Brandt Krueger

Freelance Technical Meeting and Event Production, Education, Speaking, and Consulting. 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 Tag: events

Are Chatbots Really the Next Big Thing in Events?

(An edited version of this article was originally published in MeetingMentor Magazine in Summer 2018. Updated January, 2019)

If you were following the Silicon Valley tech blogs, you would have guessed that by now we’d be living in a world filled with chatbots. But as the years came and went, they just didn’t quite seem to catch on in the way that many pundits were expecting, and headlines such as “The 200 Billion Dollar Chatbot Disruption” also came, and ultimately, went.

The meeting and events industry, on the other hand, seems to have a continued interest in chatbots, with more and more articles being written on the subject, and high-profile events providing the service to their attendees. Could it be that an industry that’s all about connecting people might actually be one of the best suited for the next wave of digital disruption?

So what the heck are they?

First, let’s be clear what we’re talking about when we say “chatbot”. One of the easiest ways to think about chatbots is as a form of digital assistant, like Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa. While these assistants can do quite a bit more than your average chatbot (including home automation control, shopping, games, and more), one of the most common uses is to simply answer our everyday questions. “Hey Google, what’s the weather today?” is a question I hear almost daily in my household as the people get ready in the morning, deciding what to wear. “What’s the drive time to Pizza Luce?”, “How tall is Mount Rushmore?”, and “How do you spell Dubrovnik?” were other questions I’ve heard in just the last week. Where these assistants shine is their ability to hear us ask questions in our normal tone, using our normal language, and (hopefully) give us the right answer.

This ability is called “natural language processing” and is a very narrow subset of (buzzword alert!) Artificial Intelligence. It’s what allow us to interact with our digital assistants in a much more “natural” and conversational manner, and what allows them to interpret what information we’re actually looking for and respond with it. Chatbots use the same technology to interact with us, but instead of talking to our event chatbot, we’re interacting with it using text. This could be through an app like Facebook Messenger or Telegram, through a chat box on a web page, embedded within an event mobile app, or even just texting to a specific number set up for the event.

Ugh, who wants to talk to a robot?

Apparently, millions of people. Over the course of 2017 the number of people using voice-activated assistants grew 128.9% to over 35 Million people in the United States alone, according to a report by Juniper Research. The same report estimates that by 2022, over half of US households will have a voice-enabled smart speaker in them. When it comes specifically to chatbots, another report found that 60% of millennials have used them at some point. Of those that tried them, over 70% reported they had a positive experience, and of those that hadn’t tried them, over half said they’d be interested in trying them.

I think a lot of the resistance to digital assistants and chatbots comes from the horrible customer service experience most of us have had with “phone trees”, another form of automation that was supposed to make our lives easier. Who hasn’t wanted to push their phone through a wall at the 9 different options being presented to you, with none of them being the reason you’re actually calling? Usually that frustration stems from the fact that you just want a simple question answered, and you want it answered quickly. That, folks, is where chatbots shine.

Actually Making Life Easier

That’s really what it boils down to: people just want their question answered in the fastest, easiest way possible, and if that means texting with a chatbot, well… then… great. If they want to know where the reception is that evening, they don’t want to open the event app, wait for it to update, click into the agenda, then into the reception entry, and finally get their answer. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to type in:

“Where is the reception tonight?” 

And get the answer:
“The reception is in the Crowne Ballroom, on the 23rd floor. Just follow the signs in the lobby to the west elevators. Don’t forget, it’s a Hawaiian theme, so be sure to wear your best floral print and flip flops!”

Notice how there’s even more information there than was actually requested, potentially saving time having to ask follow-up questions? The bot might even attach a map to the event in the next message, just in case. How convenient is that? Plus, let’s be honest. No matter how many emails you sent out providing that information, you know a significant percentage will have forgotten the information, or even worse, never read them in the first place!

But what if it doesn’t know the answer?

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While most people see this as a negative, it’s actually one of the more powerful benefits of chatbots. If it doesn’t know the answer, most chatbots will kick the question up to a real, live person for the answer. Why is that a benefit? Because it can help you identify the questions you didn’t anticipate. After all, a chatbot is only as good as the information it’s given, and can only answer the questions to which you’ve given it the answers. If more and more people start asking a question it wasn’t pre-programmed with, you can simply add the answer to the bot’s program on the fly.

