December 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December 2000 Current Issue
December 2000 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Bob Cherny


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.

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.

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 airwall.

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 suitable.

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.

Bob Cherny is operations manager for Paradise Sound And Light, a production company in Orlando

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