To be a meeting or event planner is to be a master of checklists. Every detail, small and large, need to be accounted for. Whether you’re a solopreneur independent planner or sitting at the top of a large team, somebody needs to make sure it all gets done, on time and on budget.
When it comes to AV, unfortunately, there are still far too many planners out there cutting and pasting from RFP to RFP and just hoping it all works out. Like most aspects of the event however, audiovisual services can be disassembled into a series of checks, making sure no vital detail gets missed.
We’ve broken it all down, and are proud to present our top 20 checks for audiovisual needs most commonly required at meetings and events. Get through these checks sooner rather than later as they could even save you money! The earlier you can provide this information to your audiovisual or production company, the more accurate your bids will be.
Testing 1… 2… 3… Audio Checks
For the vast majority of meetings, the number one goal is communication. It could be letting the organization know the latest sales numbers or it could be an educational opportunity. Either way, the message needs to be clearly understood by the majority of your attendees. Even events such as receptions, parties, or other more “social” gatherings often have a need for some form of audio, whether it’s just adding a little dinner music, a quick toast to the bride and groom, or a thank you from a sponsor, it’s important to start your audiovisual checklist with the audio required for your event.
Exactly what needs to be amplified so people can hear it? Microphones to speak? Music? Each one of these needs to be accounted for so that your audiovisual company brings all the necessary equipment. No more, no less.
The number of sources will also determine what size audio mixer you need, and as a general rule, the larger the audio mixer, the more expensive. A small breakout may only require a small mixer, but a larger show with multiple presenters, a panel, and a Q&A session is going to require a lot more.
So – let’s get counting and look at the different audio sources in more detail. While most people are able to remember two or three of these audio sources, you’d be surprised how often they can get overlooked by even the most experienced planners.
1. How Many Presenters?
This is probably the most obvious thing on the checklist, but it’s also one of the things that often gets undercounted. The easy thing to do (and it’s a good place to start) is to count the number of presenters in your program. Take a moment and go through your show agenda, as best as you know it, and determine whether or not each line item requires a microphone. Is your show the kind where only one person is going to go up, one at a time, to speak into a single microphone? Or, are the presenters going to require their own, individual lavalier microphones? If so, how many? More on that in a moment…
While wireless microphones are great for freeing up a speaker to move around, most audiovisual professionals recommend having wired microphones as a backup, just in case. If you’re using a lectern that’s not going to move around on stage, this is the perfect spot to add one of these wired microphones. If the handheld or lavalier fails, the presenter can always go and stand at the lectern and speak into the microphone there, so don’t forget to include this important piece of backup equipment in your count!
2. Will There Be Panels or Q&A?
The next thing to consider is how many microphones are needed at the same time. A panel is the perfect example of this, and while you might be tempted to just have them pass a single microphone from panelist to panelist, it’s much more professional-looking to have each panelist have their own microphone. Depending on the formality of your event, passing around a mic could be fine but even in more casual settings, this can be a distraction and take away from the conversation, having to “pass the talking stick” from person to person.
Once you’ve added up all the microphones you’ll need for each section of your event, you can start looking for ways to reuse them. For example, if you have three keynote speakers, but there’s a coffee break between each one, you can probably get away with using just one microphone, shared between the three of them. During each break, the audiovisual technicians can remove the mic from the prior speaker, and make sure it’s all set and ready on the next one. The timing of an event, and whether or not there’s a panel discussion will be the two largest factors in determining how many microphones an event requires.
Finally, don’t forget your audience. Will there be any Q&A at your event? If so, you need to make sure you’ve accounted for any microphones that will be required for their feedback. That way you can avoid any shouting or having the presenter repeat questions so everyone can hear what they were. If you’re recording your sessions, even small audiences might require a Q&A microphone, so that later video viewers can hear and understand the questions being asked.
3. Will There Be Music or Sound Effects?
This is another one of those audio sources that frequently gets forgotten. Will you need any music playing before, during, or after your event? What’s playing as your guests come in and get seated? What’s playing during breaks? Even the most intimate receptions can benefit from a little background music, so it’s always a good idea to add at least the ability to play back music on even the smallest of events.
Beyond background music, the lines between events and theatrical presentations continue to blur as more and more audiences demand “experiences” rather than just events. Sound effects and walk-up stingers are being used more and more often as executives and others embrace their more creative sides. If you think this is a possibility, be sure to include some kind of playback device (usually a laptop) in your list of requirements.
