Seven Deadly Sins of Sound

bad sound
Have you ever sat in an event where the sound was just AWFUL? Too loud? Noisy? Unintelligible? Do you have problems with noise or feedback? Does the video blow everyone out of their chairs?

When it’s right, no one notices; when it’s wrong, everyone suffers. Sometimes you hire an expensive AV company, and it’s STILL bad.  Here are the seven most common audio mistakes meeting planners make.

#1 I won’t need a microphone.

NEWS FLASH! It’s not for the presenter. It’s for that 54 year-old guy in the back who moonlights as a drummer. Any audience larger than a boardroom table is a large group. The presenter will have to strain to fill the room, and the folks in back will have to strain to hear the message.

Always supply a microphone, even for small breakouts, and insist that everyone use it. Ask presenters for their preference in advance; livelier or hand-held, corded or wireless. Professional speakers will bring their own, and we’re happy to share. If you go wireless, include a corded backup. It can double as the mic for the introducer or emcee, or put it on a long cord for audience participation.

#2 We can just plug a mic into the wall.

This leaves your presenter with no local control. The house equipment is locked up in a closet somewhere deep in the bowels of the hotel, and nobody knows how to adjust it. Laptop-based video, live Internet demos, sound effects or music in the program will require a mixer to manage multiple inputs. Ask the AV supplier to patch a small, portable mixer between the inputs and the house, even for a single microphone.

And when the AV crew hides it under the stage behind the skirts, (“because the wires are ugly”) ask them to move it to a table just off to the side, where your presenters have easy access.

#3 This stuff is expensive, so it’s a good place to economize.

The speaker’s rider specified a wireless lav, so the client sent a guy to Radio Shack with a $20 bill. Then they borrowed the stereo system out of the VP’s office, and tried to fill a three-thousand-square-foot space set classroom style for 100. You can imagine.

You’ve spent thousands of dollars pulling this meeting together. People have traveled thousands of miles to attend. Insist on pro-grade sound equipment. If you do a lot of meetings, buying a few key pieces: a mic, a mixer, a couple of powered speakers, will be a good investment.

 #4 The speakers in the ceiling will be just fine.

Why do hotels spend millions on renovation, and then put ten-dollar speakers in the ceiling? Even the good ones are low-fi, and when you push them they distort.

A pair of powered front-of-house loudspeakers on stands, like Mackie SR450s, have enough muscle to be heard loud AND clear. FOH loudspeakers draw attention to the front of the room. That’s where the action is.

#5 The front-of-house speakers will be adequate.

Even when using a pair of FOH loudspeakers on either side of the stage, run a second output to the house system in the ceiling. While they may not be great, they will help fill in for those of us sitting in the back. Turn OFF the ceiling speakers in the section just over the stage to prevent feedback.

 #6 We’ll put the FOH speakers in the corners out of the way.

The FOH loudspeakers should always point AWAY from the microphones. Otherwise you’re asking for trouble. I’ve also seen them set way out on either side of the stage, against the walls (“because that’s where the electrical outlets are”). The correct placement is just in front of, and at the corners of the stage, turned in slightly to point toward the audience. Keep the sound with the picture.

And don’t skimp trying to get by with just one FOH loudspeaker. When the presenter moves to the opposite side of the stage it’s like a weird ventriloquist act.

#7 I know it’s bad but there’s nothing I can do!

The setup guy said, “Don’t touch anything!” Then your keynoter arrives for a sound check and it’s just not right. Most speaking professionals are intimately familiar with the tools of our trade. You can trust them to make the appropriate adjustments.

Moving the master sliders up or down a smidge can make a dramatic improvement. Trust me on this, you won’t break it. Walk the whole room and listen. Experiment with the “High-Mid-Low” EQ knobs. Eliminate feedback by cutting highs. Eliminate rumble by cutting lows. Bring out the presenter’s voice by boosting the mids just a bit.

Never leave the fate of your show in the hands of a hotel houseman who’s a master of folding tables. Take the initiative and insist on great sound.

For a free MP3 of his how-to-sound-great workshop, just send me an e-mail:

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