The human senses of sight and hearing are amazingly sensitive, so make sure to test your meeting environment for potential distractions.
Pre-flight checklist: Laptop? Check! Projector? Check! Screen? Oh, we'll just use the wall. Handouts? Check! OK, let's go!
You think you've got everything covered, but have you considered potential interference the room might serve up to compete for the audience's attention? This is what I have dubbed “Architechnology,” the study of the interaction among AV, human perception, and the environment.
Let's suppose your PowerPoint slides and handouts have been professionally prepared, giving you an effective one-on-one presentation. Now let's say you move that presentation into a hotel ballroom; how does that affect it? Here are some important things to consider.
Screening the Room
Ambient light washes out projection screens. Ask if downlights and wall washer lights near the projection screen can be independently controlled. Are there separate controls for the front of the room, the presentation area, and the audience area? Try them. Look for smooth dimming action without flicker. Avoid dimming fluorescent lights. If the room has windows, ask about light-tight curtains.
Look for air-conditioning vents near the screen. These can cause the screen to wave in the airflow. Can the vents be redirected or turned off?
If the meeting room has a mirrored wall, the effect on AV productions can be disastrous, especially if light from the projector falls off the screen and reflects onto the mirror and into the audience.
Hide the Projector
Where is the projector going to be placed? Rear screen is the least distracting, but tricky to set up in some rooms. (Use a light-folding mirror, if possible.) Instead of placing a projector on a table in the front of the audience, ask if it can be hung from the ceiling, up high, to minimize distraction. Newer projectors have good zoom lenses, and several manufacturers make auxiliary long-throw lenses.
Always, always, always match the native resolution of the laptop to the native resolution of the projector. Never use the projector's scaling feature to translate resolutions. Never!
What's That Sound?
Before you set up, listen for the level of background noise from the air-conditioning system and other sources, such as ice machines and traffic. “Feel” for rumble and vibration; these can cause projectors to lose focus. Ask for the air conditioning to be turned on high, and try to visit during another client's event to get a real-life experience.
If there's an “airwall” in your meeting room, turn off the lights in your room and turn them on in the adjacent room. Look for light leaks around the partition. Those light leaks are sound leaks, too. Ask the venue to re-set the partitions or to hold the adjacent room empty during your event.
Listen for hums or buzzes in the sound system. If you are able to sit in on another client's event, see if the presenter can be understood, not just heard, when speaking six inches from the microphone. If the sound system is good, note the equipment, especially the microphone. You will want the same.
Clap your hands in the middle of the room and near the outside walls. If you hear an echo or “fluttering” sound, avoid portable speakers on stands, as they tend to excite this noise condition. Use the overhead system instead, if it works well.
These are the crucial “Architechnology” factors for your meeting. Understanding how easily people can be distracted can help you to minimize the visual and aural noise that some environments introduce.
Jeff Loether is founder of Electro-Media Design Ltd., a Rockville, Md. — based technology consulting and design services firm. Contact him at (301) 309-0110, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.electro-media.com.