What Do AV Pros Value Most About Trade Shows & Events? (2024)

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in our June issue of Commercial Integrator + Security Sales & Integration as part of the Collaboration Today and Tomorrow, 6th edition.

It’s trade show season!

In the fast-paced world of commercial AV and UC&C — and amid the somewhat volatile economic atmosphere we find ourselves in — the question of the value of in-person conferences and trade shows looms large. Are these gatherings primarily about networking and relationships? Do they offer substantial insights and knowledge? Or is it really about the hugs, socialization and friendships that we have cultivated over the years?

To explore this topic, I’ve gathered perspectives from industry professionals in a variety of roles. I’ve asked them to share their points of view as we wrap up the largest pro AV trade show in North America: InfoComm.

Substantiating the Value of Conferences

To substantiate the value of conferences, event organizers, of course, publish survey results. A recent one stated this: “Visitors expressed that the primary value of attending the show lies in the exhibition halls, where they can explore a variety of booths, interact with exhibitors, explore leading brands, discover new innovators and cultivate networks. The value experienced in the halls and across the show features meant dwell times of 2.2 days.”

David J. Danto, director of emerging technology with the IMCCA (and editor of Collaboration Today and Tomorrow), says, “From my experience attending shows over the last two years, 99% of the people I’ve chatted with have told me it’s about hugging and handshakes. Even the vendors I know well said, ‘Of course we stay in touch with our clients, but here at the [X] show, we get to shake hands, break bread, etc. It’s about the people-to-people connections — not just to touch and feel gear.’”

While I personally value the people aspect, I wanted to dive deeper. Is there anyone who, like me, also acknowledges and believes in the significance of a product and solutions focus, particularly at large trade shows?

In an effort to substantiate the value of trade shows, I asked industry peers a series of questions. For reference, they included these:

  • What, in your opinion, is the number-one value of attending industry events
  • Whether that changes for national/international events (e.g., InfoComm, ISE) versus for regional or local events (e.g., roadshows, summits)
  • Whether that changes for topic-specific or market-specific events (e.g., events that are AV-over-IP focused, events that are higher ed focused)

The responses I received were somewhat varied based on what part of the industry the respondent was from: integrator, technology manager, end user, consultant or manufacturer. However, there was a clear throughline that was common throughout all. Let’s take a look!

Theresa Hahn, vice president, client success at USIS AV (integrator)

Hahn’s perspective centers on gaining deeper insights into industry trends, new technologies and market demands by attending events like InfoComm and ISE. She underscores the value of understanding the “why” behind new solutions and building strategic partnerships. Hahn says, “…understanding not only that there [are] new AV tech/solutions being launched but [also] why. What factors in the market made this solution necessary? What demand has a manufacturer or provider seen that made this new feature, new product [or] new solution viable? If that tech partner has invested in research to make that determination, we want to know about it…understand it more.”

Chaz Porter, global sales director at FSR (manufacturer)

Porter emphasizes the irreplaceable nature of live events, especially the value of side conversations that offer unique insights into business and industry challenges. He finds these interactions more communicative and informative than scheduled meetings on virtual platforms are. Porter says, “I believe the biggest value comes from what I call the side conversations; an attendee comes by, without a real agenda, and just starts chatting about his projects, challenges, complaints, kids, coworkers, etc. I find out more about our business from these side chats than [from] any scheduled meeting, and they just don’t happen on Teams.”

Corey Salvatore, director, technology group at Acentech (consultant)

Salvatore talks about the different purposes that large trade shows and regional events serve. Whereas larger events offer broader networking opportunities and access to industry leaders, regional events provide a lighter lift, timely information, and a focus on specific markets or product types. Salvatore says, “Sorry to drop the typical consultant answer here, but ‘It depends’ is the first thing that comes to mind. That said, a main point is to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry — trends and new technologies, etc. And, of course, the other big thing is building and maintaining relationships with the various manufacturers we need to have good communication with and access to.”

Heather Sidorowicz, president at Southtown Audio Visual (integrator)

Sidorowicz emphasizes the necessity to attend major events like InfoComm to stay abreast of industry trends and to experience firsthand what’s possible. She also highlights the importance of personal connections and relationships in the industry. She says, “A show like [InfoComm] also lets you experience what is out there, which a website/flyer can never do. See it all in action. Touching…asking questions…being there without interruption. It is 100% worth going.”

Jon Loney, manager, IMS at Whitman College (end user)

Loney values relationships forged at both regional and national events. He focuses on how these connections contribute to his professional growth and understanding of industry developments relevant to his role at Whitman. Loney says, “The relationships that I’ve created over the years with manufacturers, distributors and fellow AV people in higher ed are invaluable. For me, that doesn’t necessarily change based on regional or national events.”

