Bob Cherny Finding the Planning Tools You Need

And the old actor said, "See it in Light!"

June 22, 2006

Let's talk about lighting.

Lighting is not as critical as audio to the success of your meeting, but people will remember good lighting where they take good audio for granted. Ironically, people are far more willing to tolerate bad lighting than they are bad audio.

Light should be bright enough to focus the attention where it needs to be and yet not so bright as to be distracting. Modern theatrical lighting theory is based on the fact that Shakespeare's plays were performed in the afternoon. Small lighting fixtures are arrayed to provide a light (warm) side and a shadow (cool) side. The forty five degree angle to the side and above the performer guarantees that the light will not annoy the presenter and will make them look the most natural. If you only lit the one side, as I have seen done too many times, the shadow side goes completely black.

Modern film lighting theory is based on the concepts that there is only one sun and that the camera only has one eye. "Bright" and "dark" are achieved by using a higher wattage light on the lit side and a lower wattage light on the "dark" side.

Modern television lighting theory is based on the idea that shadows are bad. Large numbers of diffuse wash fixtures are used to create bland, even, boring lighting which was perfect for the limited capabilities of early television cameras.

Dance lighting is devoted to sweeping washes of color through which the dancers move. Lighting for your opening production number should resemble dance lighting for maximum effect.

Then there's concert lighting. That's a moving target. Concert lighting will likely drive many of the advances we will see in convention lighting for the next few years.

Convention lighting is a merger of all these elements. for a far more detailed description than what I can offer you here.

The smaller the event, the more it is like theater. The larger the event, the more it is like a concert. If there is image magnification (video) it becomes more like television but does not lose its theatrical or concert heritage. Having said all that, if the event uses a single podium and a mile of black drape, your audio had better be spectacular.

There are essentially two types of lights, spots and washes. A flood is just a very wide wash. Electronic Theatre Controls makes the most popular non-moving fixtures in the industry. The Source 4 ® ellipsoidal is a spot.

The Source 4 par is a wash.

At the lowest end of the lighting scale, a podium will be lit with two ellipsoidal units on boom stands at a height guaranteed to be annoying to the presenters. Neither of these lights will have lighting color in them. Of course, the presenter will have no facial features since they have been washed out. Merely lifting the fixtures up and suspending them from the ceiling will enhance the presenter's image immensely. I know that riggers are expensive and $1,000 in rigger cost is a bit much to hang two lights, so I understand if you elect not to go that route. However, get as tall a structure as you can to support the lights and put them above your presenters' eye level.

If you are not using a camera on the presenter, a little lighting color will make them look much more natural. Granted, only a trained lighting designer or a person with theater experience is likely to think about making the presenter three dimensional. A little pale pink on the bright side and a little pale blue on the shadow side will make people look much more human. Rosco Labs is one of a half dozen companies that make theatrical lighting color. The color is cheap. A sheet of color is in the $15.00 range. One sheet provides enough media to color twenty ellipsoidal units. The pale colors last for weeks of continuous use. It's not about the money. It's about thinking.

There are many, many colors to choose from. Scroll down for an eyeful!

Apollo Design Technologies has a line of colors and they have produced a handy document that explains some of the terminology.

One of my favorite stunts is to cut a custom "gobo" with a client's logo and project it on the scenery or the walls. Apollo and Rosco make gobos.



They specialize in custom gobos, but they have an impressive array of stock gobos for immediate shipping. Apollo does not sell directly to end users. Any good theatrical supply or production company can get these for you. We have been dealing with Apollo for along time. I love the impression moving custom gobos make on an audience.

There are hundreds to choose from. You might also wish to check out their other products for some creative ideas.

What is a gobo? A standard metal gobo is a piece of special alloy steel into which a pattern has been cut by a laser. This piece of metal is placed at the focal point of an ellipsoidal lighting fixture and the image is projected onto a reflective surface. (Actully "Gobo" is a Fraggle and lives in a place called "Fraggle Rock."

Now that we have established light and color, let's add motion.

The home page is an education. The following links are for some ideas of what you can do with moving light.

There are other companies that make moving lights.

