With my old company I looked at a lot of AV quotes, and honestly with Strategic Meeting Tech I STILL look at a lot of AV quotes.
I mention this small item today because of a session that I just attended where the AV company had a significantly negative impact on the presentation the speaker was able to do.
What reminded me of looking at quotes was that I frequently would see areas of a budget where it was obvious that the person preparing it either didn’t know much about it, or didn’t pay much attention to it (often because it wasn’t the “cool” or “fun” stuff like the general session). I was occasionally guilty of this myself early in my career...(adding an EQ to each audio system without really knowing why it was needed.) I also witnessed it even back in the 80’s with a fellow salesman who would just (seemingly) add gear simply to pump up the budget, or just add things he had no idea the cost of that would then lose money when actually subrented for the show.
A quote that I saw a few years back came to mind where the salesman spent many obvious hours crafting the general session quote, drawings, renderings, multiple concepts...then only bid three of the nine breakouts, just forgetting or ignoring the other six. Just be honest with me if you only want to do the main session, but don’t half-ass a bunch of breakout rooms quotes that you’re setting up for failure. On that same bid another company had forgot to put any screens and projectors in the general session room quote...so sloppy work isn’t constrained by company, room or budget size.
The big rooms at this show have been well supported. Cues were hit, levels were good, video appeared exactly when called for...
But in today’s smaller room, problems (I won’t speculate the specific reasons because there are multiple possible issues) totally undercut the presenter. One monitor didn’t work, then both, then one worked and the other flashed off and on. A beligured tech stood on stage and fiddled with the laptop (live on screen), before finally admitting defeat and exiting with the system still flashing on one side. Lucky the presenter knew her stuff and could soldier on and get through most of the presentation (we ran out of time).
But the room design itself also hampered the effectiveness. If you know what a silent disco is...this was a version I’d call a silent session. No loudspeakers, just a translation like and uncomfortable headset and beltpack on each chair. The mechanics of this meant that when she interacted with an audience member it was silent to the rest of us. I wear glasses, but I can’t wear them for close up work...so for me to to take notes I’d have to pull my glasses off, then remove the headset to replace the glasses. The result was I stopped bothering to even try to do any written notes. Also, the effect of only having her microphone feeding sound made me feel like I was isolated and listening to a session in another room...which ironically I could do by changing the channel. Let’s not even consider that 20 or 30 people a day are wearing those with no cleaning going on in the time in between sessions (based on watching the room after ours ended). A well designed small PA would have worked, allowed better interaction and been just fine.
Sometimes the way we do things is based on experience, not just inertia. I’m sure that all this looked great and fun on paper, but did anyone test a session done this way (with headsets)? Did anyone test the feed to the monitors?
I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus, but so many planners get distracted by shiny objects trying to liven things up...and so many AV companies cut corners to build their margins, but lose sight of proper training, staffing and performance on show site. I see it far too often, and far too widespread. Things go badly, someone gets blamed...then everyone shrugs and nothing really changes. More often then not, next year the planner will pick a vendor on bottom line price again. And there will be a string of the same or slightly different problems which get written off to AV being hard or complex.
When will every show and every single breakout room be done to a high standard?
And done expecting it all to be flawless, while yet having tools to remedy any unusual occurrences that arise?
I’ve been watching this for over 30 years and the names and the gear change...but the problems seem to just be stuck on endless repeat...
We can do better.
And we need to just stop accepting mediocre performance by our AV companies.
Next week I'll be at both IMEX America and at LDI (Live Design Institutes) in Las Vegas. I'm hoping to come back with a lot of new industry updates, information and data about the newest technology.
Hopefully I'll be able to catch up with many friends from across both the meetings industry and AV worlds.
If you'll be attending IMEX, give a shout and look for me walking the show floor all three days and on Smart Monday.
See you in Las Vegas!
