I've been fortunate over my years in meeting planning to miss out on the road-tour scene — that is, until this year. I am now just finishing the 11th stop on a 22-city road tour in which our new senior leadership team is briefing our independent agents on company news, then fielding a question-and-answer session.

We often do two cities per day, then travel to city three to spend the night before the next morning's meeting. Our groups range in size from 100 to 250. Attendees have been invited by mail, which includes a Web site for registration. This process gives us their e-mail addresses for follow-up reminders as well as information for generating a name tag.

Show me the goods — Since my presenters are all “walkers,” I use wireless lavaliere microphones. All four participate in the Q&A session, so I need four of them. I also need two handheld wireless microphones with mike runners for the agents to ask questions. I added a lectern with a microphone and a reading light for the local manager to make introductions. Since this is a fairly complicated sound setup, I rent the gear at each location and hire a sound tech. We also need a record of the Q&A sessions, so I add a cassette recorder. I need a data projector for the PowerPoint visuals with enough brightness that they can be seen even with the room lights up. To allow my presenters to get used to the equipment, I provide the laptop and data projector.

Road support — My local staff recommends at least two hotels that will work for this event. Because of the tight timing, they need to be close to the airport, but also close to any of our major offices — since I try to do a separate meeting with employee groups. We require a meeting room with a ceiling height to allow a 7.5-foot-by-10-foot or 9-foot-by-12-foot front projection screen.

This road show has been fun, but I could go another 20 years before I do the next one — and it wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit.

Ken Pickle, CPCU, CMP, is manager, incentives and conferences, for Safeco Insurance Cos., Seattle.

Before We Go

Our presentation was created in PowerPoint 97, the version that most of the field was still using. I sent it out ahead of time to have it loaded, any screensavers removed, and the laptop's power management functions disabled so it wouldn't time out on us during the Q&A sessions. We had some problems with PowerPoint locking up, probably because we use an animation created in PowerPoint 2000, then saved in ‘97. (It's always safer to create your presentation in the same version that you will be using to present it.)

Projector and Remote

I purchased the Sanyo PLC-XP45 for this road trip. (It will also do double duty in larger meetings I put together.) Although it weighs 18.5 pounds, it has the brightness I wanted and some great features. It lists for almost $13,000, but the actual price was about half that. To rent this same projector would have cost me at least $1,000 per stop.

The Sanyo comes with an infrared remote control that acts as a wireless mouse through the data projector back to your laptop via a PS-2 cable. It works well, but, because the data projector was set up at right angles to the presenters, the infrared remote receivers (one at front and one at rear) couldn't “see” the commands. So I have gone to a radio-frequency remote control — an Interlink Electronics product that has a much greater range and plugs into the back of the laptop. It lists for about $249.