The point is that moving lights with gobos provide a level of theatricality and excitement that are not available anywhere else.

What you have seen if you have followed the links are many of the tools your lighting designer can use for your events. They will be more likely to provide you what you need if you know what to ask for.

Then, as an informed consumer, listen to your designers and you will be amazed at the quality of their work.

At the very uppermost end of the lighting scale we are seeing a merger of video projection technology and lighting. The vanguard for these new technologies is the touring concert industry. A few meeting support companies are investing in this new technology. By this time next year, I expect many of the larger conventions will be using this technology in place of or in addition to hard built scenery. Coupled with some of the advances we are just now assimilating in wide screen technology, the next few years portend to be very exciting for lighting practitioners in the meetings industry.

As I come to a close on my week on the podium, let me remind you of a few resources we often overlook. One of your best sources of information and advice is the local chapters of professional organizations like MPI, NACE, ISES, PCMA, IAEM, IAAM, IACC . . . (The list goes forever. Corbin Ball is a good resource in the pursuit of the organization that meets your needs.) Find the organization that meets your needs and join it. You will be glad you did.

The convention and visitor or tourist bureaus are there to help you. Call on them. Granted, some are better than others, but they all have resources you need.

One of the issues facing us as a culture has to do with the relationship between print and electronic media. For my own part, I see electronic media making tremendous inroads in the territories previously dominated by print publications. Not everyone is comfortable with the changes. I congratulate David McCann and the folks at VNU for embracing the new technologies and seeing what it can provide their constituents. The web site that hosts this blog has some excellent resources that every planner who stops by should examine. Ideally, you will find something you need and you will remember who brought it to you.


Congratulations to the folks at VNU for their foresight, and thank you for letting me join the party.

How Much Space is enough?

June 21, 2006

Today we are going to talk about putting your meeting into a space. Not outer space, although sometimes I wonder.

Most ballrooms are rectangular. A few are square. Fewer still are curved. Some are oval, although oval and rectangular operate on the same principles as far as I am concerned. They are just a little weird for my taste. I once drew a floor plan for a meeting room that was crescent shaped. That was a beast since the hotel's capacity chart did not allow for projection.

If all of your meetings involve fewer than fifty people or if they involve no audio or video, you can stop reading. If all your events are social events that are primarily food functions with or without dancing you can stop reading. None of what I am about to say will materially impact anything you do. Sorry, but that is a huge segment of the industry where I do not play. Not that I don't want to, but one goes where the opportunities lead. My opportunities pointed in another direction.

For the rest of you who are still with me, get your calculators out. How many people can you seat in a ballroom that is 100' X 200'? This ballroom is 20,000 square feet. At one person for every ten square feet as some of the publications would have you believe, that's 2,000 people. Very nice! Your meeting only has 1,600 people. It should fit nicely.

The good news is that there are no pillars. Subtract between 10 and 20 people for every pillar.

Of course, the ten square feet per person calculation does not allow for aisles. In most jurisdictions, you need to be at least six feet away from the walls. 6' X 200' X 2 = 2,400 square feet of usable space we have lost against the long walls. 6' X 88' X 2 = 1,056 square feet of usable space we have lost against the short walls. Therefore, our 20,000 square foot ballroom actually has 20,000 – 2,400 – 1,056 = 16,544 square feet of usable space. At ten square feet per person, we still have room for our 1,600 people.

The fire marshal is not likely to approve your floor plan without a 6' aisle. 6' X 188' = 1,128 square feet. So, our 16,544 square feet of usable space has shrunk to 15,416 square feet and we have dropped below our desired attendance count.

Let's toss another issue into the mix. 100 square feet (ten square feet per person at round of ten) is not enough for a 72" round with more than six people seated at it.
Let me explain. The table takes six feet. That leaves four feet for the people seated at it before they run into the space allocated for the adjacent table. That's two feet on each side. The proverbial 98 pound weakling has a thickness at their chest in excess of a foot. If they elect to not jam themselves against the table, they will take perhaps eighteen or twenty inches of depth away from the space around the table. We do that on both sides and we have lost three or more feet. The back of the chair is now less than a foot away from the chair behind it. If either of the people seated with their backs to each other weighs in excess of 150 pounds, they will take all the space allocated.
The wait staff can no longer pass between the tables.
This is one of the reasons I advocate using real Computer Aided Drafting programs that work in 


WORLD SCALE for floor plans. As far as I am concerned, you should allocate a minimum of 121 square feet per table. 144 is better, but 132 will work. Our count continues to drop.

So, we have sixteen hundred people in this room for a couple of hours. What are they doing? Are they dancing? Is there a program? Let's assume that we have a D J and a dance floor. The D J stage is 12' X 16' and the dance floor is 30' X 30'. We can shove the D J back against the wall so we regain part of the stage area. Even with that, we have lost 6' X 16' = 96 square feet for the stage. We lose 30' X 30' = 900 square feet for the dance floor. So our ballroom continues to shrink. 15,416 square feet – 96 – 900 = 14,420 square feet. Remember that this puts three entire rows of tables behind the dance floor.

Now let's make things really complicated. We have an audio visual presentation and a name entertainer at dinner. At this point we start over. Many meeting planners like to set their stage against the long wall. This is what I refer to as the "wide" configuration. They feel that this gives a feeling of intimacy. Perhaps, but let's look at the numbers. The video screens need twenty feet of depth and no one can be behind them. Our 100' X 200' ballroom is now effectively 80' X 200' or 16,000 square feet. Not bad? Maybe, maybe not. We still need to subtract for aisles and the stage. Our 16,000 square feet drops to 13,936. Not only that, we are looking at a control booth of some kind that will eat up space. One fifth of the audience is at such a steep angle to the screens that the screens are unintelligible. Depending on the depth of the stage, up to a third of the audience is behind the speakers and they can't hear.

Remember that there are events for which it is not important that everyone see or hear what is happening on the stage. Networking events and incentive events without awards programs are two excellent examples. For those events, the inability to see or hear the program is an advantage. Pools of quiet are created where business can be conducted during the party.

Let's spin the room the other way. If we set with the stage against the short wall, accounting for the projector throw distance the room is now 100' X 180' = 18,000 square feet before we lose the space along the walls and the aisles. Our 18,000 drops to 15,840 which is significantly better than 13,936. I refer to this as the "deep" configuration. We do have a slight issue in that our furthest audience member is 160' from the stage, but the good news is that no one is behind the stage. The rule of thumb is that an audience member watching a properly lit actor can see facial expression up to eighty feet away. Remember the Metallica concert I mentioned yesterday? I was over three hundred feet away. From a technological point of view, deep is easier to deal with than wide. First, we step up to larger screens, image magnification and brighter projectors. For audio, we go to line arrays and delay speakers. Lighting gets a little brighter.

If the ceiling height prohibits larger screens, then delay screens (smaller screens with smaller projectors) can be flown mid way back. With the advent of brighter projectors and speakers with longer throw, the "deep" configuration is the most efficient way to use the available space in the room.

Let's return to our event and add a stage. With the dancers and the singer's band, the stage needs to be 32' deep and we do not want anyone behind the speakers. In the wide configuration, we now have a room that is effectively 62' deep by 188' wide for 11,656 square feet. The center aisle is not an issue because we can only set six rows of tables. If we go to the deep configuration we have a room that is 88' wide by 162' deep or 14,256 square feet.

All of the examples assume that the event is a plated sit-down meal. If the event is a buffet, you will lose some of the space to the buffets and bars. The good news is that the buffets and bars can go in the six foot margin and you lose less space than is immediately obvious.

Remember the theme of listening to your vendors? National Production Services is one of my vendors. They provide rigging services in a wide variety of venues.

For those facilities in which they work, they have the best information about the actual sizes, shapes and ceiling heights of the rooms you are most likely to use. These drawings are in a computer aided drafting program. There are two such programs that compete in this industry. The more established program is AutoCAD which has been the mainstay of the architectural industry for decades. The newer entry into the field is Vectorworks which is gaining acceptance in part due to its significantly lower cost and more "Mac-like" interface.

