Meetings

Global Spotlight: A Virtual Experiment in Latin America

By / Apr 24, 2021 (Rost-9D/Getty Images)

How a super-sized event kept its regional feel.

When many associations shifted to virtual meetings in 2020, they discovered that they had a global audience that shared the same concerns across their industries. AVIXA, an association that represents audiovisual professionals, was no different. As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated, it temporarily opened up its education offerings for free worldwide to respond to that shared challenge.

“We were looking at our members who at worst were unemployed and underemployed and needed to reskill, and at best now had time to participate in more education and learning,” says AVIXA CEO Dave Labuskes, CAE. “AVIXA wanted to provide something empowering.”

But AVIXA is also an organization with regional affiliates around the world that were doing a strong business in regional meetings. So as it looked for ways to acknowledge a universal challenge but preserve a local feel, it tried an experiment in Latin America.

In 2019, AVIXA hosted tradeshows in Mexico City; Bogota, Colombia; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2020, rather than present the three events virtually, the association rolled them up into a single event, Congreso AVIXA, that targeted professionals across the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.

Labuskes knew that the demand for such an event was there from both sponsors and potential attendees. “[Sponsors] wanted a place to be able to make their presence known, to reinforce the solutions they had available. We had sponsors asking us for an event before we had the event,” he says. “And the community itself was saying, ‘We want to be able to gather, and we want to share information.’”

Congreso AVIXA, held across three days last October, featured 43 presentations and speakers from 10 countries. The event was free to attendees. “It was a lot of staff lift, and it was also an enormous coming together of volunteers and subject-matter experts,” Labuskes says.

It was certainly a larger and more geographically diverse event: Drawing nearly 4,500 attendees from 35 countries, it outpaced attendance at all three of the 2019 Latin American conferences combined.

That doesn’t change AVIXA’s commitment to putting on in-person events when it’s safe to do so. Indeed, last September it successfully staged a conference in Beijing with more than 30,000 attendees. But Labuskes sees an opportunity for more virtual global events in the future that can help participants address regional needs—and offer AVIXA a chance to innovate.

“There is an intrinsic overconfidence among North Americans that we’re the biggest and baddest market in the world, we have the most innovation, and we have ways of solving all the problems,” he says. “But innovation comes from the absence of resources, and it happens all over the globe. The people that organized this event tapped into platforms we hadn’t used and used resources that let us provide a free-to-attend event that brought the community together in a time of need.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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