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09/29/2021

Five Ways an AV Production Company Can Help Hotels Elevate Virtual, Hybrid and Live Event Experiences

From developing new onsite equipment and space strategies for social distancing to elevating your green screen game, these tips will help you see lasting benefits and greater ROI.

As meeting planners continue pivoting from live events to virtual or hybrid, an interesting thing is happening; we're beginning to see hospitality AV in a new light — a bright one, driven by innovation. Today's hoteliers are looking beyond their own walls to help planners engage their audiences wherever they may be, onsite or remote.

Rather than standing on the sidelines waiting for ballrooms to fill back up, operators are repositioning their venues for all types of meetings and events: live, virtual, and hybrid. After all, planners are hungry to reconnect with their audiences, and in the name of hospitality, hoteliers become the heroes to help them engage.

Here are five ways a production company can assist venue operators in elevating their offerings and reshaping the future of the meetings and convention business.

1: Develop new onsite equipment and space strategies for social distancing

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One of many rooms wired for a venue-wide board meeting.

Case in point:  A Fortune 500 company recently needed to hold a Board of Directors meeting. Board members wanted to be onsite, but social distancing requirements kept them out of the same room. They also wanted the smoothest possible engagement between all participants. Everyone needed to see and hear all the participants as if they were sitting side by side. The solution was to spread participants out in different rooms throughout the venue, give everyone a microphone (120 in total!), track every speaker using six video cameras switched through a control room, and broadcast out to 26 floor stand displays that accommodated all lines of sight.

The result: It was like they were sitting right next to each other.

 

2: 'Think Broadcast' by creating a broadcast studio and control spaces

In March 2020, our event and video production businesses collapsed. Faced with this threat, we gathered in the broadcast control room we'd been using for 30 years to produce weekly national newsfeeds with the CNNs and ESPNs of the world. There were video producers, event producers, motion graphic designers, and engineers, each with their individual creative and technical takes. Together we "MacGyvered" all the tech into an entirely new service line: Virtual Events. Overnight, our broadcast studios became virtual broadcast studios, and our single control room blossomed into six control spaces throughout the building.

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A behind-the-scenes look at the control room for The Avon Company’s multi-day 135th virtual anniversary celebration.

Where do hospitality venues fit into this new approach? Imagine creating a broadcast studio and control room at your hotel or convention center and offering virtual support to supplement your onsite meeting service line. Think hub and spoke, with event spaces serving as the central meeting hub. Your hotel produces a meeting feed traveling to your clients' virtual attendees wherever they may be.

The challenge is creative as much as technical. We've all sat through dull, poorly executed Zoom meetings ("unmute yourself, Jerry!") and dry-as-toast PowerPoint webinars. Our teams looked for a far different vision for pandemic engagement — "think broadcast television" — something that has riveted this country since the fifties.

The trick is to know how broadcast television glues people to their screens. Here are Five Rules of Virtual Engagement:

  1. Narrative impact
  2. Rapid visual storytelling
  3. Seamless pacing
  4. Proof of engagement
  5. Smart promotion

When you work with an expert in video, broadcast, events, and hospitality AV, hoteliers can leverage the best thinking from all worlds to their property, thereby creating virtual and hybrid experiences for meeting planners and event attendees.

 

3: Elevate your green screen game

Hospitality venues across the country are creating small greenscreen studios for client use, knowing everyone is itching for greater visual impact than Zoom backgrounds. The good news: a lot of cool green screen-based technology has hit the market since the pandemic, and hospitality venues with studios can sell these advances.

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Mills James designer Maddie Riddle is filmed against a green screen (left) and appears in a customized virtual space created through Unreal Engine’s real-time 3D platform.

We've been exploring platforms like Unreal Engine. In the image above, you see Mills James designer Maddie Riddle filmed against a green screen in a small studio that could easily be housed at a venue. Most times, she'd be keyed against a flat background waist up, and boom, she's an evening news anchor. Through Unreal Engine, speakers appear in customized virtual spaces of any size. They can walk around in these spaces while still being filmed in that same small studio. Imagine doing virtual tours of the hotel's venue space as the images behind you transform.

Hologram technology is another promising development. Executives and VIPs who can't make events can now beam in with incredibly effective telepresence. PORTL calls it volumetric 4K, and their units have been used for appearances at Emmy broadcasts, reality TV shows, marketing activations, and executive keynotes.

4: Support your physical venue with a digital event platform, especially for training efforts

Many businesses need much richer event platforms than Zoom or WebEx could ever provide. Their events need to have a robust digital presence — before, during, and after — for people to register, browse agendas, read speaker bios, wander through keynotes, attend breakout sessions of their choice, and connect with fellow attendees.

Another big pandemic pivot of ours was researching dozens of these digital event platforms for our clients. We've since hired developers and designers to help our clients mirror their physical events in the digital world. It would be wise for hospitality venues to do the same; offer digital solutions that supplement their live events.

This becomes increasingly important when continuing education credits are involved. One of our clients put on an annual in-person multi-day conference with a ton of accredited sessions. When the pandemic hit, we took their entire conference virtual but first had to satisfy the national authority that our virtual CE would meet their standards. It required digital tracking innovations that only a platform could provide.

5: Transform your space with projection innovations

Once the party restarts and group events return in mass, hoteliers will want their spaces to be up to the occasion. Enter projection innovations. Facilities can transform an atrium into a giant aquarium by mapping video playback to the geography of the space. Images can be projected onto ceiling tents, a dress at a fashion show, photo booths at a holiday party; you name it.

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Mills James can project on surfaces of any size, like the ceiling of a huge tent (left). Most recently, we turned our atrium into a giant aquarium.

What was once prohibitively expensive (requiring lasers to measure space and days of install) is now more accessible. Again, it's about seeing a venue for its digital possibilities as much as its physical ones.

AV innovations are here to stay. Virtual and hybrid events may be replacing live shows today, but I'm confident they will stay around to supplement events tomorrow. The silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic is this: Reaching virtual audiences brings lasting benefits and greater ROI — if you do it right.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Yearling is Vice President of the Sales and Marketing group and a Managing Partner at Mills James, one of the country's largest video and event production companies. Mills James' mission is to craft and deliver experiences that deepen human connections and inspire people to care and act. For 37 years, the firm has focused on elevating experiences, starting with the production experience itself — serving Fortune 500 companies, startups, and not-for-profits all over the nation with offices, production facilities, and hospitality properties in five states. Learn more at millsjames.com.