dust off your recruiting plan from 2019. After you get your dose of in-person interaction, consider both for their different strengths.

In the future, sometimes the highly curated and efficient meeting, or the highly distributed conference will be best held virtually. Other times, the energy, travel and relationship building of an in-person event will be best. Sometimes you go to the movies; sometimes you go to the theater. An inspiring performance can happen at either.

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