4 tips for holding your business event post-pandemic

The pandemic has changed business conferences forever. The way forward, argues Toby Lewis, is the hybrid model which increases engagement and value

In 1851 one of, if not the first, international global corporate events took place at Crystal Palace in Hyde Park: the Great Exhibition. In the 170 years since, businesses have honed their craft, engaging with their audiences using an event as a core part of their marketing and communications strategies.

Despite advancements in technology since, the format of these events has remained largely unchanged. Unchanged that is, until the pandemic caused a major shift in consumer engagement behaviours, as the world was forced into virtual interactions. Even as lockdowns lift, in-person corporate functions are facing reduced attendance to meet these new delegate priorities and crucial sustainability and carbon emissions objectives. To take just one example, the Bank of England is considering permanently reducing staff air travel.

Now is the time for businesses to re-vitalise their engagement strategies and catalyse sustained growth through investing in virtual and hybrid event provision. There are four key steps that businesses should take to establish and host impactful post-pandemic events that can drive sustained growth and optimise consumer engagement.

#1 – Upgrade your in-person events

The pandemic has fundamentally shifted the events market by prompting a turn to virtual engagement. In fact, in November 2020 alone the number of people attending virtual events on the Eventbrite platform was 34x the amount in January that year. Consequently, the validity of hosting an in-person event has been called into question.

In their place is the hybrid event model. These events allow greater numbers of attendees to network more effectively and engage with the content they love most. By incorporating this virtual element, often through platforms such as Live Group’s hub, delegates can fit attendance around their schedule, meaning wider attendance. And more delegates mean a greater audience to market to.

As we look to the future, businesses should resist falling back into old habits, depending too heavily on in-person events to deliver, and instead value content quality and accessibility for their delegates above all else.

>See also: How to make your online virtual event a success – 6 top tips

 #2 – Put event sustainability first

 Global sustainability and climate initiatives have made consumers savvy to environment issues, and businesses need to be clear about how they are making and meeting ESG objectives. Events are a great place to start. The average in-person event, for example, wastes 15-20 per cent of the food it produces[1] and a 2019 report found that the UK events industry emits 1.2bn kg of CO2e from diesel generators every year. Virtual events can help reduce carbon emissions and waste. Amplifying this sustainability groundwork now will prevent firms from being caught on the backfoot in the future.

With the pre-pandemic events industry estimated to be worth £70bn in direct spend, and accounting for over 50 per cent of spending in the UK visitor economy, it’s vital businesses embed new approaches with their events, breathing new life into the sector and enabling a more sustainable future.

 #3 – Gather bespoke event data

Business growth is built on customer insight, and analytics tools today enable companies to understand the strengths and weaknesses of how they choose to engage with their audiences. Virtual events have boosted the quality of this data by offering clear insight into which content is capturing the attention of a company’s customers.

Businesses have become dependent on an almost constant flow of information from virtual events, and now is the time to consider how this can be maintained. Neglecting this aspect could lead to a “black hole” in data strategies which event organisers must consider. Hybrid events, supported by quality technology that can capture data across all formats, will provide a long-term solution to this challenge.

But while virtual events clearly provide more data, 82 per cent of organisers feel that good data practices will be critical in running successful hybrid events. Half of event planners, however, find that running virtual events is making data management a lot more complicated. Companies should therefore learn from past virtual events to make sure that data collection is tailored specifically to business objectives to avoid over-saturation and capitalise on consumer feedback.

 #4 – React to a new form of engagement

As audiences move towards hybrid events, a new kind of engagement is emerging that is built upon flexible and accessible digital content. Companies must consider updating their practices and operations to respond to these new needs. This operational update may take the form of the creation of a new role within their staff roster: the Chief Engagement Officer. This person would have responsibility for ensuring the business is making the most of data and audience insights to become an expert in external engagement strategies and optimise marcomms accordingly.

For example, the ability to more accurately measure engagement means that businesses can develop more refined KPIs and extend event experiences and interactions far beyond a single keynote speech or fireside chat, for example. Real engagement takes time, and so elongating interactions with participants both before and after the event or peak of activity, for example, maximises the chance of inducing positive behaviour change.

Toby Lewis is CEO at Live Group

Further reading

UK growth business events and exhibitions calendar


Toby Lewis

Toby Lewis is CEO at Live Group.

Related Topics

Events and Conferences