4. Will There Be Video Playback?
If you’re playing back video, chances are it’s got audio, so be sure to include video playback devices in your source count. If you think there’s even a chance of someone needing to play video at your event, make sure you tell your audiovisual company so they can be prepared. Gone are the days that it’s standard practice to include a DVD player on every show! Most video playback is now handled by laptop or desktop computers.
5. Does Your PowerPoint Contain Video or Audio?
Speaking of laptops, let’s not forget the presentations themselves. There’s a reason why the first question almost any audiovisual technician has for a presenter is “Does your PowerPoint contain video or audio?” Frequently presenters will embed audio or video clips in their presentations, and these too need to be included in your list of audio sources. While many breakout sessions or smaller events will feature a video cable for the presenters’ laptops, audio requires additional hardware and setup, so don’t forget to ask about it.
A Word About Backups
Depending on how critical any given portion of your event may be, you might want to include backups of everything we’ve talked about so far, including extra microphones, or backup presentation laptops. Any backup devices still need to be counted as audio sources, to avoid “hot-swapping” cables in case of an emergency. It’s not uncommon, even on small events, to have PowerPoint backup machines, video playback backups, redundant microphones, and more, effectively almost doubling the number of audio inputs required on the console, so keep these in mind as you create your list as well!
Video/Projection Checks for Tip-top Visuals
As we continue, some of this is going to feel familiar. That’s because a lot of what we’re counting for audio also needs to be counted when we think about video and projection, and once again, we need to start with counting up all of our video sources.
6. Laptops and Other Display Computers
Long gone are the days of 35mm slides and overhead projectors, so when we’re talking about video display sources, more often than not we’re talking about laptops and desktop computers. Be sure to think about all of the different types you may require. The most obvious of these for most people is the presentation laptop but there are other potential video sources as well. Will the presenter require the ability to see their notes from the stage? That’s a source. Will there be, as we’ve already discussed, an opening video coming off some video playback computer? That’s another. Others might include a live demo of a product or website.
7. Audience Engagement and Response Systems
“Engagement” is one of the keys to modern meeting and event planning, and one of the best ways to do that is to ask your audience their opinions. While Q&A microphones can offer some insight, Audience Response Systems can allow you to quickly and easily poll your audience on a variety of topics. Some systems have the ability to overlay results on top of a PowerPoint, but most require an additional laptop or computer feed, which means adding yet another video source to our list.
And again, as mentioned with audio, don’t forget to think about backups! If your video absolutely, positively has to run at the beginning of the show, you’re going to want to make sure there’s a backup playback computer. Anything “mission critical” should have a backup that’s already plugged into your audio and video systems.
8. Digital Signage
Digital displays have been coming down dramatically in price, and are rapidly becoming favorites among planners instead of more traditional signage. The ability to adjust and update digital signage on the fly makes them a natural for events and venues because (as we all know) things rarely work out exactly as planned. If this sounds like something you’d like to explore, it’s worth having a conversation with your audiovisual provider early in your planning process, as there’s a variety of ways to implement digital signage. Depending on how often the displays need updating, this can be as simple as a laptop or USB stick hooked up to a flat-screen display, but some more complicated systems have the ability to be updated remotely and may require internet access.
9. Audience Sightlines
When on your site visits, be sure to walk around the room and think about the placement of any projection screens or displays, and think about how your audience will be able to see them. Most people think about the size of their screens in the planning process but it’s important to think about how it works in relationship with the room. Even the largest displays can seem small if they’re too far away, so you may need to consider “delay” screens (smaller screens distributed throughout the room) so everyone can see the action on whatever screen is closest to them.
Likewise, the height of a screen can be enormously important. If you’re in a long room with a low ceiling, it’s going to be difficult to get a projection screen up high enough for the folks in the back to see it, no matter what size it is.
Either way, it’s important to think about “sightlines” for not just your stage if you have one, but also any and all displays you might have. Ask your AV provider or the venue if they can provide CAD renderings of what the room will look like. While some can only provide flat, 2D models, you’d be surprised how many have the ability to easily create 3D walkthroughs and renderings, showing exactly what the view from the seats will be. Whether in the front row or the last, you’ll know exactly what your attendees’ view will be long before they set foot in the room.
Labor and Staffing Checks for a Smooth-running Show
Entire books and countless articles have been dedicated to dealing with labor (especially union labor), but there are a few specifics worth highlighting that affect almost any event, large or small, when it comes to hiring audiovisual techs.