There are a dozen software packages out there that can handle a table set up for a social event with a stage and a dance floor. You can place the bars and buffets with them. You can even determine where you want to put the cake table. (Digression: Light the cake table. Spend the money. It's important.) For social events like proms, reunions and awards ceremonies most of these work fine. Not all of them work in true scale. When you shop for one of these programs, check to see that the program will give you a scaleable drawing that can be printed on tabloid paper without pixilation. Also check to see that the program will produce the drawing as a *.pdf file suitable for emailing. Finally, remember that at some point the drawing will be photocopied or transmitted by fax. Subtle gradations of color are lost in the translation. Important features should have sharp contrasts. Most of the programs will do this. For a comprehensive list of these programs visit Corbin Ball's site at where he has twenty four entries of floor plan software.

From what you just read, you might get the impression that I think highly of these programs. It is true that most of them work as advertised. However, if you hang one item from the ceiling, you must step up to a real CADD program. Riggers require real CADD drawings.

Aerial Rigging has facility drawings at

There are other rigging companies that service other properties. The probability is very high that the best source of detailed accurate information on the main ballrooms is the rigging company. Check with your C S M to find out who rigs in their building and get your floor plans from them. The riggers will not have the plans for rooms with low ceilings or rooms where rigging is impossible, but for those rooms they do have the plans, use them. (Sidebar: Plaster ceilings are the bane of a tech's existence. We hate them for a variety of reasons not the least of which is acoustic echo.)

If you are not lighting your events or are flying your speakers, odds are you will never have to worry about riggers. For the rest of us, riggers are part of daily life. They require real drawings and real planning. Just remember, you can't hang the lighting truss through the chandelier.

So, on a twist from what the theme has been all week, if your event is large enough to involve a production company or a full service AV company, tell your production company or independent technical director you want them to do the floor plan drawings. You will have to pay for this, but it is money well spent. Tell them how many bars and buffets to put out. Give them all the information they ask for. Tell them you want the drawings in a real CADD program and you want them to submit the plans to the riggers. Once you have done all this, listen to them tell you how to best use the available space. They really do know how to set a room.


Tomorrow we wrap up with lighting and additionally a group of contacts who did not really fit anywhere else and are too important to ignore.

The Ears Have It!

June 20, 2006

Audio is for experts and everyone with ears is an expert.

Audio does not need to be as complex as some people make it out to be. There are some simple rules.

Music and spoken word are different. Just because you can make your garage band sound professional in an upstairs night club does not mean you can make the local bank president clear and intelligible. Making both work on the same audio system takes real skill.

Feedback during the event is never acceptable or excusable. The only exception I would be willing to make is when the person with the lavaliere stands directly in front of the speaker stack.

Lavaliere microphones are to be avoided wherever possible. There are some times when they are unavoidable. We understand. We don't have to like it.

Wired microphones are more reliable than wireless (and cheaper!). If the speaker moves away from the podium, however, spring for the wireless and a back-up.

The audio operator should be no further than 150 feet from the stage not further left or right than the width of the stage.

Speakers should be flown if possible.

Ceiling speakers are wonderful for evacuating buildings on fire or announcing that it is time to close the trade show. Sometimes you might even be able to announce the winner of the booth drawing raffle on them, but not always. Do not use them if you expect to be understood. I don't care what the architect told you.

No, sound check is not an option. It is a requirement. Allow enough time in your schedule to get all your major presenters to the stage with the audio operator for at least ten minutes. (More is better.) Yes, I know they hate it and complain that it is a waste of their precious time. Ask the males if they would rather sound like John Wayne or Tiny Tim. Ask the females if they would rather sound like Dame Judy Dench or Fran Descher.

Placing speakers behind the audience is only acceptable in movie theaters and then only for moves that use audio for dramatic effect.

Let me digress here for a moment. The recent remake of "War of the Worlds" had some of the best audio I have ever heard. If you watched it at home with those two little 3 ½ inch speakers in your average television set, you missed half the impact of the movie. If you have a friend with a properly equipped home theater system with sub woofers, watch it there. The same works for meetings. Intelligibly requires the ability to hear the whole acoustic range not just the middle 50% as some speaker manufacturers would have you believe.

