Brandt Krueger

TECHNICAL PRODUCER, EDUCATOR, SPEAKER, AND CONSULTANT FOR THE MEETING AND EVENTS INDUSTRY. GEEK DAD, HUSBAND

Consultant, Meeting and Event Technology
Owner, Event Technology Consulting
Instructor, Event Leadership Institute
Cohost, #EventIcons - Where the icons of the event industry meet

Filtering by Category: Questions and Answers

Expect the Unexpected: Don’t Let Surprise AV Charges Blow Your Budget

(An edited version of this article was originally published in MeetingMentor Magazine in Spring 2019)

It’s happened to the best of us: Your event is winding down and you’re in the home stretch. Everything was flawless. The boss’ boss is happy as a clam and already talking about how you can take things to the next level. Just a few more folks to depart and you’re home free!

It’s at that moment that the representative from your AV company decides to approach you with what appears to be half-ream of paper and a pen with the venue logo on it. It’s the final bill. And it’s thousands of dollars more than the estimate.

Now, in what should be your moment of triumph, you’re figuring out if there’s anything left in the “popcorn balls” budget you can move around to cover the overage.

The good news is that the vast majority of budget-busting surprises can be avoided, with a little planning, a little negotiation, and a little common sense. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest offenders to keep an eye out for.

WiFi

Let’s get this one out of the way first. More planners than ever are making sure to address this issue with the venue as part of the negotiation process, but there’s still just enough of you out there that aren’t to include it in the list. WiFi is infrastructure. Unlike water (which you don’t get charged more for depending on how much your attendees use), WiFi doesn’t cost the venue more or less whether or not you use it, so why not list it as a concession?

Many planners are requiring “top tier” wifi access for their attendees as part of their agreement to choose the venue, but if you’re not able to secure it in the contract, make sure you know exactly how much you’re being charged, and how it’s being calculated.

Power

Unlike Wifi, power is definitely something the venue gets charged for the more it uses, so any opportunity it has to shuffle that cost onto its customers, you can bet it’s going to take. This is another one of those items you want to be very sure exactly how much you’re going to be charged. Sometimes it’s a flat rate, others it depends on whether special equipment (extra circuits, power “distros” that AV companies can hook up their gear) is required.

Many cities and states have laws that prohibit the resale of public utilities (aka power and water) so some venues have gotten quite creative on charging for power. Some venues will actually charge you for the use of wall outlets, and even charge you per wall outlet if you use them, so beware. The average attendee looking to plug in their phone for a little extra juice could cost you hundreds of dollars!

Rigging Points

Here we go again with an infrastructure item being used as a source of revenue. Rigging points are permanent positions in the ceiling of a venue from which heavy items such as truss, lighting, speakers, and projectors can be hung. Once installed, these positions are permanent and do not require any unusual maintenance.

But here’s the deal- especially in older venues, these points might not actually exist. Mega-corporation in-house AV companies will approach the venue with an offer of installing them… in exchange for the exclusive right to charge for them. Venues, seeing it as a win-win, agree. “Point charges” can run as high as several hundred dollars, per point, per day.

3rd Party and In-House AV Fees

More often than not these things - WiFi, power, and point charges - are used as incentives to use the in-house AV. “As a benefit of using the in-house audiovisual services, we’re proud to offer your attendees complimentary WiFi, and waive the following fees and charges…” Nice! They might even throw in a 20% “discount” for using the in-house provider. Sweet!

That’s the carrot. If that doesn’t work, there’s the stick. Many venues will charge you a fee for bringing in a 3rd party vendor to handle your AV. If you’ve been reading my past articles, what I’m about to say should come as no surprise...

Always, always make sure to get a comparable bid from a 3rd party vendor (or two) to make sure your in-house bid is fair. Use this as a negotiation point, because much like a lot of the Black Friday sales this year, it’s not a 20% discount if they’ve marked up the price significantly beforehand. Plus, sometimes even with the fee, it can still be cheaper to use a 3rd party.

Supervisor Fee

In addition to the fee charged for bringing in a 3rd party vendor, some venues will require a “supervisor” to be on site when doing so. You, of course, are on the hook for paying for them. This supervisor is there to make sure, theoretically, that all rules and practices required by the venue are being followed to the letter, which usually entails making sure the right color tape is used on the floor.

The short answer to this (and frankly all of these charges) is to negotiate them away at the contact stage. If it’s too late for that, however, you should require that they be there, in the room, doing the job you’re theoretically paying them for - not in the AV office working on renderings for other clients. You’d be surprised how often this requirement goes away when the in-house AV realizes they have to have someone sit in your room doing nothing all day.

The Catch-All Clause

What’s the biggest way to avoid unexpected charges? Make sure everything, everything is laid out in advance. Many planners are starting to add clauses to their venue contracts that say, “if it’s not here, you can’t charge me for it.” I’m not a lawyer (and I don’t play one on TV), so I’ll leave it to the reader to research these types of clauses and what they cover. If you’re going to use one, make sure you read and understand everything in the contract. If you don’t, find a trusted AV partner to give it a once-over before you sign on the dotted line!