Doug McCartney, executive director, classroom support and instructional technical services at Oakland University (end user)

McCartney shares his positive experiences at regional, market-specific shows, highlighting the thoughtful inclusion of a scholarship program that made the event accessible to a wider audience. He emphasizes the importance of creating a level playing field for all professionals to participate in such events. He says, “[At these events, I look for the] perfect balance of schools and corporate partners.”

Don Merritt, PhD, director of instructional resources at University of Central Florida (end user)

Merritt stresses the networking opportunities at industry events — particularly, the chance to connect with peers facing similar challenges and to share insights and strategies. He emphasizes the long-term impact of these connections on career development and institutional strategies. Merritt says, “The most important part of attending an industry event is the opportunity to network with others in roles similar to yours at other institutions, or with those in a role you aspire to [have]. Products and services are interesting in the moment, but the connections you can build will have a greater impact over the course of your career. Products and services (and vendors and manufacturers!) come and go; the network can last a career.”

George Chacko, director at Pace University (end user)

Chacko distinguishes between large shows and niche events, noting that, whereas large shows like InfoComm offer networking opportunities, smaller events provide deeper conversations and insights. He finds regional events particularly useful for connecting with end users and addressing specific challenges. Chacko says, “InfoComm provides opportunities to meet new people, reconnect with old friends and expand professional connections. However, in terms of technical knowledge or market insights, it’s not always of substantial value, especially if you’ve been attending them for a few years. For professional development and market insights, smaller events like ETC, NERCOMP, IMCCA [Collaboration Week] and local AV user groups are more beneficial.”

Anonymity Requested, engineer (manufacturer)

This individual values networking as the primary benefit of industry events, highlighting its role in career advancement and business development. She also appreciates the opportunity to gain knowledge about new technologies and industry trends. She says, “The number-one value in attending industry events is to network. When I was first getting started in my career, it helped me to make contacts across the industry. I credit those contacts with landing my current job. I’ve also been able to increase my profile in the industry, which has given me some fantastic opportunities.”

Karen Ethier, senior director of support services, information technology and search advocacy coordinator at Roger Williams University (end user)

Ethier echoes the sentiment of networking and conversations as the primary value derived from attending industry events. She shares a specific example of how informal conversations at a regional conference led to valuable insights and strategies for her institution. She says, “The most valuable experience that we all said we had was an informal conversation at lunch about AI in higher ed with a number of other institutions that we happened to sit with. Over the hour, the discussion really helped us to think about how we could build a framework around our role in AI advisem*nt and strategy and helped reinforce our sense that we need to balance promise with risk, advantages with challenges.”

Unmatched Opportunities for Networking, Learning and Growth

Having read these varied perspectives, it’s clear that the value of in-person conferences and trade shows lies in a combination of networking, knowledge acquisition, relationship building and gleaning insights about industry trends and challenges. Whether they attend large national events or smaller regional gatherings, professionals across industries find immense value in these opportunities to connect, learn and grow professionally.

One thing to note: The value of in-person connections and networking doesn’t necessarily translate to believing that friendships (and hugs!) are the best part of the event. The consensus, with this group, seems to be that the interactions and connections fostered at these events help increase tech knowledge, provide insights for opportunities and support career growth. That’s not to say that it doesn’t bleed into the personal, but socializing with friends is not the primary reason that people go to trade shows.

For me, this rings true. Socializing and personal fulfillment are secondary reasons why trade shows and conferences are part of my professional life. Primarily, however, it’s the knowledge obtained from meeting with people in person — especially those serendipitous encounters with industry peers from whom you learn, who further open your mind and who share experiences to make your own perspective broader.

The benefits of in-person conferences and trade shows underscore their enduring relevance in the digital age. Despite advances in virtual communication, the unique value of face-to-face interactions, meaningful conversations and professional connection building remains irreplaceable for industry professionals seeking growth, knowledge, collaboration and innovation.

Gina Sansivero is vice president of marketing and corporate communications at AtlasIED.

What Do AV Pros Value Most About Trade Shows & Events? (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rubie Ullrich

Last Updated:

Views: 6093

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rubie Ullrich

Birthday: 1998-02-02

Address: 743 Stoltenberg Center, Genovevaville, NJ 59925-3119

Phone: +2202978377583

Job: Administration Engineer

Hobby: Surfing, Sailing, Listening to music, Web surfing, Kitesurfing, Geocaching, Backpacking

Introduction: My name is Rubie Ullrich, I am a enthusiastic, perfect, tender, vivacious, talented, famous, delightful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.