Some thoughts on the events industry

Published: 21 Jul 2020
Last reviewed: 22 Oct 2020

Heather Lishman, Association Director of the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (AABPCO) talks to us about some of the trends and challenges we can expect to see in the events landscape.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your organisation

I am the Association Director of ABPCO, the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers.  As an association we are proud to enable and promote excellence in association conferences and events.  We do this by bringing the association events community together to promote and encourage excellence, share, learn and collaborate.


What are the current challenges we can expect to see over the next year in terms of lockdown implications/impact?

As part of the business events industry we were some of the first to be impacted, and cannot resume business until 1st October.  We know it will be challenging to build confidence quickly and bring people together at conferences and events.  We need to do this though, as our events bring communities together in a way that cannot be done virtually.  Most importantly, the learning, research and information sharing that takes place at physical events is a dynamic force that can, quite literally, change the world in terms of a direct impact on medical, scientific and public health breakthroughs.


What future trends do you think we’ll see over the coming months?

Virtual and hybrid events will be  the norm for this year, but already we can see that these events are not completely fulfilling the needs of communities, and I believe that there will be a push to ‘get back to normal’ as soon as possible.  We are human beings – we are social, we like to gather and it is more often than not the serendipity of who you meet at a conference that fuels knowledge sharing and collaboration, which in turn can help to advance knowledge.


Which organisations are leading the way in innovation?

I have been thrilled to see how all ABPCO members are responding in an agile and dynamic way to the challenges that 2020 has presented.  Many are embracing technologies and finding new ways to work.  I am relieved to see that they also continue to share, learn and collaborate to ensure the best possible outcomes.


What can the membership and association sector learn from other sectors?

We think it is vital to learn and network at all levels, both within our sector and from others.  ABPCO are proud to be members of the Business Visits and Events Partnership, which brings together trade and professional organisations, government agencies and significant influencers in the business visits and events sector.  We also sit on an international taskforce set up by IAPCO - the International Association of Professional Conference Organisers.  It is important that we also learn from other disciplines: technology, project management, finance, marketing etc. to ensure that we incorporate current thinking into our offering.


Anything else you’d like to tell us? 

We work hard on our planning, and have just set out our stall for the short and medium term.  The short-term focus will be the support of members to ensure business resilience and the changing needs of associations in the light of COVID-19, particularly in the virtual space.  The mid to Longer term the focus will be on:

  • growing the ABPCO membership through a targeted approach to recruitment, particularly amongst inhouse organisers and sectors not currently represented
  • developing ABPCO’s education portfolio and maximising accessible e-learning opportunities to support members with skills development
  • enhancing ABPCO’s external voice on behalf of members through thought-leadership and engagement with customers and the industries they represent
  • ensuring the value proposition of ABPCO is better understood
  • building on the value of collaboration through belonging and learning for sustainable, long term growth


Overall we are keen to rise to the challenge of 2020 and come out living our values of excellence, learning and belonging and having an informed industry voice.


To find out more about ABPCO visit