Audiovisual Choices that are Pitch-Perfect - 2006-01-28

Every day, meetings are held in spaces ranging from intimate boardrooms to spacious convention halls, each with a single objective—to communicate a message.

As fundamental as this concept sounds, some planners struggle to justify their investment in presentation tools that are required to communicate to their attendees, whether to introduce a product line to a salesforce or explore a new surgical technique with a group of cardiologists.

Too often, the same planner who doesn't blink an eye when asked to spend more on a centerpiece or room décor will balk at the idea of an enhanced display package or additional sound sources. On the other end of the spectrum, some planners go into audiovisual overkill: their display screens must be the biggest, their sound the loudest, and their lights the brightest—regardless of the content presented or size of the crowd.

Fortunately, there are some basic guidelines planners can follow to ensure that their presentation technologies capture the attention of their conferees without blowing them out of their chairs or leaving them frustrated and confused. Best of all, you don't have to know a lumen from a long-throw slide projector lens to get the job done.

Graphics and Display Packages
As a general rule of thumb, a single screen, 12 or 14 feet wide, is sufficient for up to 150 people. Additional screens and monitor support (LCD or plasma types) are recommended for larger groups. To make sure you have proper coverage, sit in the spot furthest from the screen (remember, this may be on the far side of the room).

Another consideration when choosing a graphics and display package is the content being presented. Particular emphasis should be paid to screen and monitor support when detailed images are being projected. And don't forget about the demographics of your audience. Brighter images work better with older crowds.

Lastly, have your audiovisual professional review your presentation before your meeting. Those crammed with too many images or too much copy can be broken up to add to their visual appeal.

Sound
Gatherings of fewer than 50 generally do not require a sound source. Groups of 50 to 100 typically require one sound source (a speaker) while an additional sound source should be added for every 50 attendees.

Two other factors—your room layout and your audience makeup— should be considered when selecting an audio package. Theater-style seating, for example, presents a more compressed layout and hence requires less audio enhancement than a more spread-out, classroom setting.

And just as the age of your conferees plays a role in determining your graphics and display package, so too does it impact your audio enhancement decisions. For an older crowd, there needs to be more emphasis placed on your audio package.

Remember, while house sound systems may seem sufficient during a rehearsal, they sometimes do not have the capacity to meet your audio needs when the room is full.

Lighting
There are typically three reasons to consider additional lighting. First, lighting can be an effective tool to enhance a backdrop or emphasize a decoration. It may also be used to light keynote presenters, panelists, or movement on a stage. Finally, additional lighting is always required when recording your presentation. House lights simply do not deliver sufficient ambience to achieve optimal recording quality.

When setting lights, take a seat in different areas of the room to make sure your lighting package doesn't blind those in the audience. The best advice is to light with a purpose and light only when necessary.

Costs
There is no magic formula for how much a planner should budget to satisfy a meeting's audiovisual needs. Every meeting has its own unique challenges and opportunities. About the only constant that can be stated is that the demands of larger meetings often require the coverage provided by higher-end projectors, monitors, lighting, and sound.

Lastly, don't forget to set aside a budget for audiovisual setup and strike costs. Your audiovisual support team should estimate these figures, based on your meeting needs. When compiling these numbers, find out if your property operates in a union or nonunion environment.

Union crews will charge setup, operation, and strike fees based on the equipment used and will charge hourly minimums. A nonunion environment is typically less expensive, with costs based on the time and number of people required for the setup, operation, and strike based on actual hours worked.

Above all, give your audiovisual team a clear picture of what your meeting seeks to accomplish. With the right planning, you'll be amazed at how the right audiovisual package can captivate your attendees like never before.



Fred DeSota, at [email protected], is director of sales & marketing at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare, Crowne Plaza's largest U.S. conference center hotel.