It can also help you react to unforeseen issues with your event in real time. If attendees are asking your chatbot, “How do I get to the ballroom from the hotel?” you may have a signage or staffing issue. If quite a few are asking “Where are the Mothers’ Rooms?” and you don’t have any, you can react quickly and get some arranged- an actual example from an event that utilized chatbots.

The Future Bots

Natural language processing technology is only getting better, and event bots have a bright future. Already, providers are able to get a bot up and running in less than 20 minutes by having the planner fill out an online survey. As AI and machine learning get applied, you’ll be able to offer up your current website and printed materials to be analyzed by the service, and then auto-generating the most likely questions and answers based on that information.

The “event app” went from “Why do I need that?” to almost every major event having one in less than five years, and event chatbots could well be on the same trajectory. So what do you think? Have you tried a chatbot at your event? How did it go? If you haven’t, what’s the likelihood you’ll try a chatbot in one of your events this year?

The One Question Survey: What Would It Be for Your Event?

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If you could boil down your post-event survey down to one question, what would it be?

 

Recently I needed to call customer service for Delta Airlines regarding a possible change to my itinerary. Normally I’d use the web interface or mobile app for these types of things, but in this case apparently what I was trying to do somehow violated Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics, so digital methods were just not cooperating. I was forced to *GASP* use the telephone and talk to a real, live person.

The service representative was extremely pleasant, worked through several multi-city flight scenarios, trying each in turn to see how much they cost, including change fees, routing through various hubs, and other tricks of the trade. She was patient and creative as we tried out each possibility in the system. Wow, what a rare and wonderful customer service experience!

As she concluded the call, an automated voice asked me if I wanted to participate in a one question survey. I’m not normally good for completing ratings or surveys unless they’re only a couple of questions, and have abandoned more than my fair share of surveys once they’ve gone past the first page. But one question? I could handle that. Especially since my experience had been so great. I wanted to make sure my service rep was rewarded, and I was intrigued- what kind of information could you glean about my 20 minute call from one question?

The question was simple, brilliant, and not at all what I expected. It went something like this: “When thinking of the representative that just helped you, how likely would you be to hire them as a customer service representative?” I was presented with a 1-5 scale, I punched in the highest score, and that was it. Thank you, and goodbye.

Obviously, I was impressed with the power of that one question. Impressed enough to immediately jot it down as something I’d have to write about later. It got me thinking about the post-event surveys we deal with on a regular basis. As I mentioned a moment ago, I don’t have much tolerance for lengthy surveys, especially those where every response is marked “Required Field.” Unfortunately, far too often we see exactly that kind of survey as a follow up to our events.

How many people started your post-event survey, then abandoned it once they realized what they were getting into? How much of a representative sample are you really getting when only 5% of your attendees fill out your survey completely? There seems to be a hesitancy on the part of survey creators to have too few questions, as if important insights can’t be gleaned from a short survey, and that only pages and pages of required fields can get you the information you need.

But… what if… all you needed was just one question?

“Would you attend this event next year?” seems too simple, and doesn’t tell you much about anything. “Would you recommend this event to a friend?” Maybe, a little closer. But what about something like this: “If you were spend your own money, and not your organization’s, would you attend this event next year?” Getting closer. There are definitely events that I would only attend if the costs were being covered by someone else. There are others that I likely would pay my own money to attend.

So what would your event’s one question survey be? Leave a comment and let me know!

#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

Joining the team at Event Alley!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE First Ever Live Radio Show for the Event Industry Moves to Video, Adds New Team Members, Changes Air Day

Weekly online talk show will address challenges and bridge the gap between planners around the world in a new format, reaching thousands of event professionals each year

WASHINGTON, January 15

After 46 audio episodes last year, weekly online talk show Event Alley (www.eventalleyshow.com) is teaming up with new sponsors Eventsforce and HighRoad Solution to advance the event industry through a new video format.

Launched in January 2013, Event Alley offers business professionals the opportunity to ask for advice on challenges and current event projects, learn about new and exciting tools for planners, talk to leading authorities interviewed on air, hear about news stories affecting the industry, and give opinions on topics important to the community. The show will now air live weekly on Wednesdays at 10:00 AM PST / 1:00 PM EST / 7:00 PM CET, with recordings available in video and audio formats on the web.

Lindsey Rosenthal continues as the show’s executive producer and host, and will be joined weekly by Brandt Krueger, an event technology specialist based at metroConnections in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Canadian event producer Tahira Endean, CMP, of Cantrav Services in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Event Alley will return on Wednesday, January 22, with hosts Lindsey Rosenthal, Brandt Krueger, and Tahira Endean addressing recent events, industry news, and engaging live with audience members about experiences at The Special Event in Nashville, Tennessee, and PCMA’s Convening Leaders in Boston, Massachusetts.

About Event Alley Lindsey Rosenthal is the chief strategist of Events For Good (www.eventsforgood.org), a consulting firm helping nonprofits learn how to more effectively raise money through events. Rosenthal combines customized and memorable event experiences and effective and successful fundraising campaigns to yield impressive results based on the practice of fundraising event strategy.

Brandt Krueger is the director of video and production technology at metroConnections (www.metroconnections.com), which offers a single source for creating and managing the entire event experience from conferences and meetings to stage productions and transportation. For more than a decade, Brandt Krueger has been instrumental in the technology and production aspects of delivering client “wow” moments.

Tahira Endean is the director of creative and production at Cantrav Services (www.cantrav.com), a people-based organization that brings together the knowledge and passion of a team built over 30 continuous years of serving meetings, events and incentives to create smart, memorable and relevant programs.

Contact Lindsey J. Rosenthal, MTA Executive Producer Event Alley Show info@eventalleyshow.com @EventAlleyShow 347-709-9550

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On Being Nice to Airport, Airline, and Hotel Employees

Buh Bye

Ok, so much of what I’m about to say may seem obvious, but I can personally vouch for the fact that most of what highly paid motivational and inspirational keynote speakers say is, after you’ve heard it, pretty obvious stuff.  I’ve sometimes considered becoming a motivational speaker myself, with my “hook” being that I’ve heard hundreds of them and can boil most of it all down to about 10 salient points- but that, dear friends, is a story for another day. THIS story is about how I went from hating traveling to enjoying it, and it all started on a whim.

For a very long time, I really despised traveling.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the destinations, but I hated the journey.  I was blessed that my parents wanted their kids to be exposed to other cultures, peoples, and places, and we traveled a fair amount both inside the US and even a couple times abroad.  So now in my adult life, I really do love being in other cities all over the world, soaking up the surroundings, seeing how very different we all can be, and how very much alike we all are.

But the getting there... oh, man...

To start, there was the ear pain.  Every time I flew, my ears would properly “pop” and pressure-equalize on the way up, but not on the way down.  This would cause excruciating pain in my ears during decent, not unlike having your eardrum being squeezed by a vice made of ice needles.  The pain would usually subside once on the ground, but one or both of my ears would remain clogged with fluid for anywhere from 1 to 3 days.  After many years of trying every remedy people could think of - chewing gum, drinking water, pressure points, ritual sacrifice - I finally learned from my Dad, who had the same problem but to a much lesser degree, to use a special kind of silicon earplugs that cover the whole ear-hole.  That’s a technical term, of course.

This worked like magic, but I had to wear them for the entire ascent and descent.  It also had the secondary benefit of blocking out the other ear-holes on the flight that talked too much.  A happy ending to at least that part of the story, but the number of years that I just suffered through the pain far outweighed the ones where I knew that particular solution.

Setting my medical issues aside, everything about airports and airline personnel just rubbed me the wrong way, and it seemed as though every travel experience was worse then the last.  There was the time I was stranded in O’Hare overnight and slept on a bench (which I later turned into an unpublished short story called The Moving Walkway is About to End), or the time that I was stranded in the Bahamas with no money and a taxi voucher that no taxi driver would take.

Even in the years before 9-11, I always seemed to have issues with security.  When my parents would swing through town, I would meet them at the airport for dinner, and if I even had a scrap of a gum wrapper in my pocket it would set off the metal detector.  After 9-11?  Forget about it.  I was a constant subject of bag searches, pat downs, and explosive testing, mainly due to the large amount of electronics I have to bring along for the typical meeting production gig.  Or perhaps I had a 3.25 oz tub of hair gel that just needed to be confiscated by the Federal Government.

At the ticket counter and in the air, I found the airline employees unhelpful, inflexible, and sometimes downright mean.  During the times I was stranded, I was never offered a hotel voucher, bonus miles, or indeed (other than the useless taxi voucher) any compensation at all.  After having been drinking alcohol legally in the UK for a full semester abroad at age 20, I was carded and not served on the flight back, due to “US Federal Law”.  When I explained that there was no federal law regarding the legal drinking age in the US, I was told, “Then it’s Northwest Airlines Law.”  No drinky-drinky for me.  I settled back into my middle seat and scowled.

It definitely felt like every airport ticket counter person, every security guard, and every flight attendant in the world was out to make my travel life as miserable as they could.  To add insult to injury, I was traveling more and more for work, pretty much insuring a future filled with increased pain and suffering.

And then one day, I’d had enough.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was tired of feeling like a victim, tired of feeling helpless.  It was time to do something radical.  I decided to fight back in the only way I could.

I would kill them with kindness.

And so, on this utter whim, I decided one travel day to be just as unbelievably, doughnut-sprinkly sweet as I could, to every person I interacted with:

  • Long line at the baggage drop off?  *Big Smile* “Wow, you guys are really swamped today.  Hope you get to take a break soon!”
  • Bag check at security?  *Big Smile* “Sure, no problem!  I always get checked because of all the electronics gear I have to bring.  What’s that?  Oh that’s a wireless presenter mouse- pretty cool, huh?”
  • Getting an ever-shrinking bag of peanuts?  *Big Smile* “Thank you very much!”

At the end of the trip, I realized that I felt less tired, less put-upon, less grumpy.  So on my next trip, I continued to be just as nice as I possibly could to everyone I met:

  • At the gate- *Big Smile* “Hi how are you doing?  Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Want me to grab you a coffee or something?  You sure?  Ok, well I was wondering if there were any aisle seats available since it looks like I’m in a middle seat.  Oh, great, thanks!” (this was before it was so easy to see and change seats online)
  • On-plane flight attendant safety briefing? I watched every second carefully with a *Big Smile*.  I learned later that this is a big peeve of flight attendants all over the world- “At least pretend  like you’re listening, won’t you?  You think you’re tired of hearing it?”
Keep in mind the nearest exit may be behind you...

OK, so I said this would seem obvious, didn’t I?  But you can probably guess what started to happen.  People started being nicer to me, and I started feeling... happier.

It felt like I was getting more aisle seats (again before the ease of online seat-change) and exit rows.  Once I achieved medallion status as a frequent flyer, it felt like I was getting upgraded more often than my traveling companions.  A couple times I bought a drink and had it upgraded to a double at no extra charge.  “Here, have a couple of bags of peanuts.  You want some cookies, too?”

A friendly TSA agent informed me as we chatted while he looked through my bag that one of the biggest reasons bags get pulled aside is when they look like a mess of jumbled cables and wires on the X-ray, and if you take the time to coil and pack them neatly they’re able to more easily see what everything is.  And yes, I said friendly TSA agent.  I would not have guessed such a thing existed previously.  Guess what- they do.  A lot of them.

Turned out he was right.  I started very carefully coiling my cables and arranging the electronics gear neatly in my carry-on bag.  The number of times it got searched went from almost every time to maybe one out of every twenty.  Possibly even less, it happens so infrequently that it’s hard to remember.  But when it does, I remember to smile and not get upset about it.

Just one week after I got it, I left my brand new iPad on the floor of the plane, next to my seat.  Instead of it going into the black hole that expensive electronics left on airplanes go, I was called by Delta on my way home from the airport and told it was being kept safely (literally in a safe) for me in their office.  To this day I am convinced this is because I was nice to the flight attendant sitting in the jump seat facing me.  We chatted and I asked her where a safe place to put my iPad was, since I didn’t have a seat pocket in front of me.  It was she who recommended putting it next to the seat against the wall of the plane (an unusual place, and likely why I forgot it), and I’m sure it was she that took the time to get my name from the manifest to get it back to me.

Another TSA moment- I realized I still had my Leatherman multi-tool on my belt as I stood in the security line, almost at the front.  I looked around and saw a TSA agent standing nearby.  I put on a *Big Smile* and waved to him with a questioning look.  He came over and I apologized profusely for being so dumb as to forget to put my trusty belt tool in my checked luggage.  Rather than just confiscating it on the spot, he pointed out that a nearby money exchange kiosk was now offering “mail home” services for small items at a reasonable rate.  I thanked him profusely, left the line, and mailed it home for $10.  Much cheaper than a replacement!

I returned to the security checkpoint and got in line, happy to have saved my trusty Leatherman from certain doom, and fully prepared to go through the whole line again.  I saw the agent and gave him a “thumbs up” sign to let him know it had worked.  To my shock and surprise, he waived me over to him and let me into the First Class and Über Status line, which had only about 5 people in it.  Wow.  I mean... just... wow...

Things were working so well, I started applying this bizarre concept (being nice to people) to the good folks who worked for the hotels I was staying at.  Wouldn’t you know it?  I started getting better service and nicer rooms- higher floors, beautiful views.  I even got comped for no apparent reason to the “Executive Level” at a beautiful resort in California, with a private lobby and a fully stocked and staffed complimentary lobby bar that served breakfast and appetizers most of the day.

You see, faithful obvious truth-seekers, these people in the airline and hotel industry have to deal with hundreds and hundreds, sometimes thousands of people a day.  Most of them don’t stand out- they’re just anonymous faces marching by.  Which leaves only two types of people that do stand out: Those that are kind, pleasant, and brighten your day, and... assholes.  And I realized that I used to be one of the latter.

I mean really.  What flight attendant on an international flight with hundreds of passengers to take care of wants to be lectured by some smart-ass kid about the legal intricacies of state-based drinking age limits while over international waters?  C’mon, son...

Put simply, I hated traveling, so traveling hated me.  I started making the extra effort to be nice, and the whole experience was lifted up to not only tolerable, but down right enjoyable most of the time.

And there’s the key- it takes effort.  The kind of effort that most of us can’t spare as we move through our busy lives.  I’m not perfect at this, and believe me, if I could apply this sunshine and roses way of dealing with the world to the rest of my life 24-7, I would.  I have good days and bad days like everyone.  I have however chosen to try and make that extra effort in this particular area of my life, and it has paid back over and over.

Enjoy...

In fact, I believe it was a flight attendant who finally suggested the cure for my painful eardrum issues.  Sudafed.  That’s right, the decongestant.  Pseudoephedrine.  Take it about an hour before the flight and my ears pop and equalize perfectly normally.  No more earplugs.  I can actually wear headphones, or I can carry on a conversation, just like everyone else.  Though sometimes I do miss the quiet...

So there you have it.  The Great Secret of Enjoying Travel:  “Be nice to people.”  Wow.  Who’d have thought?  I know.  Crazy talk.

Studies have shown over and over again that even “fake smiling” can improve a person’s overall mood.  It also might just get you a bulkhead seat with extra legroom.  That can definitely improve your mood.  So sit back and enjoy the ride!

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 Recording Meetings - Avoid Post Event Trauma and Save Money by Asking a Few Questions

An image of a DV-HDV DeckI'm noticing a trend in the meetings industry:Easily 5 out of the last 6 shows I've worked on have requested the recorded video of their meeting.

While that's not all that unusual in and of itself, what's different is that they're requesting it almost immediately after the program, and are wanting it in a digital format so that they can edit it and get it up on either their internal or external websites.

What does this mean for meeting planners?  You might think, "Nothing" or "No big deal" or even "Duh."  With the proliferation of high bandwidth internet connections, smart phones, and the ubiquitous YouTube videos (and their ease of creation), clients are naturally expecting to be able to get bits and pieces of their event onto the Internet in short order.

What it does is add one more conversation that needs to happen before the event, and preferably before the equipment budget is finalized.  There are many different "levels" of recording a show, varying from "goes in a box somewhere" to "going to be sold as a Blu-Ray DVD", and that level not only has a direct impact on the equipment needed for the meeting, but also can affect the out of pocket expenses of the client before, during, and after the show.  Put simply? Planning ahead can save everyone involved headaches and money- most of which are caused by having the wrong level of record, or one that doesn't meet the clients expectations even if they aren't sure what those expectations are themselves.

Here's the low down on the various types of meeting and event records:

Level 0: "No recording." Frankly, this rarely if ever happens when there's a camera in play, but it never hurts to ask your AV provider if recording is included in the price.

Level 1: "Goes in a box somewhere." For this level we usually see one of two types of record strategies.  First, there is the on-camera record.  Only the video taken by the camera is put on the tape.  On slightly older cameras these are usually DVCAM tapes, and on newer "pro-sumer" HD models the video is recorded on what's called HDV tapes.  The cost increase from level one is the cost of tapes, which aren't cheap. Almost $35 per 184 minute tape.

