How to Produce a Conference
Whether your conference is to say thanks, deliver a message or perform training, it being well produced is key to its success.
The quality of your conference production can make or break the success of the message to be delivered, or even the brand of your company.
The following are a few key areas that you should consider when putting on a conference. These will help with choosing the audio visual, set, venue and video for the conference.
Know your Why
Before venturing into what venue you are going to choose, the lighting, the food etc, start by defining your commercial, information, or brand objectives. You have decided to have a conference, why? Are you aiming to get in the press? Train staff? Impress clients? Or is this just an after-dinner presentation at a ball? Once you have clearly defined why you are having a conference, it will be much easier to make practical, aesthetic and budget decisions.
A typical answer to this question might be:
"To present our year-end results to staff and offer praise where appropriate and also offer direction in weaker areas. We also want to share our strategic goals for next year, how these will help us all and what we all need to do to achieve them. We want the delegates leaving feeling energised, cared about and with memories of having a great time."
This kind of brief would mean that keeping the guests interested throughout, and having a good time is important. In-depth financial data might need to be shared, so a clear and concise design of content will be vital, as will programming the conference with a range of presentations to keep people's attention. It might also be good to choose a venue with team-building activities and the like. A party and dinner on the last night may also be a good idea.
The UK has one of the world's best range of venues to choose from. You can choose from Victorian warehouses, modern hotel function rooms, exhibition halls, opulent ball rooms, and even outdoors for your conference. When considering your venue, think about:
- Capacity of the venue and whether your numbers are likely to change
- Access for equipment
- What is included in the quoted price? Furniture, setup time, catering equipment, cleaning etc
- Accommodation and convenience for guests.
- Whether you can bring in your own AV company and other suppliers
The content of your conference can include video files, PowerPoint, sound effects, and printed graphics. The quality, accuracy and presentation of your content can make or break the conference. It is best to start with an overall look and feel for the conference. Do you have a colour scheme you wish to adhere to? Do you want different colours (from lighting and video) to reflect different key messages of the conference? Is there a shape, or scheme you want to have prevalent throughout? Once you have established this you can ensure that all content and presenter content works within this scheme.
A quality conference production company will work with you to define the look, feel, colour scheme and even theme of your conference.
Set can reflect shapes, and custom materials and fabrics can match your colour scheme.
The set is all the equipment that is on and around the presentation area. This could be as simple as leaving a brick wall exposed. A step up may be a simple flat or drape set that demarkates the presentation area from the rest of your venue. For highly-branded conferences, or ones where visual intrigue is important, complex sets can be built that use a range of materials, fabrics, prints and lighting.
Your set design will be determined by:
- your brief and aesthetic objectives
- any limitations of the venue (namely size and ceiling height)
- your budget
Conference lighting can range from basic presenter illumination right up to high-energy attention-grabbing light shows. As with many decisions, this will be very much down to your objectives. If your conference is to deliver a message to a wide range of employees at every level in the organisation, a show-based lighting design may be a great way to keep everyone interested. Whereas if the conference is to be deliver in-depth technical information to a group of veteran engineers, the lighting will be purely functional as the audience will be primarily interested in the content.
Knowing you budget is very important. Without knowing it, it is very hard for venues, AV companies and the like to give you good advice. Even if it is vague, it will be good to have a ball-park idea of what you are looking at spending.
How to choose the right AV company
AV is a hygiene factor to any conference. If it is good it is likely to go unnoticed, if it is bad everyone will notice it. As such, choosing the right company is vital. The following are some key things to look for:
- Experience - has your company done a lot of conferences before? You need to see evidence of them doing conferences day-in, day-out for years
- Equipment - do they own their own equipment, or do they hire it in? If hired in there is a greater margin for mistakes and staff not knowing how to use it. Serious AV companies own most of the kit they use
- Service - is your AV company happy to do a site visit? If they do not do this, avoid them.
- Drawings - all professional AV companies will gladly do scaled drawings and/or visuals of your stage, set and venue layout. Without these, the margin for error is enormous. Do not use companies that do not offer this.
- Understanding - look for a company that truly understands the message you are trying to deliver, your objectives and the industry that you are in. This will help them to deliver a great show.
Johnny Palmer is managing director of SXS Events. His company is a leading UK provider of conference AV, set, video and production services. The company employs 12 staff and has produced over 5000 events. Having worked with companies including Apple, Virgin, Armani, Lloyds and Microsoft, the SXS team understand the needs of corporate clients and deliver these to perfection.