On this episode of Meeting Minds; Charles and Paige chat with Zach Sussman about merchandise trends in the event industry. Swag (stuff we all get) that people actually want is crucial. Find out what merchandise is likely to resonate and not become waste!
Hal Lovemelt, an Event Technologist, talks about the creative side of events. Ever wanted to know how to use new technology to captivate your event? Hal brings a perspective we haven’t yet seen on the Meeting Minds podcast!
Tell us about you. What is an event technologist?
To illustrate where it comes from for me is, I would tell you a little bit about my background. I got sucked way into TV, public access TV. We did live public access TV in Minneapolis, every Sunday night live on air with a phone number on it. I considered it my education. We had to come up with content for an hour every sunday night. We had to free for all it, it was an improvise show. People could call in and interact with us. It was called Freaky Deeky. Everyone that came on was a freak. It was the freakiest show you could do and very experimental. We had a lot of costumes, basically a mountain of costumes and a huge green screen studio. Everyone improvised we came up with a skit in a matter of seconds. Did weird things, the callers would interact with us and help us to do weird things. I was behind the scenes doing the technology and mixing the feeds and doing video art with lots of different camera angles. We had 4 different camera kpeople and they are all dedicated, and we would make this show every week on Sunday without fail and that kind of forced us to come up with a streamline process for the creative thinking around video experiences.
I realized it’s less fun to watch the show, it’s more fun to be on the show. When we would be done with the show the guests would come and watch it and they would be having a blast seeing themselves. I said that’s it, I have to put people on camera, give them their moment of fun on camera. I built a really crazy ghetto video booth out of wood and I would bring it to clubs. I was still a kid at the time and we would do these dance nights but I would have this crazy green screen and little tv studio you would walk in. It was a hit so one thing led to another and we kept upgrading and upgrading and we are basically on version 10 now.
You’re kind of inventing a whole new interactive experience when it comes to this photo booth type thing. How does that work and what does it do?
In the beginning what happened a lot was people would come up to it and see it and see people getting all weird and stretching their face and they thought it was fun and cool. They thought it was just playback and they’d look and see people in their and realize it was live and then they would get really excited and want to jump in. Then they’d realize when you were in there you could see yourself on a makeshift teleprompter. I get all those bumps everytime i see someone get that moment of magic in their eye. I keep getting motivation to upgrade and keep developing.
You’re writing software, code, and meshing things together.
I basically got so dedicated to this kind of medium that I learned how to code just to do this.
How does this all tie in to larger events and stages?
My craft is actually a more visual artist and a VJ. I’ve done a lot of stage shows for bands. I’ve projection mapped for orchestra hall and festivals and stuff. I will do lighting and video installations for experimental bands here in town. The way it ties in is kind of a deeper understanding for taste and how to mix this different kind of visual art with sound and lighting and a mood. I’ve had a few opportunities to whole event moods and design a whole event where things got a lot crazier.
You were telling me about kinetic lighting, talk about that.
I think it’s the next big thing. I’d like to see it for an audience. It’s definitely seen on the stage and around a fashion show or something. I’d love to see it used in an audience fashion where the audience is interacting with it in a more cohesive way. Waves of people are controlling different moments of it. I’ve seen different approaches to the challenge of large interactions, customized apps with video wall software. You hold your phone up and you’re 1 pixel of an image. There may be apps now that do that, but a couple of artists have done that in the past where they’ve done it with a touch designer system. What that does is it opens what I get excited about in the industry as a whole is companies and small studios developing really unique solutions to interesting event problems and having a market for it.
When you say software what do you mean?
I’m more talking about the service product. For years event producers will come up with a crazy idea and say this is nuts but can you do it, to a big house. A solution house and they will say yeah we can do it and they work tirelessly and make it happen. Whether or not the execution is good, that was a one off because it has to be a one off right? You have to do the next big thing that hasn’t been done before. However what I’m getting excited about is people are realizing that is a very inefficient model for the industry. You can come up with ideas and make products and flush them out over time. Everytime you deploy it keep flushing it out and have that product be a single product you can sale.
If you put on an event and spend all the time and effort to build something cool that’s used once it feels wasteful. Is there technology that will track somebody?
Yeah BlaxTrack. If you buy one I will help you set it up.
Will it integrate with all of our Martin Lighting and can hook it up to our DMX board?
Yeah but it’s not that simple. This system is really quick, you can move you can run and it will track you. It’s tough and it’s just so expensive.
