Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Should I order a plated lunch or a buffet for my meeting?

Believe it or not, this is a question even seasoned planners ask themselves on a regular basis. The answer is dependent on factors such as number of diners, budgetary limits, and amount of time available in the schedule for lunch. Let’s take a look at when you might prefer to use one rather than the other…

Plated lunches are often cheaper than buffets, which is one reason why you might choose this type of lunch. Why are they usually cheaper? Basically, it comes down to number of options and portion control. There is more variety in a buffet than with plated meals. A plated meal will have an entrée, and one or two side dishes while a buffet typically has 2-3 entrée options and 2-4 side dishes to choose from. With a plated lunch, the kitchen can control how much food is served to each diner, allowing them to know with some certainty exactly how much each person eating will cost them in terms of ingredients and labor for your chosen meal. Buffets have little to no portion control. Each diner can take as much or as little as they want. These two factors mean that the kitchen has to prepare more food overall than if the meal is plated. After all, you (and they) do not want an entrée choice or a side dish to run out before everyone has had a chance to get some!

Buffet menus, as mentioned above, typically offer more variety to your diners than plated meals. This is particularly valuable if you are working with a group whose dietary restrictions and preferences are unknown to you. With a buffet, you can accommodate most dietary preferences with ease. Accommodating various diets with a plated lunch simply requires special meals to be prepared by the kitchen. This is not difficult but it is one more thing that you, as the planner, need to be aware of and plan for.

Other factors can also come into play in determining which type of meal, plated or buffet, you choose to serve. Time and number of diners are the two biggest ones that come to mind. Buffets work great when you have a lot of time and not a lot of diners. When you have a lot of diners and very little time to feed everyone, plated meals are almost always best.

I have had some people tell me that plated is always better or that buffet is always the one I should choose but the truth is: the better choice is the one that is right for each particular group and to never consider both options is to remove an effective tool from your meeting planning toolkit. Remember, no matter which type of service you choose, the goal is the same: to efficiently serve your guests so that they get a good dining experience that fits your meeting or conference.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three Rules for Using PowerPoint

One of the most frustrating things I have encountered when attending workshops at a conference is to have a presenter really misuse PowerPoint. It is a tool that has replaced slides in meetings and, while making it easy for anyone to create presentations, has unfortunately also brought out some of the worst urges in presenters. I have attended many workshops where speakers have flooded the screen with irrelevant images, overwhelming amounts of information, animations, and other “enhancements” that end up just distracting the audience from the full value of the material. With that in mind, here are my three “rules” for using PowerPoint…

Rule #1: 6x6. This helps me remember to not have more than six lines of text on any given slide AND that I should have no more than six words per line of text. When the screen is jammed full with text, the audience cannot pick out what is really important. As a presenter, I should make it so that the audience can easily see what is important in the material. Limiting the amount of text on the slide means I can use a larger font (making it easier to read from a distance) and the audience can listen to what I am saying rather than spend all their time trying to read the slides.

Rule #2: High Contrast. Have you ever tried to read yellow text on a red background? It is not easy. Light colors on dark backgrounds work well, as does dark text on light backgrounds. I have heard some arguments for choosing one approach over the other, but the two sides agree that having high contrast will make the slide easier for the audience to read.

Rule #3: Judicious Use of Images. This rule also applies to sounds, movies, and animations. I am not saying that you cannot use images, etc. but you need to be sure that the images add something useful to the presentation other than “flash”. Content should stand on its own and not need much more to illustrate its value. My feeling is that when speakers overuse flashy add-ons such as animations, those end up being distractions that take an audience away from the content. If you like the flashy stuff, go ahead and include it. Just be careful to not add so much of it that the content delivery suffers.

In many cases, these rules can be bent or even broken (perhaps I should have called them guidelines instead). But it is important that, if you choose to break a rule, you know exactly why you are doing it. If you need some slides to have more than six lines of text to get your point across, then do so. If the animations or images help draw attention to a particularly important part of the material or enhance a theme, then I often consider that a good use of the technique and an appropriate time to bend or break the rules.