(More than) 5 Things AV People Wish Planners Knew

(An edited version of this article was originally published in MeetingMentor Magazine in Winter 2018. Expanded and updated July, 2019)

I’ve been doing this meeting and event production thing for quite some time now, but somehow it’s still surprising how often you hear the same old questions, over and over again. In the spirit of clearing up some of the most common questions about AV and event technology, I decided to reach out to my AV friends all over the world and asked them to tell me the one thing they wish meeting and event planners knew. The answers were as varied as the people themselves (and some returned full-fledged rants that contained way more than one thing), but a few trends definitely emerged.

So without further ado, here are some of the most difficult questions and comments we hear from planners, and the honest responses on behalf of me and my fellow AV folks!

 “This seems like more than I asked for. How do I know I’m only getting the equipment I need?”

This is by far one of the biggest concerns planners express, and it stems from people being worried they’re being “cheated” somehow- that the AV firm is “padding the bid” with unnecessary equipment. Well, guess what? They might be, but not for the nefarious reasons most people think. While there are bad actors in any industry, the vast majority of times a company adds gear to a bid, it’s not because they’re trying to cheat you. Instead, they’re covering their butts. And yours.

Many planners freely admit that things change at the last minute, and frequently that can mean adding equipment. An in-house AV company might have the ability to just go in back and grab some more gear if they happen to have it in stock, in which case it’s going to get added to your bill anyway. If they don’t have it in stock, they and any 3rd party company are going to have to get it from somewhere else. That could be on the other side of town, or in a completely different state, and if it’s a last minute thing you’re going to be paying a premium.

A better play is to just plan for the unexpected. Make sure you have a few extra microphones on hand for that panel that just popped up, or an audio mixer capable of taking a few more inputs for when you remember at five minutes to doors, “Oh! We should have some dinner music. And can you play something energetic during the awards?” Yep, we sure can. 

This actually happens on a lot of events, and believe it or not most of the time you don’t get charged for it. The number of times I’ve seen AV and production companies throw extra gear on the truck “just in case”, even though it wasn’t on the bill, can’t be counted, and most of the time the client didn’t ever know it. 

“It doesn’t take up any more room on the truck. And you own it, so what’s the difference?” 

This one’s a little more rare in my experience, but it came up in a couple different forms with my AV contacts, so it seemed worthy of making the list. I think it stems again from planners being worried they’re being “taken”, but unfortunately it comes off as being cheap or having a fundamental misunderstanding of how renting equipment works. The idea is this: if the vendor owns both a 3-year-old projector and a brand-new one that’s twice as bright, of course you’re going to want the newer, brighter projector. Who wouldn’t? But here’s the deal: the newer projectors probably haven’t made their money back yet, while the older ones have been rented out enough not only to cover their original cost, but to start generating profit. As a result, they can be discounted if necessary. If you want the latest and greatest, however, you’re going to have to pay more for it. Expecting otherwise is to expect AV companies to work for free, or worse, at a loss.

“I’m willing to work as late as it takes, and *I* don’t get paid overtime.”
AKA “Geeze, these overtime rules seem harsh!”

This one doesn’t get said out loud as often as some of the others, but usually manifests itself in the form of eyerolls and under-the-breath grumblings, some of which I’ve been guilty of myself. Labor can be expensive, and it can get really expensive if you go into overtime with your crew. It can get really, really expensive if you violate what’s called “turnaround time” which guarantees a crew a certain amount of time off before they have to come back and work again. Violate turnaround time, and the entire next day turns into overtime. OUCH!

For a lot of planners, once the event is over they’re able to take some downtime to recoup, relax, and recharge before they start thinking about their next event. Many independent and even full-time or corporate planners do not immediately go on-site to the next event, and have time to catch their breath. I know so many planners that will take a full week off after their big annual events. For those in AV, it’s just on to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

It may be your company’s Super Bowl, but for Johnny the Camera Guy, it’s Tuesday.

The average AV “day rate” usually covers a 10 hour day, already 2 hours more than a typical work day (though this is starting to change, and we’re seeing more and more 8 hour days). Overtime rules exist in many professions because the human body isn’t capable of working 16-18+ hour days every day without breaking down over time, and overtime is a way of discouraging over-working crews day in and day out. It also makes sure they’re compensated when they do work long hours. Turnaround time ensures at least a few hours of sleep and a chance to recharge a bit before showing up again in the morning. 

“I can buy it for that!”

Yep, you can. But then it’s all on you. 

When you contract an AV or production company, it’s all on them. They purchase the equipment, they have road crates built to protect it on the truck, they make sure it’s clean and functioning before it goes out, they make sure it gets to the event safely via truck or shipping, they set it up, they pack it up after the event, they inspect it again when it gets back to the warehouse and if it’s damaged they repair it, they clean it, and then they store it until it’s time to take it out again.

If you buy it, you’re responsible for all of that. You have to weigh the value of your time against what you’d be paying professionals to handle for you. In the end, it might make sense for you and your organization. The biggest one people forget is the storage. Sure, you could buy all the projectors for your breakout sessions yourself, but where are you going to keep the 30 projectors afterward? The broom closet? That empty cube down the hall?

“Bring us in earlier, please!” 

Ok, this one is flipped- something I hear AV folks say all the time. It still falls into the “things we wish you knew” category, though.

