Planners today are devoting more time to creating better outlets for storytelling. They’re investing resources in producing better experiences—the style of the meeting or event and the way it evolves, for example. They’re also looking for more immersive experiences for clients and participants by combining innovations in lighting, audio and video diff erently to achieve that outcome.
Projectors are out. So are projection screens, 60-watt lightbulbs and audio speakers the size of Rhode Island. In are LED lighting, speakers the size of an ottoman, and comfy couches instead of stiff seats for guests listening to speeches or watching videos, and many other things.
As technology advancements continue to disrupt traditional practices, here’s a look at how several experts are using these new tools to enhance events.
LED is the rage. “In the past we used arched projection for all of our content,” says Southfield-based Bluewater CEO Jeff Day. “What we’re seeing now is an increased desire to use LED technology to build video walls for that same content. LED lights are brighter, come in all different colors and are more dynamic than regular bulbs. They give you a lot of flexible options for design. LED walls don’t have to be arranged in a perfect square. They can be multiple panels of LED that are architecturally arranged in a staggered fashion to create a more dynamic stage or a more dynamic effect.”
LED lighting can also be used as pillars on both sides of a stage or as a truss on the sides. There are many other benefits of using LED lights. “LED bulbs are still more expensive than projection bulbs, but they last a lot longer,” Day says. “They’re also bright enough to overcome sunlight, so we use them to overcome sunlight washout.”
According to Day, couches—not chairs— are being used as audience seating for speeches, PowerPoint and other presentations to exude a more casual atmosphere. “I’m also seeing stages that are 360 degrees around instead of just a two-dimensional stage in front of a room.”
Networked audio systems are the latest trend. “We’re getting into a lot of situations where someone needs an audio system over their network,” says John Gazette, A/V solutions and event production manager for KLA in Dearborn.
“For example, we recently did something at The Henry Ford Museum where we installed a PA system. It wasn’t necessarily a whole bunch of speakers. The PA system is over the museum’s network, so it’s all controllable via touchpads or something similar. A lot of these things are not necessarily A to B terminations anymore. It’s all over the network. There are a lot of flexible things you can do in that space,” adds Gazette.
Another recent audio improvement is the size of speakers. “We’re seeing a lot of bigger sounds from smaller boxes.” Gazette says. “We’ve run across numerous cases where you feel like a heavy, well-crafted box means a good-pushing full sound, but now you’re getting that kind of sound out of smaller boxes, which is pretty amazing. They’re really efficient as far as how they’re being made.”
From an aesthetics standpoint, image rendering is becoming more popular. “People are trying to get away from the same standard look and function with your typical pipe drape backdrop in black, a couple of up lights and two screens,” says CEO/President Dave Scott of Motown Digital in Troy.
“Image rendering lets us apply a projected image to a canvas that’s larger than your typical projection screen. It can also be three dimensional, so we can map projection on to three-dimensional images and objects. We can take two or three screens and put them together so it’s one ultra-wide screen and use that in the center of a stage. We can take PowerPoints and still push them out to the wings and use the center for announcing brand names, social media links, sponsor logos or just for a creative background. It allows us to get away from a static backup stage look to something that’s moving.”
According to Scott, everything is going digital when it comes to audio. “Our wireless mics are digital, and our soundboards are digital now,” he says. “The digital control boards give us the ability to set the sound in a room and contour it to the uniqueness of that room much better.”
Creating the Look
Another aesthetic trend is giving the client a special look. “We try to design the room to look really nice, maybe with branding or with some décor that really makes it pop,” says Mary Platt, director of sales for Chase Creative in Wyoming.
“What we’re selling more and more are set pieces. Recently we’ve purchased different elements that we can incorporate into an event like stretch fabric, especially over frames, which come in different shapes. We’re purchasing circle truss that you can do different lines and dimensions with, such as curves and waves. It gives you a little bit of stage depth rather than just a straight piece of truss. Even a half-circle truss can give the stage a 3-D effect when you combine it with other elements.”
Digital is taking over everywhere. “In the past, a lot of our clients gave us little signs to tape to our lecterns (podiums) at their events, and a lot of times it really wasn’t a great solution. They weren’t quality-looking signs,” says Nicholas Hardy, executive producer at the Elysium Experience in Clinton Township.
“We were looking for ways we could come up with something that would look better, represent their brand better, and also allow us to feed video content to it.”
And, presto, the digital lectern was born.
“It’s done with a USB drive or PowerPoint, so the client’s sign actually comes to life a little bit. It doesn’t need to be a flat graphic, it can be a video-moving graphic. It’s basically a TV,” Hardy says. “The digital lectern makes the sign much more visible and has the ability for us to control the content of it with a laptop and an additional machine, so we can make the sign change.”
Also on the horizon are wide-camera feeds intermixed with presentation content, especially at venues that offer difficult spaces without standard layouts. “The live video feed allows eventgoers, even if they’re not in view of the stage, to still engage with the content being presented,” he says.