I’ve worked as an event planner since the early 1990’s, producing fundraising, corporate and social events, but the technical production side has always been a mystery to me. When venues asked me about my a/v requirements, I never quite knew what I needed, and I definitely had no idea what those wizards in black in the tech booth were up to!
Since I’m always up to learn new things, I was thrilled when Heidi said I could listen in on comm at an awards dinner Technisch was producing with their partner, Zoom.7. I got there early to meet all the players so I could put a face with a voice at showtime. Keith was manning the audio backstage and showed me the Voice of God mic that the announcer uses to let everyone know what’s coming next. He had all the lavalier mics lined up and numbered so he’d be ready to get people mic’d up at the right time before they hit the stage.
Jim was in his usual position at the main sound board, playing peppy tunes to get everyone pumped up while the team put finishing touches on the setup. He explained how he mixes in the microphone audio with music to keep the show flowing. Under the direction of producer, Scott Thompson of Zoom.7, the team got to know the players pretty well, and matched music to fit their personalities.
Nancy Hart from Zoom.7 was calling the show on this night, which means she’s the big boss. All of the tech crew have headsets on, and she leads them through the show using a run of show document, which details every moment of the plan. This role takes lots of precision and calm, and intimate knowledge of each part of the process.
I watched as the team set up lights, cameras, microphones, and the row of sparkling trophies for the awards. Once everything in the room was in perfect order, Jim cued up the party music and the hotel team drew back the curtains to welcome the excited crowd, all decked in their finest and ready to celebrate. For the first hour, the tech crew’s job was just to keep the music playing and watch the progress of dinner, to determine if the timing would coincide with the awards ceremony plan. Nancy kept everyone apprised of the plan over comm, so the team was ready to go when the show began!
Nancy smoothly orchestrated each element of the awards. Even a relatively simple show like this required so many little details and instructions, and everyone had to be on point. Nancy told Keith when to have the announcer begin speaking, when to mic people up, and when to send people out onto the stage.
The video team got their cues to keep the slides moving, and they had to stay on the ball to make sure the right names came up on the screen for each award. Jim and Nancy worked together like a well-oiled machine, having rehearsed the show several times. Jim kept the music going, switching it up when he felt the room needed a bit more energy, and fading it out when people were talking.
My biggest takeaway from my first time on comm was how many details, technical elements and instructions go into what seems like a simple awards show. It was so evident that this team enjoyed working together, and the conversation on comm was friendly, fun and professional, but always focused on getting the job done right. Usually at an awards show, I’m only thinking about what people are wearing and who wins what award, and only give thought to the tech team when something goes wrong. Now that I know more about the extraordinarily complex dance that goes on behind the scenes, I’ll never watch the Gala Awards in the same way again!
Written by Sunshine Woodyard
It’s a little known secret in the meetings and conventions industry: meeting planners don’t have to use the hotel’s in-house provider for their audiovisual needs when holding an event. Major convention hotels have in-house providers, outside companies who keep equipment at the hotel for use during meetings, and many think these companies have a monopoly on A/V for hotel events. But that’s just not true. As a meeting planner, you have the choice of your own A/V provider and can select one of your own for equipment rental, A/V production, and stage management. When you work with Technisch Creative, we help you determine your requirements so you can decide whether the in house A/V or an outside company is the best option for you.
Many in-house systems are dated and well-worn, with uncertain reliability. Just because a microphone and PA or projector is convenient for the A/V company to set up, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your event. Often times the maintenance schedule of the in house equipment is not as current as an outside company with quality control processes in place. At Technisch Creative, we invest in the latest technology for our clients, so we can bring in the best equipment to execute the job with the highest standards.
Reason 2: Service.
Generally speaking, in house A/V companies exist for the meeting planner’s convenience. Their model is to provide easy access to the most commonly used pieces of equipment. The model of an outside A/V company is to provide the equipment you need to do the job right. At Technisch Creative, we take the time to understand the goals and objectives of the event and we plan accordingly. We become part of your team. When something glitches, we’ve got your back!
