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Audio visual can be a contentious subject for conference organisers, balancing the need for support without breaking the budget. However it doesn’t need to be.  Most of the congresses that we organise at Brightelm do not need to be all-singing all-dancing high-value production shows, but they do need to appear professional and slick.  The following article highlights some of the things to look out for and pitfalls to avoid.

What support to expect from the venue

Many venues do an excellent job at providing basic AV requirements for meetings.  Sometimes they will own equipment themselves and sometimes they will subcontract an AV specialist to provide the equipment.  Subcontracting is particularly common with larger venues and hotels.

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In my experience many smaller venues struggle to invest appropriately in their in-house AV.  This isn’t because they don’t want to but because constant reinvestment is challenging for smaller and independent venues.  Projectors and radio mics can be used and abused and break down easily, bulbs go, mic packs get dropped. You get the picture.

If you are in this situation I suggest checking with the venue on the standard of their equipment, what back-up equipment is available and what AV support is available onsite should the worst happen.

Appropriate microphones

Order appropriate microphones for your event.  Think about your programme and what type of microphones you will need to support it effectively.  You will normally need a combination of microphones for each programme. Here are some tips which will hopefully be of help:

  • If you have an event with any more than 20 people use some basic AV, at the minimum PA system and sound technician.  Whilst this increases costs it also massively increases the quality of the output.
  • Use different microphones for different activities:
    • Lavaliere (aka lapel mic, tie mics, clip mics) – great for presenters who like to move around a lot to engage the audience.
    • Handheld – good for audience Q&A, bad for speakers.
    • Lectern – a fixed microphone on a lectern (also similar mics are used for top tables).  Great if you have multiple speakers.  Bad for presenters that like to walk about.

There are of course many more types and uses of microphone, but your AV supplier will be able to advise you on the most appropriate ones.

Speaker preview

Speaker preview is a process by which speakers submit their presentation onsite in advance of their session.  This involves spending time with a graphics (PowerPoint) operator who will go through the slides with the speaker to ensure that everything displays correctly who then create a “deck” (presentation) which contains all the speakers slides for that session.

For larger congresses this process is of paramount importance as it allows for seamless transition between presenters and checks that videos play, and content displays correctly.  Some presenters like to bypass this process.  They believe that by presenting from their own laptop technical issues will be avoided.  However, in my experience it’s quite the opposite and our advice are always to mandate the use of the speaker preview process for all presenters (yes even those that use a Mac!) and make it part of the terms and conditions of original submission.

Brief your speakers

I recently attended a small seminar in a wonderful venue in Bristol.  One of the speakers proudly announced at the beginning of the session that he wasn’t going to use a microphone because he had deemed the room was small enough that it would be “OK”.  It wasn’t, and I’m sure I heard the organiser scream “nooooo” shortly after.

Firstly, the room wasn’t particularly small, there was an audience of around 60 there.  In an empty room sound travels well but it doesn’t in a full one because sound is absorbed and reflected by the bodies of the delegates.  The result is that the poor delegates at the back of the room become less engaged because they can’t hear as well as those at the front.

Secondly, the event was being filmed, the audio for which relied on him using a microphone.

Remember that some people are not comfortable using microphones for various reasons.  Mandatory briefings, sound checks, and rehearsals will help to make your speakers more comfortable and avoid potential surprises like this for all concerned.

Avoid the blame game

Sometimes things go wrong.  It doesn’t matter who the supplier is, how experienced they are or what equipment they are using it does malfunction from time to time.

Microphones malfunction and sometimes projectors go to sleep.  It’s even been known on occasion for presenters to disappear (even after you checked them into the room and tied them to their chair!!! (Ed – joke!).

Please don’t blame others when it goes wrong.  Think on your feet and find a solution.  You may have to re-order the programme, change the room at short notice, any number of things.  But the worst thing you can do is pass blame.

I recently attended a charity awards dinner at a hotel in Bristol where there were more than a few sound problems.  Once of the hosts for the evening blamed the AV hire company no less than 4 times during the ceremony.  Not only was this unprofessional and potentially damaging to the hire company but he omitted to mention the following:

  • To cut costs, the charity had hired (at a great discount) the equipment without any onsite support from qualified technicians.
  • The operators on the evening were volunteers.
  • The chosen venue did lot lend itself to any sort of good production values because the ceiling was very low and there were four huge pillars in the middle of the room.

Whilst I’ll never really know who was to blame for the issues the point is mute, because for me it was the host that acted unprofessionally and came of worse.

Plan and prepare

Always work with your AV provider to ensure you are using the most appropriate equipment for your conference.  Plan in advance (don’t leave it until a couple of days before) and plan ample rehearsal time with your speakers and brief them throughout your programme.

By Rob Eveleigh

First published 19th June 2018

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