Is that something they use for concerts like following a performer?
Circ de sole, maybe big concerts?
Could you projection map lighting on a human figure and cut them out real time?
So it’s just hitting them? So the fallout doesn’t happen? (yes) Typically what happens, the projector itself the framerate wouldn’t keep up. It wouldn’t feel real, you’d see the edges and see the cross bleed. Most of the time people do that with depth sensors which are low res, that will change and things will get crazy when that changes. Depth sensor now, you can cut people out you can make really simple background subtraction but it’s choppy and low res. You make a blob.
What I do with background subtraction where I can cut people out in total darkness without a green screen, that technology can;t be applied to any scenario, but with depth cameras it could be applied to any scenario once the resolution is there. You can imagine walking past a wildont and a camera being in the window and looking at it and it completely cuts you out from the scene you are in.
It’s like live rotoscoping.
For those of you listening rotoscoping is a film term. In post production, let’s say you have a video of somebody standing in a family room and there is a chair in the background. Rotoscoping is frame by frame they cut the person out or a particular item and manipulate it. You don’t have to have them stand in front of a green screen to have a background behind them. Another use would be when somebody is using a bald cap makeup so it looks like there is bald. There is always wrinkles and edges so you will edit out the wrinkles frame by frame and blend them.
There are whole production houses that just make actors look tinier bit skinnier or fix them.
Tell me about the theatrical element of an event. I think a lot of meeting planners are always seeking new ideas to engage the audience.
In my opinion it’s all about attention. Most event producers know that too, it’s all about getting the attention: creative voices of god. It can be really upgraded and really creative ideas. I want to encourage event producers to not limit their crazy ideas just because they don’t think it’s possible. If you have a crazy idea for something and the answer that you say to yourself is but one one will be paying attention that problem can easily be solved. If you have something really unique like an elephant walking in and out of the room – something crazy for a gala or something I say go for it. Just really nail the attention part. Corralling people is always a challenge for event people. If the cocktail hour is going long and everyone is still gabbing and you need them to get into the venue, you can flash the lights or strobe the lights and make a crazy scene where a car crashed into the building you can go nuts you can go crazy.
A lot of the non profit events that raise money for years before they worked with us they struggled to get the attention of the audience to stay on stage. Or getting them into the ballroom in a given period of time. You are right, using directed attention and cues to pull people in, it’s age old stuff.
The age old stuff is the stuff that works the best.
When you can control the sound and the visual you can really control the audience and what they are looking at.
Don’t be afraid to make a couple guests mad. When I would bring that up early in my career, why don’t we go dark. Somebody has to put their glasses on, but they have a family that can help them.
If you are going to cater to everyone you’re not going to cater to anyone.
Tell us more about the onstage theatrics.
I’ve see a lot of cool things. I saw this show in Berlin that blew my mind. This goes back to kinetic lighting. They made and now sells the DMX motors. This was one of their first projects they built these one meter mirror disks and had LED edging on the disc, and both sides were mirrored. They had three points of being hung and three motors per disc. They had 100 discs and they were hung in a very interesting pattern and all of them could move up and down and they lined the room with the grid of the movers. Very nice precision movers. I talked to the guy later and he told me he had to calibrate them every day because the room ambience of the heat and stuff changes. This act was very precise. They would have the show that was synced to music and sounds where they make these crazy patterns and shoot pointed lights at these mirror. You would be underneath and they would get really close then go up.
You will see a lot of these motors coming into the A/V houses because it’s a cool easy thing to wow someone.
Even if you move anything during a show people are so excited. What other cool things can you technologists do?
Anything you can dream of!
Tell me about projection mapping vs LED.
It depends on the application. Although i’ve seen an LED video booth and I’m very intrigued, it’s that there’s a cost difference that is so hard to get beyond. I’m a resolution kind of guy, I’m really into it especially with what kind of art I do. I don’t want a low res LED wall. It’s about the pitch of the LEDs. If it’s a huge stage it doesn’t matter because people are far away from it. All my ideas with LEDs have people being close. Small pitch LED walls are really expensive.
I don’t understand why a 4k 70 inch tv is $1000 and the pixel density is microscopic and you can walk up to the TV and be an inch from it and still not see the pixels. Why can’t we use that to make LED walls.
