Conference Media Team HowTo
- 1 How to get Quality Video Production
- 1.1 Essentials
- 1.2 Test and calibrate equipment and environment
- 2 Questions and Answers
How to get Quality Video Production
This article is designed a resource for Conference media teams and goes into more detail than the main page.
In the best possible world the media team would be a professional team, however the costs would often be prohibitive. A team of enthusiastic amateurs under professional guidance and training, would in most cases achieve excellent results as long as there was time set aside in the leadup to bring these people up to speed. Again it's about preparation.
If the Media team is organised sufficiently early then training for the non-professionals in the team is easily organised. This is more important for the Media Team than anyone else, all other tasks that are needed to be performed, before and during a conference, are average everyday activities on a larger scale. Producing the videos requires skills that are not normally acquired in the run of the mill work day. Therefore training is very important. Hands on, practical workshops are best. A one day course should be sufficient as long as there is sufficient equipment available for everyone to participate, otherwise downsize the the group and have smaller groups on multiple days.
- AV team for each venue
- Best Possible Camera equipment
- Wireless Lapel Microphones for the speakers
- Handheld microphones for the audience (questions)
- Mixing desk to suit the venue
- Lighting (strongly depending on the overall environment)
- Spares for microphones, cables, light bulbs, consumables etc.
The size and make up for the team for each individual venue varies depending on the venue and presentation.
For instance; the minimum for a fifty seat auditorium would be two. Camera operator and Sound operator.
At the other end of the scale a 500 seat Auditorium for a big Keynote could require a team of eight. One Wide shot camera operator, one close up Camera operator for the speaker, One wide shot Audience Camera (Usually onstage looking out into the audience), One Roving Camera in the audience, one mixing desk operator, two hand held mike carriers roving the auditorium at question time and a Crew Director. The whole team would require communications in the shape of headsets.
In the ideal world this would be a full professional AV team, in the real world only MS and Apple could afford the outlay that would require.
However there are sources for tech crew in a local community. The local community theatre group, High School Drama departments and College Media Departments are just some. Depending on the number of venues, a small crew of AV Pros with a team of skilled amateurs or students can give you a high quality and enthusiastic Media team.
Whatever the makeup of the team in a venue, there is one critical requirement: The Crew should be available for sound checks at each venue at a predetermined time outside the programme times. I usually make this the whole day immediately before conference opening, plus one hour before the start of each day's proceedings. Speakers need to know that if they appear for a soundcheck at a particular time, there will be people and equipment in place to do the sound/video check. There is nothing more frustrating for a speaker than arriving at a venue for checks and there is no-one about. Some facility needs to be put into place to allow speakers to book sound check times, so that the Venue Manager can confirm crew availability, but the venue's team in place at a predetermined time that all the speakers are informed about is the best system.
Team members and roles:
- Camera Operator
- Sound operator
- Roving Mike
- Roving Camera
Again this will depend on the venue. For a large Auditorium, camera requirements are different to small venues.
An often ignored factor is Tripods. Good strong Camera tripods are a must, no matter what the venue. Smooth pan is difficult on cheap lightweight tripods. If a tripod is too light, weight it with sandbags or something similar and gaffer tape it to the floor or a solid table top. This prevents camera shake and jerky pan movement. Use a level to get the camera mount level then lock it in place, then set the tripod height and the camera position so that the camera lens is positioned at speakers eye level. As much as is possible get the Camera levelled on the tripod and lock the tilt. Raise and lower the camera as required without using the tilt. This is not always possible with cheap tripods.
A camera without the ability to take sound input from the desk is no use. Taking sound to the video via the onboard camera mike results in substandard sound. Reverb (the speaking "inside a drum" effect is caused by the camera mike recording the speakers voice and then a fraction of a second later, the speakers voice from the PA system.) and ambient noise seriously affect the quality of a video. By controlling levels through a sound desk the audio quality can be greatly enhanced. In the best possible world taking video and sound directly to a computer is the best possible solution.
The longer the zoom a camera needs to use the greater the problems with Camera shake and the less the video quality. Get the camera as close to the speaker as possible within the strictures of the venue. There is a balance factor involved between video quality and restricting the Audiences view.
Possibly the most abused piece of equipment in AV tech's kit is the microphone. People hit it on the head to see if it's working, fiddle with the on-off switch, blow into it, spit into it.
