Freeman's Wohlitz on successful event staging

Michael Wohlitz, senior vice president, event services, at global events specialist Freeman outlines some of the challenges of providing AV for events as well as some tips to avoiding pitfalls. He talks to Tim Kridel.

TK: A lot of AV devices at events are wireless, such as mics. What are some challenges and solutions for ensuring reliability? For example, the John Paul Mitchell Signature Salon Gathering has a lot of screens that can interfere with wireless. What are some common and not-so-common sources of interference, and what are some tips and best practices for ensuring that they don’t disrupt the event? For instance, is a spectrum analyzer useful for identifying sources of interference and helping with frequency coordination?

MW: Frequency coordination is becoming an increasingly important discipline. The FCC* has reallocated and reduced the frequencies available to use in the production space, and yet the quantity of wireless devices in our space continues to grow. 

Meticulous frequency coordination is important in just about any venue. On a trade show floor or in meeting rooms in a hotel, coordinating frequencies across multiple events and AV providers is increasingly important. For large events, frequency coordination is imperative between not only AV vendors but also the press. When working with the NFL, for example, they have an entire team of specialists whose sole responsibility is to coordinate frequencies of all AV providers as well as the thousands of credentialed press.

TK: Events increasingly are webcast, such as to drum up interest to get more people to attend the next one. What are some AV-related considerations and challenges that occur when an event is webcast? For example, how can you ensure the best possible experience for both attendees in the room and those watching online? Anything extra that you have to do with lighting, sound and other AV systems when part of the audience is online?

MW: Webcasting and virtually sharing our live experiences continues to grow in importance. The younger generations moving into our audiences are not as compelled to attend the live events, so sharing our offerings virtually continues to increase in importance. 

As such, it is increasingly important that we design our events with both the live audience and the virtual audience in mind. The approach is very similar to producing a television event. Attention and focus certainly considers the experience for the audience in the theatre, but as much, if not more, attention is also focused on delivering a premiere experience for the viewing audience elsewhere. The same goes for webcasting. 

Lighting and scenic treatments are increasingly important if we want to stream a compelling experience. Failure to do so cheapens the experiences and deteriorates the focus on the message. Audio can be more complicated as the sound for the live audience will sometimes have a different consideration than the remote audiences. It is not uncommon in today’s age that the remote audience outnumbers the live audience, so designing experience for each audience is of paramount consideration. 

Facebook Live also offers a great, low-cost solution for extending messaging to larger audiences. At INBOUND [a marketing and sales event] this year, our clients created an amazing studio space where the keynote speakers could have an intimate conversation after their live address, and the virtual views on Facebook far outnumbered the live audience. It resulted in an amazing extension of their messaging.

TK: When you’re handling an event in a venue where you’ve never worked before, how do you get a sense of the space’s attributes that will affect AV? For example, is it helpful to use acoustic modelling and measurement software, or is that overkill for most events? Or is the key having people who have worked in a lot of different venues and thus can draw on those experiences to immediately recognise, say, architectural features that will create echo or soak up sound?

MW: Every venue in the world offers its own unique opportunities for the audience, but they have their own unique challenges as well. Audio can be a principal concern. In my hometown of Chicago, some of the most elegant and formal spaces can have some of the most complicated audio challenges. Our role is to balance the ambience of the environment while also designing an audio system appropriate for the space. Design is the key word; great audio does not happen by accident. We spend time modeling the acoustic properties of the room and then use computer modelling to predict the behavior of audio response in the environment. This allows us to design a sound reinforcement system that maximizes the sound quality and minimizes the acoustical deficiencies of a space. Other considerations in a room include positions for lighting and video equipment as well weight and rigging restrictions. At Freeman, we have an incredible database of venues around the world, yet each event has its sensibilities and demands. As such, our best practice is to always have a site visit with the client to ensure we are maximizing our event design for their chosen venue and, therefore, delivering an impeccable experience for the audience.

*The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government created by statute to regulate interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.

Some of Wohlitz’s comments will be featured in a wider article on AV and the events industry that will appear in the December edition of InAVate EMEA magazine. If you aren’t a subscriber you can register now to access the InAVate archive and receive future editions of the magazine.