LIGHTS, CAMERA AND NEARLY ACTION
Organising a conference or event for the first time can be a daunting experience! Which venue to choose, how to manage that all important delegate invitation process? Then there’s all the technology and Audio-Visual (AV) bit to consider. Do you really need an all ‘singing and dancing’ LED screen or the latest voting App when a simple flip chart will do?
There’s clearly a lot to think about from an AV perspective and we certainly don’t know it all. But meetingsclub knows two men who do. Which is why we went to have a chat with Jonny Austin from Showstate (based in Reading) and Pete Wells at Quadrant Events (Midlands) to get their take on all things technical, what not to forget as a first time organiser and to highlight what the future might look like within the world of AV and event production.
KNOW YOUR BRIEF AND YOUR BUDGET
Before you rush off on your search for a company that can solve all you’re AV and production challenges, do take some time out and ask yourself and your colleagues a few important questions. You’ll need to know the answers as a first step!
- What is the purpose of your event and what do you want to achieve at the end of the day?
- Who is the audience, why are they coming and what do they need to know, or you need to know from them?
- Who is responsible for the content, how will people present and what do they need to get their message across?
- What is the event budget, how fixed is it and can a contingency be built in?
Doubtless there are many more questions on your list, but if you understand the basics and keep the above questions front of mind, you’ll start on the right track.
TOP TIP: Have your questions (and answers ready), know what you want and save time and money!
FIND AN ORGANISATION YOU CAN TRUST
Finding and organisation you can trust is really important, particularly if you are new to the AV and event production game. Look for a company that wants to partner rather than simply supply. Seek out people who genuinely care about what you want to achieve and are willing to help rather than just simply hire you a piece of kit that is sitting in a warehouse and needs to pay for itself. Word of mouth, personal recommendation from peers and of course online reviews will help you draw up a shortlist of possible partners. But alarm bells should start ringing if the company you are talking to is not able to give personal recommendations for similar events to the one you are looking to hold.
Ask lots of questions if you are not sure. Don’t be baffled by technobabble and always revert to graphics, videos and images if you want to see what an LED screen looks like or whether you really do need projection mapping for a meeting of 12 people. If your selected partner offers a complimentary “hand holding” support service grab it quite literally with both hands because this can be particularly useful when undertaking a site visit to see what the venue has on offer.
Finally, make sure that your chosen company can deliver the basics – sound, lighting, projection and staging – but in addition has the ability to offer creative design and content solutions. These don’t always cost a fortune, but they can make a significant difference to the end show result.
TOP TIP: Creative honesty pretty much sums up what you are after.
AV EQUIPMENT AND TECHNOLOGY
It’s not all rocket science. Indeed, it’s fairly obvious that a small meeting for 12 people will have a different technical requirement than a large sales conference for 300. However, size does matter when it comes to sound, as you’ll need to factor in the number of amplification speakers, additional microphones for large top table gatherings and technicians needed to work the mixing desk at the back of the room.
But don’t automatically think that big is always best or that you have to have the latest equipment available. Cut your cloth accordingly and rely on your trusted partnership to spec’ correctly. Indeed, it might be possible if the venue has their own equipment to simply use their inhouse PA, projection and lighting systems. This could save considerably on your budget but remember that tests will need to be made to ensure that everything works and always ask the question what back-ups are in place should something fail. Your production partner should be involved in these discussions as their experience will give you the answers and reassurance that you need.
One thing is for sure and that is you’re going to need a good Wi-Fi system with plenty of bandwidth. Large audiences often come with exhibitions and expos alongside, they’ll expect to be online all day, often with a couple of devices that need connectivity. High numbers can put a strain on the upload and download speeds if you’re not careful. Check with the venue and your production partner and seek proof, particularly if there is a need for video streaming requirements to delegate phones and exhibitor stands.
The above points largely cover the AV basics, but most conferences and events are not a one-way communication of information. There’s every likelihood that your audience will want to interact, which is a whole subject in itself (more in a future blog) so take advice from the outset on delegate voting systems, interactive tablets and the latest delegate technology Apps. And remember, if you do go down this route, you may need to consider hiring the additional services of a meeting facilitator to bring your event together in a structured, cohesive way that delivers the right outcomes.