It’s never bright enough. We put TVs on the side for my video booths they are awesome but if you look at the whole thing we put Robis up top and we have pixel strips going down the side and those always make the TVs look dark. They make really bright tvs and we’ve purchased them. THe problem is you can’t get the $1000 tv. They make display tvs that are made to run 24/7 and made to look good in broad daylight those are still Tvs, still LCD and they are way more expensive than your average TV. The brighter you get the lower, crappier black and color levels.
Give us things you’d like planners to think about when using technology.
I always like to say don’t take the human out of technology. I’m kind of anti automation to a certain degree when it comes to technology. I don’t like kiosks at all. I like humans being involved and that comes back to the theatrical part and that will make things memorable.
One think I’d really like planners to think about is bringing your vendors together to the creative table. As a video booth designer, all I want to do is work with bigger and greater decor companies to make crazy sets and come up with cool ideas. That way we are not splitting the budgets. Bring everybody together.
Meeting Minds by Eidecom
In our fourth episode, we meet with Becky Harris & Lauren Segelbaum of Event Lab. Since 1994, Event Lab has been your one-stop-shop for everything event decor, event planning, and event management. Whether hosting a small social event, planning a wedding, or getting ready for the biggest corporate meeting of your life, they will make your event unforgettable! Becky, the Founder/Owner, & Lauren, their Senior Event Specialist, share where to get the biggest impact for your budget (hint: it’s not silk flowers!), and other tips/tricks for giving your attendees a memorable experience!
Contact: BHarris@eventlab.net, LSegelbaum@eventlab.net, or for more information go to www.eventlab.net
HOW DID YOU START THE BUSINESS?
Pretty much by accident at home. I was doing a lot of volunteer events and meeting people in the industry. Pretty soon I turned it into an opportunity to make money. I was doing everything, but owned nothing. Pretty soon I had 50 glass vases in my garage and then props, big and small. So I had to get a warehouse space and some people!
WHERE ARE YOU AT TODAY?
BECKY: Today, we are one of the largest event companies in Minnesota. We have probably 18-20 full time staff members, lots of part time staff, and our event staff that are all independent contractors. And today I am part owner. I sold part of the business, because I didn’t want to stay up at 3 am worrying about everything.
LAUREN: I’ve been there for almost 12 years and have been in the business for almost 22 years. I was burnt out in my old career and decided to become an event planner. I have worked for non-profits, another agency, and then I started at EventLab part time and now 12 years later I am the full time Senior Event Specialist! We bring all the pieces together for the host to make the event as seamless as possible, so they can be a guest and be thankful at the end of the night that they were able to enjoy their event.
HOW DO YOU GET THE CLIENT’S VISION AND TURN IT INTO REALITY?
Every one of our Events Specialist is creative. When we interview for new event staff, you have to have a really strong right and left brain. Be creative and logistically capable to do the job with excellence.
HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THE VISION?
A lot of the time they have some idea, whether it’s a theme or something like that, and then we ask the questions. Like, what has worked and what hasn’t? What’s your goal? What’s the profile of your attendees? Often when we get a theme, it can be subjective. So we have to ask the question, “What does this mean to you?” So we help them find their vision and then we transform a room based off that vision. If budget is an issue, then we ask, “Where do you want to have your ‘wows’?” At EventLab we all have our skill set. Some of us work better with big spaces or tabletops, but we aren’t just a design and decor company. We do a lot of off-property interactive experiences. People do not want to just sit anymore. Every dinner has to have an interactive piece, like auctions or wine-pulls, mystery boxes, etc. Entertainment is key. Not just a band on the stage but conversation entertainment, roaming entertainment, outside or in the pre-function entertainment.
SO HOW DO YOU HELP CLIENTS WHO DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT?
We send renderings all the time! People are way more visual these days. So instead of sending lengthy proposals, we are using mood-boards using Photoshop. Like we do custom bars, but everyone wants to see what that would look like with their logo and branding, so we send that over to the Photoshop team, then to the client, then back to the Photoshop team to edit it.
IF SOMEONE CAME TO YOU SAYING, “I HAVE A LIMITED BUDGET. WHERE SHOULD I PUT MY MONEY FOR THE BIGGEST ‘WOW’?” WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
That is an excellent question. It depends on what their goal is for the event. It could be the entrance or the stage. If they’re going to be watching a show or be in a theatre style setting, it would have to be on the stage.
WHAT ARE SOMETHINGS PEOPLE CAN DO TO GET THE BEST BANG FOR THEIR BUCK?
