Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What is a Mixer?

This is a fairly generic term and how you define it will depend heavily on the context you are in – so let’s give it some context. Since this is a blog written by meeting planners, we’ll be looking at defining “mixer” in that light. But, even within the context of meetings and conferences, there is still more than one definition of “mixer” that could apply.

If you were to ask this question during a conference, most people will probably respond with one definition right off the bat: an event, often held in the evening, at which people gather for networking, informal discussions, or just to meet new people. Nearly every meeting planner, though, has also had to become familiar with another kind of mixer that is critical to the success of our meetings – and it is a specific piece of audio-visual technology that anyone with technical experience in a theater will instantly be familiar with… a mixer.

Whenever you order more than one microphone, the audio-visual department (or company) will almost always include a mixer. Why? What is so important about this device that they add one when all you need or want are the microphones?

Well, the short (and not-so-helpful) answer usually given is that you cannot have multiple microphones in a room without a mixer, but that still doesn’t really answer the question of what it does or why you need one so let’s break it down a bit further…

A microphone takes sound and converts it to an electronic signal, which is then sent to a speaker for conversion back into sound, which an audience can then hear. The electronic signal can be sent through a cable (wire) or wirelessly. If you only have one microphone, you usually don’t need anything further to make the system work - the microphone connects directly to the speaker. However, speakers can only convert one signal into sound at a time. So how does a single speaker unit handle multiple inputs and know which input to use? Through the intervention of a mixer. A mixer takes those multiple inputs, manages the signals, and then sends one signal out to the speaker, allowing the audience to seamlessly listen to multiple microphones effectively at the same time. A mixer also allows you to manipulate the signal strength of each input, raising it or dropping it (even down to zero) as needed for your final output.

So what size of a mixer do you need for your meeting? The answer is determined by how many sources, or inputs, you have. You need one channel for each input and every microphone (whether wired or wireless) or audio source counts as an input. So, if you have three microphones, you will need at least a 4-channel mixer. Why not a 3-channel mixer? Well, they don’t exist. Mixers come in a variety of sizes; each one is double the size of the one before it. So – 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, and 128-channel sizes are your choices. There are, I’m sure, mixers out there larger than a 128-channel mixer but I have yet to see one myself and I have never had a need, at any of my events, for more than 128 channels.

What happens if you have, say, 20 inputs from microphones, videos, and so forth – but don’t have a single mixer large enough to handle them all at once? The solution in this case is to concatenate, or “chain together”, two or more smaller mixers to get enough channels to cover your needs. For example, to get 20 channels, I might combine two 16-channel mixers together or pair a 16-channel mixer with an 8-channel mixer. When chaining mixers, you take the output from one mixer and feed it into one of the channels on another mixer – this means that combining an 8 and a 16-channel mixer together gives you a total of 23 channels available for your various inputs. Chaining mixers is a good work-around if you don’t have a mixer with sufficient channels to handle all of you inputs, but it is possible to run into some signal degradation issues if you link too many mixers together, so be careful with this approach. As always with AV issues, be sure to talk with your AV tech about any questions, concerns, or problems you have with the technology and how it relates to your event – they are there to help you.

Though technology stuff can get kind of boring for many people, I hope this brief overview on mixers has shown you how this single piece of AV equipment, while not often asked for (though often provided), is actually a crucial piece in making sure that your presenters sound good and that the audience can hear them clearly. Now, whether the audience is paying attention or not is another question entirely…

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How can a hotel deliver great service to a meeting planner?

This is a common question I get from hotel sales managers, CSMs, GMs, and others – both before I book a group and while that group in in-house. In fact, the question comes up so often during pre-cons that I actually have a script I use just for those meetings. So, what is my usual response? Here it is, in a much shorter – and slightly altered form…

The key to delivering great service to a professional meeting planner is to deliver great service to the event participants.

Why is that?

The tendency for many hotel staff is to treat the meeting planner (and any designated VIPs) very well, which makes some sense for a couple of reasons. First, the meeting planner is often a single individual, which makes it easy to single them out for great service. Even when you add in the planner’s staff and event VIPs, you’re still talking about a relatively small group for hotel staff to identify. Second, the planner and VIPs are seen as being the decision-makers for where events go in the future so, as the thinking goes, treat them well and they will return. Both of those reasons are sound enough by themselves but I feel that they leave out the most important component – the attendees. An event’s attendees are, in my view, a main reason the event exists; if they don’t come, there is no event.

