Women in AV: The Three – Part 2: Midori Connolly, AVGirl Productions
This blog and interview were written and conducted by Kelly Perkins. Check her out on Twitter at @AVI_Kelly.
Midori Connolly is the principal at AVGirl Productions and former co-owner of an audiovisual company. She is best known for producing the first set of best practices for Sustainable AV Staging.
Midori provides support to meetings and events for clients around the world, with specialties in her turnkey hybrid meeting solutions and green(er) AV production. Recently appearing in Wired Magazine, she was also recognized as a Platinum Speaker by Meeting Professionals International and a Best-in-Class Speaker for Professional Convention Managers Association. She frequently speaks to groups about affordable webcasting, high speed Internet access for CVBs, hoteliers and event planners and especially to share daydreams about future trends in our digital culture.
Midori is a Phi Beta Kappa and graduated cum laude with a major in International Business and a minor in Japanese from San Diego State University. In her free time, Midori can be found golfing, hiking, horseback riding or enjoying sunny SoCal with her son and daughter.
Falling Into the AV Arena
At 18 years old, Midori Connolly was already knee deep in the early days of what would later be classified as online learning. “People were just starting to grasp the idea of lecture capture and flipped classrooms – Rosetta Stone had just come to market – it was really the early stages of online learning,” explained Connolly. Working in the curriculum and instruction department, Connolly and her team were all about learning everything from the best screen colors for education to the best audio for attention spans.
And then life happened. Connolly left the educational software world and graduated from college. Her husband at the time worked in rental and staging, and she had experience in the event industry through her mom’s expertise in event planning. “I thought, well, rental and staging really brings together both technology and event planning. I was trying to figure out what to do next with my life and I find both technology and event planning fascinating, so I thought why not start a company. My husband had the staging background and I had the business/ownership expertise, so why don’t we just start a staging company in the industry.”
And that’s how she “fell” into the AV industry – literally by starting a company.
“As time went on, I found out that I didn’t feel like our technology – the technology we were using in the staging industry [for live events] – necessarily matched what I had learned earlier in my career about adult learning. I started noticing the formatting of the events wasn’t the best for an adult learning environment – what we were really doing was just duplicating a high school learning style. And that just doesn’t work with adults.”
“This is when I thought, wait a minute – how can we start using this stuff differently? We’ve got great technology here and we’re not using it the way we should be using it. And this is how AVGirl Productions took form.”
“I no longer felt like traditional staging was the right fit for me. I felt like events and technology were going in a completely different direction.”
So Connolly went back to her roots, back to distance learning, adult education, webcasting and flipped classrooms. “What’s great is that all of these ideas also work in conference environments – concerts even. People just want to have control of their experience. That’s it.”
KP: Where’s the passion – what gets you excited?
MC: Solution building. It sounds so boring but it’s really what makes me tick. I love going in and listening to clients say, ‘Oh man, we’ve always been doing it this way and our people are so bored.’ I have a client who puts on a leadership symposium and wanted to give each attendee an iPad. So now everyone has an iPad. But now what?
This is where I come in. The attendees learn how to effectively create videos with a mobile device. They learn skills they can take back to their day-to-day jobs – creating presentations without words, adding imagery, multimedia – they get so excited because they are actually creating something. It’s all about working with a client’s ideas and challenges and pulling together a solution that works. Really being creative in solutions – finding ways for technology to fit what people need. That’s what we all want.
In addition, I work very closely with my integrator friends. I take what’s happening in their corporate or higher education environment and adapt it to the live event space. Huddle rooms for example – a great idea. So I create huddle spaces at events. I take what’s happening in corporate America and duplicate them at an event because I already know they are effective. The only difference is that ours are temporary.
KP: And you do all of this yourself?
MC: Right now it’s just me. I have partners that I work with on various projects but a lot of times clients will bring me in outside of their AV providers. Or sometimes I will work with clients and source AV vendors for them. I do have one other spectacular gal that works with me but she’s still mostly freelance. I will call in people as I need them and usually I will build a crew specific to the project. I hope it changes in the future, but for now it’s all me.
KP: So what’s it like owning your own business as a woman?
MC: As far as owning my own business, I will give whatever advice I can possibly give to anyone. I feel like I’ve kind of done everything and learned a few things along the way.
It’s really interesting when you bring up financing and being a women-owned business. Fortunately, I have been self-funded. I mean getting funding is REALLY intimidating. If you don’t have an education on how to finance and grow our business – it has to be terrifying. Maybe it’s different for a man? Maybe not?
I owned a business with my father and he managed the growth strategies, while I operated the company and built the personnel. So I don’t know if it necessarily taught me growth strategies – and to be honest I don’t even know where I would go to find a mentor if I wanted to grow my business. I wouldn’t even know where to start.
KP: Is it a lack of resources?
MC: Maybe more that it’s a lack of mentorship when it comes to women. We naturally come together to support each other, but we’re not trained in how to mentor other people. Maybe it’s because that’s just something men have been doing for centuries.
As boys, you would start out as an apprentice and work your way up. Men are trained from a young age, whereas women aren’t. Maybe it’s lack of skills or knowing how to actually mentor a woman and bring them up through the ranks. It always seems like the women on top tend to be protective of where they’re at because they fought SO hard to get there. And honestly, they probably weren’t mentored through the ranks so they just don’t know how to do it. I don’t think it’s for the sake of not wanting to – more not knowing how to. No one taught me how to do that.
KP: Mentoring is tough. It’s probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.
MC: Managing people is difficult. It’s like how do you be their boss and their friend? But wait, you’re not supposed to be their friend because you’re their boss. And how do you not come off as a total jerk? And that’s unfortunate, because I think a lot of talented women tend to use this as a strategy – so hard-nosed. Don’t show any softness because it’s a sign of weakness. But I it’s one of our greatest strengths.
I think many would agree that women are better at connecting – and we really should use that to our advantage. We have the ability to be connectors and see where there are opportunities for people around us. Maybe this is actually what mentorship really is – connecting like-minds with people or opportunities that will work for them.
We’d like to thank Midori Connolly for participating in this Women in AV blog series. More about her:
Midori has been named to the Most Innovative Event Professionals by BizBash Media and 40 Under 40 for both Collaborate and Connect Magazines. She is the AVGirl advice columnist for PlanYourMeetings.com, peer-elected Chair of the Infocomm International Rental & Staging Council and was the only woman who served on InfoComm’s first-ever Green AV Task Force. Midori truly is devoted to making technology more human, approachable and sustainable.