AV people can be an enormous resource for you, and not just when it comes to technology! We can help with the creative side, helping you design your event to maximize your AV spend, and guiding you into (or away from) themes and ideas that might impact your budget. Maybe you don’t need that Miss Saigon helecopter closing, and besides, it wouldn’t work in that venue.

And speaking of venue, we can help with contract negotiation! Be sure to run your venue contracts by your AV or production company before you’ve signed them. We’ve seen every trick in the book, and can help you head off problems before they start. More and more venues are imposing stiff penalties for using 3rd party AV companies, or charging through-the-roof fees for WiFi. Even if you haven’t settled on which AV or production company you’re using, most every AV person I know would be happy to be a second pair of eyes on your contract, even if they’re just “in the running” for the job, so don’t be afraid to use us as a resource from the earliest moments in the planning process!

BONUS!!

The following items were “cut for time” on the original article. Enjoy a few more things AV people wish planners knew!

“But those guys can do it with fewer techs…”

Different companies have different best practices. They also have access to different people and skill levels, and you can’t possibly know what staffing circumstances might exist. One company may have a group of well-rounded “Jack of all Trades” techs, while another may choose to employ specialists in each field of audio, video, and lighting. If a company A says it will take 4 people and cost $10,000, and company B says it will take 3 people and still cost $10,000, do please do not ask company A to try and do it with 3 techs in an attempt to save money.

“Can I get that by tomorrow?”

I’m sorry you need it tomorrow- if you want it to be accurate, it’s going to take time. Hurried quotes are more likely to be overbid, include unnecessary equipment, or leave out equipment you need. It’s simply human nature. If you want a more accurate quote, you need to slow down. Send your AV company the RFP, and then make sure you hop on a call with them to go through it line by line. Then, once they’ve sent you the bid, go through it line by line to make sure you have everything you need. A little patience early on can save you thousands in last-minute additions.

“Can I buy you lunch?”

Yes. Yes, you can. Buying the crew lunch has so many benefits, it’s hard to believe not everyone does it. On most events, tacking on a few more of the meals you’re serving the attendees wouldn’t even show up as a rounding error on the budget. Even if it does and you’re counting every penny, it’s still a good idea.

First and foremost, it keeps the crew together and makes them feel more a part of the event. If they all go their separate ways at the food court, it’s just not the same as all sitting around the same table. And even though the point of a break is to forget the show for a minute, you’d be surprised how many solutions to problems get figured out over a flat-meat sandwich backstage.

Providing crew meals, coffee stations, beverages and snacks show you care about them, and when a crew feels like you care about them, they’re much more likely to care about you.

"Do we really need rehearsal?”

Yes. Yes, you do. The more smoothly casual it looks, the more likely they rehearsed the ever-living crap out of it. Everyone wants to deliver a Steve Jobs keynote, but what so many don’t realize is that Jobs required a full week of rehearsals in advance of Apple events. Every move was meticulously choreographed. It’s no coincidence that after Jobs was gone, most people agree that Apple keynotes lost their luster. That just the man…

BONUS BONUS!

Here’s a “Whiteboard Wednesday” I did on this topic for Endless Events…

#EventProfs Chats Update

Happy 2014, event professionals!

5130241225_5baa4fa263So towards the middle of last year, I was lamenting the fact that the weekly #eventprofs twitter chats appeared to be abandoned.  I approached Adrian Segar (from conferencesthatwork.com, and a prior community manager), and Lara McCulloch (from ready2spark.com, and who is generally credited with starting the #eventprofs hashtag on Twitter).  I expressed my desire that the chats continue, and suggested that I become the temporary community manager until someone who had more time and drive for the project could be found.  I knew I didn't have a lot of time to devote to the project, but I figured that even a bad community manager was better than no community manager, and attempted to revive the chats.

Attendance was sparse, but a lot of people seemed to really like the idea of the chats and expressed a desire for them to continue.  Towards the end of 2013, I released a survey to gather data from folks on if, and how, they'd like the chats to continue.  My intention was to take that information and use it to guide the chats for 2014.  There's a lot of good information in the surveys, and I look forward to sharing that data with you.

Now, remember that part about not having a lot of time and "even a bad community manager..."

So I just wanted to let everyone know that I fully intend to bring back the chats, but a couple things have delayed the restart for 2014.  First off, our January at metroConnections was off the charts.  One of our biggest months ever, and definitely our largest January of all time.  This certainly seems to lend support to the data being reported that the meetings and events industry is rebounding from the recession!  Now, in the midst of that January, as I announced in a previous blog article, I've joined the team at Event Alley, and am now a co-host and producer of the Event Alley Show, a weekly live Internet broadcast focused on the meetings and events industry.  This has proven to be a lot of (rewarding!) work as well, as we completely rebranded and moved the show off of the audio-only BlogTalkRadio platform and on to live Hangouts on Air and YouTube.  Anyone who knows me knows that it has been a dream of mine for a while to be part of a show like this, and it's already been an amazing experience!

So, that's the update- still working on finding a good time and format for the #eventprofs chats, and still very open to your comments, and suggestions.  If you haven't already, please take a moment to fill out the survey.  Also please check out the #EventProfs wiki, which contains all the archives of the chats going back for quite some time.

Once things settle down, I'm planning on bringing back the chats officially!

