The ABC’s of AV Production
You cannot get AV involved too early! AV production is how you will communicate with your attendees. It is critical to every event. If you haven’t yet, you must find a good AV partner who is integral to your events team year-round —even when selecting a venue to host your conference.
There are four stages in the life of an event: Site selection, Planning, Execution, and Review.
We will discuss AV in each stage.
You are having a conference and need a venue. A trusted AV partner can give insight into venues you are considering. You need someone who can review the venues’ contracts for you, view the space from a technical and logistics perspective, and help you negotiate and select the best venue for your conference. From their unique technical and logistical perspective, they can identify issues you may not think of but could be challenging (and expensive).
Here are some items you and your AV partner should consider when selecting a venue for your event:
- AV Exclusivity. Are any areas off-limits to outside AV partners? For example, rigging typically must be done by the in-house AV or rigging vendor, which is a legitimate safety issue. It is rare, but sometimes the case is that the in-house AV vendor is the exclusive provider in ballrooms or meeting rooms. You need to know all exclusivity restrictions before you sign the contract.
- Fees. Additionally, ensure you fully understand all costs should you use an outside AV partner. The most diligent and experienced planners may confirm that their AV partner can work in the venue but rarely determine the total cost. Understanding and negotiating these fees upfront doesn’t mean you will not use the in-house AV vendor; it just keeps your options open and likely will keep the cost down for whichever path you choose.
- Load-in/Load-out requirements/restrictions. Ask about any rules or requirements for loading in and loading out. Some cities have ordinances that do not allow loading and unloading at night, for example. Also, some municipalities require you to get a permit before blocking traffic. Make sure you fully understand all rules and regulations and their potential effect on your event.
- Loading Dock. Is there a loading dock, or will you need to unload at street level? Look at the dock. Is it truck height? Do you need to schedule your truck with security? Are there any times when the dock is unavailable due to the venue’s regularly scheduled deliveries? Ask about any issues you should anticipate.
- Load-In. How far is it to get from the dock to the meeting space? Is it a clear, wide path? Do we need a freight elevator? How big is the elevator? Do we need to schedule an elevator operator? Answers to these questions can significantly affect your AV budget, so you must fully understand them before signing a contract.
- Contracted Space. There are several things to consider for the venue’s meeting space. First, is the size of each room adequate to your needs? Remember, capacity charts never include the footprint of risers or any AV. Make sure you have enough room for attendees with AV in each meeting room, meal room, and general session room.
- Availability. Next, check availability. You want to confirm that all rooms in your contract are on 24-hour hold—meaning once you take possession of them, you keep control throughout your event. The last thing you want is to tear down a room for a late-night gala only to rebuild it for the next day’s events.
- Allow time for setup. You want to take possession of all meeting rooms the day before they start. For more extensive layouts like your general ses- sion, you want to take possession a full day before and, sometimes, multi- ple days. For breakout rooms, you want to take possession of the rooms the afternoon or evening before the start day. Knowing the flow and build- ing setup time into your venue RFP and contract is critical. Quickly setting up a room the same day as an event happens can be ex- pensive and lead to challenging technical issues. Due diligence is essential to ensure a smooth start to your conference.
- Sleeping Rooms. When discussing complimentary or staff rate sleeping rooms, count your AV team among those rooms.
AV Production companies constantly travel the country producing events. Check with your production manager to find out if they are going to a city you are interested in booking or have booked. They can visit the venue and give you their feedback. If it requires no additional travel, they will likely be happy to help you at no charge.
You have now contracted the location of your event. Great! Let’s get started with the planning. You have all meeting space contracted the day before the start of the conference, allowing for a smooth load-in and setup. You have confirmed that all meeting space is on a 24-hour hold. You are aware of all venue and city regulations and requirements. All is in place with the venue. It’s time to start planning your conference.
- Schedule a Site Visit. 3-6 months before your event, schedule a final site visit to the venue. You and your AV production manager can do a walk-through with your event manager and discuss any anticipated issues. For example, ask about groups who immediately proceed and follow your conference to make sure there will not be any conflicts for your load in and load out.
- Schedule a kick-off planning meeting. You and your AV production manager need to agree on a production schedule. That document will drive the planning process by listing when to expect certain items and events, such as when the PowerPoint template is due, when the AV company can expect to receive all keynote presentations, and when to set a rehearsal schedule.
- Set up frequent planning/update calls. Share updates with your AV production man- ager and get updates from them. Start with a monthly or bi-weekly call months out and then transition to a weekly call as you get closer to the conference date. Schedule these calls as needed based on the complexity of your program and the progress made.
- Schedule rehearsal times. Rehearsals are important. Coordinate those with your production manager and communicate the times to your presenters.
- Meal Breaks. Confirm with your production manager that your AV crew will have time for meals. Consider providing meals for the AV crew. Feeding your team communi- cates respect for them and motivates them to make extra effort to ensure your events run smoothly.
Make sure you fully understand the meal break policy. To avoid getting hit with meal break penalties, crews generally need a meal break after working between 4-5 hours. Usually, a meal break requires a full 1 hour away from their workstation and “off the clock.” Or, you can provide their meals, and they take a 30-minute meal break “on the clock”.
Remember, the former can cause the crew to lose momentum, so the cost of providing crew meals may be offset by savings in efficiency, especially on the setup day.
- Discuss contingencies. Make sure your AV team has backup plans in place. For example, what is the procedure should the internet go out? Is there redundancy in the recording system? Are they bringing spare equipment as backup and for pop-up meetings? Consider your conference’s critical components and ensure you have a backup plan.
- Technical Riders. Your presenters or entertainers may have technical riders. These agreements are their expectations for meals , dressing rooms, and technical specifications. For example, they may require specific lighting or headset microphones. Ask each presenter and en- tertainer for their rider and forward those to your production manager.
Music is critical. It sets the tone of the meeting and can amplify your message. Take time to select music for your conference carefully. And then share your playlist with attendees after your meeting.
Everything is set as expected based on your planning calls. Still, check in with your AV team from time to time to make sure they don’t need anything. Remember, the AV team doesn’t carry the leverage with the venue you do, so they may need your help to get something done promptly, like opening an airwall or installing a riser.
- Schedule standing end-of-day meetings with your AV team to share notes and changes. Discuss new and ongoing challenges as well.
- Make sure your AV crew has been getting their breaks as planned.
- Stay in close communication with your production manager for updates on any additions and labor issues affecting your final invoice.
Plan on walking rooms with your production manager to make sure everything is set. Doing this will help communicate your expectations for the conference.
Your event was a smashing success!
All the planning and preparations have paid off. Your attendees and stakeholders couldn’t be happier. It is time to review what went well, any challenges, and items you would like to add or change.
- Schedule a debriefing call with your team and AV production manager within one month of your event so the meeting remains fresh in everyone’s mind.
- Give the AV team your notes and allow them time to share theirs.
- This call should come from an energy of positivity; the goal is to improve the meeting for the following year.
Save on your budget by contracting for the next conference now. Better still, negotiate multiple years and get discounts and complimentary items in return.