Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December
Back to Basics
By Bob Cherny
INSPECTING MEETING ROOM WALLS
To avoid unhappy technological surprises, you need to go
behind the surface
When inspecting a site, it's important to consider what's inside
the walls. The makeup of airwalls and hard walls can significantly
influence the functionality of the room.
Utilities, including power, water and pressurized air, are
frequently found in the walls. Power is important to the planning
of the lighting and sound. Water is important for lasers. And air
is important for heavy equipment used in some trade shows.
Walls fulfill many functions, not the least of which is holding
up the roof, but planners often overlook the ability of such
structures to indicate the upkeep of a facility. The walls in a
meeting room take a beating, especially in rooms used for exhibits.
A few fresh nicks and grazes are to be expected, but old damage
might be a sign of other maintenance issues at the facility.
BEHIND THE OUTLETS
Some walls have openings for cables to pass through. To use more
power than is available in the building, you will need such spaces
to connect cables to a generator. If you intend to broadcast via
satellite, camera cables might need to be passed through the walls
to video production vehicles.
Sometimes network cables need to be threaded through walls to
link computers together. If computer networking is an issue, check
the walls for fiber-optic or network cables and phone lines, and
determine the capabilities of all these systems.
SOUND OR SILENCE?
The quality of the sound in the room depends on the quality of the
walls and the airwalls. Hard, flat, perpendicular walls with no
texture or relief cause echoes.
Airwalls pose particular problems. Their nonabsorbent surfaces
cause echoes if sound is directed straight at them. With airwalls,
which are designed to be moved easily and to withstand significant
abuse, the worst situation is when the stage is 60 to 100 feet away
and directly opposite them. Without delay speakers, or if delays
are set improperly, the "slap" of sound off the wall will cause up
to a one-second overlap.
To prevent such problems, set the stage with its back to an
airwall or perpendicular to one, and project sound at the most
irregular wall in the room. This alignment also puts attendees a
little farther away from the action on the other side of the
Also, no matter how well they are designed, airwalls are only as
good as the insulation in the unused space above them (as in a drop
ceiling). Often, this open area serves as a return-air space for
the air-conditioning system. While an airwall itself will block
substantial amounts of sound coming from the next room, noise
frequently will carry through the space above it. The only way to
know if there is a problem is to listen on the opposite side of the
airwall during a loud program.
Many general sessions get a dose of the spectacular with lasers.
But the machines are cooled by flowing water, so they can't be used
unless there is water in the walls.
The size of the laser determines the amount of water required
even the smaller ones have voracious thirsts. Planners
contemplating a laser show first should check whether water is
available. If it is, the tech crew can determine if the flow is
WITH THE NAKED EYEBob Cherny is operations manager for Paradise
Sound And Light, a production company in Orlando
While sight-inspecting the walls, look for balconies and
follow-spot locations above the floor. They can save you the
expense of building towers. Occasionally, you can put lighting
controls up there, although audio control should remain on the
floor, as close to the center of the room as practical. If your
meeting involves multiple room turns, having lighting control out
of the way makes life somewhat simpler.
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