Be well out there, folks!

-Brandt

On Teleprompters- What are they, and when should you use them?

It is no secret that being a good communicator is key to success in business. We value those who have the ability to communicate well, and that often includes public speaking. One proven tool to aid in the delivery of a speech or presentation is the teleprompter. However, knowing when and how to use one may be just as instrumental in earning that standing ovation.

History of the Teleprompter Simply put, a teleprompter is a device that “prompts” the person speaking with a visual text of a speech or script. This allows the reader to read the text word for word, ensuring a consistent and accurate speech, while maintaining the illusion of spontaneity.

In the 1950s, Fred Barton, Jr. came up with the idea of a teleprompter as an actor. He later helped found the TelePrompTer Corporation, which built the first devices. Although in some countries it may be referred to as an AutoCue (a UK brand name), the TelePrompTer name has become the generic term for these devices in most of the world.

The earliest teleprompter was nothing more than a scroll of paper with a script printed on it that was then run over a mechanical device operated by a hidden technician. It wasn’t long before the initial version was improved upon by becoming automated and mounted on a television camera. These improvements, though better than cue cards and a standalone prompter, were not enough because the speaker was still looking slightly off camera. Thus came the next, and most important improvement: reflective glass.

Instead of being mounted facing the speaker, the prompter was mounted below the camera and facing up, or mounted above the camera and facing down, with the text reflected off a piece of glass directly in front of the camera lens.  The placement and construction of this glass prevented it from being seen by the camera and allowed the speaker to look directly into the camera while reading.

The computer revolution in the 1980s brought many advances. Scrolling paper rolls were replaced with monitors and computer-generated text as early as 1982, but were still in use as late as 1992. The advancement of technology has also enabled teleprompters to become lighter and thinner, straying away from old bulky ray tube monitors to ultra-slim flat screen monitors. Voice recognition software has also played a part. For example, high-end news organizations are testing teleprompters with the ability to be voice activated, ensuring that the prompter is always going the right speed for the speaker.

Today’s Types of Teleprompters The three main modern types of teleprompters are camera mounted, presidential, and floor or stand mounted.

  • The camera mounted teleprompter, as we’ve already discussed, works with text being bounced off special glass placed in front of the lens. This type of prompter is used mainly for pre-recorded videos for speakers, guests, or top-level management. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, weights and need to be coordinated with the AV provider to make sure that the right type is used and matches the camera.
  • The presidential teleprompter works basically in the same manner as the camera mounted monitor, except the mirrored glass is mounted at the end of a thin pole instead of on a camera. However, just like the on-camera models, the speaker is able to look directly at the audience through the glass as if it were not there. This is great for a live event. They are almost always used in pairs - one to the left and one to the right of center - encouraging the speaker to change focus and look at the entire audience.
  • The floor/stand teleprompter can be placed at an angle on the floor, mounted on a stand, or hung from rigging points in the back of the room. When using them by themselves, floor mounted prompters can be just as good as presidential prompters but it can cause the speaker to look down more or make them appear as if they are only talking to the first two rows of attendees.

In addition to the actual teleprompter itself, there are some other components that are also essential -- the software and the remote control. Both camera mounted and presidential prompters require images to be reflected off of a piece of glass, which then requires that the original text be reversed.  All professional prompter software should have this feature. Teleprompters also require a way in which to stop, start, and manipulate the speed of text.

When should/shouldn’t you use a Teleprompter? Using teleprompters, such as a presidential monitor, infers professionalism and makes a speaker look more “presidential.” In general, prompters make the speaker look better as they allow them to connect with the audience, whether live or prerecorded, through eye contact, and studies have shown that eye contact can be a major factor in whether or not we trust someone.

The average person (not a trained actor, or someone with a photographic memory) has a difficult time memorizing large chunks of text. This is why many speakers use PowerPoint or notecards to keep them on-track. However, these methods can be cumbersome and make the presenter feel the need to add graphics or slides when they may not be relevant or useful. Teleprompters are also used when a speaker needs to convey a lot of detail or technical specifications.

Just as knowing when to use a teleprompter is important, knowing when NOT to use one is just as essential. The budget of an event can play a very big part in the use of a teleprompter, because you not only have to pay for the equipment but you have to pay for the person to operate it. Cost is not the only factor when considering a teleprompter; the environment is just as important. If the room and audience are small, the use of a teleprompter might be awkward. Imagine being in a small breakout session and having the speaker behind a pair of presidential monitors.

Preparing Speakers for a Teleprompter Picking the right equipment is only half the battle when it comes to delivering a good speech. The speaker and the speech itself have to be a finely tuned machine. Options include hiring a speechwriter, which is surprisingly inexpensive, and they can work with the speaker to hone a message and to use language comfortable for the speaker. It is very important to write as one speaks, because if the language isn’t familiar, it often sounds stiff and awkward.

Not only does the speech have to be well written, the speaker delivering it has to also be well trained. The speaker should rehearse in the space before the event and allow plenty of time with the prompter itself. Even the most experienced speaker can find a prompter a little unsettling for the first time. Otherwise, a prompter will likely hurt the presentation, rather than help it.