10. How Long is Your Day? (And How Long is it Really?)
The biggest and most obvious thing you have to worry about when it comes to labor is how long your day is. Most planners are familiar with the concept that techs are paid in either half day or full day chunks, based on 5 hour and 10 hour days, respectively. The trap they often fall into, however, is only looking at their program agenda, and not paying attention to the time before, and after the event. So while the show may run from 8am-5pm followed by a reception until 6pm (ten hours), you’re probably going to open the doors 15-30 minutes before start time, and the techs will need to come in before that to make sure everything is turned on and warmed up.
Afterward, unless you cut off the music and kill the lights, guests may want to linger a bit after the hour is over. Once the room is clear and the go-ahead is given, it’ll still take a little more time to shut down projectors and turn everything off. What was a ten hour day, is now looking closer to 12, with the tech crew arriving at 7am and leaving at 7pm, which means you’re into overtime by a couple of hours. No big deal if you know it’s coming, but if you don’t and you have a crew of five, it can be an unwelcome surprise.
11. Turnaround Time
Maybe you knew all that, and maybe even expected it, but let’s revise our scenario a little bit in some pretty realistic ways and see what happens. 6pm is pretty short for a reception, so let’s say it’s cocktails followed by dinner and awards. The banquet ends at 9pm, and afterward the CEO would like to run through her presentation a few times to prepare for her 8am keynote the next day. Once again it takes some time for people to clear the room, so that rehearsal ends at 11 or 11:30pm. By the time everything is shut down, it’s almost midnight. We’re looking at almost 8 hours of overtime. Ouch!
But that’s not the really painful point. The attendees will be grabbing their breakfast and eating in the general session room, so all the equipment needs to be turned on by 7am, so the crew needs to be there by 6am. For some crews, especially union crews, this may violate what’s called a “turnaround time” policy. Much like how airline pilots are only allowed to fly a certain number of hours in a given amount of time, if audiovisual crews have to be back in the morning in less than a certain number of hours (the “turnaround”), overtime charges may apply for the entire next day. So having the CEO run through her presentation a few more times may actually result in not just 8 hours of overtime, but 13-18 hours depending on the length of the next day!
All this is to say how incredibly important it is to be communicating honestly with your audiovisual vendor about what your program agenda is likely to look like and work with them to develop a schedule that can reduce the amount of potential for overtime. In the above example, perhaps the schedule could have been adjusted to find some time for the CEO to rehearse at another time, rather than after the evening event. Or, at the very least, let her know she only has an hour before things start getting really expensive. You’d be surprised how quickly that can change an executive’s mind.
12. Breaks and Meals
Another labor concept usually associated with unions (but not always) is the idea of a “walkaway” lunch. Some contracts require you to let the crew “walk away” from the event for a certain amount of time for breaks or meals. Sometimes this can be negotiated, sometimes it can’t. If you’re not required to allow the techs to walk away, you might consider providing lunch for your techs. This has a few nice benefits for everyone involved. Not only does the tech not have to go out in search of a meal (which at some properties can be difficult and/or expensive) but it’s a really nice way to show your appreciation for what they do. Tacking on a few extra of whatever your attendees are having can be relatively inexpensive in the big picture, and can help make your vendors feel like “part of the team”. It also has the side benefit of keeping your techs handy, just in case there’s an emergency!
The Important Venue Checks You Needs to Do in Advance
Much like the correlations between audio and video, a lot of the same questions come up when we’re dealing with meeting and event venues as do with staffing and labor, albeit for different reasons. Here are some of the biggest impact items that have to do with how your audiovisual services and your venue relate to each other.
13. Again, How Long is Your Day? (And How Many Days?)
You’d be absolutely astonished at how many times planners will book the venue for the days of their events but not take into account setup or teardown time. If you book a space from Monday to Wednesday, venues will often take you at your word and sell that space to another client starting first thing Thursday morning. If your event goes until 8pm, that means your audiovisual crew (who again, may have been there all day) will have to tear down everything that night in order to be sure the room is clear for the next client. So, once again, accuracy and honesty when it comes to schedule is important, as well as finding out from your audiovisual provider how much time it will realistically take to load in and set up the event. If you haven’t booked the “shoulder dates” for your event, it could cost you a fortune in overtime!
14. Case Storage
After everything is loaded in and set up, what do you do with all those empty road cases? For some setups, there’s plenty of room backstage but in smaller venues where there isn’t much backstage, you may need to book additional space with your venue for your empty cases. The back hallways of hotels are frequently labyrinths of used and unused catering equipment, and already difficult to maneuver through, so you can’t just assume there’ll be room for the empties. Make sure you’ve talked with the venue ahead of time, and frequently they can throw in some storage space at no additional charge.