Reason 3: Value.
It’s hard to make a decision on numbers alone. Often times, the in house company has a higher retail price of the equipment rentals, but can offer added benefits like free wifi or rigging fees. An outside A/V company can offer added benefits, as well, that may not appear as a line item. Include services can vary from creative design work, stage management, and directing the show. When you are evaluating supplier contracts, consider the value of piece of mind and working with a team you trust.
Ok, now down to what event planners really want to know, what does all this Power stuff mean to me? In Part 1 of the Power blog, we touched on three-phase power. I’m sure you’ve had people tell you “I need a 200 Amp, three-phase, 220 service.” This means you will need three hot conductors at 110 Volts, capable of carrying a maximum of 200 amps on each phase, or leg. (A phase is also referred to as a leg, which is a single hot conductor.) The electrician will run cables from the service panel on the back wall (the one with the big Frankenstein-looking lever), to the distro. The distro will have breakers with amperage values, normally 20 to 50 amps. We achieve the 220 Volts by adding two of the legs together. The plug we use will have two hot legs, a neutral, and a ground. Any higher voltage is beyond the scope of this article and will be ignored. Now all we have to do is make sure we’ve used the equation for power to calculate our load (in amps), and we can connect our gear with relative ease and piece of mind.
At this point, a demonstration of the power equation would probably be in order. Let’s look at the real world and do a calculation using an ordinary household light bulb.
Example: How much current (in amps) will a 120V 60W light bulb draw?
Using the power equation, we know that:
W = V x A where W = 60W
V = 120V
With simple algebra, solving for A becomes:
A = W ÷ V
A = 60 ÷ 120
A = .5 Amps
Our household light bulb draws half an amp.
This may seem like an oversimplification, but it really is that simple. All electrical and electronic gear will have at least two, if not all three of the necessary variables marked on its case to calculate the load for that piece of gear. Add all of your loads together, and that is the size of service you need to order. By the way, make sure you leave yourself at least twenty percent for headroom. If you have a 20 Amp breaker, don’t exceed a 16 Amp load. From our example above, that’s the equivalent of 32 bulbs.
By having a basic understanding of power, the event professional becomes something of a “power” as well. You will be able to speak with confidence and authority at your next pre-con. Who knows, you might even show up the tech geeks. Good luck and never be afraid to ask a qualified electrician or technician for help if you don’t understand any of the concepts we’ve covered today. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss this subject in more detail.
When pre-production planning turns to the subject of power, lots of folks suddenly remember that they accidentally left the oven on, and need to go home before the house explodes. Why the sudden jog of the memory? The fact of the matter is power can be scary.
We’ve all managed to stick our finger into an electrical outlet as a kid, and most of us still remember that experience. While we weren’t seriously injured, the shock we felt left a lasting impression on our brains for the rest of our lives. It’s time to stop demonizing power and put it into terms and a perspective that most industry professionals can easily understand. This may get a bit technical, but will make sense in the end.
Let’s start with power in the broadest sense. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, power is defined as the product of the effective values of the voltage and current with the cosine of the phase angle between current and voltage in an alternating-current circuit. Huh? Let’s make up our own definition and say power is the electricity we use to make our electronic stuff work.
There are two forms of electricity, alternating current and direct current, or AC and DC. Direct current is used primarily for electronic circuits and battery powered devices, which we will assume don’t apply to our discussion. We are left working with alternating current.
Anyone who has ever plugged an appliance into an outlet is accustomed to working with 110 outlets, but how many of us know how those little plugs get electricity, or what 110 even means?
In any electrical system, there is a minimum of three separate conductors. There’s a “hot”, a neutral, and a ground. The hot is the positive electric charge, for our purposes 110 volts. The neutral is just that, neutral, meaning it has a net electric charge of zero. See also Switzerland. The ground is a point of zero potential. This is often times the literal ground outside your building, sometimes referred to as the earth ground. If you hear someone refer to a single-phase service, this is what they mean.