TOP TIP: Hiring small amounts of AV equipment? Don’t forget to check to see if there are any delivery or minimum order charges.
BACKDROP & STAGING
It may look good, but the first question to always ask is do you actually need a stage and backdrop? Is the subject matter sufficiently important that the media will be there? Do you need to communicate a theme or particular strap line/message when it would be useful to feature this behind the keynote speakers? If the answer’s yes, find out first what the venue offers in-house as this may help your budget. Sometimes venues include a small backdrop with stage blocks as part of their Day Delegate or 24-hour rates.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune and good AV/Production partners will have “stock sets” available for hire. These standard backdrops and stages can quickly, and cost effectively be branded in your organisations colours complete with supporting logos and graphics. Looking for something large, creative and bespoke? Ask for 3D CAD designs which can graphically illustrate what your conference room will look like with realistic fly throughs to show the stage, backdrop and seating layout.
TOP TIP: For high profile events, particularly when the media might be there or if shots of the stage and speakers are going to be used for subsequent publicity purposes, check any strap line behind the speakers’ head.
FRONT OR BACK – GET IN AND GET OUT
No matter what the size of event is, it’s always worth considering undertaking a site visit. There’s nothing like seeing for your own eyes the room and environment where the event is going to be held, see how the flow of delegates will work and meeting the people who you will be working with on the day. It’s also a useful from a health and safety perspective to get the full onsite picture before you commit to contract.
It’s the perfect time to ensure that your delegate/guest’s numbers will actually fit in the room. Remember, if you go for “back-projection” the projector will be behind the backdrop and stage which will mean that with the throw required, the staging will move forward into the audience. This will restrict space. You can get around this challenge by “flying” the projector from ceiling rigging or from a table in front, but this can not only be costly but unsightly as well.
Don’t forget to also ensure you have sufficient times for the setting up of equipment and registration areas and that you can derig at the end of the event in a timely way. Event space costs and additional hire charges may apply if you need more time.
TOP TIP: Consider holding your event on a Monday. Sunday is often a quieter booking time for venues, enabling you to negotiate cheaper access and better on the day delegates rates
ONE CHANCE – GET IT RIGHT
Live events whatever they may be are just that, live! There is no second chance in terms of delivery as it happens today and not tomorrow. For smaller events which have fewer moving technical parts, there shouldn’t be a problem with careful planning and preparation. But for larger more complex conferences and award ceremonies thought should be given to the support needed on the day in terms of overseeing of the set-up and the actual running of the event itself.
A “Show Caller” or Event Producer is a useful and sometimes essential person to have onboard as they will direct the timings and ensure that all technical elements flow.
TOP TIP: If your event is complex in format and content, consider hiring a professional MC or Conference Facilitator. It is their professional job to understand your brief and to make the day run smoothly, ensuring appropriate audience interaction and associated interface with the venue.
WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG TECHNOLOGY THING?
Technological changes are happening it seems every day and the meetings and event World is no different. So, what are likely to be the next big things when it comes to AV and production
FACIAL RECOGNITION: Facial recognition is a powerful new technology. It’s very useful from a security perspective and adds value when managing events of a sensitive nature or when there are large numbers of external delegates and security is paramount.
ULTRA-WIDE AND LED SCREENS: A series of different images right before your eyes. CCTV speaker images, PowerPoint text, illustrative graphics and company branding can interchange at a touch of a button, giving unlimited scope for look and feel changes.
HOLOGRAMS: Cant’ your speaker over from America? Don’t’ worry. Beam them in as a life-sized hologram image which can address your audience and take questions from this side of the Atlantic. Spooky, but very clever.
VIRTUAL REALITY GOGGLES: For fun events and exhibitions, Virtual Reality Goggles enable delegates to discover a completely different VR world. Inspiring and motivational events and the world and the way we see them may quite literally never be the same again.