Stage Right

Each June, the InfoComm exhibition showcases the latest in audiovisual. This year, among meetings-related products like data projectors, microphones, and speakers, I also found a rare commodity: good advice for event planners.

Karl Rosenberg, who's staged meetings for IBM, ATandT, AOL, and the Clinton White House, conducted a session entitled "Avoiding Rental and Staging Disasters." Rosenberg, a Washington D.C.-based trainer with Extron, a manufacturer of AV products, stressed that even the smallest wrong decision can spell disaster. For instance, when a speaker or performer can't quite find the opening in the stage curtain to step onstage, they will inevitably grab the curtain. If the curtain is secured by tape at its opening, no problem. But if the opening is secured by pins, you just might have a performer who needs a doctor.

If your next meeting is in an unfamiliar city, how can you find a competent rental and staging company? "Call the convention center and the biggest local hotel," says Rosenberg. "They'll tell you the companies that get called in most often," and perhaps even divulge their track records. "In real estate, the key word is location. When you hire a rental and staging company, the word is relationships." He suggests interviewing at least three companies, meeting the operations manager and owner of each. Also, meet them at their offices. "If they have pictures of shows involving high-profile firms, then that's good. If they have nothing, it should make you wonder."

Further, try to go behind the scenes during a show they're running. "You don't want to see wire messes, equipment boxes strewn around, or stacked-up equipment on a small table." Even a plethora of power strips tells a tale: "Each power strip drain 10 amps of power, and they should know that," he notes.

Despite these budget-conscious times, Rosenberg advises planners to "never pick the cheapest bid -- you get what you pay for. The company might send just one person, or come without backup projectors, or simply not have enough experience. Go with a firm that will give you peace of mind."

He notes that the biggest disaster can be when staging personnel show up at the wrong room, or even the wrong venue. "It happens all the time, so communicate clearly," he says. "And don't assume they know anything about your event. You could fax a drawing and they could still set up on the wrong side of the room." The solution: Be there when setup begins -- not midway through or later. And saving a bit on room rental fees by setting up between midnight and 8 a.m. is risky. The crew will be tired for the event, and "if the CEO walks in and hates the set, you're stuck."

Rosenberg's presentation tips: Use a seamless switcher, which dissolves between segments (a standard switcher blackens the screen for four seconds); confirm you're using the brightest projector available -- and that there's a backup projector with the same rating; run every tape and disc on screen during rehearsal; and consider "canning" Web sites onto disk to avoid real-time glitches.

Lastly, "The best thing to say to the staging crew is, 'There's food and drink for you.' "