6 Steps for a faultless PA system at your Conference

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We have been fortunate to work with a huge number of new clients, to provide PA systems (more commonly known as sound systems) for their conferences and events.

We are given a relatively simple brief on many occasions – “We just want everybody to be able to hear and want the PA to work”. Now, if we’re providing a PA system for an event, we regard this as quite a fundamental requirement and the least you can expect from us!

So, below we are outlining the steps we take when providing a PA system or sound system for an event such as a conference, so you can see all the different steps we take in order for someone to be able to ‘hear’ what’s going on and for that to happen faultlessly.

1. Use the correct number of PA speakers

We completely understand that you may get a number of quotations from different AV suppliers. They may start to specify a differing number of speakers. One may say a ‘two speaker system’ while another says it should be a ‘four speaker PA’, often charging more.

It’s important to understand that having more speakers in the room does not mean it will be louder. If anything, it will mean the PA system will work more quietly. But having more speakers in the room for your event means you have a more even distribution of sound coverage. With two speakers at the front of the room, you have to run them louder, which means it can be really loud for those at the front, while those at the back may not be able to hear.

A good guideline is when the distance from the front of the audience to back is more than 8-10 meters, you would benefit from more than two speakers. This also very much depends on other factors such as shape of room and type of microphones being used.

2. Use good quality PA speakers

Let’s face it, speakers on stands aren’t the most exciting things in the world to look at, and often to purchase new you couldn’t see the difference between a £99 speaker and a £2,000 speaker. Often the cost difference for hiring speakers comes from the initial price difference of the speakers they are using for your event.

When specifying speakers, there are two factors that we like to consider make good quality conference speakers. Aesthetically pleasing, smaller speakers are better as no-one likes ugly looking boxes on stands that people can easily trip over.

Secondly, the sound quality of the speakers is a huge consideration. Cheap speakers will often sound ok if you are just playing a small piece of music through them, and expensive speakers won’t sound incredibly different.

But expensive speakers give you much better control over the direction of the sound, just like the focus of a torch or car headlights. This is incredibly important, because you are aiming the sound where it needs to be heard, and this is vital in conference situations where you tend to use microphones that are a little distance from the presenters mouths (for example lapel microphones and lectern microphones). Cheap speakers can easily increase the chance of that horrible feedback noise.

3. Set up radio microphones correctly

Radio microphones can easily cause issues if they have not been setup correctly. It is vital that they are set up with the correct frequencies so there is no interference or cut outs and more importantly they comply with radio frequency regulations. AV companies should provide a radio microphone frequency licence as standard for any radio microphones they supply. This would be a licence they pay for annually that restricts radio microphone usage for purely professional purposes. That said it does not guarantee there won’t be interference but it should be a fundamental consideration for all professional radio microphone usage.

It is also important to check what other meetings taking place in the same venue to find out what frequencies they are using. If there is a clash, it will cause problems for both meetings.

The safest and most reliable option with radio microphones frequencies is to book a dedicated licensed frequency for each microphone which can be applied for through Ofcom. This is a temporary uneque licence for a specific location. This option is vital where you are using more than 8 radio microphones. Again your AV provider would be able to arrange this.

4. Set up and balance the PA system

It is important that the PA is correctly “tuned” and balanced out when it is set up in the room and not just set up, with wires plugged in and switched on. This is especially important where you are using lapel or lectern microphones as they can be sensitive to ‘feedback’ or when using a large number of microphones.

5. Have a skilled PA System operator

We always recommend that if you have more then 3 microphones then there should be a operator or technician controlling the microphones. This includes controlling the levels and switching them on and off at the appropriate time.

6. Have an AV supplier that will not just operate the PA system 

An important part of the service from an A/V supplier at conferences and events is the personal level of support the client and presenters receive from the onsite A/V technicians.

PA systems may often ‘fail’ at events because the presenters don’t have the lapel of the radio microphone clipped onto themselves properly, so it creates popping and rustling noises. For hand held microphones, it is important to ensure presenters are briefly trained how to speak correctly into the microphone for best results.

It is important that your AV technician gives presenters the confidence that the microphone will be on when they need it to be and they will be clearly heard.

When PA systems work you don’t notice them. Its only when something goes wrong they are noticed!

Soundbite Productions provides PA systems and sound systems for conferences and events throughout the UK. If you have any PA or Sound requirements for your next event please do get in touch with us.

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