Your AV checklist

We have all been at an event where the AV fails. It can be frustrating and upsetting for the event organisers, distracting for the audience and disappointing for the speakers. Often the technical aspects can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a technical background. So what can you do and what do you need to know?

When I started organising events in university I found myself troubleshooting projectors and dealing with faulty microphones. It was a steep learning curve, but it made me feel more confident to get hands on with the technical aspects of events I organised in the future. Many of the events I have worked on have been in the non-profit world, which means low budgets and not having the luxury of outsourcing the AV. I am by no means a sound engineer, lighting expert or videographer but I have learned what to ask, what to keep in mind and what to watch out for. So here is a basic checklist to consider for the AV requirements of your event:

1. Lighting:

Lighting is a great way to create ambience and a low cost way to make your stage more interesting. First let’s think about lighting your stage and speakers. Decide if your speakers will be moving around the stage or speaking from a podium, their movement will determine where and how much of the you need to light. For TEDxEastEnd, we use a red carpet for the speakers to stand on; the carpet is the area they can move around on, making it easier to light one area and not the whole stage. Remember lighting can interfere with a projection screen, cast shadows on the stage and affect how the speaker’s face looks. Lighting speakers from below can create a ghostly look, the ideal situation is to have ‘rigging‘ so you can light speakers from above. If the venue doesn’t have a rig then you can use freestanding lights.

You can use uplighters on the stage to create an cool effect on the wall or light different parts of the stage design without having to deal with overhead lighting or how this impacts lighting your speakers. One cool trick I learned from TED is to light your audience, which allows you to get photographs of the audience without ruining the ambience. Here is an example of how we did this is 2012, by side lighting our audience in blue:

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2. Sound:

Sound is more important than I ever realised, it impacts both the live event and any video you take from your event. For TEDx events, the videos we produce of the talks are as important as the live event, so if you are looking for video content post-event make sure you give it your attention. Regardless of what type of mic you use make sure to do a soundcheck so the speakers are comfortable with the mic and you know the sound level that works well for the size of the room.

There are many different types of microphones: wired handheld, wireless handheld, tabletop, lapel and headset. Here are some basics I have learned about each:

  • Handheld: as the name suggests you hold these in your hand. These are good for performers, who often use them with a stand, and, for a host or MC, who isn’t speaking from the stage for a long period of time. The trouble with these is that they can easily give feedback (the loud and painful screeching sound) especially if there is more than one on the stage. They are also difficult to use for people who are not used to using them, who often hold the mic too close or too far away from their mouth. I’ve only ever used wired handheld mics for experienced performers or when there was no other option.
  • Table top: often used for panel discussions. I haven’t used this type of mic extensively, but you will need to find out whether the speaker controls the mic (by pressing a button on the mic) or they are controlled by a sound board. One thing to keep in mind is if the mics stay on permanently they can capture papers rustling or water bring poured, so it is important to test how sensitive they are.
  • Lapel: these are the most common type of mic used at events where speakers are moving around and not at a podium or table. If you are using these type of mics test them out on the speaker in advance. You will need to find the best place to clip the mic onto the speakers’ clothes, as it needs to be close to the speaker’s mouth – often on the lapel of a jacket, top of a shirt, etc. The most important thing is to make sure that nothing touches the mic while the speaker is talking – for example, long hair brushing against it, a necklace, jacket collar, or the speaker’s hands. The other thing to remind speakers is that you will need somewhere to clip the wireless receiver. The receiver is most easily clipped onto the back of someone’s belt, trousers or skirt, but if the speaker is wearing a dress for example it may need to go into a pocket or be clipped to their bra or mic belt under the dress.!
  • 16405131241_9e715dacbc_zHeadset: I prefer using this type of mic, but it does take a bit of practice to get it right. You will need to help the speakers put it on and adjust it. First thing to note is to get the right ‘colour’ for your speaker’s skin tone; the headsets come in light beige, brown and black. If you don’t have support from a sound technician, it is worth making sure you have practice putting the headset on, clipping the wireless receiver on and making sure the mic is in the right place on the speaker’s face. Remember- these mics can move easily. Like the lapel mic, you need to make sure nothing is touching the mic – watch out especially for stubble, earrings, long hair and speakers who knock the mic out of place. Here is what they should look like when on:

