The smooth running of any event – remote or in-person – is almost always down to a team that most people never see. Always making sure that presenters are able to shine, Bethan Johnson from our Basel office takes us on a tour behind the scenes with the Audience team.
While remote face-to-face meetings require just as much preparation as face-to-face events, for me, nothing beats the buzz of being on-site.
By the time we arrive at the venue, everyone has spent around three months preparing, creating content and embracing the purpose and objectives of the event. Our creative directors and designers have worked their magic, the logistics and AV crew have built sets and presenters have been rehearsing with their slides.
Things are changing all the time, and someone needs to make sure there is perspective, an overview and a single source of truth when it comes to tracking all content. That’s where our team comes in – and it’s what we love!
Anything can happen – and often does!
While we’re super-prepared and very much in tune with each other as a team, we also have to be prepared for the fact that anything can happen – and often does! From keynote speakers being stranded when connecting flights are cancelled, to presenters being in the wrong venue with 10 minutes to go and last minute changes to the schedule, we’re the people recalculating, reorganising and making sure the moderators and facilitators can delay or pivot to keep our all-important timings on track.
We typically arrive on-site the night before rehearsals. Along with the materials for the event, we also bring our ‘crash kit’ filled with Post-Its, cue cards, printouts and props. We’re able to either make or source almost anything to bring an event to life and I usually arrive at the venue with an enormous suitcase!
Wizard costumes, pink wigs
and shark onesies
Wizard costumes, eight pink wigs, 12 shark onesies and an 8m jigsaw puzzle are just some of the more unusual items I’ve had to take with me. After a tour of the venue, a regroup with our client, the AV and logistics teams and venue staff, we’ll have a team dinner and prepare ourselves mentally and physically for rehearsals the next day.
Practice makes perfect
Rehearsal day is always a long one, running from around 9 until midnight and often beyond. But it’s also the day that can make the difference between a good event and a great event.
This is the day final decisions are made and we have a first glimpse of how all the strands come together. It all kicks off with an all-hands meeting. Everyone who has a role to play over the next few days is in the room. I’ve become used to learning names and roles very quickly!
From this point on, we are part of the ‘master’ WhatsApp group and are constantly communicating and connected to the rest of the team. It’s always better for me to stay in one place and call or text from there to make sure things are running in order. Getting a speaker to the stage on time for their rehearsal, making sure the chairs are set up in the right places, ensuring all the right materials are in the breakout rooms are just part of our job.
While our Audience presenter coaches and speakers are running through presentations, there are often small edits – and occasionally major changes – to make to their slides and our show file. I’m responsible for making sure changes are made and that the latest version is always clearly marked and tracked.
At the same time, the team is preparing cue cards, working with our designers to update slides, updating the AV crew on changes to the session flows or transitions so the show caller can make sure they know what comes next. We’re leading stage walkthroughs, ensuring everyone knows where their monitors are, how the slides will be advanced, where to get mic-ed up, where their timers are and answering any other questions.
Branded popcorn boxes and spinning lightbulb disco balls
Once we’ve established that the branded popcorn boxes have arrived, the huge lightbulb disco ball spins smoothly and the room can be turned pink at the flick of a switch (all real event scenarios!) we go back to the content. Have all the changes been captured? Has the proofread been done? Are the transitions clear? Once all the final slides are sent out to the presenters, we settle down as a team to our arts and crafts.
It can be as late as 10 p.m. at this stage and we get out the glue to assemble 300 pop-art signs onto wooden sticks, glue a 24m2 mat to the floor or put 200 names on pieces of paper into balloons and hoist them into a net above the plenary room.
Keeping our energy up and staying well-hydrated are extremely important and we have to make sure we find time to eat during the day. My go-to on-site favourite for rehearsal day dinner is the Club Sandwich: all the major food groups, quick and easy to eat and always on a hotel’s late-night dinner menu.
With dinner done it’s time to reflect on the day, do a final mental run through and then switch off my brain for the night. I’ve got better at compartmentalising things but it’s an unusual pre-event night that I don’t wake up and remember something I need to check. For that, my notebook and pen are right next to my bed, so nothing gets missed.
The big day
Event day starts with breakfast and crew call at 7 a.m and we get started with the handover of the final, final, final show file to the AV team. This is always a huge moment for us and feels like a relief after days of multiple changes to slides.
There are typically a few minutes where everything goes quiet – the calm before the storm.
Then it’s time for the tech run-through before our presenters arrive. Do the lights, audio and visual all run as they should? Are the cameras for live-stream or recording set up?
As soon as presenters arrive, our team is printing and gluing notes onto cue cards and staking out the coffee machines to ensure we can guide them to get mic-ed up ready for the stage. With final run throughs done, the doors open, attendees enter, and the lights go down.
This part of the day is usually the most nerve-wracking for me and the whole team. We’ve done everything we possibly can to prepare but once the opening video starts to roll, we can only watch and wait.
After so much hard work there’s no going back!
Once we know everything is running smoothly, the rest of the day is a bit of a blur.
We’re constantly moving, managing updates if things run over and ensuring the tech and AV teams are informed and that lunch shifts by 10 minutes if it needs to.
Setting up breakout rooms, sweeping the rooms for items left behind and then making sure any confidential materials are securely stored are just some of the many tasks we take on until the meeting ends around 5 p.m. We can finally breathe a sigh of relief that things have run smoothly for our client, but the day is not quite over for us.
For the next couple of hours when our event attendees have some well-deserved downtime, we’re making sure they haven’t left mobile phones, laptops or other important items behind. It happens every time, so we’re used to that being the first task. Then we’re making sure we’ve captured everything that was worked on, that things are properly archived and ready to help make sure that the meeting is not a ‘one and done’ experience.
The calm after the storm
And when the day is finally over? There’s usually time for us to have a quick drink together and a very informal debrief before we head home. After two full days on site, I always looking forward to getting home, sitting on my sofa and snuggling with my dog, Cinnamon.
Being on-site is a very intense experience, especially as we usually don’t see daylight for a couple of days! It takes someone calm and organised to work in production. We have to understand the bigger picture while also knowing that it’s the details that make the difference to our presenters and speakers and the audience. I definitely think I’ve found my calling as a part of the Audience production team.
No two event experiences are ever the same and there’s always the promise of needing to find a last-minute speaker, a complete set of ice hockey kit or 100 sets of wind-up chattering teeth to keep us on our toes! The very best part of the role and the on-site experience is the Audience team. The support, the camaraderie, the ‘hands on’ work we do together always helps bring us closer together and able to do the very best we can to support our clients.