10 A/V questions to ask when selecting your next venue
Looking to select the perfect venue for your next event? Along with countless other decisions related to choosing the right venue is the complex need to evaluate each venues’ audio/visual and production capabilities in order to make sure your event will perform flawlessly. Choosing a venue that “fits” the needs of your event is a balancing act of budget vs. amenities vs. cost. and finding yourself in a less than suitable space can be avoided by asking a few key questions
We’ve selected 10 key items to review / questions to ask on your site visit in order to avoid costly changes to your plan down the road.
Note: We are specifically not making reference to Covid-19 Health & Safety protocols in this review, as that aspect of public space use and planning is far more complex and should be left to certified experts.
The number one most expensive item in your A/V budget (after equipment) is labour, and not uncommonly it is the number one highest cost. Knowing the real hard charges associated with the labour executing your event is critical to successful planning.
Is the venue unionized (IATSE), or does it require organized labour services such as Teamsters? Labour charges for productions can amount to 60% and more of your overall production budget and working within a unionized environment can increase that percentage. You don’t need to avoid these types of venues, but you do need to plan your budget accordingly. Work directly with your Event Manager to fully review all applicable charges for straight time, overtime, meals breaks and penalties, rest periods between work calls, minimum crew calls, split shift surcharges, etc.
Does the main event space have available rigging? If yes, are you required to use in-house suppliers to provide the labour, hoists, truss, and accessories at a cost?
Most venues today that have available rigging will insist on having their own vendor supply riggers to install your event. This is pretty standard and does provide some degree of benefit (liability, etc.) to you, but you will pay for the privilege in labour charges and time. Are the riggers provided by the venue properly certified by a recognized AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) where you are?
If you are permitted to supply your own rigging equipment, is there a “point charge” where the venue assesses a fee for every rigging point you utilize for your event?
Lastly, a class favourite question: “Can we rig from the Air-wall track?” In many venues it’s the easiest and cleanest way to get cabling from point A to B, but many venues are pushing back on its use due to previous damage and increased liability. I have yet to encounter an air-wall track that is not rated for the weight we propose to suspend from it, but venues will also use this as a reason not to allow it. In fact, there are hardware items designed and purpose built just for the sole purpose of suspending things from an air-wall track.
Is there a fee to provide your own outside production company? Most major venues have agreements in place with in-house A/V companies that provide considerable kickbacks for the privilege of being onsite and on premises. When you bring in your own production company the venue loses that potential revenue from the in-house A/V company kickback, so they’ve started charging fees to bring in your preferred supplier as a way to recoup some of that lost revenue. Almost no one I work with agrees with this practice, but it is quite prevalent in the industry today. At the contract stage you can push back on this and say no, or you can work with concessions. One option that works well is to offer all the breakout rooms and associated meetings to the in-house A/V company if they allow your preferred supplier to work the main spaces at no additional charge.
Every single event produced today will require robust internet access, even if you aren’t planning any heavy attendee usage. Production teams will be downloading presentations and client videos at a hectic pace, and many events will be connecting remotely to other events, office, or locations around the globe. Some events will have more than one production team collaborating from different locations, all depending on a rock-solid internet connection to perform their roles. Having high speed, full bandwidth internet is mission critical these days.
When speaking with your Event Manager in the venue, don’t settle for “We have great Wi-Fi available in all our spaces” as an answer. Ask about dedicated high speed wired lines into the main event spaces. Then ask if it’s actually “dedicated”, meaning these connections go directly to the internet without being used or connected to other hotel services. You’d be surprised how many times we’ve seen “dedicated” lines that are simply connected to the main venue service and start to severely choke once your attendees start tweeting from the Lobby. Ask the questions, get it in writing from the venue, and then have your own IT specialists test it once onsite to validate the speed and stability of what you’re paying for.
One of the least seen and less glamorous aspects of producing any event is getting everything in and out of the venue in a safe and timely manner. Enter the lowly loading dock. Many an event has come to a crashing halt once every supplier and vendor shows up at load-in and tries to gain access to the loading docks. No venue wants to see 20-foot long scenic pieces being carted up the crystal lobby staircase because it won’t fit through the loading hallways, but we’ve done it. Consider all the aspects of your event logistics and then take a walk to the loading dock. Follow the path from the loading dock to your event space and consider these points:
- Is the dock at truck height? Meaning can trucks offload onto a level floor without having to ramp everything down to the ground first? Ground loading is slow, cumbersome, less safe, and more time consuming that having a dock at truck level.
