Why do Face to Face Events still have a Big Impact?
The value of face-to-face events
For years, BESydney has collected data on the value of face-to-face events that take place in Sydney– from growth opportunities for early-career attendees to the development of industry sectors, and the impact of events on global research and collaboration.
The appetite to meet face to face has only increased following the disruption of the last two years. When circumstances have permitted, in-person events have taken place with strong – sometimes even record – attendance and matching effusion from delegates on how much they have missed connecting face to face.
BESydney’s research and Ambassador stories also illuminate how different stakeholders and the community at large benefit from face-to-face business events.
Value for delegates
According to BESydney research released in 2020, an overwhelming majority of event stakeholders agree that conferences have an instant impact on new ideas and knowledge for delegates.
86% of those surveyed agreed that conferences immediately expose attendees to new and innovative ideas and 88% said business events expose delegates to new and innovative knowledge.
Over the years, BESydney research respondents have also consistently rated the value of in-person conferences for early career delegates. In the 2020 report, 67% of respondents agreed that conferences developed the knowledge and capabilities of people just starting out.
Our BESydney Ambassadors confirm this.
Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, says conferences early in his career were crucial to his development as a scientist.
“They helped me to present my work to peers, but more importantly to meet senior figures in the field and create relationships with others at my early career stage,” he says. “I came to learn that you only need one significant conversation to make a conference worthwhile.”
Honorary Professor at Macquarie Medical School, part of Macquarie University, Mark Baker says conference attendance in his early years encouraged him “to attend more high-impact meetings to build collaborations, to reach out to historical experts in the field”.
He says attending conferences also helped him apply for more senior university roles.
Our BESydney Ambassadors also speak to the value of face-to-face events for the networking power they deliver.
“It’s what happens after the formal talks that counts most,” says Professor Simpson.
He reflects fondly on the first time he presented work on nutritional geometry, which has since changed the world and led to his election to the world’s oldest independent scientific academy, the Royal Society of London.
After a 10-minute talk at a conference in the Netherlands in 1992, a connection with a fellow delegate at the conference dinner led to a decades-long collaboration which is still underway today.
“I met up with a chemical ecologist and entomologist from the University of Laval in Canada, Jeremy McNeil – now President of the Canadian Royal Society. We ended up sitting drinking some very fine wines and planning work which we have pursued together ever since."
“Until COVID-19, we would regularly meet up at conferences all around the world.”
For his part, Honorary Professor Baker says in-person events provide “greater opportunities to really get to know your colleagues”.
Value for organisers
In-person events are a significant revenue stream, particularly for associations. Research suggests around one third or more of association revenue is generated through events. In December 2020, a white paper from the Institute of Association Leadership showed that 60% of participating association executives reported a negative financial impact from the loss of in-person events during the pandemic.
But events provide more than just dollars for their organisers.
Commissioned by Business Events Sydney, a review conducted by the University of Technology Sydney of more than 70 association journal articles looking at events during the pandemic showed that in-person events are a valuable tool for organisers to recruit new members and build loyalty amongst attendees, including exhibitors and sponsors.
When it was held in Sydney in 2018, SIBOS – one of the world’s largest financial services events – demonstrated the role face-to-face conferences can play in reaching new geographic audiences. The event held at ICC Sydney drew a significant audience from the Asia Pacific region – more than three times that of the conferences which immediately preceded and followed it – giving SIBOS organisers much deeper penetration into the APAC region, which is home to six of the top 10 financial centres globally.
Value for industry sectors
Pre-pandemic, when face-to-face events were the norm, up to 76% of those surveyed for BESydney’s research agreed that events in Sydney supported the development of global research and collaboration.
BESydney’s research also tracks the power of conferences to showcase local sectors to a global audience and, pre-pandemic, 83% of surveyed event stakeholders agreed that conferences provided this opportunity.
BESydney Ambassadors’ stories highlight how face-to-face meetings have supercharged the growth of their sectors.
Honorary Professor Baker says conferences in his sector, proteomics – the study of the proteins, the building blocks of life – have kickstarted major industry-wide initiatives delivered internationally over long periods.
One of his best conference memories is chairing the Human Proteome Organization’s forum discussion held at its international meeting in Sydney in 2010, after which, he says “the whole proteomics scientific community agreed to combined strategies, accept differences and immediately officially launch the Human Proteome Project”.
The project aims to map all possible protein make-ups of human cells, which is expected to produce three times the data of mapping the human genome, given protein make-ups change depending on conditions. The project has been underway for over a decade now.
Honorary Professor Baker says face-to-face events also facilitate succession planning and create opportunities to encourage the next generation of scientists.
Another BESydney Ambassador, Dr Pia Winberg, Director, CEO and Chief Scientist for Venus Shell Systems, which produces seaweed biomass for health applications, says conferences have helped establish her industry.
“Conferences have been integral to the establishment of a new industry base in my field of technology in seaweed production, processing and product development,” she says. “Both in terms of rounding up the state of technology, the experts available and questions that remain to be answered.”
“I am now a part of a strong global network of seaweed researchers and entrepreneurs, who collectively understand the technology space and are seeking global progress and collaboration in the emerging seaweed industry around the western world.”
And because they attract major international speakers and provide a timely focus point for an industry, conferences also help attract media attention to their sectors. The saturation media coverage of the recent United Nations climate summit, COP26, shows how events can create news and fuel public discourse for major subject-specific issues.
Value for the community
The impact of in-person events goes well beyond the industries served. With the power of event legacies rising, event organisers continue to find ways to extend an event’s value into the community of the host destination.
Community legacy opportunities include programs for school groups incorporated into the conference offering, donating leftover catering to food rescue charities like OzHarvest, providing other conference items to those in need, and raising money for a specific cause during an event.
In Sydney, the city’s purpose-built convention centre, ICC Sydney, has developed a formal program to streamline and facilitate legacy opportunities in the local community. The five streams of the Legacy Program connect events and delegates with Sydney’s creative industries and First Nations communities, the city’s entrepreneurs, innovators and future leaders, and local sustainability initiatives. While the event attendees get a more authentic experience of Sydney and its potential, in turn, the community benefits from an international audience with expertise and connections, which provide opportunities for the community to supercharge growth and development.
Value for the economy
Of course, in-person events are also great for the economy. In the 2018-19 financial year, Australia’s business events industry generated A$35.7 billion for local economies around the country.
Business Events Sydney has secured 95 events to be delivered in the city between 2022 and 2029, which are expected to generate just over half a billion dollars for the economy. This positive financial impact will be felt beyond the city, with 46% of those surveyed in BESydney’s latest research reporting visits to areas outside of Sydney.
Industry and other stakeholders attending events – which includes delegates, exhibitors and sponsors – spend on average A$823 per day, which is significantly higher than leisure visitors. This expenditure flows through to other sectors, including tourism and hospitality. Hotels, restaurants and tourism experiences benefit, especially in traditionally off-peak periods during the week and outside holiday periods.