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How to Create Engagement at Events Through AV

Photo of stage of CodeMash 2020.
Photo of Eric Newkirk.
Eric Newkirk

Your keynote speaker takes the stage…while attendees take out their phones.

Engagement may be the secret to commitment, but there is nothing hush-hush about our dwindling attention span. The average attention span has dropped to 8.25 seconds, according to a study from Microsoft Canada. Audiovisual ingenuity, however, still has the power to move people.

When video engineer Pierre Guillemette developed “triggers” to help his children with attention deficit disorder, our member company XPAV Expert’ease saw an opportunity for unparalleled engagement at events. Today, this Montreal-based AV company puts large, branded buttons in front of the stage, which are used to introduce corporate milestones or launch teambuilding exercises. Once the buttons are pressed, it sets off a chain reaction of changing colors, sounds and videos that engulf the entire space.

When two large insurance companies recently merged, the CEO was given the opportunity to press the button to unveil the new logo.

“He felt like a rockstar,” said Patrick Phaneuf, vice president of XPAV Expert’ease. “It’s simply a button, but it’s an element that makes you engage. It’s a unique experience. Attendees leave with those memories…moments in time.”

“Seed” The Sale

In a consumer sales event environment, audience engagement represents a sequence of interactions between prospective customers and the organization holding the event.

At Crescent Event Productions, “seeding” the sale at these types of events is one part layered content that builds to an offer and two parts high energy. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based audiovisual production company specializes in events featuring high-energy information marketing personalities.

Crescent President Christopher Gerhart credits his company’s 30-day onboarding program, which is based on the belief that employee satisfaction equals customer satisfaction. The month-long program, which includes assigned mentors and cross-training, ensures the company has the right talent with enough energy to keep pace with high-tempo, tech-heavy events.

In a typical four-day event of this genre, the “ask” happens on day three, so the first two-and-a-half days aren’t a coincidence. All the content in the first half of the event is highly coordinated to subliminally support the anticipated response of going to the back of the room and making a $10,000 purchase.

“The events build,” Gerhart said, “so when they make the offer, you will think, ‘I would be dumb not too.’”

To set the mood, the temperature is cranked down to keep the audience alert, while the lights flash, images move and hearts race. Fast-paced engagement can be a memorable spectacle.

“You are creating an environment where the person up on stage is larger than life, and the people in the audience want to be that person,” Gerhart added.

Captivate With Color  

First impressions create an opportunity for meeting planners to favorably influence their audience, which can carry through the rest of the event. Video, lighting and decor elements play an invaluable role in making any setting unique.

“People don’t leave an event talking about the food or the carpet or the parking,” said Oklahoma City-based Cory’s CEO Brad Poarch. “They leave an event talking about the message and experience they had, which is a culmination of all these elements together.”

Image of stage from CodeMash 2020.
 CodeMash 2020

Poarch’s team frequently leverages scenic elements, an oft-overlooked dimension at events. Leveraging multiple pieces of white-colored, pliable material as scenic elements throughout a space gives meeting planners the ability to instantaneously change the color of the room—and thus the feeling. Adding silver and light gray drape with white cutouts reflects the light to add depth to the look and feel of any event.

At a “Red Tie” AIDS gala, Cory’s used a red streak from the front of the room and slowly moved it toward the back of the room—symbolizing a fundraising “thermometer”—every time an attendee donated money toward the evening’s goal. The constant visual engagement motivated the party goers to push the red streak to fill the room, which triggered a full-scale party atmosphere throughout the ballroom.  

“If you don’t have a unique element,” Poarch says, “it’s forgotten.”

Elevate Attendees

When it comes to ramping up audience engagement, don’t hesitate to flip the script.  

Showcasing your keynote speaker isn’t surprising, but how about putting members of the audience on stage?

At Colortone Staging & Rentals (CSR), the AV production company uses event apps that pull social media posts based on targeted hashtags and keywords and publishes those snippets on the big screen—and don’t forget all the monitors in the hallways.

“People want to see themselves up on the big screen,” said CSR Director of Sales Sarah Charlton. “I’ve seen people sitting there eating breakfast or lunch, tweeting about the event and then they watch the big screen waiting for their post to come up live.”

The Cleveland-based AV company has used this tactic on an annual basis for a group of 3,000 coders who make their livelihood online.  

“It’s smart,” said Erin Weir, director of events for CSR. “They get attendees to engage with the event to deepen their involvement, and then they engage with other attendees on the screen to take it to the next level.”

Reimagining breakout rooms into “lounges” is another tactic to heighten audience engagement. Picture walking from a general session into a room with big, comfy chairs, keynote speakers and high-level company leaders at each table ready to listen to you. 

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About the author
Eric Newkirk

Eric Newkirk is a current board member and past president of Event Production Network, a group of more than two dozen audiovisual providers from across North America, as well as vice president of design and creative at AVFX.