There's been a bit of a lag in posting and in my podcasts. I was off dealing with an unexpected fourth back surgery, and as much as I enjoy doing this; it all had to take a backseat to therapy and working on my recovery.
The good news is that it seems to have finally fixed the problems with a much more long-lasting solution. The challenge was that my back kept insisting on sliding forward at L-3. That's something it's just not designed to do. The previous fusion wasn't strong enough, thus the fourth surgery to do a more extensive bone graft and build a larger fusion apparatus.
I just saw my. doctor and looked over my current X-Ray's to see that at six months out, everything is holding as it should. I'm finally pretty much pain free for the first time in years and building my stamina back up to get back out on show site with my clients.
This may seem like a fairly personal journey to be sharing. But, I've hesitated to do much of anything related to work or new customers until I had this situation resolved. I didn't want to take on a project that I wasn't going to be able to support to the highest standards and quality. I've continued working with some existing clients who have been not just clients, but friends in some cases for almost 30 years.
The other reason I'm sharing this is that I believe in full transparency with my customers and with anyone who might someday be a customer. I always want to be able to look you in the eye and be completely honest, including about my abilities to provide the work and service that I'm promising. It's a core value here and a part of mutual trust we need to have in each other to work together.
So, I'm back and I'm excited about finding new clients and new opportunities to work with planners who need technical direction and support to make their meetings successful!
Here's a little glimpse at the new hardware that I'm sure will be tons of fun the next time I pass through a TSA checkpoint at the airport...
In the meetings industry we tend to believe that we work in a pretty unique business and we are somewhat hidden off in an unknown corner of the business world. Yes, we do sometimes face challenges that would seem absurd to many professionals in other industries. (But to be fair, I’m also certain that they face things we couldn’t imagine as well.)
However, in all of our businesses you can often boil things down until you reach some universal truths that will apply whether you’re planning a session for 1200 people, running a kitchen in a busy restaurant or providing life insurance for folks.
In almost every case the person making the promises is not the person responsible for carrying out the job. I’ve seen this up close in my slice of the meetings industry often. There’s huge pressure on the sales people to basically do or say anything to get the job. I can’t begin to count the times that I’ve heard someone in management say “get the job, and we’ll figure out how to do it once it’s booked…”
This is on my mind today because we are about to start a small bathroom remodel at our home. Just like a planner choosing an AV company, I basically sent out an RFP and invited bids. I had the typical range of responses. Clear down to having a few companies that just never even responded (I never understand the lack of a response to possible business, even if it’s just a note to turn it down politely). I took the quotes from folks who did bid, compared them and made a choice. My choice weighed the element of price, but it also hinged on my feeling comfortable with the sales person and his promises. (Sound familiar planners?).
I received a garbled call in the middle of last week from someone I didn’t recognize. The next day I happened to call my salesperson to follow up since I’d not heard anything. He said he needed to come by and do a change order for a small change that I’d done to the order. When he arrived on Thursday, he said the call that had been garbled must have come from my project manager, Edgar; who wanted to start on Monday (today). Great! He even called the project manager from my house to let him know that he was with me and doing the change order. Then, he called me back later to schedule an additional time this week to discuss some additional work I’d asked him to price out. We cleaned out the bathroom over the weekend and awaited the arrival of the crew this morning. (The salesperson also mentioned that they might not arrive first thing in the morning on day 1 of the job)…so no problem if they’re not here at 8am sharp.
When I hadn’t seen anyone by about 10:30am, I called the salesperson and the project manager and left messages. The project manager called me back.
He said because I hadn’t called them (i.e. him) back to schedule, that they’d have to start next week. We discussed how he was the person that I should talk to now about anything related to the job. Which is fine, something that I wish I had known that last week, when the salesperson called him from my house to discuss my job that was rumored to start today.
