Conferences should be more than PowerPoint

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In a time where conferences and exhibitions mean big money for businesses, it is important to maximise your event so that your stakeholders are impressed. Brad Francis from Brohns Visual and Graphic Design Productions tells us that “the conference/exhibition industry provides companies with the best hands on, personal showcasing that you cannot achieve in any other format” and advises on how to really set your display apart.

Conferences and exhibitions are fast becoming the preferred method for businesses to get a message across. Gone are the days of circulating a black and white newsletter; today businesses have to keep in touch with their stakeholders through innovative and memorable means.

The conference scene is a great vehicle for putting management in touch with the rest of the workforce or with customers, but it doesn’t end there. New products can be launched at a conference, awards can be delivered, customers or employees can get up close and personal with colleagues and companies can deliver memorable experiences which can drive motivation and, ultimately, future business.

With well over 1000 world-class conference and exhibition venues available across South Africa, ranging from intimate bush hideaways to hi-tech convention centres, the country is well equipped for conferences and exhibitions of all kinds with major international events organisers choosing South Africa as the perfect host for important live events every year.

Fortunately, modern technology allows for conferences to be much more than a lonely soul standing in front of an unimpressed audience with a dreary PowerPoint presentation. One company which provides some of the most innovative and exciting technical visual solutions is Brohns, founded in 2010 by Brad Francis. He tells us that the conference/exhibition industry can have an extremely positive impact on business activity.

“I feel that the conference/exhibition industry provides companies with the best hands on, personal showcasing that you cannot achieve in any other format. In my job, I have the privilege of listening to a multitude of large corporate presentations and come away with a wealth of knowledge and motivation.

“People make up companies and it’s in these events that the people can see where the company has come from in the last year and often, see where it is headed! Many of the conferences I do, more often than not, acknowledge certain members of the company for long service, special mention, even bring along a motivational speaker. The purpose of these conferences don’t always have the above as their main goal, however, I have seen the great positive impact it creates,” he says.

TECHNOLOGY AT ITS BEST

So how can your conference be made more visually appealing? What sort of technology is Brad using to boost overall event experiences?

“I use and have always used software called Dataton Watchout. It’s a Swedish product that I started using as early as version 2 back in 2005. It has always been a Multi-Screen/Multi-Format product that uses high-end computers to manipulate media in and out of the system. It has allowed me to do projection onto widescreen surfaces, spheres, buildings, sets, vehicles etc. This allows me to use a timeline and cues based structure, to playback media in multiple formats, as well as manipulate my displays, and plug in cameras and high-end multi-media switches.

“The most intricate display I have worked with recently was a 16 screen, 360 degree conference that had eight individual screens around the border of the venue, each with its own stage and lectern, and then an inner stage with eight circle screens that had either a live camera feed or a presentation displayed for those in the room that had their backs turned to the speaker. There was an opening video that utilised all the outer screens and had people’s heads turning,” he says.

“The other more intricate display I worked on was at a Discovery Leadership Summit that involved an 80 metre wide custom made set with wide screens built into that. The custom set was made to stretch the length of the venue and as you walked in, a massive digital screen with odd shapes and depths was displayed to the audience.”

Obviously, the most important thing for a conference is to make it memorable. The presentation has to have an impact on the audience and this can require a detailed brief, a carefully thought-out plan and, sometimes, a large budget.

“I have the privilege of working with some great companies that spend money on exciting opening videos, conference themes, presentations that match the format of the screen, and closing videos,” says Brad. “Sometimes the words used in the brief involve ‘NO BULLET POINTS’ and the presenters are forced to use images and key points as opposed to the old-fashioned graphs and bullet points. This creates high expectations before an event as well as a powerful medium. Presenters are also then forced to stick to the theme and the experience is memorable. All in all, the audience is exposed to an alternative way of presenting that makes it exciting and entertaining.”

BRAD AND BROHNS

If you are going to trust your conference project to someone else, it makes sense to go to the specialists and Brohns is exactly that. The technology and expertise behind truly great displays is not something that a marketing department can master in an afternoon; the skills required are specific and particular. Brad has been honing his talents for many years and Brohns is now known as a provider of solutions that challenge the norms.

“Brohns is a production business that I started in 2010, with one Sony HD video camera and some multiscreen event experience. I had previously been working for a company that did multiscreen solutions, and decided to take a break and do sales in a different industry completely, but with the knowledge of sales and the skills I had in Audio Visual, I decided to start my own thing. The reason for this is that I really enjoyed the challenges and rewards of the live event industry, and felt I could now offer something unique to the Audio Visual industry.

“My business aims to provide event companies with a technical visual solution that would make the event look as slick as possible without any glitches. Main activities involve widescreen and multiscreen experiences that clients require for a launch of a new product, or just for some excitement in their yearly conferences,” explains Brad.

“I would say I’m a specialised solution provider in a market that allows me to be involved when the visual factors of a show are not the norm. There are a few other companies out there in SA doing a similar thing to me, and some with more or less experience than what I have but it’s the technical companies, that own all the gear, that sometimes prefer to entrust their show in my skills and equipment. I have also been stretched in some heavy situations and have been able to find solutions that result in little or no issues. This, together with my portfolio, as well as, word of mouth, seems to get my name out there and put me on the next big event.”

So with more and more conferences being held in South Africa and the demand that each must be more impressive than the last, how does Brohns plan to expand its offering?

“I have recently expanded by investing in four top of the range, multi output and multi format media servers that allow me to take on bigger shows with a versatile system that I not only trust, but have built myself with the highest specs at the time.

“With this I can take on the challenges of putting together a ‘never been done before’ visual experience that clients are now envisaging. I feel that because I am in a niche market, I cannot lose time in training someone up or taking on staff so the only way I can really expand is through taking on bigger clients that are willing to push the barrier and allow me to come on board to make it all happen.”

THE FUTURE

The conference and exhibition industry is on the rise and as people realise that these events can be so much more than just a chance to gather people together, the demands on conference professionals will change. Brad says that he hopes to create the ultimate all singing and dancing visual display which will accompany a fantastic presentation that will capture the imagination of the audience.

“Most of the shows I work on have everything I would expect on a show, but if money wasn’t a barrier, I would move away from freestanding old school screens and go with a custom built set, sound that would involve a surround sound experience, lights that could sync to the video timeline and be in time with the content, and a presentation that would interact with the presenters on stage – so no more standing there with a clicker to advance the slide – they must go to the screen and interact with it via touch or gesture.

“I have seen some great performances and speakers that are brought in to break the dullness of the conference, but all shock factors are lost when we resume with the standard conference format after that. To me, the message and the overall experience are worth more, so more time and energy needs to be put into that,” he says.

It is also important not to focus too much on elements of an event which will not stick out in the audiences mind in the future. As Brad explains, lighting and decoration can receive minimal attention and as long as the visual and sound content are spot on, then you will avoid losing people’s interest mid-presentation.

“My theory behind an event is that there is always a budget, and some elements get a back seat because of the main factor the client is wanting. We are living in a very audio and visual demanding age, and your one or two screen 4×3 conferences create a dull impression for the audience.

“I would say that the standard needs to be at least three screens or even a widescreen these days. Lights and decoration can be set to a minimum, visual and sound content are the lasting experiences people talk about. Exhibition stands that don’t involve an Audio Visual element normally lose an audience, as people judge a book by its cover, and a boring stand that doesn’t shout your product professionally, normally leads to disinterest overall,” he says.

So what lessons can we take from our discussion with Brad? Firstly, Audio Visual content is of vital importance to a successful conference presentation. Secondly, keeping the audience’s attention is vital and this can be done through impressive sounds and sights. Thirdly, conferences have a great impact on all stakeholders and lastly, conference projects are changing in the future we will see much more interactive presentations, the likes of which will require professional assistance.

For more information about Brohns visit: http://www.brohns.co.za/Brohns/

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