3. Projection/Displays

It’s very common to use a projector or TV during events for presentations or videos. If you are using a projector you’ll need to find out if it is mounted to the ceiling, on a table top or projected from the back. The only one of these that can cause issues is if the projector is on the table top. You will need to position the speaker out of the way so they don’t block the projector:

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It is also important to know if the computer connected to the project needs to be next to it, or if it is wired to a side terminal. The aspect ratio of your projector will also determine the aspect ratio your slides, double check all presentations are in the correct display – you can also check and often change this in the settings on the projector. It’s best practice to check in advance so that your speakers can create their slides in the correct ratio (either 16:9 or 4:3).

You will also need to decide how to advance the slides. There are usually two options – the slides are controlled by the computer or you will use a clicker. It’s always worth testing the clicker out in advance so you know how it works and where it needs to be held – this information is always helpful for speakers to help them reheare. There are two types of clickers: one that advances the slides automatically and one that sends a signal to the tech desk to advance the slides. With either option, there can be a delay, so to avoid you speakers clicking to many times or getting frustrated make sure they get to test the clicker and their slides before the event.

Finally, I hate speakers standing in front of the projector screen. It makes lighting very difficult – if not impossible – and it means any images or video doesn’t turn out well. If you are using TV or plasma screens then it is important to make sure they are big enough for everyone to see the content on them.

4. Video recording and livestreaming

When I started organising TEDxEastEnd video was a whole new world (of worry!). I’m lucky to have always worked with very competent filming crews – here are just a few things I have learned over the years. Some of what you will need to do is technical and this is just a list of things to ask about and be aware of:

  • How many cameras are you going to use and where will they be placed around the room? My first TEDx event used two cameras and the last one used five. Each has a different purpose and it depends on how professional you want the videos to be, each camera captures something different (wide shot, close up, roaming, audience etc). This is a great resource from TED on camera positions and angles.
  • Sounds for videos needs to be recorded directly from the sound board (mics) and not from the built-in mics in the cameras. If you also want to capture the audience (clapping, laughing etc) then you need to position a directional mic at the audience.
  • If you are using a projector then you will often get flickering (or banding) when trying to film the screen. You will need your camera team to change a setting in their camera to fix this. Related to this issue is making sure the screen is either offset from the speaker (as in the photo above) or is high enough above their head so it doesn’t appear as if they are cut off by the screen.
  • If you are going to edit the slides into the video in post production then make sure you provide the editor with the original slides and not have them use the video footage of the screen.
  • Livestreaming can be a great way to engage audiences from all around the world. You can either go for a low-tech options, which is using a webcam and built in mic in a computer to livestream. If you want something more professional you will need to use a team with the right equipment. Make sure you test the internet speed in advance and have the right upload speed. The internet line will need to be wired and not wifi and that internet needs to only be used for the livestream. Sharing the same connection, with the audience wifi for example, can effect the quality of the livestream and can even stop the broadcast. Livestreaming is an all or nothing business, if you don’t have the budget for a professional team and cameras then better not to do it. If you try and cut corners or costs, it often means you won’t get better fortage that a webcam and might be easier to just use a webcam in this case.
  • Live editing, for larger events, means having an onsite director that cuts between cameras for your livestream – much like on live events on TV. Live editing can save your editing costs down the line, if like at TEDx events you want to produce videos of the speakers to put online after the event.

5. Layout

Regarding the AV, there are a number of things to consider when setting up the room. Find out where the tech desk will need to be (for sound and lighting technicians and all equipment)and where you will need to position cameras. Knowing this information in advance means you can make sure no one’s view is obstructed and that you have the desk as close to the stage as necessary. Also make sure you consider where you will position projection, screens and the speaker so that everyone has a good view.

With all AV it is important to test as much as possible before the event and to make sure every member of the technical team has a clear role and knows the order (rundown) of the show. I try to run a full rehersal in advance and soundcheck all the speakers to make sure the team and the speaker is comfortable with the mic, lighting, clicker etc. There are lots of great resources and video tutorials online where you can find out more – have a look at this great production guide from TED for further reference.