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What can go Wrong – Technology

Technical issues with conferencing equipment can be a real bug-bear, but often it’s just a matter of dealing with potential problems, before they happen.

Many years ago, I was involved in the organisation of an IT seminar, at a major Central London Hotel. I was assisting with the presentation itself; a colleague was charged with sorting out the venue.  In many ways he did apply due diligence, in terms of making sure that the venue offered precisely what we needed in terms of technical resources.

White-board – check, sufficient seating – check, and so on.


The seminar was concerned with external communications in IT.  At the time in question, computers communicated remotely, if they did at all, via modems and telephone lines.  So, an important item on the list: sufficient telephones – check.

We arrived at the venue an hour before the event, to discover a pile of walkabout radio-phones helpfully left for us on the conference room table. No land-line was available in the room, making it completely useless for the purposes of our seminar.

Well, of course, some risibly bad planning was involved here, you might say.  But how many times have you sat down at just such a conference room table, or in an auditorium for a talk, and the first thing that happens, your first real introduction to the capabilities and competencies of the speaker(s) involved,  is that something technical goes wrong?

Avoiding ‘Glitches’

An event organiser’s reputation can be seriously harmed by irritating, minor, technical problems. This is especially true if such things recur throughout a conference or meeting. However, it is possible to take action beforehand, which will at least reduce the likelihood that something will go wrong.

Investigate the venue and its technical resources thoroughly, and if at all possible, in person. Here are some questions it is often useful to ask.

(a)    Is WiFi available in the room itself? If so, how many laptops can the system reasonably be expected to support?

(b)   Is there a separate broadband line you can use for the laptop/PC the speaker(s) will be using? You don’t want this to be vying for bandwidth with those of the attendees.

(c)    Is there a PA? Do you intend to use it? If so, check it out. What are the problems as far as feedback is concerned? A lapel mike will often cause annoying feedback, especially if the voice of the speaker is low (in volume). Is there a hand-mike? (this usually solves the problem). If there isn’t a hand-mike, or if you don’t wish to use one, you can sometimes get away with turning the ‘treble’ on the PA down, which will reduce the risk of feedback.

(d)   How are the lights controlled? A simple question, but one that many organisers I’ve had experience of, have not though to ask themselves before the event. If you are using any visual display equipment, you will almost certainly have to turn down the lights, before putting it into use.

(e)   Indeed, do you intend to use the visual display equipment provided by the venue? Well, see the comments about that, in Conclusions below.

(f)     Finally, will there be someone on hand who can ‘drive’ the equipment, if you’re none-too sure that you can? And, of course, HOW available can they be?

This is a just a very rough-and-ready check- list, specific venues and situations will bring other considerations to prominence. The thing to remember above all, of course, is to try not to leave these minor technical issues to chance.


Surely though, with advancing technology, these kinds of problem will recede into the past won’t they? Resources will be simply – available – like the electric light switch, nothing like the situation first outlined, with the radio-phones, could happen now for instance. Well, perhaps not.

I recently had a conversation with the events manager of a major new conference venue. They have a large auditorium equipped with the very latest, cutting edge audio-visual facilities. So, I asked her, to do a talk here, all I would have to do is bring my laptop along, with my presentation on it, plug into the USB, and that’s it?

“Well, yes.” She said hesitatingly, “But we do prefer people to use our laptop, just bring along a memory stick.” Yes, I thought and hope that the software etc is compatible.

When I asked why, it transpired that the reason was straightforward enough, and quite easy to resolve given sufficient forethought.  It was that the, very large, screen at the venue, has a fairly unusual ‘geometry’ or shape, and so, unless your laptop is suitably configured for it, your presentation will take only a small part of the screen, or will end up distorted.

Not a difficult problem to sort out, but one that could be rather an embarrassment if you were unprepared for it.

So technology marches on, it seems, but it will always leave room for human error.

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