A dancer friend of mine once joked about his “flash and trash” routines, observing that the flashy footwork distracted the audience from his rusty technique. When entertaining a crowd, “flash and trash” may be good enough (I certainly have done that enough times, myself) but, when it comes to professional presentations, I want to make sure that the flashy additions do not hide or obscure the information being shared. After all, people generally go to educational sessions to be educated first – and entertained second. Don’t let the entertainment detract from the education in your next presentation.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Five Factors Affecting the Brightness of Projected Images

This may seem like a very specialized topic for a meeting planner but it is actually something that all meeting planners need to learn at least a few basics about. As mentioned in previous posts, I will often defer to the expert audio-visual (AV) techs when I need specialized knowledge about AV for my meetings. However, I also make sure that I understand enough to be able to keep up with what they are doing. Learning these five factors has been a big help to me in doing just that when it comes to projectors – especially those LCDs that every presenter seems to want these days…

So what are the top five factors that determine how bright or powerful the projector needs to be? Well, I’ve listed them here in order of importance – from most to least – as I see them.

Ambient Light: Essentially, this is “how much light is there in the room?” The more light there is, the more light (brightness) you will need the projector to put out in order to get a clear image projected on the screen that everyone can easily see.

Size of Projected Image: Effective brightness drops as the image size increases. This is due to the fact that the projector’s light output does not change while the surface area goes up, which means less light per square foot on the screen. A more powerful projector can overcome this. It is worth noting that the light levels can drop precipitously as the image size increases. According to some estimates I’ve seen, doubling the image size can result in as much as a 75% reduction in image brightness!

Aspect Ratio: The standard aspect ratios that people are used to seeing are 4x3 (TV) and 16x9 (widescreen) but there are many more out there... In essence, though, the higher the aspect ratio, the more light the projector needs to produce to maintain image brightness due to the increased area that needs to be illuminated.

Projection Surface: Different surfaces have different refraction rates; that is, light “bounces” off of them differently. Some surfaces reflect more light while others reflect less. This can affect how the eye sees images that are projected – not just the colors of images, but also the clarity and brightness. If you are using a standard screen, you don’t really need to worry about this factor.

Projector Calibration: I’ve listed this one last because it the one factor that I have rarely, if ever, actually seen have an effect on the projected image. It is possible, but very rare. Typically, the other factors make such a difference that this one is accommodated without the audience even being aware it exists. Every projector is calibrated slightly differently. They may be near to identical when they leave the factory but, through use and “wear and tear”, they can become slightly “off” from others of the same make and model. A replacement bulb might also be an issue, changing how the final image looks onscreen – even when all other factors have been accounted for.

When setting up a projector and screen for a presenter, I always try to take these factors into account. I am not always able to minimize the effects of each factor but I can usually adjust for that by selecting a more powerful projector – one that puts out more light. Testing during setup is very important as well, so you can make sure that you have done everything you can to make the presenter look good. If they remember the presenter – and not how the AV looked – then you have done your job…

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What is Keystoning?

If you have video presentations of any kind at your meetings, you will eventually run into a problem called “keystoning” or the “keystone effect”. Taken originally from architecture, keystoning is the name given to the effect that occurs when the projector is placed above or, more commonly, below the center for the projection surface (the screen), which results in the image hitting the screen at an angle. If the projector is placed below the center of the screen, then the resulting image looks like a keystone, with the top of the image wider than the bottom.

So how can you fix this?

Placing the projector centered relative to the screen and exactly perpendicular to the screen will solve this but, while it is the optimal solution, it is often not an easy solution to implement. Fortunately, projector manufacturers have two possible technical solutions to the problem and at least one of these will be built into most modern projectors: Digital Correction or Optical Correction.

Digital Correction, or Keystone Correction, is very common with LCD projectors and is easy for the average person to use. In fact, there are often buttons on the projector that allow the user to correct keystoning without needing to go through sub-menus. What digital correction does is compress the image on one side (be it top, bottom, left, or right) while expanding the image on the opposite side. This “squares off” the image, resulting in a box shaped image. A word of caution, though… If the correction goes too far in compressing or expanding, some images could look a bit distorted at the edges of the projection. This is rare, but I have seen it happen.