One of the most important tips is to make sure that the speaker knows they are in control, not the teleprompter. It’s the operator’s job to make sure the speaker has the words they need, when they need them, not the job of the speaker to try and “keep up” with the prompter.

Conclusion In conclusion, knowing your audience, your prompter equipment, and your speech will ultimately reward you with a successful presentation. It is wise when budgeting to accommodate for not only the equipment itself, but for the operator and a possible script writer as well. Also, make sure that plenty of time is allowed for rehearsal and practice. Practicing with the equipment and with the operator can help make or break a perfect prompter presentation.

Originally published at metroConnections.com

Galaxy SIII Owners: Make Google Voice Actions (and now Google Now) the Default Instead of S-Voice

*** UPDATE 12/20/12 *** While I'm still recommending Home2 Shortcut (easier on the eyes and more functionality), reports are coming in that Bluetooth Launcher will still work with 4.1.1.  Apparently you just need to select a different activity. Process is updated in the post, but I was unable to get it to work on either my or my wife's S3.

*** UPDATE 12/18/12 ***

Based on the comments and questions below, it appears that Blootooth Launcher does not work this way anymore with Android 4.1.1.  If someone figures out a way to make it work again, leave a comment and I'll update this page.

I now am recommending Home2 Shortcut for this getting direct access to Voice Search (which contains most of the original Voice Actions).

I found it over on XDA Developers and it can be found on the Play Store.  It allows you to set Home Double Press as well as other key combinations.  I found "Voice Search" under "Activities->Google", but YMMV.

****

Some of the more popular posts on this blog have had nothing to do with Event Technology per se, but rather have been tips and tricks that I myself found hard to find and decided to repost when I found the answer.

This is one of those posts!

I searched for a really long time to find a way to make Google Voice Actions, instead of  S-Voice, the default action when double pressing the Home key on my fancy new Samsung Galaxy SIII.  I just couldn't get S-Voice to do what I wanted it to do, and it was basically useless in the car.  Turns out there's a clever little workaround using a 3rd party app that isn't actually designed for that specific purpose!  The tip comes from Sorka over on Android Forums and is a great little workaround.  NO ROOT REQUIRED!!

Here's the trick:

  1. Download and Install "Bluetooth Launch" from the Google Play store.
  2. Open Bluetooth Launch and scroll down to "Voice Search". (*See update below*)
  3. Tap on it to expand it out, then select: "com.google.android.voicesearch.RecognitionActivity" (*Update* Some are reporting that on Android 4.1.1 you need to use this: "Google Search->com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox.VoiceSearchActivity"  I have been unable to verify)
  4. Exit by hitting the back key.
  5. Double click the home button.
  6. Select "Always complete using this activity"
  7. Select Bluetooth Launch.

You're Done!

Thanks again, Sorka, works like a charm, and there's a metric crapton of other options offered by Bluetooth Launcher.  Nice workaround!

Meanwhile everyone, how are you liking your S3?

On Value

This is the tale of two clients.  The names and details have been changed to protect the innocent.

The question: Which client got the better value for their money?

The show:  Both clients requested pricing for almost identical situations- a 500+ person sales conference, including AV, stage design, meeting room decor, graphics and PPT template design, special event design and decor for their awards banquet, and production support, including show caller, technical director, and production manager.  There would also be some post-meeting video editing of the footage.  Both bids were full scale meeting productions, but were based on some smaller work we’d done with each client, so this was a big inroad for us in each situation.  As such, very reasonable pricing was given out of the gate to help sweeten the deal, in order to get the larger portion of the total event expense.

Client A- The Negotiator.  Even given the initial generous pricing, the client negotiated the price even further down, until a lot of what we pitched was dropped down to at cost or below cost to get the business.  Many services were even thrown in for no-cost, including the post production editing, which is my time.  Hey, we all know this happens a lot, especially with new clients.  Once you get the business, you hope to recoup over the long-term relationship you build with the client.

They continued to question every single price in the process, citing non-realistic consumer level (think Home Depot) and internet pricing for room decor (which did not include labor, setup, delivery, etc). They changed one of their conference days from a half day to a full day, and seemed outraged that we’d charge more for labor for the AV crew.  They questioned the roughly 10% (a couple hundred bucks) in profit we sought to gain for arranging the hanging of several thousand square feet of ceiling treatments.  They tried to cut staff that we weren’t charging for anyway in hopes of further discounts.

On top of the negotiating, they also kept requesting more and more of the “free” services we were providing.  More graphics, more video, alternate edits, and “oh by the way”s galore.  We finally had to put our foot down and start line item-ing each and every addition, which inevitably meant more price negotiation on each and every item.

On site, and throughout the conference, there was even more of these add-ons, and truth be told I couldn’t help but feel like they thought they owned me for the run of the show.  We continued to line item every item, every request, and we only did what was asked of us and no more.

I also got the feeling they were looking for mistakes, cataloging every minor detail and filing it away, so that after the conference they could come back for more money off the bill.  We always strive for the perfect show, but in my 15 years in the business, I’ve only seen maybe one where absolutely nothing went wrong and this was no exception.  Additionally, a lot of equipment and crew redundancy was cut due to the budget concerns.  Unfortunately there are some clients that you can't help but feel that they count on trying to get money back at the end of a program,  by accumulating a list of things they're dissatisfied with and disputing the bill.  The entire conference run was one of stress and anxiety.

