Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

PSAV Takes Downtime to Upskill

The hotel and events industry has been flattened by the pandemic, with in-person events being cancelled for the most part until at least Q2 of 2021. ConferenceDirect is among the companies that have taken the lull to increase its educational outreach to clients and associates, including holding a series of online IndustryInsights Virtual half-day sessions on today’s hottest topics, virtual supplier sessions, and a new series of podcasts called CD LIVE that will be featured on the company’s website and YouTube channel.

PSAV Divisional Vice President, Global Learning and Development Derek Blake

But ConferenceDirect is not alone in amping up its educational content. Powerhouse audiovisual provider PSAV also decided to take the pandemic-induced downtime to bring its work force up to speed on the new tools events need to do business now.

MeetingMentor recently caught up with PSAV Divisional Vice President, Global Learning and Development Derek Blake to learn more.

Let’s start with a little background on how PSAV has been faring through the pandemic.

Blake: We were coming off a stellar year in 2019 when we held our global leadership meeting in January. We had just completed the acquisition of Encore Event Technologies from Freeman, we were entering the year strong with $3 billion in revenue, and we had 15,000 global team members. It was full steam ahead.

Then March happened and live events came to a screeching halt overnight in a way no one could have predicted. Hoping it would be a short-term thing, we decided to get as proactive as possible on the learning and development side. We accelerated a bunch of projects that were on our wish list that we could never get to while we were so busy. We were already doing virtual instructor-led training, so the pivots of having team members working from home on Zoom was already somewhat in our DNA.

What types of education did you focus on?

Blake: Though virtual and hybrid meetings were already a core competency of what we do, it for the most part entailed live streaming from an in-person event. While we had to furlough the majority of our hourly team members, our customers still had a need to do virtual events. So we had to upskill the people who used to handle the live-streaming role. We had the training already built in our Technical Academy, so it was more of a deployment exercise to upskill those who had been taken out of the trenches to get them back into the trenches. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation, but with limited staff.

How did you determine your training priorities?

Blake: We normally would have a point technical person who would manage the venue operations in multiple hotels, and we quickly brought these global leaders together in a cluster model. They were in temporary roles executing hybrid events while still managing the venues — while live meetings are down, there’s still actually quite a bit of live meetings happening, just on a smaller scale. But they’re still happening in a hotel space and they still need to service these events.

The next jump over the summer was to leadership development training. We launched a new Leadership Level 100 certification that revolved around servant leadership, including diversity, equity and inclusion, based on the Franklin Covey content. This revolves around five core disciplines, about 30 hours of learning, and ends in a formal assessment that leads to their internal certification.

Then we started a campaign for a change model we call “leading through uncertain times,” which includes how to cope through the stages on change. We recently launched a wellness campaign for our entire global work force to help them handle things like stress and survivor’s guilt — we still have about 4,000 active global team members, but 11,000 have been furloughed, so there is some emotion around that.

What does the training consist of?

Blake: The technical and hybrid training focuses on three plans: one around sales, one around production, and one around technical skills. Each include 20 to 50 hours of blended learning activities specific to those three areas. Sales is focused around educating our sellers, who can then educate customers on the differences between virtual/hybrid and in-person events, while the technical education supports everything it takes to execute those virtual/hybrid programs, for example, certifying people in using Zoom from a technical operator standpoint. We also started certifying people on our own internal platforms. Some of our team members received both the technical and hybrid training and the Leadership Level 100 certification, which was a little overwhelming.

How does this differ from your learning and development program pre-COVID?

Blake: In 2019, we averaged around 32 learning hours per person, which is a pretty standard metric — best in class organizations are somewhere between 30 and 35. In Q2 of 2020, we were close to 90 learning hours per active team member, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

In Q3, we pulled that back a bit as we began to understand more about the pandemic, though we were still hoping things would get better in Q3 or Q4. We plan to end the year on an active member-based system of about 15 additional learning hours per person.

We are excited to be able to support our team members — and we have given our furloughed members access to everything as well to help keep them whole with learning support throughout 2020. A lot of them have really taken advantage of it to upskill their own personal development.

What has been the response so far?

Blake: I’d say it was, “Be careful what you wish for”! Everyone wants more training, but some came back and said, “You’re killing me!” That’s why we’re now easing off after pushing hard earlier in the year to make sure they had the skills they needed now. Now we’re looking more to supplement with what they might be interested in, such as the wellness launch, which is more of a personal than professional push.

But the response has been overwhelmingly positive from our team members.

What’s next?

Blake: As we roll into 2021, we have a few big new initiatives. One addresses our sales training, which is going to change from working in-house to selling directly to customers.

The second initiative is going to be around hybrid meeting education, which goes well beyond what PSAV does. We plan to come out strong with an external education platform for meeting planners, event partners, and end customers to help them really understand what hybrid means. Does it just mean adding a virtual component to a live event? What does that look like?

A lot of it will revolve around our Meet Safe initiative, which is designed to help people meet safely in person while producing a hybrid event. And by the way, “hybrid” doesn’t just mean streaming out of the meeting space. It could mean holding one event from a presentation stage, with simultaneous in-person breakouts in the same hotel getting the same message. Our hotel partners are very interested in that because it will help their venues more than streaming content out of the hotel.

Any predictions on what’s going to happen next?

Blake: What I’ve been hearing of late is our balance of in-person and hybrid events are starting to eclipse our virtual business. While revenues aren’t where we want them to be yet, there is more of an appetite to do in-person events. If Las Vegas goes to 50% capacity in January, as has been announced, that could be amazing.

We’re confident and hopeful that in-person and hybrid events will begin to come back more in the first half of 2021.

This has been good from a learning and development standpoint but it couldn’t have happened without the right partnerships in place. We’re fortunate in that we have partnered with [educational technology company] Skillsoft since 2015, and that we were ahead of the curve in not having to worry about technology when making the pivotal changes since their platform has evolved along with us. They also use our services, so it is a true give and take with our organization.



Free Subscription to
MeetingMentor Online


About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

Design by: Loewy Design