Posted on 29 Jul '20

What We Learnt Taking our Study Fairs Online

Our Head of Events, Nikki Hodgson, shares her experience and learnings from taking our study fairs online. (This blog was originally published in 2020, we updated it on 10 February 2022 based on what we've learnt since.)

With our events calendar regularly topping 18 events per year, I feel well versed in running physical study fairs, but virtual fairs were a new venture for myself and FindAUniversity back in March 2020.

Since then, we’ve delivered nine virtual events and have another three scheduled for 2022, and we’re impressed with the continued support we’ve received for keeping things virtual. Across our events to date, we’ve had more than 16,000 attendees and over 160 exhibitors who have benefitted from an average of 233 leads each.

We’ve had some hurdles along the way, learnt what’s really important for exhibitors, visitors and ourselves in virtual software, and have come away with more knowledge, experience and feedback to help us shape our future events offering.

There are some real benefits to virtual events – both for exhibitors and students.

Geography is not a problem

Virtual fairs remove the distance, time and cost restraints of actually attending physical fairs, helping to facilitate interactions which, feasibly, may never have happened at a physical fair.

Our university exhibitors have been able to join from all over the world, including countries such as Canada, France, Russia, Italy, the USA, Germany, Austria, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Japan, Israel and Cyprus to name a few.

And it hasn’t been just our exhibitors who have come from afar. Outside of Europe, students have joined from countries such as Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Iran, Ethiopia and the USA.

More subject specific knowledge

Our platform allows for up to 10 representatives per exhibitor which means that universities who might normally send one representative to a physical fair, could have specific representatives covering admissions, funding, student support, specific faculties, current students, and even alumni. Not only does this allow staff to talk about their area of expertise, it also gives visitors more tailored information.

Recorded conversations & analytics

Our exhibitors can get lead data from all visitors who accessed their stand and view their public and private conversation transcripts. Having this data gives them clear records of their conversations and a ready-made list for easy follow-up.

Here are a couple of our top recommendations when thinking about virtual events

#1 Don’t be afraid to shop around for the right platform

We always knew this would be hugely important, but our first experience reiterated the significance of this. We ended up changing the platform we were using so it’s important to find out what works best for you. The platform you choose controls the event aesthetics, user experience and functionality for universities and students, as well as the support and response received if something goes wrong.

It’s important to pick a platform that can:

  • handle the volume of students and internal users required;
  • provides adequate data after the event and opportunities to chat live;
  • make the experience valuable for all users;
  • differentiate the event from the competition.

Probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt is that all software will have merits and limitations, and software may not be able to deliver every item from your ‘wish list’. The important thing for me is knowing these limitations from the start and being able to make informed decisions based on what’s most important for the event, exhibitors and visitors.

#2 Make things easy for the users (both students and internal stakeholders)

One of our biggest wins was choosing a platform that could be personalised, allowing exhibitors the freedom to make their booth space their own (to a certain extent). One feature of the software that’s been particularly useful is the demo function, which allowed exhibitors to view their stand and test the software before the fair.

We’ve also been able to push for new features, based on exhibitor feedback, including adding more advertising opportunities such as lobby banners into the ‘main lobby’ design which has increased booth visits by an average of 48%, and our new chat functionality that has led to five times more one to one conversations taking place.

Here’s just some of the feedback we’ve had from our exhibitors:

“A worthwhile event that provided direct contact with prospects on an easy to use platform with excellent host support!” Emma Weatherly, Events Marketing Manager, Newcastle University (Postgrad LIVE Virtual Study Fair, November 2021)

“The virtual study fairs offer a great opportunity to engage with prospective students all over the world whom we'd otherwise wouldn't be able to reach.” Marianthi Dalkidou, PG Marketing and Recruitment, University of Portsmouth (PhD LIVE Virtual Study Fair, October 2021)

#3 Think about the users

You can create exciting graphics and excellent chat functionality but if users can’t navigate around the event or access useful content, then something isn’t right.

We provide online and email step-by-step guides which help our users navigate the fair and explain the functionality ahead of time so they turned up fully prepared.

Overall, 93% of students would recommend our fairs to a friend, and feedback from them shows that we’ve been doing something right:

“I think it is one of the most useful platforms to postgraduate students.” – Student feedback from Postgrad LIVE Virtual Study Fair, November 2021

“It almost felt as if I was there in person. Everything was easily accessible.“ – Student feedback from PhD LIVE Virtual Study Fair, October 2021

So, what does the future hold for virtual events?

As far as we’re concerned at FindAUniversity HQ, virtual fairs are here to stay. Yes, we’re very excited to get back on the road with our 2022 physical events programme, but the benefits of virtual are too great to throw everything we’ve learned over the past two years away. Going forward, we’re adopting a hybrid approach to make sure that we remain the number one place for all your postgraduate needs.

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