When talking about a three-phase system, we have three hot conductors, a neutral, and a ground. In our business, the three-phase system is preferable, for reasons we will later explore.
When working with three-phase systems, there will be some sort of distribution box, or “distro”, which breaks out into the individual circuits. The distro will have breakers and various plugs for each circuit. Each conductor will have a distinct color, and in the United States, hot conductors are black, red, and blue. The neutral is always white, and the ground always green. The Europeans do things differently, so make sure whoever is working with the distro is familiar with current European standards.
Now that we’ve established some basics, we can get into more technical matters. Don’t fret, though. The practical stuff is coming right after the theory. Keep thinking of your happy place and this will be a breeze.
In 1827, Georg Simon Ohm (1789-1854) published his book, Die galvanische Kette, mathematisch bearbeitet, which spells out Ohm’s complete theory of electricity. Today, Ohm’s Law is one of the most important fundamental equations in electrical physics. By examining the basics of Ohm’s Law and related equations, we can more easily understand why plugging those extra lights into that one circuit pops the breakers.
Ohm’s Law focuses on current, voltage, and resistance. Current is the flow of an electric charge, measured in amperes, or amps (I or A). Think of current as the amount of water flowing through a hose. Voltage is electrical potential, or potential difference, measured in volts (V). Voltage would be the water pressure in our theoretical hose. Resistance is the opposition of a body or substance to current passing through it, resulting in a change of electrical energy into heat or another form of energy, measured in ohms (R). This would be the size or diameter of said hose.
Ohm’s Law is the relationship among voltage, resistance, and current in a circuit. The actual equation is I = E ÷ R. That’s great, but you’re wondering how this applies to figuring out the size and number of circuits to make sure the extra bar you ordered will work properly. In reality, it doesn’t apply.
The equation for power, though not actually part of Ohm’s Law, is related, and is defined as W = V x A (Think: West Virginia). “Hold on a minute,” you say. “Where’d that W come from in the new equation, and what does it mean?”
The W in the equation for power represents, wait for it, Power. Power is the energy used to do the work when an electrical current is made to flow through a load resistance, and is measured in watts (W). The load is whatever we happen to be plugging in at the time, nothing more. This is how fast the water is running through that same hose we were talking about earlier.
Okay, take a deep breath and relax. You’ve just learned more about power in a few minutes time than most people will learn in a lifetime. We hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to Power, and if you’d like to find out about the practical side of Power for event planners, please check out Power Play Part 2!
There will come a time in most people’s lives that they will have to work with a microphone. And when I say work with, I mean speak into a microphone. This can cause some serious problems for those that are shy or suffer from abject terror at the mere idea of standing before an audience of more than, say, the family pet. If you are in fact on of these people, or just someone who could use a little help making better presentations, this article should make the process easier and hopefully less painful
The first step in the process is to rehearse ahead of time whenever possible. If you’re at a wedding reception and are put on the spot, rehearsal is not an option. So just relax and think happy thoughts. Thoughts like “Hey! There’s an open bar waiting for me after I’m finished” or “I so can’t wait to get my hands on the Best Man’s throat after he’s had a few drinks.” Having said that, let’s get back to preparation. The more comfortable you are with your material, the easier it will be to incorporate the aforementioned technology.
Since I brought up the subject of technology, now is a good time for a terminology primer. When working with microphones, you will sound way cooler if you can use the correct terms when communicating with the technical folks. The most common type of microphone is of the hand held variety. This is what you hold, in your hand, when speaking. The hand held can be either wired (meaning with a cord) or wireless (using radio frequencies to transmit the sound to a receiver). So far so good? The second most used microphone is a lapel microphone, also called a lavaliere, lav, or clip-on mic. This is what you wear attached to a tie , shirt, jacket, or lapel, hence the name. This microphone will usually be small and unobtrusive. The lavaliere can also be wired or wireless. If wireless, it will be attached to a (hopefully) small body pack that holds the batteries and transmitter.