AV Advice from the Experts

By Marc Boisclair, February 9, 2018

A streamlined AV experience is essential to a successful event. We asked experts to help deconstruct the complexities of the AV world to equip event coordinators of all experience levels with new information to employ at upcoming conferences.

What’s Trending in AV

Prior to planning any event, take stock of what concepts and equipment are currently rocking the audiovisual world and how they might help achieve your program’s goals. LED technology remains among the hottest elements in the AV business today. “It offers incredible flexibility for doing custom-sized projections, and you can have a lot of fun with it, like adding curves in the screen,” says Scott Frankel, president of Animatic Media based in Hicksville, New York. Another plus, especially for budget-conscious planners, is that LED screens have become much more affordable.

Video mapping—creating custom content to fit into a specific size and shape of a projection area such as a church interior—is another trend on Frankel’s radar. So too is social media integration, where visual walls are created (at a general session, seminar or banquet) that use preprogrammed hashtags to search for and project content. This could be a Twitter feed, for example, of attendees registering their thoughts as the event progresses.

Louis Cooper, president of Cooper Interactive in San Diego, sees 360-degree livestreaming continuing to grow. “It gets the audience into the meeting and is more than just a still picture,” he says. Basic cameras like the Samsung Gear 360 and the Insta360 Nano remain affordable (around $100-$200), while Facebook now supports live, 360-degree video streams for compatible cameras and smartphones.

“A lot of our clients are interested in virtual and augmented reality,” says Lindsay Meck, director of production at Sequence Events in New York City. While VR relies on geeky visors and headsets for engagement, “AR is alive in the environment,” says Meck. Waving a phone or tablet over a decal could activate and display a secret image. Case in point: the recent “Pokemon Go” craze, where players searched for “hidden” creatures that could only be seen on their smartphones. (Apple, already a fan of the technology, is adding faster processors to its new iPhones in anticipation of a coming AR surge.) Meck says drones are also trending for aerial projections and imagery.

Budgeting for AV

While it’s never too early to start planning a budget, your first steps should focus on firming up a program’s overall requirements—your message, its audience and the best means of delivery—before getting into potential costs. “Don’t waste time working on a budget until you have real information on room usage, session agenda and AV needs,” says Scott Frankel. For example, know the proper screen sizes for the expected number of attendees. “You don’t need the brightest projector unless you’re in an uncontrolled environment that’s very bright,” he says. Ditto for sound: Make sure it’s clear and crisp, but don’t overdo it.

Managing expectations is also critical. “Consider the message you want to send to attendees, because it will help you set realistic goals,” says Maureen Olson, executive vice president of sales and business operations for Video West in Phoenix. A grander message could equate to greater expenses, “but it doesn’t always take a lot of money to achieve your goals,” she says. Before booking, consider carefully all aspects of bringing in an AV company, from ballroom rental and power usage to labor and things like Internet access. “The more you embellish the look of your meeting, the more expensive it will become because of those charges,” says Olson.

Site selection, for both the destination and specific venues, also plays a key role in determining AV expenses. While big cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco are big draws for attendees, they can also prove expensive when hiring workers. “For labor, you always need to consider your setup times and agenda so as to not cause overtime, short turns or meal penalties,” says Frankel.

Planners should always work out and understand the details of an AV setup prior to signing a contract. “Get a few competitive bids from AV vendors and ask that they write out or explain the equipment as a narrative versus an inventory list,” says Lindsay Meck. This helps clarify what each item is being used for and whether it’s essential to your event. 

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