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The 10 Biggest Little Mistakes In Rental And Staging

As their vendor, AV rental customers not only want you to handle any problem that arises ? they expect you to prevent it in the first place. Anyone can make problems go away, but the art of mastering rental and staging jobs is in having the customer believe there won't be any mistakes.

As their vendor, AV rental customers not only want you to handle any problem that arises — they expect you to prevent it in the first place. Anyone can make problems go away, but the art of mastering rental and staging jobs is in having the customer believe there won't be any mistakes. The extra time and effort it takes to avoid slip ups will pay back many times over in long-term loyal customers. But … no one is perfect. Here, in no particular order, are the 10 most common mistakes AV rental companies make in their execution of value-added services.

1. Sending the wrong cables, leaving out accessories

Audio/video technology has more options than ever for connecting pieces. The best way to avoid a dissatisfied customer is to send all the cables and accessories that could be used to a job. This especially applies to single-item rentals, such as portable video projectors.

The typical product can take a video signal via RCA video, S-video, BNC video, or YUV (in RCA or BNC connectors). Computer signals connect through multiple VGA or DVI connectors. Audio may use RCA stereo or 1/8-inch mini-plug stereo. Customers expect to be able to use any or all of these features, so you can bet the cable you forget will be the very one they were counting on.

Industry best practice for proper equipment packaging starts with checklists and ends with procedures (photo 1). Permanently place a list of all the parts that go with each item inside or outside the package for that item. Go through that list with the customer at the beginning and end of each rental. The most important accessory for any item — whether it goes out with a customer or your own technicians — is an after-hours technical support phone number.

2. Cables improperly placed or unsecured on the floor

Remember the top three priorities when placing cables. Protect the people who will use the space, protect the cable, and intrude as a little as possible into the space. Proper cable placement is both an art and a science — the goal is to balance the aesthetic choices against safety, as shown in photos 2 and 3. The good news is that safe installations also tend to be pleasing to the eye. Some basic rules to reach these goals:

Cable runs should follow walls wherever possible and extend into the room at 90 degree angles. Lines to podiums should first extend away from the side and then straight to the nearest wall or partition, crossing any pedestrian paths, at a 90 degree angle. This is to reduce tripping hazards — a person can better negotiate over a straight line than an angled one.

If placing a cable path in a high-traffic area is unavoidable, do so prominently to minimize the potential for tripping. If you have to choose between crossing a doorway that will be used by pedestrians versus one for equipment or catering carts, remember this: people will do less damage and pose a smaller risk to the integrity of the signals in the cable. In general, avoid the main doorway to the room whenever possible (photo 4).

Any cable in a pathway or traffic area needs to be covered and secured to the floor. Vinyl-cloth tape, also known as gaffer's tape, is the cable cover of choice. Don't confuse this product with duct tape, which will leave adhesive material on your cables and flooring. One to two lines of quarter-inch-thick cables can be covered with three-inch widths of tape. Larger groups or thicker cables need a rubber mat or carpet strip taped over the path, because they are more likely to pull up even the most careful taping job. It is also vital that no connectors fall within the pedestrian path. Reposition the cable or add extensions to move any connectors out of the way.

3. Failure to back up the equipment most likely to fail

In the rental and staging business, there is no end to the gear that could fail. Experience will teach you when and where to back things up, but there are some usual suspects to always keep in mind. Voted most likely to fail in a meeting room are wireless microphones (or anything wireless, for that matter), projector lamps, and videotape machines.

Wireless mics always seem to work great during testing, but radio frequency problems can appear anytime, without warning. The best backup for a wireless microphone is a wired one. Always place a hand-held mic with a long cord next to the stage or podium, and brief presenters on when and how to use it. Wired lavalieres also can be a good standby, but are awkward to implement in a crisis.

It's a mistake not to expect projector lamps to fail. Being ready for this is more an exercise in risk management than a direct backup, though that certainly may be an option. A practical approach is monitoring lamp hours, and replacing lamps when they reach 80 percent of their intended life or 60 percent of output. Keep backup lamps in stock for the inevitable. Premature lamp failure usually occurs in the first 10 hours of use, so it's recommended to burn in new lamps at the shop for eight to 10 hours, then return them to the shelf as tested backups.

Believe it or not, videotape machines will be around a while longer, which means they will continue to jam or break down. This is another case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Cleaning tape heads regularly will thwart the most common failures. AV staging best practice is to have a redundant deck wired, tested, and ready for use. Customers also should be advised to bring two copies of any tape, CD, computer disk, or other software required for the event.

4. Placing the screen too low

Rental salespersons spend a lot of time negotiating the proper size of the screen for the customer. A good rule of thumb on this front is: The vertical dimension of the screen should equal one-sixth the distance from the screen to the last viewer (for instance, 60 feet viewing distance equals a 10-foot-tall screen). Recommend a slightly larger image for computer application content, and know that a smaller image will work for video images. Everyone wants a bigger screen; the trick is fitting it into the room so that everyone can see it.

Most screen manufacturers recommend that the bottom of the image be about 48 inches from the floor, which means the image will be partially obstructed for viewers several rows away. The more densely packed the room is, the higher the screen needs to be. For every additional 30 feet (about eight rows of theater seating), add six inches of height, up to a total of 96 inches. These parameters will pose a problem quickly in many meeting rooms with low and high ceilings (photo 5). For example, a 50-foot by 75-foot meeting room will seat 400 people theater style. The depth of the room dictates about a 54-inch image clearance to the floor and 10 feet, six inches of screen height. The top of the screen needs 15 feet of clearance — a generous ceiling height in most venues.

Solving the screen placement dilemma while maintaining minimum viewing parameters is more art than science. If you were to set up the example room along the long wall, the necessary screen vertical dimension drops by almost two feet, and the bottom of the image height could be reduced by several inches. In extreme cases, adding smaller displays to the back of the room might do the trick — and enhance the rental.

5. Putting controls where the customer can reach them — or not putting controls

The nature of the meeting will determine how much control the presenters will need over the hardware. Informal seminars A presenter usually can operate an informal seminar. Awards shows, shareholders' meetings, and presentations by high-level executives generally require AV technicians to run them. For the rental salesperson, the number of microphones or video sources can serve as a guide, while the buyer should consider the intended experience for the attendees.

Even when presenters need to work the production, it's not necessarily the best idea to give them control over all the technology aspects. Equalization and gain structure are best left to the technical staff to preset. Volume controls, on the other hand, are something everyone wants to have. The best user interface is a rotary knob (photo 6). Audio mixing boards with sliders and mute buttons — no matter how simple or well-labeled — tend to overwhelm even the most sophisticated presenter (photo 7).

Control over switching video inputs is an absolute necessity for today's electronically empowered presenter. It is not unusual for multiple speakers to each have a computer to show, and perhaps a DVD or videotape. In these cases, a well-labeled switcher will reduce the \times a technician will need to be called into the room. A preview monitor that displays the source and a confidence display that shows the same thing as the screen are becoming standard features at conventions and meetings.

Placing controls for easy access also is important (photo 8). Controls inside the podium seem like a good idea, until someone needs to reach them while another person is speaking. Sooner or later, a technician may need to come into the room and make an adjustment. Setting controls to the side of the stage anticipates this while leaving things accessible to the presenter.

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