Imaging USA, a Shepard production

Make Your Audio Visual RFP Process Effective and Efficient

by Ricardo Ortiz

Does anyone love the audio visual RFP process? Do you eagerly anticipate the joy of developing the criteria and the seemingly endless, picky details? And what about trying to decipher the responses from suppliers written in the mystic language of AV? No wonder event planners and organizers are tempted to cut and paste from old RFPs or just use the bids from last year.

Well, relax. You can make your audio visual RFP process more effective and efficient. Start by changing your perspective on the whole thing.

A Better Way

Okay, what’s the goal of the RFP? Why are you doing it? Most people would answer:

To provide sufficient information to AV suppliers to allow them to provide an accurate estimate of the AV equipment and labor for an upcoming event.

That is one goal … but it’s not the major goal. An effective RFP does far more than just provide the specifications for a production estimate. It shouldn’t focus on counting all the mics, bits and pieces. After all, no one gives a memorable banquet by focusing only on how many forks they’ll need! An effective RFP should:

Define the overall production level and audience experience that you are demanding. It provides the details of the production values you want and expect.

Equipment and technology are vital, but mere hardware isn’t enough – it’s what you do with it that makes the event successful and delivers results. Think about it this way:

You aren’t spending a budget. You are buying an audience experience.

The big idea is to budget to a plan instead of planning to a budget. You aren’t really looking for the lowest estimate. You are looking for the best quality audience experience for your budget.

The Biggest Thing Everyone Forgets

At Shepard AV, we believe in using technology and expertise to transform an ordinary, low-impact event into an immersive audience experience that gets you results. Our mutual goal is a great experience through the best combination of equipment, expertise and budget. Let’s call it EEB.

Great Experience + Bad EEB – Doesn’t Work

Bad Experience + Great EEB – Doesn’t Work

Great Experience + Best EEB – Success

The Critical Factors

Audience expectations and content are the critical factors. Today’s audience members won’t cut you any slack because it’s a corporate event. They won’t give you a break because it’s an association conference. The people in today’s audience are already experts on what they feel is a great experience. They can watch on-demand TV and stream multimedia at home. They are rapid-fire on cell phones. They see sophisticated effects at the movie theater. They attend performances, plays and live events.

So your audience expects the best possible experience at your next event. Just having lights on the stage, a sound system and video projection is the bare minimum. Having the equipment work, the videos run and the PowerPoint in focus is nothing to celebrate – it’s the lowest bar you can set.

Tell the Suppliers About The Experience

The same goes for suppliers. Putting the focus on only the basic equipment will ensure that most of the estimates you receive will be more or less the same. The suppliers will look at similar events they did with approximately the same specifications and just tweak it a little for your RFP. That’s not a criticism – it seems like the logical and efficient way to do it. For them. But it leaves you dead in the water. Unless you provide more details and information on the event experience you’d like, what you will do in the space and how, all you will receive is a general equipment estimate. Game over.

The Experience Specifications

Aim higher! Your RFP should provide the detailed information the AV suppliers need to give you an accurate estimate for the experience you need to provide. These are in addition to the basic specifications like room size, audience size and seating. Many templates are available that will guide you through the basic format of writing an RFP, so let’s talk what you should include – not format. Be sure to provide:

  • Basic information about your company or organization
  • The history of the event
  • Why you are having the event
  • Information about the audience – demographics, etc.
  • The emotions you want to communicate
  • What you want the audience to do after the event
  • The results you want to generate

Explain briefly how you are managing the audience and what happens before/after the sessions and breakouts. Remember, you need more than lights, projection and sound. Consider including wireless devices, connectivity and presentation management in your RFP. Specify as much as you can:

General Sessions

  • Length of the sessions
  • Number of speakers
  • The largest number of people who will be speaking at one time
  • The largest number of people who will be on stage at one time. This is critical if you have an awards ceremony.
  • Anything that might be happening in the seating area
  • Any special speaker or presentation requirements
  • The number and length of rehearsals. Plan for more rehearsal time than you need – and not the other way around.


  • Will presenters use a podium or walk the stage?
  • Will you have Q&A?
  • Panel discussions?
  • Skits?
  • Live music?
  • Live performances?
  • Video magnification?
  • Will you need internet connectivity?
  • Will you have any special reveals or celebrations?


  • What will you be presenting?
  • What will the attendees be doing?
  • Will the attendees be collaborating or working together?
  • Will there be activities that need extra space?

Now you’ve given your suppliers something to work with. And you’ve asked for an RFP that will get you headed toward the success you want and need.

Avoid the Five Most Dangerous Words

In event planning and production, the five most dangerous words are: “The Same as Last Year.” More events and conferences have failed the audience and blown the budget by assuming you can just use the same specifications and details as the year before. So don’t do it. Even if you are in the same venue with the same speakers and audience, in reality, world events and business climates change, people’s job needs and challenges change, and every event is different. Be smart and know that.

Don’t be tempted to “guesstimate” what you need. No one ever saved money or gave an audience an extraordinary experience by deciding, “We’ll figure that out on show site.” What we’re suggesting is a more efficient way to run your RFP process. You have to put in a little more thought and work at the front end, but you will end up with greater flexibility and resources later. Better use of your budget. And a more successful event.

Get Some Support & Advice

We know this is different from the old, traditional AV RFP process. We’d like to help. If you have questions or need some support on developing your RFP design give us a call. We want to work with you to make sure you are asking the right questions to get the accurate estimates you need. Shepard AV is here to help with no obligation.

Timing, Timing, Timing

The purpose of the best, most effective RFP is to provide the technology and expertise to deliver an event experience that meets the needs and expectations of the audience. It’s not just about the technology, equipment crew or execution.

Sending out an AV RFP should be one of the first things you do. Just take the time to think through the basic event design first. Know your goals, the desired results, the key messages, content and what’s going to happen. Then you can find an AV partner who can give you the audience experience you need –and not just numbers.

Shepard is a full-service event production company. We design, develop and manage trade shows, corporate and other events throughout the U.S.