(Almost) everything you wanted to know about event AV

Event technology, AV equipment, production, sound and lights. These are just some of the terms that we as planners use to describe a huge array of technology. Everything from podium microphones to audience response systems to webcast and telecom equipment would fall under event AV.

In the same way that sommeliers and chefs train for years to do what they do, AV companies spend a huge amount of time and money making sure that their staff are trained and up to date on every new piece of technology that’s available. Most event planners aren’t expected to have the same level of understanding about culinary matters that a trained chef would, but we are expected to have a working knowledge of the culinary arts so that we can converse intelligently with people who really are experts and guide our clients as they make their decisions.

Much the same could be said for event AV. After reading this article, you’re not going to be troubleshooting the VLAN connection into the webcast interface, but you will be able to converse intelligently with your suppliers and help your clients make reasonable choices based the needs of their event.

As I mentioned earlier, there are dozens of different fields of event AV, but I want to focus on the few that you’re going to run into most often. Without further ado, let’s dive straight in.

The importance of audio

On the surface, audio might be the simplest element in an AV setup, but it’s arguably the most important. Recovering from a lighting or video failure, while awkward is usually possible, but if the CEO walks out on stage, starts talking and there’s silence, people are definitely going to notice. A qualified AV tech is always a good source of information about how to amplify your particular group. However, there are some well accepted standards.

Have two speakers for every 150 people. Speakers can be hung from the ceiling or placed on stands on the ground, but keep in mind that hanging speakers requires certified operators, lift equipment and added time all of which (usually) translates to extra money.

I have had the pleasure of working with some excellent AV professionals. However, on very rare occasions you may encounter a company that either uses inferior equipment or rushed/untrained personnel. If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: speakers (or any other equipment hung from the ceiling) are very heavy, and if they fall, they could potentially kill someone. Equipment suspended from a ceiling should look neat, steady and symmetrical. Anything suspended from a ceiling needs to have an independent metal secondary safety chain. You should be able to see this from the ground. If you don’t see it, ask. If you walk into a room and things don’t look right, immediately contact your AV representative, and do not open that room to guests until things have been explained to your satisfaction.

A word on wireless mics

If you have more than one wireless mic in the room, always opt to have a tech stationed in the room, even if it’s an added cost. The freedom of movement that wireless mics offer means that your presenters can get themselves in front of on-stage monitors or in front of the P.A., and these are all situations that can create a huge amount of ear-splitting feedback if there’s no one keeping an eye on things.

Do not, under any circumstances, let your presenters put their lapel mic on themselves. The tech should be doing this 100 per cent of the time. If left to their own devices, people will clip the mic to any number of weird and wonderful places. I’ve had one presenter try to put the mic on their shoulder. If the mic isn’t placed properly, the speaker’s words won’t be picked up properly or consistently based on how they move.

You can now hear your presenter clearly throughout the entire venue. Now you need to see what exactly they’re talking about.

Aspect ratios

We’re all familiar with the screen/projector package, but here are some more important items that we’re not always as familiar with.

4:3 vs 16:9 (aka stubby box vs long rectangle) – we’ve all seen both of these formats at various meetings. The decision on which to use will largely be dictated on what kind of space you’re working with. 4:3 is the older option, and while it’s slowly losing ground to the more current 16:9 format, many PowerPoint presentations still use the older standard. When you order your screen from your AV company, make sure you ask which aspect ratio you’re getting, and once you know, be sure to communicate that to all of your speakers. Showing a 4:3 PowerPoint on a 16:9 screen or vice versa isn’t the end of the world, but if you have multiple presenters who have presentations with different aspect ratios, it can be a real pain.

Check those video connections

Video connectors are another area that can cause you some grief. VGA (Video Graphics Adaptor) used to be the go-to standard for almost every application. Even though HDMI (High Definition Media Interface) is starting to gain a lot of popularity, most projectors still have a VGA connector. That being said, it’s always good practice to confirm with all of your speakers which type of video connection their laptop or tablet uses. It’s also incredibly important to check and see if any of your speakers are using Macs as they use proprietary video connections and require adaptors to connect with. I always suggest that planners keep a Mac-VGA adaptor in their toolkits as they’re small, affordable and can potentially be a real life-saver in an emergency.

In the end, the only thing that you can count on in the world of event AV is that as soon as you get comfortable with a piece of technology, you’re going to be presented with the next hot new piece of technology that will “revolutionize the way you do meetings.” Unless you plan to make your career in AV, trying to keep on the leading edge of every new acronym and gadget is a losing proposition. What you cando, is get familiar with the fundamental concepts, much like the things I’ve mentioned above.

AV quotes can be quite difficult to decipher, and if there’s something on there that you don’t recognize, it’s always a good idea to ask. You’ll either learn something useful, or in some cases, identify gear that you may not necessarily need. If you become familiar with the basics, then you’re going to find yourself feeling much more confident “talking shop,” and that will enable you to be a better advocate for your clients and a better partner to your supplier.

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