My daughter recently went looking for speakers to support her dance activities. We did a web search of the manufacturers I knew supported the kinds of systems she needed. In the process I stumbled into this gem at the Klipsch site. Klipsch does not make the kinds of systems we use in meetings, but this article is so well written, it needed to be included in this list.

One of the more hotly debated issues in the audio industry is the virtue of line array speakers as opposed to traditional trapezoidal shaped boxes. Many of the larger audio companies have invested heavily in this recently rediscovered technology. Let's cut through the smoke here.

If you are filling a venue for more than three thousand people, and you have a ceiling height of greater than twenty feet, there is nothing that can match the throw of a line array. Pretty much everyone who has used them agrees on this much. I took my then teenaged daughter and two of her friends to a Metallica concert at the Tropicana Dome in St. Petersburg and witnessed one of the first major tours to carry the new line array system. The performance of the system was amazing. I was roughly 300 feet from the stage. The sound was crystal clear and very loud. On a side note, the audio engineer who mixed the front acts was clearly not as good as the engineer who mixed Metallica. The point is that even a great system in the hands of a less than great engineer will sound less than great. The converse, however, is not true. A trash system will sound like trash in the hands of the best engineer. It will just be trashier in the hands of a less skilled engineer. There is only so much that can be done with inadequate gear.

Back to line arrays for meetings. Many meeting planners like to set the room with the stage with the back to the long wall of the room and then insist on the latest technology which is the line array. This is wrong. Tomorrow I will spend some time on room sets, but for now remember this. If you set the room wide, you need a wide sound system. If you set it deep, you need a deep sound system. Line arrays are designed for deep. Some of the articles that follow are pretty technical. I have tried to arrange them in order of difficulty. The simplest and more general are first followed by the more technical.'line%20array' Alford has purchased the J B L Vertec ® Line Array system which is the same one we use. This almost sounds like J B L wrote it. Still, the concepts are valid for most of the line array systems currently in use.

Let's talk about control. A few rules:

First, everyone at the table in the panel discussion gets their own microphone. None of this passing the mic back and forth nonsense.

Second, the podium gets two (or more) wired microphones. ALWAYS!

Third, wireless microphones have wired backups.

Fourth, the audio control position is in the same room as the event. I don't care how good the architect says his calibrated monitor system is.

There are new types of audio consoles that are being introduced to the meetings industry. In most cases these are based on technologies developed in the intense world of recording and broadcast studios. There are those who wish to cling to the old technologies who will say that the new technologies are unproven and potentially unreliable. This is simply not true.

What is true is that previously you could sit a half trained monkey down at an old eight channel analog console and they could get sound to come out. That is not true of the digital consoles. Digital consoles require advanced education. The manufacturers run special schools to train technicians on the new consoles. The training is expensive and only the most experienced are currently being trained. In a world where minimum wage is the rule, half trained monkeys may be all the facility has to run sound. They do not want their clients calling for more sophisticated technologies that require more sophisticated operators. In truth, if your event consists of a podium and a four member panel discussion with no pre-recorded audio support, and an audience of fewer than fifty, a half trained monkey with an eight channel console and no additional processing may be all you need. However, having said that, when the half trained monkey repeatedly drives the system into feedback trying to pick up your microphone-shy mumbler at the far end of the table, you will wish they had a digital console and knew how to use it.

Before we leave analog consoles behind, they have been the mainstay for audio for our industry for a very long time. We will see them in use for many years to come. However, the speed at which we are seeing the entertainment industry move from analog to digital consoles is mind numbing. In spite of the newer consoles' greater cost, the advantage to you as the meeting planner is in reduced on site time. With a properly programmed digital console and the new in-ear monitors, sound check time for entertainers is dropping dramatically. The turn around time between when you have to abandon the room for the change-over and when you can return will drop incrementally as the new consoles become more ubiquitous.

Audio for entertainers is a jungle that even those of us who do it all the time fight about. The sad truth is that when you are dealing with entertainers you cede control to them. Unless you are dealing with an audio company that is adept at supporting both name entertainers and meetings, you are asking for one or the other to be compromised. There are entertainers who are used to working in the convention industry who will support your needs and who are willing to help you achieve your goals. There are others who are not. How successful you will be in marrying the entertainer with your meeting is entirely dependant on the skills of the audio crew on the floor working the event.

The following is an editorial. I make no claim to being unbiased on the following comments. I entered this business as a lighting and technical director for theater. I am not an audio technician.

The quality of the audio in your meetings, especially in your general session, is the single most important factor in the ability of your presenters to be understood. Do not skimp on audio. If you must skimp, cut the budget somewhere else. As a meeting planner, your decision to properly fund the audio for your meeting or to short change the system design can spell the success or failure of your meeting. If the system sounds like mud, the words are lost. If part of the system sounds like mud and part of it sounds good, the conversation from the audience in those areas that do not hear as well will disturb those that can hear.

Fly the speakers if you can. It's expensive but it means the sound will be distributed better.

Smaller digital consoles are still very expensive and few audio companies can afford them. Many are investing in the larger ones to support the entertainers who are demanding them. Ask your audio company if they have digital consoles and if they do, ask that they be assigned to your event. If will be a few years before the smaller ones become common, but the more you ask, the faster the transition will be. The fact that your audio company does not have digital consoles is not a reflection on them, yet. In a few years it will be.

Make sure the audio company understands how you will be setting the room. It makes a difference to the system design.

I know I told you to listen to your vendors and with audio most assuredly you should. However, if you can't understand the speaker at the podium, that's bad audio. If you walk around the room and the sound fades in and out depending on where you stand, that's bad audio. If everyone in the audience is spellbound in rapt attention to the speaker at the podium, that's good audio. Listen to your vendors, but listen to your ears.

Tomorrow we talk about room sets.

A slight list to starboard

June 19, 2006

Yesterday I talked about projection, today we will talk about lists. Remember the theme? Listen to your vendors.

Who spends more time working with meeting planners than everyone else put together? Hotels! Would it therefore make sense that they would have excellent resources for planners? In fact, some of them do. Frankly, I was surprised more by the ones that don't than by the quality of those that do.

The resources are listed in the order I stumbled across them looking for something else. The order is not an indication of their quality or lack thereof, nor is it an endorsement of the facilities discussed.

<> has checklists and guidelines for meeting planners. is the beginning of their site selection wizard. has their version of the checklists and guidelines.;jsessionid=H54VQ1OA0RNNPTQSNWIVAFWOCJWYOUP4 is their portal to booking your event with them. They even have a link to a free email newsletter.;jsessionid=DXHRLLCHMFU5SCSGBIYM22QKIYFCXUUC gets you started with Hilton's site selection and booking system. One interesting feature of this site is that it provides a link to a floor plan development software package linked to the hotel floor plans. is the gateway to the Starwood meeting reservation system. is from a company that I ran into at a recent trade show. On the right hand side of the page is a link to a wide variety of resources. As far as I am concerned, this feature is the most significant item on the page. The resources available by following the link are excellent. No discussion of lists and resources for meeting planners is complete without pointing you to Corbin Ball's site. Corbin has been compiling this list "forever" or at least as long as I have known of him. The materials he presents are excellent.

Last, but not least, as much as it pains me personally to say something nice about a competitor, AVW – Telav, the AV division of Freeman, does have some excellent tools for meeting planners to assist them with their jobs.

The lists are out there. Your vendors make them available for you to use because if you use them, you enhance their ability to make you and your delegates happy and successful. Listen to your vendors. Their success depends on your success.

Tomorrow we talk about audio.

Tech Talk wih Bob Cherney

June 19, 2006

By Bob Cherny

Sometimes we should listen more and talk less.

When David McCann asked me to contribute a week to the MiGurus, he asked me to write on tech issues. This would seem reasonable since I work for a tech company. However, I said that I would rather write on resources for meeting planners. My thinking was that most planners' eyes glaze over when we even mention tech. If I wanted y'all to pay attention, I had to present something other than tech. Is everyone still awake out there on the Ether-net?

Continue reading "Tech Talk wih Bob Cherney" »

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