Tech-driven and sustainable events can boost confidence and drive recovery

Toby Lewis, CEO at Live Group shares his thoughts on the importance of tech-driven and sustainable events as a part of the UK’s economic recovery.

The lifting of lockdown came as a welcome relief for the events sector. The pandemic had a severe negative impact, with an overall average decrease of 84% in events-related business in the 12-month period from April 2020 to April 2021.

But, as restrictions are eased, the sector is also presented the opportunity to revolutionise B2B engagement for good, as was spotlighted by the Business and Events Partnership’s recent ‘Shape of Events’ report. Instead of returning to the familiar but flawed in-person event formats, businesses and organisers should feel encouraged to build back stronger and try new approaches, such as the development of tech-driven engagement, and methods which prioritise sustainable delivery. Virtual and hybrid events are in prime position to fulfil many of these objectives, and the industry should take confidence in their potential to both boost businesses and kickstart wider economic recovery.

Putting the environment first

Travel emissions, energy consumption and waste production are all ESG strikes against in-person events which cause a significant negative environmental impact. The recent turn to virtual and hybrid events, which has familiarised audiences with these formats, marks a sea change for the events industry in terms of sustainability priorities, and it is critical that we don’t revert to old habits.  Event organisers must forge ahead with creative hybrid and virtual events. The result will be stronger ESG policies across the industry and a smaller carbon footprint.

The BVEP report recommends a ‘top-down’ approach to carbon targets, and tools are available to ensure that green principles infuse every element of event planning. Smart technology can minimise energy usage, whilst sustainability calculators can provide data to inform initiatives such as carbon emission offsetting.

Updating the priorities of the industry to include sustainability will be crucial to kickstart growth within the sector. Businesses need greater brand engagement more than ever, but consumers will increasingly demand that firms can first demonstrate their environmental credentials. Virtual and hybrid events allow organisations to both enhance engagement and exhibit a sustainable mindset in one tech-enabled swoop – something which will only become more attractive to potential clients.

Invaluable insights

This ever-expanding range of technology that underpins virtual and hybrid events will play a crucial role in catalysing the industry’s recovery. Software can already provide data insights to directly inform business marcomms strategies, whilst interactive platforms can ensure the provision of flexible content that evolves in relation to audience interests.

Looking ahead, new technology is developing apace that will help to raise ROI even further. For example, leading innovators like Microsoft are using augmented and virtual reality to place avatars of delegates into virtual worlds, whilst other tools use Bluetooth to track the physical user journey of attendees at in-person events.

This technology highlights hubs of activity during an event and provides detailed insight into which areas are gaining the most valuable attention – both crucial pieces of information for organisations seeking to optimise engagement.

Experience-led events

This enhanced engagement will be the key ingredient of what the BVEP report calls ‘experience-led events’; an important consideration regardless of event format.

Hybrid and virtual events provide flexibility to the delegate journey and their individual event experience. For example, should audience members wish to join virtually, they can access content whenever and wherever suits them. Once logged in, interactive communication channels mean that everyone can network and contribute to sessions however they feel most comfortable.

Most importantly, virtual and hybrid events allow engagement to be extended beyond the event itself. Events should not be thought of as a single moment in time; networking portals can go live weeks before the agenda starts, and recorded sessions can be saved, stored and re-watched on-demand long after the original presentation. This extension encourages community-building and stronger relationships around the event, which are crucial to brand enhancement and business growth.

Widening the impact

Hybrid and virtual events can provide a much-needed boost to individual businesses, but growth in the sector will also bolster wider economic recovery. The British events industry was estimated to be worth £70billion of direct spending in 2019, and BVEP estimates that the loss of business in 2021 could equate to £57billion – a downturn of 81%.[2]

Regaining this lost income will have widespread benefits for the national economy. Ultimately, a strategic focus on tech driven, sustainable hybrid and virtual events can catalyse a cycle of growth that will benefit businesses across the nation. Now is the time to optimise engagement, and ambitions should be high.