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Save on Audio-Visual

Besides the venue, the food and the lodging — the meet, eat and sleep of every meeting or conference — audio-visual components are one of the biggest chunks of any event budget. The more you need, the more it will cost. But the more you know, the more you can save.

So what are some ways that meeting planners can save money on AV components without shortchanging their events? Event directors, production managers and AV experts offer some tips and tricks about how to handle AV needs without blowing the budget.


Start Early, Plan Often

“As with anything you’re spending money on, it’s about planning,” said Joe Cappuzzello, president and CEO of The Group Travel Family, based in Salem, Ohio. Cappuzzello, who oversees five conferences, including the Small Market Meetings Conference, said planning ahead with plenty of time to spare allows planners to bundle items and maybe throw in a few upgrades without upping the cost.

If planners ask for items at the last minute or forget to consider certain needs, they’ll be “over a barrel,” he said.

“Planning in advance and sharing your budget up front really allows your technology partner to work with your budget and still deliver the experience you need,” said Greg Van Dyke, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for PSAV, an audiovisual service provider for hotels and meeting planners that has 30 branch locations in the United States.

Start planning AV needs and components for the venue “as soon as you know you’re going to be there,” said Lynn Broad, production manager for the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama. That gives planners time to shop around, bundle components and costs, and coordinate technologies because showing up with unexpected or nonstandard technology could tack on expenses for last-minute fixes, he said.

Planning also doesn’t mean just room setups and screen sizes, Van Dyke said. Go over all “those boring little details,” such as whether videos are embedded or will be streamed and whether all the presentations will be kept on a master show computer or on different thumb drives.


Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose

Don’t overdo it, said Tina Jimenez, director of event services for the Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, California. Planners often treat AV as a checklist and end up ordering more than they need, she said. Understanding the size and layout of each room helps planners get what they need and nothing more. For example, if a presenter will be speaking to 30 people in a small theater-style room, a microphone may not be needed, Jimenez said.

Broad said the Von Braun Center uses a matrix to determine screen size and projector power for each room, depending on the size and brightness. For example, most 50-person rooms need a small screen and a low-power projector, so using unnecessarily large screens or higher lumen projectors may just be a waste of money, he said.

Both Broad and Jimenez recommended trying to use only the house audio system first, without patches, if possible, and Broad said planners can skip lapel mikes and stick with stand mikes. Cappuzzello said he rarely uses spotlights when speakers are onstage because a spotlight means a technician has to man it, which means more labor costs.

Van Dyke said planners can also save money by reusing a room. Planners should find out if the setup for the event that is using the space immediately beforehand will work for their event, he said. Planners may be able to save money if they can reuse the same setup without requiring the hotel or venue to reconfigure the room, he said.


Don’t Skimp on the Tech

Broad, Cappuzzello and Van Dyke each stressed the same thing: Do not try to save money by forgoing an AV tech at the event.

Even when the venue has its own AV people, Cappuzzello always has his own AV person with him because when the audio isn’t working or a presentation won’t play, “30 seconds might as well be 30 minutes or 30 hours,” he said. “You’re just dying up there.”

“Having that AV technician is money well spent,” Cappuzzello said. “Going without it is going across the tightrope without a safety net.”

PSAV often has clients who insist they don’t need a tech. Inevitably, the microphones have problems or the videos won’t play, even at smaller meetings, and that “kills a meeting,” Van Dyke said.

“A less complicated show with someone helping you get through it is better than a more complicated show with a lot of gear and trying to do that on your own,” he said, adding that when PSAV runs an event, the company isn’t selling the technology, which everyone has; “we’re selling peace of mind.”


Do Things Differently

Planners shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate, Jimenez said. But in order to negotiate with the AV company or venue, they first have to educate themselves about their needs, which goes back to allowing plenty of time to plan.

“Someone is going to recognize that, if you don’t know what you need, and upsell you,” she said.

Broad also recommended that planners consider doing things a bit differently, such as reaching out to local DJs who may have all the audio equipment, microphones and lighting systems a planner needs and all the time in the world during the day. DJs may cost a little more than an in-house technician, “but they may be less than an AV company,” he said.

“If you start planning early, with that amount of time, you might find a DJ that will do exactly what you want, that will come dressed in a pink tuxedo, and do a quality job for a great price,” Broad said.

Van Dyke encouraged people to consider atmospheric and mood-setting touches, such as colored up-lighting or scenic installations, to add to the event. Although doing so costs money, the price may be minimal, and those extras may fit in the budget, especially if planners are saving money on other AV elements, he said.

“If you do all those other things right from the start, you can really do some neat things that are not that expensive,” he said. “Spending a little money on these touches, especially if you’re going to be there for a full day or multiple days, can really change the dynamic.”