Rule 2. Test. Retest. Re-retest everything.

Now that you have planned for the unexpected it’s time to test your event. You are testing your setup, right?

Steve Jobs made it look easy

They picture Steve Jobs on stage at an Apple Keynote speaking with perfection and running flawless demos.
Many people plan an event like an all-hands meeting and think they can walk into the auditorium start speaking and everything will fall into place. But That’s where everything falls apart. Unless you’ve planned and tested your event.

We have a big meeting next week

What do we need to do? That’s how most of my requests start. Another version is I’ve been tasked by leadership to run this event and I’ve never done anything like this before.

I mention testing and a dry run and they ask, what do we need to test? The answer is test everything you expect to work.

Dry Runs

For every event I plan, I require a dry run. This is a run through of the event in the place it’s going to be held with as many of the people as possible and all the equipment setup and ready.

For even the simplest meeting you’re going to need a few things.

  • A place to have it (Booking the room is often overlooked!)
  • Table and chairs
  • Computer
  • Internet access
  • Phone line and telephone
  • Projector / TV for people in the room (You’re not going to have them looking at a single laptop screen.)

Are you having a larger meeting? That means sound.

  • Microphones
  • Speakers
  • Mixer (all of those mics need to go somewhere)

You want your remote people to see you?

  • Webcam

Your slide deck has an embedded video or audio clip?

  • Microphone for the laptop / plug-in to a sound system

Our simple meeting already has half a dozen ways it could fail. And we haven’t even started.

Assume Nothing Works

I’ve walked into rooms without a telephone or a computer. I’ve had a network cord, but the port it was plugged into didn’t work so I had no connection. I walked into a room where half of the lights were burned out and needed to be replaced.

My point is you never know what you’re walking into. Just because a room was perfect the day or week before, doesn’t mean it will be the day of your event.

Find the flaws

The point of this is to find any flaws in the setup before it becomes a problem. An idea on paper may not work once you’ve setup everything else. Will the microphones accommodate the person who wants to walk around? Is the flipboard in the way of a presenter or blocking a camera angle? Is there enough room on the stage for the panelists and their chairs?

I ran an event for National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the planners didn’t account for the presenters who would be in wheel chairs. They had not left enough space on stage for the wheelchair to maneuver. We found this out in our dry run and rearranged the stage to make it work.

The purpose of the dry run is for the people planning the event as much as those supporting the event.

If you run events for a living, you’re comfortable with what is required and the limitations of your equipment. But those you’re working with may not. The dry run is to let you and them see things how they will be which can often be different from the vision they saw in their head. This is a learning experience for you and the people you’re working with.

Test Everything

Each event space is different. I’ve worked with a full setup of power, network and phone lines. I’ve had audio equipment and an enclosed room from which to monitor and troubleshoot the event. I’ve also worked in what amounted to a hallway off the main lobby of the building.

I’ve run events over the internet because I didn’t have a phone line to get sound out to the participants. I’ve run events with limited microphones because the mixer we needed was in use at another event at the same time.

Testing your setup will bring these issues to light before they cause problems. It’s easier to fix a problem with a day or even a few hours instead of 15 minutes as the room begins to fill.

Re-Test Everything

When you’re working with a group of people, they will want to change things. A lot. I try my best to limit changes after we test the setup and hold the dry run.

I do this because if you test one thing and then change it you’re testing something that’s no longer happening.**

Changes are unavoidable. You roll with what you need to but explain to the event organizers when they make changes that need major reworking of the sound or video, there may be issues.

If you go from wired to wireless microphones, they may buzz or interfere with each other. They may pick up cellular signals and feedback. If you decide to have Q&A from the audience in the room, no one online will be able to hear their questions because there are no microphones for the room.

If you change the number of panelists you may be missing a chair for one of them. Or the table they’re sitting at may not be big enough to seat them all comfortably.

Remember that anything you change will need to be tested.

I worked on an awards ceremony for a group that wanted to have live webcam video over WebEx from eight major cities around the country. I think I had a dozen meetings with them on the logistic and exactly how we would pull this off.

We tested and found limitations in Event Center and Meeting Center. We learned we would need to limit the number of active video feeds. We worked out a naming scheme for each city and the order we would scroll through their cameras.

We lost one mid-event when the computer on the site went to sleep but they were able to quickly recover. The event was a huge success. The Director was able to see and congratulate the award winners across the country and he was thrilled.

This was a clear case where testing and more testing won the day. There were so many points of failure to this event but we pull it off and delighted the organizers.

Set Expectations

Underpromise and Overdeliver. If you see any possible issues in the event, make sure you tell the organizers. If there’s anything you’re unclear about ask them. You can never ask too many questions and make sure if they have any questions they ask you. You are the expert.

You can never test an event too many times. You can never ask or be asked too many questions. And be honest. If something’s not going to work, explain why it won’t work and offer solutions.

Don’t try something you know will fail. Make sure you set the expectations. If an event has problems and they’re expected it’s better than if you promise a flawless event and it doesn’t live up to your word.

I supported a 9-month training program for senior executives over WebEx. That meant 4-6 times per month I was in a room with six microphones, a mixer, two speakers, a webcam and a TV or projector testing all of it.

Even when I knew the setup. And I should, I had set it up a dozen times already, I tested every microphone every time. I didn’t want that meeting to the day one of them stopped working or was too quiet or too loud.

I tested the webcam to make sure I had it set to show as many of the attendees as possible in the space we were using that day. I tested the phone line to assure it was clear and the wireless conference phone was fully charged.

I did everything I could to assure success and in that entire 9-months I only had a single instance of a problem. That came when one of the presenters accidentally hung up the conference phone during their presentation.

That’s one of those acts of god you can’t plan for but tends to happen. They were able to quickly dial back and continue without further issue.

Testing your events will lead to more successes than failures. And you will fail. So be ready for it.