Audio-visual providers help planners project event success.
Article by Bill Beggs Jr.
Not sure how to operate that whiz-bang digital projector you ordered for your meeting of 50 orthopedic surgeons? Don’t worry – a knowledgeable audio-visual partner can help you navigate complex technology and achieve your meeting objectives.
Depending on your meeting venue and budget, there’s an audio-visual solution to fit your needs, and it’s kind of like selecting meal options: You can choose a full menu, or order a la carte. In most of the larger cities in Missouri, A/V companies serve small to large meetings day in and day out, and have stayed in business by preventing small- and large-scale glitches before they happen. As a meeting planner, you have to depend on any number of vendors, from the print shop to the company setting up booths for your trade show. In the fast-paced professional environment of meetings and events, your reputation depends on reliable A/V as well. So, what if there’s an important presentation about to happen, and a projector bulb goes out or a microphone fails?
Not to worry. Whether he or she is an independent contractor or affiliated with a hotel, your A/V provider is most likely using efficient, dependable, modern technology.
Be in the know
An industry survey cited at signup4.com states that meeting planners would do well to learn more about the technical aspects of A/V. Results from a recent Event Leadership Institute report show that “meeting and event professionals scored 48 out of 100 when asked about technical event production.” So, should you know more? The answer is, yes and no.
In most cases, your A/V professional should have everything well in hand, from equipment to labor. So these aspects of the job aren’t something you need to worry about. But it helps to have pointers from the experts, to help keep your stress level low. So MM&E asked a few pros in the business about what you should keep top of mind. We spoke with representatives of meeting technology firm PSAV, which merged with St. Louis- based Swank Audio Visuals; Charity Resource LLC, an independent meeting technology contractor based in St. Peters; and the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark hotel, which operates its own A/V department.
Jason Younce, regional vice president of operations for PSAV, says there are misconceptions about A/V technology that should be cleared up. “One of the largest misunderstandings is that on-site teams don’t have the expertise to handle complicated events,” Younce says. PSAV, a nationwide provider, pours significant dollars into training and development of its staff to make sure they have the experience clients need.
Younce says PSAV always strives to stay on top of state-of-the-art equipment trends, too. “If a specific in-house provider doesn’t have it, we do,” he says. And if a certain technology is so new that nobody has it yet, PSAV’s engineers and product managers study it to get an idea of what’s coming up.
PSAV is the in-house A/V provider for about a dozen fine St. Louis-area hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis, Hyatt, Hilton St. Louis Frontenac, Chase Park Plaza and Sheraton City Center, as well as the Ameristar Casino and Hotel.
Inside the venue
Once inside an event facility, some meeting planners may feel like they’re “held hostage” by the space’s limitations, according to Younce. They have no choice but to use the hotel’s or meeting center’s Internet service, power, rigging and equipment.
“Planners would do well to coordinate with one entity,” Younce says. One-stop shopping makes for fewer headaches, he says, and “bundling services is less expensive.”
Of course, your budget is limited, and the business environment is competitive. Not every job is set up in the same size square room with a chandelier in the middle and outlets all around. So A/V providers need to be familiar with different spaces and allow plenty of time to set up and strike equipment. Seasoned meeting planners know how to get in and out of most hotel spaces in town, from the biggest ballroom to a small meeting room for 30 – so your A/V provider should be equally well versed.
“It does matter who your provider is, so do your homework,” Younce says. “Don’t just buy into your rapport with a particular salesperson. Usually it’s not a specific technical issue that causes the most trouble, it’s how the provider reacts to it. Anybody can sell a projector. Ask questions of everyone; meet your technical team before the event.”
Keeping budget in mind
Dave Gillette is part owner of Charity Resource LLC, an event technology provider that serves and supports charitable organizations. Gillette has staged shows for many nonprofits, including the YWCA and the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association. Gillette has plenty of audio-visual advice for planners, especially neophytes. He advises that complex technology can bring its share of pitfalls, so it’s important to obtain two or three bids from providers, especially for contracts over $5,000.
It’s important for meeting planners to build a trust level with service providers, Gillette says. It’s likely that most of the A/V people in your area have worked with your venue a number of times, so familiarity should be a given. But are you, the meeting planner, up to speed on equipment and technology as well?
For instance, something as mundane as a microphone can pose a challenge, from maintenance and expense to logistics. Wireless mics can be much more expensive on your budget, Gillette says. And although some meeting organizers think it’s cool to pass around the mic like they do on “Oprah,” fixed units on stands for guests to walk up to can save you money. Gillette says wireless microphones also tend to require frequent battery changes.
If your A/V provider needs a part or an additional piece of equipment, help is usually no more than five or 10 minutes away in most cities, he says.
Tim Melton of the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark’s A/V department says that if he doesn’t have a needed piece of equipment on hand, it’s only a matter of contacting another local property in his hotel’s ownership group, Lodging Hospitality Management. The hotels are relatively close to one another, so delivery doesn’t take long.
Melton says it’s crucial to maintain the luster of the Hilton brand, and that includes everything from guest services to A/V. So it’s important to be responsive to clients’ technology needs in a timely fashion, he says. Good news about reliable A/V service travels fast, and that’s what keeps meeting planners coming back.
Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark
Charity Resource LLC