After the show I was tired, cranky, bitter, and feeling a little used.

Client B- Minnesota Nice.  Almost the polar opposite of Client A.  While budget conscious, there was never the feeling of constant nit-picking or chiseling.  They seemed to understand that things A) cost money, and B) we might make a profit on them.  Whenever things were added, they were always amenable to adding to the overall bill.  Above all else, they were always extremely polite, and very understanding of the time and effort that goes in to putting on a conference.  As their conference went on, I genuinely came to like the people involved- the conference committee, the executives, the attendees.  As a result, as I look back, I actually did a lot more for them than Client A.  All the little add-ons didn’t feel so bad, and I found myself wanting to help them make their conference better and better for their attendees.  They added a rush order to the post-production, and even after a week of travel I found myself wanting to work through the weekend to get it done for them so that they could get the conference materials into the hands of their folks in the field.

Due to hotel restrictions, we were forced to use the in-house AV, and unfortunately for our client, they really stunk up the house.  Tons of equipment and crew issues.  In the case of Client A, we might have been tempted to just shrug our shoulders and say, “Not our fault”, but instead we were right there in the fray, passionately advocating for our client, making sure they were dealt with fairly in the end.

Since the program, we’ve even provided some “at cost” services to help them out with the post production distribution. Why? Because they asked nicely.

After the show I was tired, but really looking forward to the next time we work with Client B.

My Take:  While we all agree that, in theory, all clients should receive the same treatment, I think we can also agree that that’s not human nature.  In the end, the two companies' bills, minus the differences between the two shows, were probably only a few thousand dollars different.  I’d be curious to know, if they knew each other, which client thought they got the best deal- the best value for their money.  My guess is that they both would think so.  In my heart of hearts, I’d have to say that at least when it came to my time, my effort, Client B got the most value for their money, and will continue to do so as long as we have the privilege to work with them.

I am not anti-negotiation.  Around the office I have the (occasionally derogatory) nickname “Consumer Brandt” because I detest bad customer service and have no trouble telling people when I believe they’re giving it to me.  I will not hesitate to ask for fees to be waived, prices matched, or things to be thrown in.  But there is a line, and it’s largely a matter of tact, manners, and polite civility to know when that line's been crossed.  There’s working the system, and there’s abusing the system...

As I move forward, I’m going to try and keep all this in mind as I work with our vendors.  I’d like to think to a certain extent that I do already, but it never hurts to try harder, right?

So what do you think?  Who got the better value?  Does it matter who the client is and who the vendor is?  Why?

On What Went Wrong at the End- More Reflections from ECTC11

The number one question that I've seen come out of Event Camp Twin Cites regarding the technical side of things is, "Dude, what happened at the end?" For those that did not see it, there was an almost comic meltdown of the Skype connections to the Pods.  A kind and well written summary from Mitchell Beer can be found Here.

Some of this is conjecture, as we had to tear down and vacate the venue in very short order, so further testing could not be done.  What follows is a rough compilation of the many things that contributed to not only the bizarre ending to ECTC11, but the Skype problems in general throughout the conference.

It has been asked, rightfully so, why didn't we test all of this before going live.  I can tell you that as far as we were concerned we did.  They tested the lines, they tested the calls to all the pods, we tested the inputs, we tested the outputs, we tested the video inputs, we tested the video outputs.  It's a valuable lesson in something we all know- that there's no such thing as too much testing, or taking those test too far.  Sometimes it's just not enough.

All of the following contributed and played off each other, and unfortunately it is the interplay that caused the most serious problems- most of which would not have shown up in anything other than full scale, live testing, with the actual participants in the actual rooms with the actual equipment.  And probably the correct alignment of Mercury thrown in just for good measure.   ECTC, in essence became the full size test.  At least it's an environment that's theoretically set up for that purpose...

So here it is, to the best of my ability:

1) The number of pods- Last year there were two pods.  In true Event Camp Twin Cities fashion, they pushed the envelope and tried to have 9.  Eventually that number reduced to 7.  Because of the number of pods, especially the original 9, it seemed impractical to have nine dedicated machines, and we decided to try the group calling feature of Skype and had 4 pods on one computer, and 3 on another.  So having so many pods is why we started combining them on machines, which leads to...

2) Combining Pods 1- Combining the pods created a lot of noise on each of the two Skype machines.  Instead of one person at a time, you now had bunches of people talking, waving, saying hi, and I think that Skype was clamping down on some feeds to "promote" others.  It's certainly the way it sounded in the headphones of the audio rig.  The wrong pods were being brought to the front of the mix.  It would make sense that Skype is geared towards what it's generally considered use is- chat between one or more individuals.  When individuals are chatting, we tend to wait our turn.  The noise from some pods seemed to be canceling other pods out, much like a Google Hangout tries to "decide" who's talking, and that can be overridden by someone typing to loudly.  To make matters worse, there was the problem in #4, but we'll get to that in a second.  All of this would be fixable if only we had the ability to somehow mute the audio of some of the pods when one was speaking, which leads us to...

