Choosing the right AV company is crucial to the success of your event. Get it right and you have a team member, advocate, and advisor. Pick the wrong AV company and you could be left unexpected bills, glitches in your show, and a bad taste in your mouth. By following the simple steps below you will be well on your way to choosing the best AV company for your event.
Step 1: Do Your Research on AV Companies
I can’t stress this enough before you even meet with an AV company do your homework. Learn AV basics, know the terminology and common mistakes ahead of contacting AV companies. This will give you a base to go off and empower you to make the best decisions for your event.
See What’s Out There
Before locking into any agreements look around! Check out several AV companies, in-house, and 3rd-party alike! Often venues will give you discounts and pressure you to use In-House AV but realize this is completely negotiable and you do not need to. If the discount seems good but you don’t like the team that will make for a long event. Look into hiring outside the venue, a 3rd party AV company is at your event for you, and only you. They have your interests at heart and often bring more creativity to the table.
Know When to Hire Your AV Company
Ideally, your AV company should be one of the first vendors you hire. You should actually hire your AV company before you even sign your venue contract. A good AV company will help you determine if prospective venues fit your needs and vision. They will also help negotiate out any unnecessary venue fees. This will save a lot of hassle and help your budget.
Step 2: Prepare for the First Meeting With AV Company
The more information you can give your AV company the better. More information upfront leads to more accurate quotes. This means you are less likely to run into surprises in budget and production down the road. It will also make the quoting process faster as it reduces questions left unanswered. Below are the best ways to prepare for your meeting.
Come Prepared with Your Goals
I can’t stress the importance of understanding your goals when hiring an AV company enough. You can start by asking yourself some of the following questions:
– Who will be attending your event?
– What type of energy will the guests have? Will they want?
– What is the tone of this event?
– What is the desired outcome of this event?
– What is my event vision?
– What is the purpose of my event?
For example, if you have guests that are high energy, you will want to create an event that is invigorating and stimulating. You may want to incorporate some of the biggest event trends, or perhaps you are planning on bringing in a top entertainer. Whatever big ideas you have let your AV team know so they can help you execute your vision and succeed in achieving your goals.
After brainstorming all of your key points, I recommend organizing your thoughts into different categories using a Mind Mapping tool. Personally, I really enjoy using the Fishbone Diagram when narrowing my ideas.
Once you have a clear understanding of your objectives, you can begin exploring methods for executing your desired vision to achieve your goals. Your AV Company wants to make sure they make your vision becomes a reality. Help them in this process by providing them with a clear understanding of what you want to see.
Determine Wants Vs Needs
Now that your goals are clear, I ask you to take a good look at that list. After reviewing your key points, narrow this list and sort it based on wants vs. needs. This will bring a lot of clarity and be helpful during the decision process. Trust me, you will thank me after!
The main reason we sort our wants from needs comes down to budget. AV production can get expensive, quickly! The cost of AV needs can range from as small as a few hundred dollars to upwards of $30,000+.
The second reason we sort our wants from needs is to incorporate what you need to really highlight the purpose of your event and filter out the rest! Nowadays, you hear buzzwords like engagement, virtual reality and so many more trending words everywhere! But are you just trending to keep up with the Jone’s?
With a critical understanding of the needs of your event, you can incorporate trends that align with your goals and purpose to truly give your event the spice it needs without compromising your vision.
So let’s say, for example, you have a digital marketing conference. It might be more important that you have a great stage design with triple-wide screens to really show off presenters content, rather than incorporating a hologram for trend’s sake.
Though it is natural to get excited about new ideas and trends, keep a clear line between wants and needs.
Let the AV Company Know Your Budget
Tell the AV company your event budget right up front. There are no benefits to holding this key piece information back.
Giving the AV company your budget upfront benefits you in two ways. First, they will be able to realistically tell you if your vision and needs can all be created within your budget. Knowing your budget will allow your vendor to make suggestions that will work best for your goals and your budget.
Secondly, it will save you time. By being forward with your budget you won’t receive a quote back far above your budget and need to start the whole quoting process over.
Step 3: Details Details Details
The more details you have up front the more accurate your initial quote will be. Having these details prepared ahead of your meeting will also eliminate a lot of back and forth after your meeting allowing your quote to be created faster.
Give Venue Details to AV Company
Come prepared with the exact ballrooms, breakout rooms and places within the venue you plan on utilizing. Bring diagrams. Be sure to also let the AV company know what you plan on using each room for. Make sure you have a point of contact for the venue they can contact should they have specific questions for the venue like where rigging points are, or how much power the venue has. This will allow the vendors to speak to each other, alleviating you of playing the middle-man.
Share Desired Layouts
Your event layout affects AV, the lighting, staging, sound and design needs. Make sure to let the AV company know about how you want to use the rooms. Are you having a keynote speaker in the front with rows and rows of chairs? Are you planning on having a circle in the round style layout? Whatever you want to unfold make sure it’s crystal clear to your AV company.
Bring Ideas for content
Are you planning to have a singer come down the aisle to surprise and delight your audience? Sounds fun, but make sure your AV company knows well ahead what you are planning on doing! You will need to ensure you have the correct microphones and lighting to make it a success. Do not blindside your AV company with these ideas during the event, they may not have the proper equipment on hand if you do.
