Conference call

Small and medium-sized conferences and events are increasingly being organised in-house, often with little or no professional input. Invariably the job falls to the managing director’s PA. But the staff presented with the task of organising their company conference, over and above their normal jobs, are not always able to devote the time and energy necessary to ensure the event maximises its potential and achieves its objectives.

Determining when, and if, external assistance is required is not always easy and identifying who to approach can be even more difficult. Should you spend hours identifying a suitable location and venue? Can you use your own in-house equipment? Do you really need a bespoke stage set or will a cheaper option serve you just as well? Do you need a set at all? Is your screen large enough for your audience? Can Powerpoint alone produce the desired presentation effects or should you be looking to a Mac-based multimedia package? Do you need to outsource certain aspects and, most importantly, do you have the budget? The in-house versus outsourcing debate is just the tip of the iceberg and the beginning of a technological revolution that’s affecting supplier and user alike. While the so-called experts discuss operational issues, important communication opportunities get overlooked.

Why are we concerned? Haven’t we in the communication business previously welcomed technological advances? Haven’t these developments resulted in cheaper hardware and significant price reductions? Event organisation is not rocket science and at an organisational level can, in many instances, be managed by competent administrators. It is when you enter into the realms of event production the debate begins to heat up. We are bombarded by slick productions and we all expect that standard for our own conferences and events. But what can the budding enthusiast realistically expect to achieve with in-house expertise? And, if external support is needed who do you approach and at what stage?

There is no simple answer – it depends on what you are looking to achieve. A communications consultant can assist with marketing, branding and event promotion. Trained producers can incorporate multimedia, speaker support and video to provide an integrated presentation of broadcast quality.

An experienced production manager will manage and resource all the technical aspects of the job unobtrusively and effectively.

However, smaller events do not always warrant such levels of expertise. A small production event using the client’s in-house equipment or gear from the local audio visual company with Powerpoint presentations, fades and a good percentage of Clip Art may be just what’s required. Powerpoint presentations can be extremely effective but there are still production issues that need to be considered and, more importantly, wider communication opportunities that need to be addressed.

There is no doubt conferences and events do benefit from the input of a professional team, both in terms of the pre-event creative planning and technical resourcing as well as the less obvious benefits such as promotional and logistical support.

Often events which are designed, produced and organised solely by the “host” company without the benefit of external stimulation suffer due to a basic lack of knowledge. Wider opportunities get overlooked as the management teams become bogged down in operational issues they are ill-equipped to resolve. Technical equipment can prove inadequate for the job and speakers can miss important communication opportunities.

A professional team brings knowledge, experience and contacts to event communication knowledge, experience and contacts. It is our knowledge of the industry and our skill base in terms of event communications, technical production and logistical resourcing that gives us credibility. What we need to do is to share our expertise with our customers and evolve new ways of working together, recognising that our customers’ increased technical knowledge and expertise presents new communication challenges that often get overlooked.

There is sadly a certain amount of snobbery within the conference and event industry that prevents us from facing up to reality. The easy availability of technical equipment and computer technology has revolutionised our industry and caused many of us to rethink our strategy and review our methods of approach.

To be truly effective, we need to work with our customers at the conceptual stage to develop a modus operandum which not only encompasses the technical, creative and logistical aspects of event management at a practical level, but which also looks at the wider opportunities.

The educated user is a new concept for many of us in the business and we need to approach our new enlightened, computer literate customer with the degree of respect he or she commands.

And we also need to remember that technology alone can’t make an inexperienced communicator communicate. Technology alone is insufficient. But by working together, customers and professionals can get the best of both worlds, at a price both can afford.v

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