3) Combining pods 2-  According to the Podmaster (as I desperately probed around for a solution to stop the madness), there was no way to mute individual pods on Skype.  I do not know this for sure, as I don't personally have the premium version of Skype with the multi-person chat.  What I do know is that the recent redesign of the interface for Skype is a bloody mess, and if there were controls to mute the audio, good luck finding them.  You're more likely to accidently bring up and call your Aunt Judy trying to figure out the right combination of hidden rollovers and hieroglyphs.

It should be noted at this point, that in a further attempt to salvage the segment, we hung up on all the pods and tried calling a couple of them one at a time.  When we knocked it down to a single call to Amsterdam, though, their audio feed was clearly being cut in and out by the noise limiter on Skype.   I am again not familiar enough with Skype to know if there's a setting that could have been changed on their end, but it was again very obvious when listening via headphones.  It may have been possible to overcome with some time, perhaps by having someone come closer to the mic on the computer and by having all other hush, but before we got to that point I was told we had Silicon Valley on the line on the other machine.  When we connected on a single call to Silicon Valley, Mike appeared to be on a headset, and it sounded awesome.  I plugged and unplugged the audio jacks on the Mac so I could talk to him- the drawback of routing the audio signal through the house was that we didn't have a good talkback method, and we were all set to go back to him.  Unfortunately, though, we just plain ran out of time.  We had a hard out at 2pm, Kurt was wrapping things up in the room, and the decision was made to scrap it.

4) Pod instructions/Combining Pods 3- (sensing a common thread?) Despite meticulous instructions, and without throwing anyone under the bus, it seemed like every time we went to a Skype machine, at least one of the three (or four) would have their audio turned up on the Sonic Foundry feed.  This contributed to the confusion, and exacerbated problems 2 and 3 because we couldn't mute them.  People still weren't listening to the right feed, and the delay ate us alive.  Furthermore, the audio in the room then contains the potted-up Skype audio, which contained the audio of the delayed webcast feed, which is now being sent back to the other pods.  Yeesh...

5) Panic.  I regret having to put this one in, but it's true.  When things go south, your mind is racing, and you try everything you can think of.  Sometimes, though, the moment passes and it just wasn't enough.  You don't think of a solution until the next day.  Or the next week.  It's like that great comeback for an insult that you don't think of until the jerk's walked away.

I can't imagine what it was like up there for Sam, and he kept his cool very well.  The best description I heard was that he was the straight guy in a comedy routine that he didn't know he was in.  My suggestion in perfect 20-20 hindsight, however, is that when the first one wasn't answering, we needed to just stop and wait to see how long it took them to respond.  Discover their delay and deal with it.   Some have suggested some kind of in-room clock or audio cue in dealing with delayed audiences, as continuing to speak (while a perfectly natural reaction) only adds to the confusion.

If an actual 30 seconds went by, which I know is an ETERNITY, then we'd know that something was wrong beyond them just being on the wrong feed.  As it was, it felt like Sam would move on in what seemed to me to be less than 20 seconds, and then we're suddenly being answered by the Pod he'd  just left.  He'd try and go back to that one, only to be answered by the one he'd just moved on to.

So that's what happened.  Feel free to pick it apart and tell me what I may have missed.  And if you know where it is, for the love of God please share where the mute button is in Skype.

Otherwise, my recommendations coming out of this are:

1) Reduce the number of Pods if at all possible to 4, and put them all on their own machines.  4 inputs is where the lowest levels of video switchers tend to hang around, so you can have a dedicated switch just for flipping between Pods for not a lot of money.  That switch then sends its signal to whatever your main video switcher is.  If you need to scale up, scale at that point and get a bigger Skype switcher, but I really feel like 1-1 machines might be imperative to making this all work.

2) Maybe to reduce noise, perhaps you give "voice" to the leaders of the pods and give them a headset?  Just spitballing... It might overcome the limitations of combining pods.

3) If the machines are separated, your audio feeds will need to be separated, so again your going to need more channels on your audio mixer, or a completely separate mixer for the Skype machines.  Either way, it gets you individual control over the audio feeds, and you can mute whoever's mixing margaritas in the background.

4) Did any of the pods notice they were being fed the main video feed instead of looking out the I-Sight cameras in the MacBooks?  What's your feedback on the video quality, other than any buffering or obvious Skype-related things?  I'm still experimenting, and if I figure it out I'll share.  We may try it again at Event Camp Europe.  Suffice it to say that it's remarkably low tech and inexpensive, and I think could be a really nice key to making this all work.

5) It should go without saying, but I will.  When it comes to trying new tech, try and emulate the final use scenario as closely as possible during testing.  We thought we had, but clearly there were factors at work that we didn't anticipate.  At least now you know to...

PowerPoint not working? Microsoft update might be the problem...

I was onsite last week loading a client's PowerPoint on to one of our show laptops, when I was suddenly confronted by a new and frightening error message I had never seen before. It went a little something like this: "PowerPoint was unable to display some of the text, images, or objects as slides in the file (name) because they have become corrupt. Affected slides have been replaced by blank slides in the presentation and it is not possible to recover lost information. To ensure that the file can be opened in previous versions of PowerPoint, use the Save As command and save the file with the same name or a new name."