Sound familiar to anyone who has dealt with a salesperson and a project manger to get their AV done? Or a salesperson and a convention services manager to get their meeting setup? Etc., Etc., Etc…
In the end, the success of the job/meeting/event will be very much affected by the ability of those two parties to communicate and stay in sync with each other. I’ve seen teams that have a defined process and who work like clockwork in ticking off every box leading up to an event. And, I’ve seen the disappointed folks who receive a product or service that’s nothing like the vision the salesperson sold them.
For me, today’s really just a small bump. I work from home and can be flexible on the start date. But, if I’d made more specific plans based on last week’s promises by the salesperson, I’d be upset and we’d be off to a very bad start.
When you’re talking bids for services for your event, maybe you should add some questions about process and internal communications to your criteria for choosing a vendor? So often the focus on price drives vendors and planners to look strictly on the bottom line price stuff; and not on the actual promises that they are making to eventually complete the agreed upon vision for the event.
Using AV as an example, since that’s my best frame of reference. Here’s a few questions to consider exploring with your vendor before picking them.
Who will be responsible for my meeting once it’s contracted?
When is that person assigned to the project?
Are they a part of the quote preparation process?
Are they in the same location as the salesperson?
Do they meet regularly with them about upcoming projects?
Maybe ask a couple references about the process once the event was booked and how communication went for them?
Hopefully, you see where I’m going with all this. You want to know that the person making your show happen is well versed in everything you’ve discussed and been promised during the bid process. You want to know that the salesperson (price) and project manager (fulfillment) are constantly in communication so any changes are documented and sent to the right people in advance of the event and while on site.
Make sure that your team is really working as a team and you’ll have a much smoother and less stressful event.
As for me, I’ll be talking to both the salesperson and project manager again before Monday to make sure that we’re all on the same page at each upcoming step of my own remodel. Now paying as much attention to their communication as I do with any vendor that I hire to facilitate events for my own customers.
As mentioned in my last blog post, I was recently interviewed regarding event safety and security. The author found me via a discussion I was part of within an industry message board. I was sharing some conversations that were being held within the stagehand/technician community immediately following the RT. 91 tragedy in Las Vegas.
It's clear that the security and the safety of our attendees and guests has become a much more serious topic in the industry then it was in the past. From the CMP Conclave to NAMM, Ive seen numerous sessions being offered to discuss security and educate attendees about best practices. I'm happy there is a growing awareness, and I'd encourage everyone to spend some time thinking about your events and what risks they might entail.
Before going any further, I would say that I'm not an expert in this field by any definition. But, I am experienced in this business, and I'm concerned about the people who surround me in a ballroom whenever I'm working on an event. We need to all remain alert, (but not alarmed) to the evolving challenges of safety and security so that all of those attendees in the ballroom will go home safely at the end of the event. We all have a stake in that goal.
The biggest first step is just not ignoring the subject or assuming that things will be fine because of the type, location or attendees of your event. If you decide it's a lower concern, decide based on analysis and information, not on just avoiding it or assuming. Remember that safety and security also encompasses things like fire, power, rigging or response to a medical emergency. Not every risk is something extreme like violence.
Think though your event, the flow of attendees and the schedule.
Try to identify places that could become a problem should an emergency situation arise.
Is the room set to fire code so that attendees will have a clear path to an exit? Has your rigging vendor used the proper equipment and trained personnel to hang those signs and light overhead? Do you have an evacuation plan and procedure to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for in the event of an emergency? Those are just a couple obvious one's off the top of my head. The point is really that you need to think about them in advance, discuss them with the venue (who may have established many of them) and with your team.
There's so much to this topic, a post like this only begins to skim the surface. Consider checking in with folks the the Event Safety Alliance: http://eventsafetyalliance.org for up to date information and ways to make your events safer.
We all need to be looking out for ourselves and for each other whenever we are part of a large gathering of people. Don't let complacency or expense allow a preventable problem or incident to occur at one of your events..
Jon Trask, CMP, CMM
A passion to improve both the meetings and Audio Visual industries by helping to create better and more effective technology conversations..