The second option is a "program feed" record.  A separate record deck is inserted into the video rig, and whatever's being sent to the screen is recorded.  Be careful- there's a terminology trap here. Some AV vendors (and myself, before being bitten in the rear one too many times) use the terms "Line Cut" and "Program Feed" interchangeably, however... "Line Cut" is a term derived from Television production, and refers to a particular edit that just contains camera angle switches.  A "Program Feed" should include anything that's being shown on the screen.  Make sure you know which you're getting!  Most vendors are capable of doing this kind of record, but you have to ask for it.  The cost goes up by not only the price of the tapes, but also the cost of the deck.

When the show is over, your AV vendor gives you or your clients the tapes, and they go in a box somewhere.

Level 2: "There's a chance we might use it someday," or "We might want to at least watch it." Basically you're looking at the same as above, but you need to keep a couple things in mind.  If you just hand your clients the tapes, they probably can't watch them.  Most people don't have a DVCAM or HDV (or BETACAM, which still rears its ugly head from time to time) deck lying around the office.  Your AV vendor or production company obviously does, as you just used one on your event.  See if they'll include a basic video transfer to DVD so that at least you can give the client those, which should be watchable on any consumer DVD player or computer.  If they can't, there's usually at least one company in every major city that specializes in media format changes- VHS->DVD for example.  They can usually do this for a moderate fee.  For our part, metroConnections usually includes this transfer of the program feed to DVD in the price of production.

Level 3: "We're definitely going to use it at some point." Either of the previous two options will work for some clients.  Hopefully you've handed them the tapes along with a DVD copy.  They can watch the DVD, decide what they like, hand the tapes over to a video editing company and have their footage professionally edited and put together.  If the client knows this is going to happen, though, you might throw one more option at them- the combination of both the "on camera" record (also sometimes known as ISO) as well as the program feed.  This is especially helpful when PowerPoints or other PC/Mac-based presentations are involved.  The client can provide the video editors both sets of tapes, and the editor can use the program feed as a reference to add the PowerPoints back into the final edit.  By having the ISOs as well as the original PowerPoint materials, the editor can precisely edit when the speaker is on the screen and when the slide is- something that doesn't always come out perfectly with the on-site switching that gets sent to the program feed.

Level 4: "We're definitely going to use it next week." One of the biggest problems with the above scenarios are that they're all tape-based.  That means that when it comes time to get that information off the tape, it has to happen in real time- just like all those VHS tapes you have in your basement somewhere.  If your conference was three days long, eight hours a day, guess how long it will take just to get the footage into an editable form? Yup. Ouch.  This is probably the biggest "gotcha" point." Video houses are probably going to charge you or your client wicked rush charges to turn around that much footage in a short amount of time, or simply won't have time to do it.  If your client knows they're going to use the footage, try and get a reasonable understanding of when they intend to do so, and set their expectations accordingly.

Another option is to use a hard drive recorder.  This is basically the same as the tape decks of old, but records the video directly to either an internal or external hard drive.  These are definitely going to be more expensive than DVCAM or HDV decks, but you can turn around the footage much faster.  Usually they write to a format that can be edited almost right away in Final Cut.

If you get the right cameras, you can record them on hard drives there as well.   Then you're able to get the benefits mentioned in "Level 3".  Again it's more expensive on the front end, but theoretically you or the client is saving money on rush charges and editing time.  If you don't have ISO records, the editor has to guess where the PPT slides go, and this usually involves watching the program from start to finish.  If you have both the program feeds and the ISOs, you can skim around and look for the changes.

It's important to note that all of the options above involve some kind of specialty equipment at some point in the process before the client gets the footage in their hands.  DVCAM Tapes require tape decks that can read DVCAM tapes, HDV decks the same, and even when recording to hard disk, chances are you're going to need a Mac (most of the formats I've seen are QuickTime variations that don't play nice with Windows).

There's a bunch of levels in between the ones I've laid out here, but these are the most common ones I've run into.  I mentioned the "Going to be put out on Blu-Ray" level- if that's the case, you need to have a very serious talk about expectations, because in most cases that's going to involve an entirely separate record crew from the normal production crew, essentially doubling your costs.

Hopefully though, this is enough to get the conversation started, and enough to give you an informed viewpoint in that conversation.  Ultimately you should be able to guide your client into the right fit for what they want balanced with what they can afford to pay.