Naturally, we were a little concerned. When clicking through the error, the presentation opened, but was missing almost all of the graphics and all the colors were wrong. We opened it on the client's laptop, and it worked fine. We re-copied it onto a flash drive and loaded it again on ours with the same scary error message. We loaded it on to a secondary show laptop, and again, the message.  The presentation loaded fine on the client's laptop, and on another personal (non-company) laptop.

I did a little research, and discovered that the day before Microsoft had pushed a PowerPoint "security update", and reports were starting to trickle in of the mysterious error.  The update is called "Microsoft Windows Security Update for Powerpoint (KB2464588)", and the problem can be reversed by uninstalling the update.

There is also a Hotfix that supposedly fixes the problem: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2543241

**IMPORTANT NOTE: If you do as the warning message says and "Save As", the new file will be permanently missing the "corrupt" images.  If you do not save, the original PPT will load just fine once the update has been removed/repaired.

On Why Cold Calling Frequently Doesn't Work

Many discussions have centered around whether cold calling does or does not work.  I have gone on record that no matter what the source (I've been cold called by giants such as Best Buy and HP), it always feels a little, I don't know, desperate. That being said, I always try to be polite and open minded.  You never know when opportunity may come calling, and sometimes, just sometimes, it may be calling with the deal of the century.  I try to be honest about whether or not I may have a use for whatever product or service is being flogged, and this generally helps to prevent wasting the salesperson's (or my) time.

Recently I was cold called regarding outsourcing our IT department.  We're a lean company, and for many years I was our IT department.  When I could no longer handle it myself, we weighed the options of hiring a full time person or outsourcing.  We decided to outsource, and while it hasn't always been the smoothest ride, all in all it's saved more headaches than it's caused.

Maybe a month before I was called, we'd just re-upped with our current provider for another two years.  I politely explained this to the caller, but said that if he sent me some information on his company I'd be happy to check them out and keep them in mind when it came time to reconsider in about a year and a half.  Emails were exchanged and the conversation ended.

A couple of weeks later, I received the following email:

HI Brandt,
I spoke with you a couple weeks ago and sent an email about my company. I would very much like to come and show you how we are superior to (*current provider*) in a variety of ways. Please allow me 15 minutes to demonstrate what we do and how we can reduce your costs.
My job is to simply set appointments and based on our conversation I know that we are an ideal fit for your company. A couple years is too long to wait before comparing managed IT service. I promise you that are service is priced below all competitors, we offer unique perks that others do not.
Let me know when you would be available for me to stop in.

There were no attachments.

So, to be clear, I explained that I would not be evaluating new companies for at least a year and half and requested information about his company.  Instead, I received NO information and an immediate meeting request- the exact opposite.  I'm afraid my response was less than polite this time.

And so I respectfully submit the following thoughts and questions:

  • The question isn't whether or not cold calling works, but rather whether or not your "post call" strategy works.
  • What do you do when you hang up the phone?
  • Why did it take this person over a week to follow up?
  • Why did they ignore my timeline and push their own?
  • Why didn't they send the information the second they got off the phone with a polite "Thanks for your time" email, and then put a note in their calendar to call a year and a half from now?
  • Was I, as the potential customer, wrong to be annoyed or should I adopt a more "He's just doing his job" mentality?

As always, comments and criticisms are welcome below.

-Brandt

********* Update ************

Moments after posting this, the salesperson in question responded to my email.  For context, here was my (admittedly less than polite) initial response:

Hi (*Blah Blah Blah*),

While I understand you are just doing your job ("to simply set appointments"), I have a very low tolerance for companies and people that represent those companies that do not listen to their (in my case, potential) customers.
I explained to you why we won't be needing your services in the near future (we're under contract for the next two years) and asked you to just send me some information on your company.
Instead, you've sent me no information and requested an immediate meeting, which is the exact opposite of what I asked.
Had you done what I asked, I would have looked at your information, filed it, and (if warranted) seriously considered your company when we do start looking in a year and a half or so.
Instead, you've just annoyed a potential customer.  Your company may or may not come up when we get to that point. Please do not contact me in the meantime.
Thanks,
Brandt

Despite my "Please do not contact me in the meantime", here was his response:

Brandt,

I would guess the information that you would like is pricing, right. I do not have that, nor would I send an email with it. That would not benefit me or my company. It would only benefit your firm. Please understand that and the fact that I am only paid to set appointments so that we can provide pricing(far less expensive than your current vendor). I doubt that I have really annoyed you. See attachment and call us when you want an exceptional managed IT service.

Best, (*Blah Blah Blah*)

So many things wrong with that response...

Actually, no, Mr. Blah Blah Blah.  I was referring to maybe a fact sheet about what services your company provides, or perhaps a case study, or something.  The "attachment" mentioned was a PDF of some of the awards the company had won.

And if you hadn't "really" annoyed me before, you have now.

Meatspace Redeaux

by Brandt Krueger, Geek Dad since 2007 Doing some heavy duty work around the house these next couple of weeks as I (attempt) to replace the living room baseboards that have been missing for the better part of 4 years

like to apologize to The Mighty Oak for the parts of himself he has already given in vain to my attempts to use a coping saw to get "that perfect mitre cut" look.

Can a Geek be as good with woodworking (or other household projects) as they can be with a registry editor?  Or are they, for the most part, mutually exclusive?  Discuss...