In our May cover story, we took a comprehensive look at the science of sound and the art of managing it at your meetings.
Here, three sound experts, Jim Russell, executive vice president of sales for Freeman; Mark Consiglio, product manager for audio and IT at PSAV; and Michael Bogden, a sound designer and mixer at Visual Horizon Communications; share their top tips.
1. Arrange your speakers carefully.
Not your keynoters— your audio speakers. Design elements sometimes will take precedence over speakers, but their placement is a key factor in overall sound quality.
2. Read the room.
Don’t take good audio for granted — it has to be considered upfront, ideally at the time of site inspection, Russell said. “Larger sessions, especially, can be a challenge.” There’s a pervasive myth that sound engineers can fix anything given the right equipment, but that’s not true, he said. “If there’s an echo in the room, there will be an echo during a session, too.”
3. It’s called audiovisual for a reason.
Make sure well in advance that audio and visual elements are in sync. “If a person hears a message and looks at a related graphic,”or she absorbs an additional 91 percent of the message,” compared to audio alone.
4. Talk to your creative partners — early and often.
Collaboration among your sound engineers, set designers, and the team in charge of visuals is also critical for the best audience experience. “Even though it might be the optimal speaker position, I can’t hang a speaker array in front of a screen, and if there’s an interesting scene-piece that plays a big part in the show, I can’t hang in front of that either,” says, Bogden said. “What I like to do, from the get-go, is sit down with everyone involved to find ways that I can design my speaker system into a piece of scenery, or to hang between two screens. The key is early and constant collaboration with everyone involved.”
5. Make the most of your budget.
Budget is a huge driving force in sound design because it determines the size of your sound system and what equipment will be used on site. When you bring your sound team into the fold, they can offer suggestions and advice about making the most out of budgets of any size. Consiglio also recommends setting aside money for recording and livestreaming. “Don’t skimp on the labor or equipment recommended by your audio specialist,” he said. “We have spent a lot of time and energy determining the best way to ensure a successful event recording.”
6. Use the buddy system.
Think of your sound provider as a partner, not a supplier. “We can help provide suggestions that would make a scenario that much better, but we can’t do that if we’re not at the table,” Bogden said. “Anybody can supply gear, but not everyone can be a partner. I think it’s important to be a really good partner.”
7. Don’t automatically go wireless.
Consiglio cautions against putting all your faith in wireless microphones for speakers — your sound provider may have a better suggestion for your particular meeting space or room setup. “One of the biggest misconceptions when dealing with sound design in the meeting space is that wireless microphones are 100-percent infallible, which is not the case at all, “Wireless microphones have a lot of variables, like interference and battery life, that can bring a meeting to its knees. In some cases, a wired microphone may be recommended, and that could be because the representative knows from experience that wireless mics could be an issue in that space.”
8. Consider what not to wear.
It may seem like a minor detail, but presenters’ clothing can be a roadblock when it comes to wireless microphones, according to Bogden. Sweaters, dresses, and even earrings can make it difficult for the sound team to place microphones for optimal sound quality. Ask for advice early on, so you can brief your speakers well in advance of the meeting or request special equipment, such as necklace microphones.
9. Go small or go home.
“Everyone wants to try something new,” Bogden said. “They always want to experiment with something, whether it’s a new technology, a new piece of gear, a new application for a certain type of speaker, or a new design idea.The best piece of advice I got from a college professor was ‘Do that in very small steps.’
If you’re at a meeting and you want to try something new, just try one thing. Don’t do too many things at once, because you’ll increase the opportunity for failure. It would be a bad idea to try new microphones on all the presenters. If it doesn’t work, and the sound isn’t right, that’s a big deal.”