What You Need to Know About Sound Checks
The sound check may not be the most glamorous item on your event checklist, but it is one of the most important. Without smoothly functioning audiovisual, your speakers’ messages will be lost.
As Sidney Stoper, account executive with J& S Audio Visual and chair of the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado, says, the “sound check is paramount for live events, not only for the speaker and audiovisual crew, but most important, for the audience.”
I reached out to meeting planners, speakers, and AV pros to get their tips. Here some ways they say all involved can make audiovisual checks more fun, more productive, and more valuable for the entire event team.
• Schedule a reasonable time for the sound check.
If possible, plan to hold the sound check on the same day as the presentation, and include the time in your speaker communications and/or . Many speakers travel to multiple events during any given week, and they will need to factor your sound check into their plans. Allow afternoon speakers to do a sound check during the lunch break if possible. And give yourself plenty of time to work out any glitches. As best-selling author and keynote speaker on creativity and innovation Scott Berkun says, “Ensure the sound check is planned [so you have time] to deal with unforeseen problems. Don’t assume it will go well.”
• Request riders in advance.
Insist that speakers provide you with a rider outlining their AV needs so your team will be equipped to handle their requests. If your speakers don’t have riders, strongly suggest they create one or at least send you an email or checklist outlining their AV needs.
AV team to-dos:
• Provide guidance.
Share tips with speakers to help them look and sound better and really shine. Are there any areas of the stage they should avoid to keep from stepping out of lighting? Are there any concerns you have noticed about the venue? Leadership and communications speaker Rob Cottingham suggests, “If a tech can help me know how much I can drop my voice and still be heard, and how far back I have to pull back from the mic if I want to yell, it can make a world of difference in my performance.”
• Have fun.
It’s my personal policy to always learn the names of the tech team and have a relaxed and fun sound check. Make your speakers feel comfortable!
• Be on the same team.
Most professional speakers have a checklist, and they are used to regular sound checks. They appreciate being treated as professionals. Thought leader and keynote speaker Peter Sheehan says, “Remember we are on the same team—please don’t treat me like an idiot. Instead of starting with ‘We can’t do that,’ have ‘Let me see how we can make that happen’ be your default position.
• Be thoughtful.
At a recent speech I gave, the AV crew had already placed water bottles on stage, removed the lectern (because I am less than five feet tall, my rider asks for it to be removed), and placed a small, dressed cocktail table on stage for me before I arrived for the sound check. These touches might seem small, but following the rider requests and paying attention to the details makes a huge difference to speakers.
• Allow speakers to use their remote.
Ensure the range of the remote is sufficient, and it’s compatible with the AV system. For many professional speakers, “the remote is an extension of our hand—we have these in our hands as often as our toothbrushes. We press buttons with muscle memory,” says speaker Lisa Cummings. Speakers prefer to use their own remotes, so please let them when it’s possible.
• Be on time.
Show up at the appointed time for your sound check—don’t ever steal other speakers’ minutes. Arrive at least an hour before the start of your presentation. Bring your presentation files, and be ready to rehearse if necessary.
• Learn about AV and staging.
Mitch Beede at Image Audio Visuals says, “We highly recommend speakers bring their current, updated presentation on a USB stick. The technology standard is 16:9 ratio. And please notify the tech staff of any embedded video, timed transitions, or builds.”
Know not to walk in front of the audio-speakers, and check the stage for movement, squeaks, and gaps. As a stiletto wearer, I sweetly request the stage be taped so my heels don’t get stuck in the cracks (that’s so not glamorous!). Also, please don’t make crazy last-minute requests or surprises for your AV crew.
• Create a checklist.
Berkun says, “Check everything! Check the AV levels, slides, and embedded video, house lights, performance lights, slide management (backward and forward), confidence monitor, intro/outro music, and tables or resources on stage. Make a note in your AV request form of where you like to present from, what you want—and don’t want—on stage, and carry it with you to your sound check.”
• Consider wardrobe.
Speakers need to ensure their wardrobe can accommodate the belt pack if they will be wearing a lavaliere mic. Beede also recommends speakers consider wearing a shirt with a collar to attach the lav microphone to. Remove your name badge (to avoid feedback, audio problems, and light reflection), check your zipper, make sure your bra strap isn’t showing, and look in the mirror before walking on stage (to make sure there’s no spinach in your teeth!).
• Know your microphone needs.
Do you prefer a headset mic, a lavaliere, or handheld? Some speakers even invest a few dollars in their own kits. I purchased a Countryman mic and multiple adaptors for every sound system that I bring with me, along with clear medical tape to make sure it stays fastened. I always get a great reaction from the AV crew when they see I am prepared with my own mic and tape—and actually know how to use it.
If you pay attention to these details, the result will be a more productive sound check, and a better experience for your attendees.