Conferences mean communication.
When studies show 93% of communication is non-verbal, it’s evident that words are not enough. That’s why high-quality, creative and thoughtful conference AV can make sure your message comes across loud and clear.
What is conference AV?
AV stands for ‘audio visual’. But what does that actually mean?
We sat down with Martin and Aaron from the AV team at the University of Birmingham to find out.
‘There’s audio, there’s visuals – but in practice, AV can be broken down into three key areas,’ explains Martin. ‘Sound, Lighting, Visuals. When we have a conference, event, product launch, live performance – any kind of event – that’s how we break it down.’
It’s essential that your speakers can be heard, regardless of audience size.
A small room for a workshop or breakout space won’t need AV support. But a keynote speaker, panel session or Q&A will require an AV setup to suit.
‘You need the right mic for the job,’ says Aaron. ‘A solo speaker will need a static lectern microphone or a lapel mic, if they want freedom to move around the stage. Panels need static desk mics without interference or any worries about picking up other speakers. Handheld mics are useful for Q&A sessions, especially in a large space with raked seating.
‘Our job is to advise and deliver the right option for the situation. Then we’ll use a speaker setup balanced for the room layout and audience size. It’s important that the audio experience is great wherever you’re sitting. If you’re at the back of the hall, you should be getting just as much out of the session – and likewise, you shouldn’t find it too loud at the front. It’s not so much about volume as filling the space with sound.’
Accessibility is essential, of course. The Great Hall has a portable hearing loop, and all others use a digital infrared hearing system.
Martin is effusive about the potential of lighting techniques.
‘We’re really lucky here in Birmingham, because these venues respond brilliantly to different lighting. A lighting package can absolutely transform the space – and create a completely different atmosphere.’
He picks out a few highlights.
‘Lighting the Lapworth for events takes a museum space that’s quite simple and neutral in the daytime – and gives it this real sense of drama.
‘When it’s lit up at night, the exterior of the Bramall combined with the mezzanine windows inside looks really striking. And the Great Hall can have such a sense of spectacle and celebration when the lighting’s right. It’s this formal, historic space that’s used for exams and graduation ceremonies – but when we get our hands on it, we can really build on that sense of scale.’
Exterior lighting draws people in, building anticipation before your guests are even in the room.
A strong colour statement can sell a theme, and set a tone.
‘We use purples for a lot of formal dinners,’ explains Aaron: ‘glamour, excitement, style, not too bright. Oranges give a lot of warmth and welcome. Blues and whites are powerful when there’s a professional message to share. We know what works, so we’re always happy to offer advice from the planning stage.’
Whether it’s a traditional PowerPoint presentation or something with more bells and whistles, it needs to be seen.
‘Again, we’re really lucky at the University,’ says Martin. ‘The Bramall has a 16 x 9 back-projected screen, which gives high enough quality to show movies. It’s fantastic for conferences.
‘The Great Hall also has a large screen with front projection, which has excellent clarity. We also often provide additional screens around the aisles at events where there’s banquet-style seating, so you can see what’s happening wherever you are.
‘Live streaming is increasingly popular. We have screens in the Bramall which allow visitors in the foyer to watch events in the auditorium, or in the Great Hall, live. It’s perfect if you’re slightly over capacity, have late arrivals, or want to give people the option to dip in and out without causing a distraction.’
Visuals go beyond what’s onscreen, of course.
The AV team at the University are also involved with the complex process of bringing large-scale props into the venues.
Aaron’s got plenty of examples. ‘We’ve had a car on the Bramall stage for a product launch, built a glass-walled squash court on there… All kinds of event props need power for awards ceremonies or corporate dinners – from a massive Las Vegas replica sign to something bespoke.
‘All that means a lot of cables, so we put a lot of time and work into ensuring everything is safe for attendees, and the nuts and bolts are kept out of sight. And we can advise on what’s possible in terms of height, width and weight, plus access onto the campus.’
Martin is obviously proud of what the team are able to achieve visually. ‘But with venues like these, a lot of the visual element is built in – like a vast high ceiling, a sense of history or, well, a dinosaur!
‘Our job is to showcase those features in the way that will enhance an individual event best. We know the spaces and the tech, you know your event. Working together, we can create something really special.’