Remember, too, not all VIPs are labeled as such. You never know who is attending the meeting. Someone who is attending one event may be a decision-maker for another event that is sponsored by his own agency or company (I have had people like this at some of my functions). Provide great service to that person – especially when they are just a “regular” attendee – and you just gave yourself a leg up to get their business down the road, too.

If a hotel can win over the meeting participants with their service, the chances of getting that group to return to the property in the future go up considerably. I have actually had properties take such good care of my folks that I’ve practically been ordered to use that hotel again, even though my own experience with them was less than stellar.

On the flip side, a planner who takes unhappy participants back to the same venue risks losing attendees – which can have a huge impact on the event’s bottom line, especially if people pay a fee to attend. If they do take that group back to the same property, the planner had better seriously address the issues that made it unpleasant for the attendees – and make that known to the group.

I know the hotel will take good care of me (and my VIPs) – that’s easy – but I want them to take good care of my attendees, too. That is as important to me, if not more so, than just looking out for me and my VIPs.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What is the difference between a Split Set and a Double Set?

When this question came to me, I went looking for an “official” definition of the terms and found…none. So – I will present my definitions of the terms and, hopefully, a bit more information about each as well…

First off, definitions. How do I define these terms?

Both sets share the fact that you are placing more than one type of seating in the same room; the difference is in how and when they are used.

Split Set: This refers to a room set in which there are multiple types of seating being used at the same time in the same room. For example, I have a group that uses a U-Shape configuration (a variation of Hollow Square) and Classroom seating in the same room at the same time. The members of the group sit at the U-Shape to conduct their business, while the Classroom seating is for observers and staff who are there to support the work being done. Another example would be setting up a convention hall with Classroom seating in the front and Theater seating along the sides and in the back. Everyone there is part of the same session, listening to the same speakers, but they have more than one seating style to choose from.

Double Set: I use this term to refer to a room with more than one set (but usually just two) where the two types of seating are not used at the same time. As an example here, I may request one half of a ballroom to be set up with Classroom seating for the meeting but have the other half set up in Rounds to be used for lunch service. When possible, I will often create a visual barrier with plants or privacy screens to separate the two spaces. Yes, they share the same room but they are used for two different purposes.

As you can see from the examples, there are certainly plenty of times that you might use either a Split Set or a Double Set. But can you do both? Of course you can! In fact, I have done this myself on more than one occasion. The beauty about most meeting spaces at hotels and convention centers is that they can be used in a wide variety of ways – how you use the space is limited only by your imagination (and certain legal codes…).

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

RDL enterprises Joins the GSA Schedule!

The staff at RDL enterprises has spent the last year working through the application process with the Federal Government to be awarded a GSA Schedule. This schedule puts RDL on a list that State and Government contractors can go to and locate services to bid on for up and coming contracts, as opposed to posting it on a public website. We are pleased to announce that we received our GSA approval on March 8th, 2011!

There were many steps in the application process and reams of paperwork & Internet searches. We were able to connect with the local Federal Technology Center and can’t say enough about the positive support we got from their representatives. This service is provided at no cost to small businesses.

LD Ventures, dba RDL enterprises, submitted its application last March and were told over and over again, by the GSA office, that our application was in the very tall pile of other applications for review. We finally heard from the GSA office in December 2010, that we had some additions & corrections to make on our application.

Finally, in February, all the paperwork was finalized. Now that has been completed, the next step is to create our personalized GSA Schedule for approval and then we will need to upload our schedule to GSA’s eLibrary. Once that has been completed, our schedule will be available for other federal contractors to locate us for services our company can provide, as well as government agencies.

Now that we’re on the GSA schedule, we have to market, market, & market some more to the federal agencies where we believe our meeting, conference, and event-planning services are needed. On that note, the Executive Directors of RDL will be flying to Chantilly, Virginia in April to the Annual OSDBU Conference (Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization). Attending this conference will be our first big step in networking with many of the federal contractors that may be interested in purchasing our services.

Working with the Federal Government is a huge challenge, but we at RDL are excited about the opportunity to meet that challenge. So, with GSA Contract number in hand, we are off for an adventure in Government Networking! We are going equipped with all of our new tools, so wish us luck! It will boost our confidence even more!

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises