Anticipation. It's what separates the pros from the amateurs. The more meetings you've planned or produced, the better you can anticipate obstacles to neutralize--and opportunities to exploit. In the next few columns, I'll provide you with ways to anticipate a wide range of potential problems and uncover often overlooked areas of production.
We'll start with the venue.
Assuming the hotel and its amenities meet with your approval, you'll want a ballroom that is production-friendly and available. That's right, available. Sometimes even seasoned planners neglect to secure the ballroom and access to it for loading in and setting up equipment and for rehearsals. Most hoteliers will do whatever they can to accommodate your schedule but, understandably, they also need to sell the ballroom as much as possible. So, before you sign the, you should at the very least determine whether a limited load-in time will impact your event or your budget.
Don't forget to schedule time to load out. A good rule of thumb for a medium-sized production: two full days before the first general session for load-in/ setup/rehearsals; four to six hours for tear-down/ load-out. If your program ends at midnight, consult your producer on the cost and ramifications of an immediate load-out as opposed to one taking place the following day. In either case, block the room for at least the following morning.
Occasionally, you'll encounter a ballroom that can be loaded into only via a corridor, salon, or other room that may be occupied by another group in house. For instance, we recently produced a show at a hotel whose loading dock elevator was situated in the back of our ballroom. This presented timing, sound, security, and other issues; the neighboring group could only load in on a restricted basis. Depending on what side of the fence you're on, you'll face a different set of problems. As always, be observant and ask questions.
Aim High Is the ballroom production-friendly? If there's one thing a producer wants, it's ceiling height. This measurement enables lighting and audio (almost always) as well as projection and scenic elements (often but to a lesser extent) to be hung from rigging points in the ceiling. The benefits to you include better sight lines and acoustics, more floor space, and an overall cleaner, more open, and aesthetically pleasing look. In general, you get more flexibility--something you can always use.
Ballroom height will come in handy whether your program consists of general sessions, entertainment, or both. Of course, too much of anything is not necessarily good: Aim high (18 to 22 feet), but not too high (unless the show calls for it).
Basically, if you walk into a room that looks like a giant unencumbered box, you're more than halfway home. I'd consider a ballroom less production-friendly if it includes any of the following items: low-hanging chandeliers, very narrow width, rounded walls or rounded ceiling, tile or concrete, water (you'd be surprised), and a lot of glass and/or mirrors.
The impact these things potentially have on your production, and how you select the best venue, will depend on the size of your audience, and the format and scale of your program.
The ability to anticipate is helpful in any profession. In meeting planning and production, it's essential. Be proactive. Consider as many perspectives and possibilities as you can.
In the next issue: Talk is cheap--a little communication goes a long way toward anticipating problems and saving money.
As always, if there is a topic you'd like to see addressed in a future column, please call, e-mail, or fax me. There's a lot to cover, and I'd like to include your questions whenever possible.