Wireless Lapel Microphones
To prevent this sort of thing happening, the best method is to use lapel mikes and because speakers need to be free to move around, use wireless. Using wireless also minimises the need for Snakes.(Snakes are the multi core cables that connect input devices to the mixing desk)
Set the lapel mike up about a handspan from the speakers mouth then set the levels on the sound desk using the speaker to speak at normal conversational level and normal stance, to give clear sound around the room. Depending on the space an audience can absorb anything from 1 to 5 db, sometimes even more so be prepared to up the levels a little once the audience is in place. For this reason the sound desk and tech should always be stationed out in the body of the auditorium.
Once the auditorium levels are set, then check the recording levels. If you are using a computer and a programme such as Audacity or Rosegarden, set your peak levels at 0db. This will minimise distortion.
Handheld Wireless Microphones
Handhelds are necessary for question sessions at the end of a presentation
So here are a few simple rules to pass on to the speakers:
- Never blow into a mike. Only Rock 'n roll mikes are designed to have a mouth jammed up against them. The internals are sensitive, like your ear. Get someone, preferably someone who doesn't like you, to blow hard into your ear and you'll get what I mean, the internals of a mike are very similar and equally sensitive.
- Never bang the top of the mike, again for the same reasons.
- Don't fiddle with on/off switch. The spike that this causes when the levels are right up will damage speakers and amps. Experienced sound techs at an event almost invariably tape the switches in the "on" position and leave it there.
- Speak over the mike, not at it. This minimises popping, the spike in the levels caused by hard consonant sounds such as "P" and "T" sounds.
These simple rules should be on a card in the speakers pack, but reinforce them in any case.
When the mike is being carried about the auditorium, the tech on the desk should have that mike channel muted or faded back and only bring it up to preset level when the audience member takes it. The Roving Mike should issue a simple instruction to the audience member such as:
"Hold the mike 10 centimetres below your chin with wrist against chest and talk over the mike, speak when I give you the signal.". Roving Mike, then signals the Desk Op to fade up the mike channel, the Desk Op signals back that all is go.
Preset levels on the desk should be set for this or whatever suits. Professional AV techs generally have their own preferences. The above instruction is the one I give as a default in the events I run, simply because the instruction is easy to give, demonstrate and understand in a second or two. With the levels kept down until after the instruction is given, you don't get it coming over the PA time after time.
Sometimes there are no handhelds in a venue, in which case make sure the speaker repeats the question asked before answering.
Sometimes in a big auditorium ie 500+, to control the number of questions and to make it a little easier for the roving mikes, one or two fixed position mike stands with cable mikes are setup. In these cases either put a mark on the floor with white gaffer tape and get questioners to toe the line or use some sort of device attached to the mike to force them to keep their distance. Whatever works in the situation with whatever equipment.
Test and calibrate equipment and environment
The Venue Manager should have an inventory of each venue's equipment well before conference start. Part of the media teams job should be to set up a check sheet for the venue's requirements and then match it to inventory and add equipment as needed. Go over the check sheet each day before start and test all the equipment.
As a default, replace the batteries in the wireless microphones each morning with freshly charged batteries. Most wireless mikes will cope with about three hours of use on a battery charge and while many will do more it's safer to go with a default and plan supplies to suit. For a high use venue, changing batteries midway through the day is a worthwhile exercise. In the best possible world a backup mike with the same frequency as the local receiver should be available at each venue. Tested and with a fresh battery naturally.
At the end of the day's proceeding all the batteries should be removed from the equipment and charged, so make sure that there are enough chargers available. An emergency supply of nonrechargeables and at least one high speed charger are a must.
Five minutes check for every speaker
This is not only a sound check, often it is a tutorial. Media teams should be ready to answer any questions quickly and succinctly. If the speaker is comfortable with the equipment, the team and the venue then the video quality will show.
Fit the lapel mike and explain why it goes where you're putting it. Some speakers will have an easy familiarity with the gear and have preferences for positioning.
The most important things to impress on the speakers are:
- If the gear doesn't seem to be working, look to the sound tech, DO NOT fiddle with switches and so forth.
- Before starting the presentation, the speaker should cue the sound tech to bring the fader up and wait for a nod from the tech to indicate that all is ready to go. A glance and a nod in the tech's direction is sufficient, hitting the top of the mike is NOT a cue!
- Impress upon them that the crew can hear better than the speaker and explain why. Hopefully this will stop them from demanding that the levels be increased. Some speakers can be difficult in terms of this, the solution is give them foldback.
One of the frequent errors that speakers make during sound checks is speaking down into the lapel mike. Sometimes it is necessary for the sound tech to be quite assertive about speaking naturally. Tell them to speak as though they're reading their notes on the back wall of the auditorium, while conversing with a group around a table.
Questions and Answers
Ask questions here.