Let your AV company know any type of content idea you are thinking about doing from live-streaming, to video content. This will ensure they bring the best equipment to suit your content needs.
Prepare a Detailed schedule
Provide your AV company a detailed schedule of everything happening at your event. Let the AV company know what time the sessions are, how many people will be speaking on stage at once, and so forth. This will allow your AV company to accurately quote labor and event specifics.
Factor AV Company Set-Up and Breakdown
Ask your venue when your vendors are allowed to set-up and tear-down. Make sure you check when any loading zones and elevators are available too. Don’t just assume you will be able to set-up the day before your event.
Bring all of this information to your AV company. Let the AV company know when you want your setups to be done and in place. Your set up and breakdown times can affect labor costs and should not be a surprise time later down the road.
Step 4: Vet the AV Company
Now that you’ve done your research and provided your event details it’s time to really dig into the company. You want to make sure that the company is legit, seasoned and going to be a good fit for you to work with.
You will be spending a lot of time with your AV Company! If you have a team with a bad culture or even a culture that doesn’t mesh well with your event, it’s going to be a painful experience. To avoid this ask about their culture! Ask open-ended questions like “What is your event teams culture like?” or “How would you handle if X happens?”, “What are your company’s core values?”
For example, one of our core values is “Learn & Grow” and I live this value every day learning new topics within the industry to write about for our subscribers! Another is “Selfless Service” and you can see this at every single step through our event process from the initial contact until to the end of your event our team goes above and beyond and does everything they can to make sure your event is a success!
Gear and skillsets are important, but culture plays a huge part in your overall event experience and interactions with your AV company. Make sure that you like who they are and what they stand for!
Ask your AV company to provide references of past clients with similar events they have worked with. This allows you to get honest insight from someone who has already worked with them at events! Make sure to follow up about the companies culture, and ask how they handled specific instances that are relevant to your event.
Ask for Case Studies
Before deciding on an AV company ask to see case studies of events similar to yours. What I mean by similar is if you are planning a small corporate meeting don’t get a case study for a mega convention with 81 breakout rooms. Make sure the case study is relevant to your needs. You will want to watch videos and see photos of the event to get a good feel. Find out what the clients came to the AV company in need of and how the AV company then solved those problems to meet clients goals.
Step 5: Tackle Quotes
Finally! The time has come! The details are gathered and you are about to receive your quote! This is a big moment! It can also be an overwhelming or even confusing moment, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some must do’s when you get your quote. Follow these next steps and you will have a much more pleasant quote experience!
Ask the AV Company to do a Quote Walk-through
I can’t say this enough. Always do a quote walk-through with your AV company. This is the best way to get a clear understanding of what you are getting. Ask your AV company to sit down with you and walk you through the quote line by line. They should be able to explain what each line item is and how it will be used at your event.
During your quote walkthrough don’t be afraid to ask questions. If something looks strange or doesn’t make sense ask them to clarify. Every single item in AV can be described simply in layman’s terms. If something is confusing and they won’t explain what it means consider it your red flag and walk away.
Request a CAD Design
While a quote walkthrough will bring you a lot of clarity, it’s still hard to visualize how everything will actually look set up! This 3D rendering enables you to see exactly how your stage will look, what lighting will be like, how big screens will look in proportion to your stage and so forth. When you see the CAD you can easily see how many screens you have, or if the scenic fits your overall vision, maybe it’s excessive or perhaps it falls flat. No matter what you see you can make the changes needed to get the look where you want it to be. Requesting a CAD design (computer-assisted design) eliminates the guesswork.
Compare Quotes BUT Make Sure it’s Apples to Apples
It’s smart to shop around and find the AV company that suits you best. But when you are comparing quotes you need to make sure you are actually comparing the same equipment. Otherwise, you are comparing apples to oranges. Don’t assume the equipment is the same if two vendors are quoting projectors they might not be the same at all! Look closely at the details, for example:
- Quote from AV company A includes a 5,000 lumens projector
- Quote from AV company B includes a 10,000 lumens projector
Company A is using a projector with a lower brightness which makes their pricing lower. Although the price might look more attractive, you could end up with a dimmer, less impressive display. When comparing quotes, you need to make sure it’s apples to apples and matches up with your requirements.
Make Sure The Quote is Final
Once you find the company you want to work with there is one last step! Before signing any contracts make sure your quote is final. Ask your company “If nothing changes with my event will my quote remain the same?” the answer should be yes! Also, be sure to check for any clauses such as “Final charges TBD at the conclusion of the event”. If you sign a quote with this type of clause you could be in for a huge shock when you receive a big bill after your event with little to no recourse available.
Step 5: Hire Your AV Company!
Now that you’ve put in the hard work and followed the steps you will be able to hire the best AV company for your event! They will be your advocate through planning and help you reach your goals. Remember, your AV Company wants to enjoy this event as much as you do. Incorporate your AV Company as part of your team and include them in the entire process. By following the steps above, you will create a smooth execution of your event and you will likely form a lasting business relationship with more events to come.
Editor’s Note: This was originally published in June 24, 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.