AV Horror Stories – Venue Equipment and Communication

Posted on July 9th, 2012 - Written by: Josée Daigneault

So, if you’ve read any previous posts or my website at b4ushowit.com, you’ll probably know that I have worked at over 4,000 live events, many hundreds of which have been corporate meetings at hotels and convention centres. I strive for perfection at every event, but it doesn’t exactly work when I get little, if any, prompt co-operation from the banquet staff and on-site AV staff.
Lack of prompt co-operation from on-site staff is nothing new and certainly not limited to the event scene in Toronto, where I primarily work. From 2005 until 2009, I had the opportunity to travel around to many different US cities performing the same services as I do in Toronto, which was both an eye-opening experience in that the way things are done in various regions are not that different from what is done where I normally work.
In fact, one of the newest and most prestigious venues in Las Vegas (in 2006) had the exact same audio issues as an older in Toronto (one built in 1981). It turns out that the sound systems in both hotels were not working as they should; the former had issues with the way it was set up, the latter simply because of age and neglect. Add to that the attitude of the staff members and one can easily see that these are typical problems that must be dealt with.
I will now share a list of AV problems I recently experienced at the older hotel in Toronto:
1) All lights are operated by one fader – this doesn’t help with lights just above a screen and doesn’t work very well with the new CFL light bulbs.
2) Despite a request to unscrew the lights just above a screen, we were told that it couldn’t be done because they didn’t unscrew. Later on, during the event, the banquet manager brought in a ladder so he could unscrew the lights above the screen, thereby improving the image quality.
3) The sound system was noisy with a ground hum or electrical interference – even when nothing was plugged in, it would randomly change levels. When the nearby electrical cords were lightly touched, the hum came and went; it became a matter of tapping the cables to find the quietest hum.
4) The ceiling sound system was not patched properly for our event, so the banquet staff took it upon themselves to re-patch when they discovered the error ‘during’ our event. Unfortunately for the audience, this resulted in a loud, sustained high pitch which was constant in one meeting room and intermittent in the other (we were doing two events at the same time). After a few moments, they were able to stop the annoying sound.
5) The service corridors were noisy – staff members shouting at each other, loud two-way radios and dishes clanging were a constant disruption which I had to deal with several times.
6) The doors to the service corridors were noisy when they closed – if anybody used them during the meeting, it was fairly loud and distracting.
First, bring a checklist with you when you do a site visit. Second, here are ways of preventing these situations:
1) Ask the hotel manager what the procedure is for unscrewing or dimming specific lights and request access and/or procedures for whatever lighting controls there may be. Any ladders or ‘cherry pickers’ must be used in an empty room after the screen location is decided. The floor plan supplied by the hotel must be walked through on site (and projector tables should also be demanded and placed before the general seating!).
2) An AV consultant will be able to test the house sound system right in front of you, so you can be sure it has no obvious problems. Plan for a set of powered PA speakers to be rented as back-up.Ask about EQ settings or external EQ availability, which will really clear up speech sounds.
3) If you are using two rooms for a large even, with ‘air walls’ removed, be sure to ask the venue to ‘tie in’ the audio for both rooms, so that all the ceiling speakers work and the signal is not accidentally being sent to another room. This must be done the night before or very first thing right before the event.
4) Noisy service corridors are actually pretty common, since there is nothing to absorb the sound in a service corridor. But, the venue could help the matter by ensuring radio silence during events, turning down loud ringing phones, post signage for staff to be as quiet as possible and be adamant about keeping noise levels down during shift changes (staff sometimes congregate in service corridors during shift changes).
Any of these situations can be corrected with proper communication, which is sorely lacking in even the finest venues.
Buck Moore

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