Why Don’t More AV Industry Conferences Incorporate Virtual Attendees?

Published: March 8, 2019
This end user panel discussion at the 2019 PSNI Supersummit was broadcast on Facebook Live, allowing those who couldn't attend to ask questions and make comments during the session.

I’ve written before about the value of AV industry conferences and how all companies should find a way to send someone from the business to at least one of them every year, knowing full well there’s a large expense tagged on when you consider registration costs, flights and hotels.

For many people who attend industry events—from the NSCA Business & Leadership Conference to the AVIXA AV Executive Conference to our very own Total Tech Summit—the biggest reason they want to step away from their businesses for a few days, hop on a plane and sleep in a hotel room is the chance to make or renew face-to-face acquaintances with friends and competitors they’ve met over the years and perhaps find out about new opportunities to work with or acquire companies they didn’t know.

But what about those people who are interested primarily in garnering some of the knowledge shared by the keynote speakers and industry experts who grace the stages at these events? Shouldn’t they be able to participate in these marquee attractions without actually being there, especially in the 21st century in an industry that prides itself on helping people communicate more effectively?

The PSNI Supersummit used Facebook Live to broadcast an end-user panel discussion, allowing those who couldn’t be in Atlanta for the event to ask questions and make comments to the presenters through moderator Tim Albright of AV Nation.

The AVIXA Diversity Council also recently broadcast its first UK event on Facebook Live, good news for weary travelers who had spent most of February going from Amsterdam for ISE 2019 to Atlanta for the Supersummit to Tampa, Fla., for NSCA’s 21st annual BLC.

I know event organizers pride themselves on always having events that attract more attendees every year and need those attendance numbers to attract sponsors and pay for the high-profile speakers they bring in to talk to those attendees.

But I have to think most of these high-profile speakers have done presentations where most of the audience, or at least some portion of it, was watching them online—or at least from somewhere other than a hotel conference room or convention center.

John Galante, president of AE Ventures, says he’ll explore ways to “get more exposure” for the Total Tech Summit in the future and wonders if people who aren’t at the venue would be interested in paying for video recordings or live broadcasts of boardroom sessions or if they’d rather hear the general sessions–or both.

What’s Wrong with Virtual Attendance?

The opportunity to broadcast some or all of these conferences online would actually open up the message to an even wider audience than ever before. And, before you say the organizations wouldn’t make money if they didn’t have attendees or sponsorships, I’m not saying those who don’t attend should be able to watch for free, although that was the case for PSNI and the Diversity Council.

Organizations could charge a discounted rate to virtual attendees and, in turn, save money on hotel blocks, food, water and coffee.

Organizations could charge a discounted rate to virtual attendees and, in turn, save money on hotel blocks, food, water and coffee.

Think of how many people you know watch every Apple product announcement online or wake up early to find out if their favorite actor or movie is nominated for an Academy Award or tune in to hear the new player on their favorite baseball team talk about why he signed there and left the rivals in the dust.

Sure, AV industry conferences probably aren’t on that level yet, but they could definitely become must-see events for many more than a few hundred people if there was an option to watch them online too.

Maybe this wouldn’t be a perfect idea for every industry event, but when PSNI announced they were doing it for the Supersummit this year, I wondered why it hasn’t been done at every AV event before then and why it isn’t being done at every AV event since then. Clearly, someone in the room has the expertise to make it happen.

This isn’t to say you completely remove the on-site element or take away the networking opportunities some attendees hold so dear when they attend AV industry conferences. This is a way to enhance those events and offer those who can’t be there in person a way to feel like they’re part of the action.

Just like AV integrators have to continue to shift their business mindset from being focused on selling boxes and leading with products to selling services and leading with experiences and relationships, it’s time to rethink the way the AV industry—and perhaps others—attend conferences.

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