- What is the height of the loading area? Surprisingly there are docks that have height restrictions on the way in and make it impossible for larger trucks to access. Standard clearance for trucks on the road is 13′-6″ (4.1m) and this is the rule of thumb we use for accessing venues, but we often encounter pipes, ceiling obstructions, air ducts, and other equipment that impedes this access and restricts access. There is a famous venue in Montréal that is so low no standard height truck will fit in and everything needs to be ramped down to the ground and then back up again to the dock.
- How many trucks can fit in at once? This directly affects the amount of time required to move everything in.
- What is the size and weight capacity of the freight elevator if you need to use one? Countless freight elevators are not actually tall enough to accommodate larger A/V equipment like trusses, so everything needs to go in lying down and takes much longer.
- What is the size of the smallest door opening you pass through? There are some great loading areas that eventually narrow down to a single door, again making it much less efficient to load everything in.
- If possible, walk through the space with your Technical Director, whose eye and experience will automatically factor these and many other aspects that directly impact a smooth load-in.
Today’s A/V systems (through the use of LED technology) are far more energy efficient than in previous years, reducing the overall demand for electrical services. Nonetheless, you will require power in various locations throughout your event space. Some venues are designed with the bare minimum of electrical outlets, just so you are required to book additional services. Ask what services are available in the room? What is their cost for use? Are the fees per day or per event, or flat rate? Is there a charge to “energize” them (Hook them up and turn them on)?
Hotel Risers and Staging
Most venues carry some form of portable staging. There may be an associated rental charge for the use of this staging, as well as fees for in-house labour to set them to the desired location & configuration. Additionally, you should ask to actually see the equipment offered, as many systems are older, in need of repair, unsuitable for your intended purpose, or they lack sufficient inventory.
It’s also important to ask if the amount of staging required for your event is guaranteed to be available when you arrive. Other events in the same venue compete for available inventory, so if you need 50 of the venues 55 risers and another event is using 20 you may not have everything available when needed. The same rule applies to tables, rounds, chairs, standard linens, high boys, etc.
Also, ask if the venue is able to adhere to your set-up schedule for their equipment. Again, you are competing for available resources (this time staff), and if you need a room set with 800 chairs by 4:00 PM and the venue is turning over another space for a dinner banquet, your timing may be impacted.
You have spent countless hours planning every detail and nuance of the guest experience at your event. The look and feel of each element is checked and double checked to perfection. But, one of the most overlooked aspects of events is where does everything not being used get stored? Empty A/V road cases, crates from decor pieces, custom linens, chairs, additional scenic elements etc. all need someplace to be stored while your event takes place. Usually the A/V cases are stored in large piles behind the stage, but that only gives you so much square footage, and in some jurisdictions the Fire Marshall may not allow it without proper exit paths in case of emergency. Consider your storage needs and ask if there are any unused secondary rooms nearby that could be turned into dedicated storage. Worst case, you may need to put all the empty cases back onto a truck and store them offsite. Make sure you understand this aspect of your planning as it can have great cost impact on your labour charges.
If your events are generally smaller in nature, you may only need a few ladders to make it work. But at scale events you will start to see scissor lifts, forklifts, and articulated lifts (zoom-booms). What are the venues policies and procedures if you need this type of equipment? All equipment of this type today requires certified operators who are trained in safe use procedures. Generally, you will only be able to use propane or electric powered vehicles indoors, combustible fuels (diesel and gas) are out. Ask about all procedures regarding the use of this type of equipment, if you can supply your own, where it needs to be stored when not in use (propane equipment needs to be stored outside, or the tanks need to be removed and stored outside in locked cages).
All crew / staff that are involved in the event require regular breaks and scheduled meals. On a single long day this can mean meals for 20 people for lunch and dinner as well as breaks. In order to avoid additional costs, in many instances it is more cost effective to add the appropriate number of meals to the main BEO that is being used for the guests instead of a separate BEO just for event staff and crew. This can also boost your F&B minimum to a healthier number and keeps the venue happy.
In my experience, having a crew that is well fed, and respecting the need for breaks and mealtimes goes a long way in working as a team towards an exceptional event.
This by no means is an exhaustive list of questions to consider when selecting the right venue for your event, but if you factor these production questions into the overall design criteria of your event when hunting for the right space, you may avoid surprise charges, billing overages, excess overtime, and all the associated aggravation that goes with it. If you don’t have the bandwidth to navigate through this sea of questions, consider engaging with a Byrne Production Services Event Technologist, who will work directly with you to find the ultimate event space to host your next event.