15. Speaker Placement
While we could have put this under audio, it’s the venue that determines more than anything the size and arrangement of your speaker system. While an argument can be made for crowd size, more often than not the size of the crowd and the venue size are intimately linked, so the size and shape of your venue can play a significant role in your audio requirements. If the room, or even just the stage, is wide, you may need more than just one speaker stack on each side of the stage. You may need speakers on the far left and right, or even some low-profile speakers in the middle of the stage, to fill in the gaps.
Deep rooms can present even further challenges, and “delay speakers” may be required. More than just speakers for the back half of the audience, these speakers will frequently have an actual “delay” on the audio, so that it matches the minuscule delay it takes for the sound of the primary audio to reach the back of the room. Just adding more speakers can actually make it more difficult to hear, as the sound waves bounce around the room making the audio “muddy”, so anytime you’re dealing with an abnormally wide or abnormally deep room, it’s important to clue in your audiovisual team well in advance.
Breakouts and Other Considerations to Get Ahead of the Game
Even if you just asked yourself the above questions for every event, you’d be way ahead of the game, but here’s a few more to help round out your checklist.
16. Are There Any Breakout Sessions?
If you have breakout sessions at your event, you could probably develop an entirely separate checklist for your team and your speakers. Breakout sessions can have a tremendous impact on your events, as each one usually requires a dedicated projector (or display of some kind) and sound system. Even if the rooms are small and don’t require microphones, the presentations may contain video or audio, so if you don’t know for sure, it’s probably important to include it.
17. How Important is this Session? Do I Need Dedicated Techs? How Many is Too Many?
Of course, a lot of the questions in this list can all be tempered by “how important is this?”, but this question most often comes up in the context of breakout sessions. “Do I need a tech in every room?” Well, it depends. What’s the worst that can happen? If a projector or presentation doesn’t work and it’s either a volunteer presenter or someone you paid, it might not matter that much. If the presenter is your boss, your boss’s boss, or a high-profile sponsor, it could matter quite a bit!
Same goes for general session labor, of course. Do I need a dedicated video guy? It depends- how much else is going on at the time the video is supposed to roll, and how important is it that it rolls exactly on time? Is a recording of the event going to be used for marketing materials or perhaps even be sold to attendees? Then you might want to have a dedicated tech making sure the recordings are perfectly tuned, with color, brightness, and audio being constantly monitored. If the recordings are just for archival purposes, it’s probably safe to just have one of the other techs check in on the records from time to time.
18. Extra Adapters and Chargers
The planner of both yesteryear and today has had to have a bag full of pens, headache medication, bandaids, and other emergency supplies. It’s time to start including extra adaptors for laptops and tablets on that list. It doesn’t matter if it comes from your audiovisual company or if you bring it along, somebody needs to bring along a pile of extra cables. It’s pretty much a given that someone at your event is going to forget their phone charger, or one of your speakers isn’t going to remember the display adaptor for their laptop, so you might as well be prepared.
19. Any Other Extra Gear?
While we’re on the subject of “extra”, take a look back through your list and think about your program in the context of what’s most likely to be added. Additional breakout sessions? A last-minute panel discussion? An unexpected shout of “Hey can we show that video from last year?” from the CEO on stage? Better to plan ahead and be ready for it, than to have to scramble at the last minute, so talk with your audiovisual company about the most likely “pop-ups” for your event.
20. Staying Friendly with the In-House AV Company
Sure, you’ve got your “preferred vendor”, it’s a third-party AV company you’ve worked with for years and, of course, you want to bring them in for your show. And while Aria can drop ship equipment to most locations within 24-hours, it’s important to stay on good terms with the in-house audiovisual company (if there is one), just in case you need something we can’t provide.
That way, when the inevitable “oh, we didn’t think of that” happens, you can lean on them to bring them in. Most in-house companies are happy to provide breakout equipment and staffing, even if a third party is handling the general session. Keeping them involved and engaged ensures they get a piece of the action, the venue still gets a commission, and they get any last-minute business that crops up. It’s a win-win-win!
We know, the last thing you need is another checklist but by taking the time to work through this list as early as possible, you have the opportunity to save money, get more accurate audiovisual bids, and make sure you have the right equipment on site to provide the ultimate experience to your attendees. By paying more attention to the details, you can avoid enormous labor charges, last-minute stress of finding extra equipment, and the tremendous cost that can come associated with, “We need it now!”
Take your time, check your list early and often, and you’ll be thankful in the end!