Top tips for planning your conference AV

25 Aug Top tips for planning your conference AV

All conferences have the same basic requirements; a stage, a screen, a PA and lighting. Why then do some cost £2,000 and some £200,000?

Like most services procured in business planning is paramount (please insert your favourite planning cliché here!). Unfortunately, time and time again, we see clients contract their AV provision and then start to think about the format of their conference at which point there is a disparity between what has been ordered and what is actually required.

The aim of the following is to provide you with a tool kit to ensure that you are equipped with the knowledge to arrange the AV for your conference or event and hopefully to make the whole experience more pleasurable.

1. Engage a competent and creative AV supplier. At CBA Events we have impressive rates of client retention which is easily attributable to service, competence and price. This however, is only the start. In order to really maximise your audience experience, it is essential that you engage your AV supplier early in the process, often at the same time as your venue finder. Rather than have the venue dictate the AV and then the AV dictate your presentations why not work with a creative, full service events company that can present you with an integrated, joined up approach that will result in all elements of your event working in seamless harmony?

Once the right supplier is engaged then creativity will become an inevitable ingredient of your conference offering. Present your AV Company with a brief of what you wish to achieve and let them match the cutting edge technology to your desired outcome. From LED walls to projection mapping, pyros to effects lighting and audience voting systems to video content to bring your presentations alive the options are only limited by the imagination and competence of your production manager!

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2. Build a relationship with your AV team. Our clients who get the most out of us are those that we have developed a relationship with over the years. Many see us as an extension of their own team rather than an external supplier and our time working with them has given us an insight into their company culture, what their audiences respond to and also what their presenters are comfortable with. Obviously, before the relationship building can begin there has to be a first event together!

A good way of gauging the competence of an AV supplier is to ask whether they have experience of working in your contracted venue, ask them to see photographs and testimonials from similar events and finally give them your brief and see whether their response not only fills you with confidence but also inspires you as they come up with creative solutions and ideas to elevate your event from your previous conference offerings.

3. Disclose your budget. This is a request that often makes AV bookers feel uneasy. The reality however is that if you contract the right supplier they will not just use your whole budget purely because it is available. At CBA Events we would look at the brief and prioritise the elements that are going help deliver your required message with the maximum impact. Often, this will lead to us discounting equipment because we strongly believe that the event would be inferior without it in order to exceed your expectations within your event budget.

4. Remember the importance of sound. The most important thing to remember when it comes to sound is that purely being loud is not often a good thing! It doesn’t matter whether your event requires the amplification of the spoken word or a full orchestra the essential element is that the sound provision is designed to give the sound engineer total control and the ability to send audio across the audience at an appropriate level.

One common question is why we specify four speakers in a small meeting for 120 delegates when the client has received a cheaper quote for a two speaker PA. In order for the two speaker PA to service the whole room it will have to be too loud at the front in order to send the sound at an appropriate level to the back of the room or alternatively the sound will be too quiet at the back. The general principal with increasing the number of speakers is to control the fill of sound without increasing the overall levels.

The type of speaker and configuration is also important and your AV supplier will guide you through the benefits of flown line arrays compared to point source speakers. Also, if you require audio stings or VTs it is imperative that you have subwoofers to maximise the impact of low-end effects or bass lines.

Once you have the amplification sorted the next consideration is the microphones. There are several options including lapel microphones, hand held microphones, lectern microphones table microphones and for your Q&A, our new favourite, the throw microphone!

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5. Design your event vision and share it! In a highly digital industry feel free to go analogue! We’ve attended site visits where brilliant event concepts have been scribbled on a flipchart, conference sets sketched on the back of a beer mat and we’ve even stood in event fields when site plans have been drawn with a stick in the mud. In summary it’s not the medium it’s the vision!

The greatest skill is sharing your aspirations in a way that all of your colleagues and suppliers get on board with; at this stage you have buy in and collaboration and that’s when the magic happens. If there is a palpable buzz in the room and a real sense of energy and creative engagement with lots of ideas, solutions and input this is definitely the start of your conference journey becoming a reality. If, however, you find yourself in a silent room with lots of head scratching you have probably engaged the wrong suppliers!

6. A feast for the eyes! When it comes to video there are two elements to consider; Firstly, what are you showing? And secondly, what are you showing it on? Variety and originality engages audiences and so it is often a good idea to avoid ‘death by PowerPoint’ and include stimulating video and visuals. An audio visual company should have lots of input on how this could work for your event, have ideas that expand and enhance your themes and offer greater engagement.

More recently audience expectations have also grown in terms of interactivity with an increased need for polling, web streaming, twitter walls, app integration, IPAD conferencing and more. Audiences no longer want to view an event they want to be a dynamic part of the event shaping its content and direction in real time. And how do the audiences want to view all this vibrant and engaging interactive content? The bare minimum is large and clear on huge projection screens with full HD projection or on plasma screens for smaller audiences. There is an appetite, however, for audiences to see the content presented in ways that they have never seen before. From projection mapping to 3-D projection on floating spheres and LED walls with the ability to move around the stage there is now a real need for event organisers to move away from the traditional model of ordering a 2-dimensional set and screen and delivering a 2-dimensional ‘show’. We use the word show on purpose; it doesn’t matter whether you are delivering the company’s post Brexit vision or a financial summary of FY2016, if you’re organising a conference you’re in show business!

7. Illuminate your audience! The single largest element in transforming any space is lighting although it is often overlooked or not given the budget it requires. From practical wash lighting through to LED and effects lighting the mood, pace and atmosphere of an event can be guided seamlessly by a well-designed and executed lighting plan. For many audiences an awards ceremony without lighting would be as enjoyable as a concert without sound.

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A hugely experienced international event organiser that we work with once said that every time he had to engage a new AV company his first question would be what they would do with the lighting if budget and time restraints were no issue. Whilst the ideas they communicated never became a reality on one of our colleague’s events he maintained it was an effective test and barometer for the experience, creativity and passion of the company.

8. The message that keeps on giving? It is imperative that prior to your event you determine your key deliverables and also the mechanics of sustaining and reinforcing your conference message in the weeks, months and even year to come.

Areas to explore are whether you are disseminating conference presentations post event? How are you analysing the polling data post event and are your defined demographic parameters effective in terms of a targeted post event campaign? Are you using video captured at the event to produce highlights and presentation content films to be released and set intervals to reinforce your messages? Have you captured feedback data from your event that will shape your post event communications and also your vision for future events?

9. The devil is in the detail. When I started writing this blog I realised that my first draft was a dry academic chronology of the essential steps required to organise a conference. From considering whether your function space has natural daylight through to contracted access times, 3 phase power and whether the venue allows haze, it is possible to produce a list 1000 check boxes long.

The reality, however, is that if you engage with the correct AV company they should hold your hand through this whole process and if you engage with a full service events company then the end to end support including venue finding, AV, delegate registration, event management and venue branding should make the delivery of your event easy and a true reflection of the vision you originally scribbled on a hotel function pad at the start of the journey.

What matters is competence, creativity and a real passion for events. Take time to select the right suppliers and your conference will live long in the memories of your attending delegates for all of the right reasons.

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Blog written by CBA Events’ Production and Events Director Tim Green. Tim has worked in the industry for over 20 years during which time he has managed conferences from Deansgate to Dubai and he relishes client briefs that give him the scope to take a creative approach to production solutions.


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