Optical Correction, also called Lens Shift, physically adjusts the position of the lens to square up the image. This often results in a clearer image than digital correction but is a high-end feature so is typically only available on the more expensive LCD models.

Most of the planners I know find digital correction to be sufficient for their needs but those working with detailed video projections prefer to use optical correction. I also find that, for smaller screens and smaller groups, digital correction works just fine. For larger events, though, where I need a much larger image, getting a projector with optical correction gives me the extra quality that I am looking for. Then again, if the image quality is that important, I will also go to the effort to raise the projector to be closer to the center of the screen. After all, why worry about keystone correction through the projector at all if I can simply move the projector itself and avoid the problem…?

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Computer Applications for Meeting Planners

“Do I go with traditional, computer-based applications or move into web-based applications for my meetings?” While attending the SGMP national conference in Kansas City last month, I was drawn into several discussions around this very question and it is one that is quietly becoming a hot issue in our industry. While the hype is all in favor of web-based computing, there are advantages to being “offline” as well and I found that many people did not really take the time to look at both options – but nonetheless had strong feelings about it. In my mind, there are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches and to be a good meeting planner requires that you take the time to figure out which approach is best for you and your clients.

In a nutshell, computer-based applications are programs that “live” on your computer. You load them onto your machine and have access to them typically only with that machine. Internet access is not required for most (if not all) of these applications. Web-based applications on the other hand are not loaded on your computer. Internet access is required to use the software, but you can often use the programs from any machine since typically all you need in addition to an internet connection is a user name and password to use them. So what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Computer-based apps are very common, so the odds of finding something that will serve your needs are high. In fact, there are often several options that would meet your needs, which helps keep prices relatively low. If you have a higher budget, you can purchase (or have “built” for you) task-specific software that is more tailored to your needs. Many computer-based applications are easy to install and come with regular updates once you’ve registered the software. On the down side, these traditional programs usually create “flat” files, which are difficult to transfer or translate into other programs. They also tend to be very generalized, especially at the cheaper end of the spectrum. [This makes sense if you think about it: commercial software costs quite a bit to produce. The more potential users who can purchase it means you can sell it for less and still make a profit – but that means you have to make it more general to appeal to more potential users…] Customization is both a plus and a minus here. You can usually customize the software to meet your specific needs from project to project, but you are the one who has to do the customizing. Depending on your level of comfort with that, this could be a big drawback or not much of an issue.

Web-based programs (sometimes referred to as cloud computing) are even easier to install since there is little to no software that is actually installed on your computer. You reduce the need for technical expertise in your organization because the software is maintained by the company who sold you the product. Updates are automatic – you don’t need to do a thing. These programs are also usually pretty easy to learn to use and allow for some customization on your part; it really depends on the product (which is also true of traditional applications). Another plus: your data can easily be updated into new formats, transferred, or translated into another application. The biggest drawback of web-based applications concerns control of your data. Your data does not reside on your computer; it exists only on the servers of the host company and is accessible only through the portal that you access with your user name and password. As with customization, this could be a large or small issue for you, depending on your circumstances.

The issue of internet dependency is, for me, at the heart of the matter. Web-based applications require internet access. While this may be less of an issue as more and more smart phones enter the market and permeate our industry, it is still a factor. Yes, you can access your data from anywhere – so long as you have a connection. I find myself in enough buildings where access is limited (or is available for a fee) to make this an obstacle. Computer-based apps are not necessarily any better since you have to actually have the computer available that has your data (and the software) on it, which presents it’s own set of issues from security to transport.

At this point, my feeling is that web-based applications will not totally replace computer-based apps any time soon, in spite of what the cheerleaders are saying, as there are still many advantages to having offline access to data and software. However, they are correct in that this is the wave of the future and there is a huge potential out there for cloud computing in the meetings industry. We, as meeting planners, need to stay on top of that wave, learning about the products and options that will become primary tools for us as we move forward into the future. I hope this overview was helpful in getting you started…

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises