As thousands of companies continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19, the role of the events industry in facilitating the networking, training, engagement and relationship building that powers so much new business activity has never been more important.

Indeed, prior to the pandemic it was estimated that over £165 billion in respect of trade was transacted at business events in the UK. But with remote working the new normal, lockdowns still in place and conference venues sitting empty, the factors that drive so much commerce forward are sadly lacking.

That is why I believe it is up to the events industry to take up the banner and help facilitate the commercial engagement that is needed to mobilise the recovery. 

But I also believe that rather than old fashioned methods, this is best done through what I call a "blended approach" to physical and virtual events - something that also enhances businesses' sustainability and inclusion credentials, as well their bottom lines.

All in the blend  

Central to a blended approach is the more sophisticated use of technology, which can enable richer content, higher engagement and, ultimately, a better return on investment.

For example, sitting at the heart of the events that we organise at Live Group is our new live platform which includes a "peer hub". This enables participants to not only have personalised profiles, but also equips them with search tools to identify relevant fellow participants. We have also developed an instant messaging and video meeting feature to aid networking during an event, plus an interface with LinkedIn so that engagement continues long afterwards.

For organisers we have deployed new technology too, including creating online forums for debates and discussions which mean that those wishing to hold an event can see which topics are trending and then crowd source the best content for delegates.

Our technology also enables speakers to have their own profiles that can be easily searched, while exhibitors and sponsors can have dedicated galleries and microsites to showcase their brands and services. On top of all this, searchable content libraries ensure that insights from events are widely shared.

However, the above innovations are not simply "nice to haves". Instead, they lead to more and better engagement which allows companies to capture far more audience data and insight to better inform their new business and marketing strategies.

This gets to the crux of explaining why a blended approach enhances engagement and business success. But not only does such an approach mean that businesses can respond to the prospects and customers of today - it also enables them to engage more with those of the future.

Future proofing

All businesses are now rightly under scrutiny for their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials. Clients, customers and investors alike are asking what more companies can be doing to lessen their negative impact, and increase the positive

Indeed, this was starkly illustrated by recent figures showing that rising demand for sustainable investment prompted fund managers to change the strategy or investment profile of 253 European funds in 2020, bringing assets invested in funds with an ESG focus to a staggering (and record) €1.1tn as of the end of December last year.

As the old saying goes, "follow the money". Investors have noticed and are acting upon the increased consumer interest in ESG, and so - rightly - are the most forward thinking and progressive businesses. 

So, at Live Group we have made sure to support businesses' ESG efforts by creating a Sustainability Calculator. This empowers firms to work out the environmental impact of a proposed event - for instance, the carbon footprint of factors like from where attendees are travelling, or how food and water is sourced. We are also exploring, and occasionally funding ourselves, ways to enable businesses to offset any remaining carbon footprint through adaptations such as local greening initiatives.

When it comes to helping improve businesses' social impact, a blended approach also pays dividends. In particular, by using technology which allows participants to watch and download content and even ask questions virtually, it helps support people who might otherwise be excluded. For example, those with physical disabilities or anxiety disorders, or those who cannot guarantee to be present for all of an event due to childcare or other carer responsibilities, who should be able to engage with an event just as much as anyone else.

Flying the flag

Finally, there is the cumulative impact that better engagement through a blended approach can achieve. As has been noted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Events and the umbrella organisation for

the business visits and events industry the BVEP, business events held in the UK showcase Britain's industrial, scientific and innovative skills to international markets. All of this drives trade, exports and inward investment.

So if UK businesses are to not only survive but thrive as we come through the worst of the pandemic, they too need to be able to showcase their products and services, and engage with the partners, suppliers, customers and networks that will enhance their bottom line.

Britain used to be the workshop of the world, but as I've outlined above we can still be a market place and a meeting place for it too - now more than ever.