I think that is where you guys come in (EideCom). Lighting has taken on a whole new trend. Lighting elements and all you can do with it is amazing. The one thing I always notice at an event is how great (or bad) the lighting is. Whether it is patterns moving on the wall or it is stagnant. That is probably going to be the best bang for your buck.
CHARLES’ TIP: When we are doing an auction, we make the room super dark while the auctioneer is talking, so it requires the attention to go right to the stage, but when it is time to start the bidding the room lights up and it gets people excited. We create lighting cues.
WHAT ABOUT FLORAL? PEOPLE EITHER SEE IT AS A NECESSITY OR THE LEAST IMPORTANT THING ON THE LIST.
It depends on the demographic of the group and who is spearheading the event. There are some planners that love floral and we love planners that love floral. Floral has changed. I think people are wanting more natural elements, like just picked or garden-style flowers. MYTH: You are not saving money by purchasing silk flowers. We use silks when things are high, like if it is from the ceiling or up on a column, because you get a bigger bang and you don’t have to worry about wilting or drooping. An event should satisfy all of your senses. One client of mine wants a wellness room, a place for her attendees to relax. So we are bringing in massage therapists, we have massage chairs in our inventory, and lots of eucalyptus. Very spa like. We are a jack of all trades. We do hospitality suites, transportation, and so much more.
HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO KEEP AND WHAT TO THROW AWAY AFTER AN EVENT?
We reuse everything! Say you wanted a carnival themed party, we already have the tents, the custom toppers, etc. We make sure everything looks like we just bought it. We have a lot of furniture, that is a trend that is not going away. People now what creative alternative seating. We are constantly getting new stuff, and having to remove stuff. Our warehouse is a revolving door. Sometimes we try to see if another company wants it, sometimes it goes Craigslist, sometimes people just take it home! We’ve noticed new trends in furniture, where it is no longer soft, white, lounge pieces, but Mid-Century Modern styled. We have to constantly be turning over our inventory at our warehouse in Eden Prairie.
WHEN IT COMES TO BUYING NEW STUFF, DO YOU BUY FOR A SPECIFIC OCCASION OR WHEN YOU SEE SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NEED IN THE FUTURE?
Usually for a specific reason, but lately we’ve been buying in bulk if it is something we notice we are using over and over again. The warehouse is only so big so we have to be mindful of that always.
WHEN IT COMES TO DECOR, WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THE BEST BANG FOR YOUR MONEY?
Since we inventory so many linens, it is easy to do that. But it really depends on your budget and what you think is important. Some people are fine with hotel linens and others want that to be the statement piece. I think color really makes an impact, whether that is in your linens or chair covers or whatever.
COULD YOU GUESS HOW MANY LINENS YOU HAVE?
Thousands. Every color of the rainbow and in several different sizes. If we don’t have the color or shade you are looking for, we will find it.
HOW ARE YOU BALANCING BUDGETS?
Everyone has a budget. So we try to figure out their range. We don’t come in and say here is the fee for us to produce your event. We bring in a mood board and share the price. Then they can say, “oh I don’t want chair covers” or “I like this but can we do it for less?” And that is hard. Sasha Souza says, “It’s not my responsibility to pay for your event,” and that is very true. We are in an industry that brings a bit of a sticker shock for people who haven’t done this before, like weddings, but most corporate clients have a pretty good understanding of costs. The best thing about working with an event professional is that the client might have a vision but we can work through all the logistics. You need to work with professionals that know how to bring in the right elements and still achieve the vision you have.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE IF A CLIENT COMES TO YOU WITH A BUDGET, YOU CAN BETTER HELP THEM MAKE THE MOST OF IT?
Definitely. Since we have so much in our inventory and we have a great selection of big and small props, we are able to adjust, improvise, and even throw a few things in here and there to make the event better than they expected.
HOW DO YOU HAVE THAT CONVERSATION WITH A CLIENT THAT DOESN’T UNDERSTAND BUDGET OR COSTS?
It goes back to, “Where do you want to create your ‘wow’?” We could do a great stage design or entrance and use the hotel linens or whatever. But we have to be honest and tell them we can’t do it all with that budget, so find out what’s important to you. We try to educate in the most polite way possible, but sometimes we do have to be blunt.
DO YOU EVER HAVE CLIENTS YOU THOUGHT HAD A GRAND BUDGET AND THEN COME TO FIND OUT THEY DON’T?
Oh yeah. Especially with the big conventions that come to town. They used to have great budgets, but now they are cutting back a lot. I’m surprised by how little the big Fortune 500 companies here in Minneapolis will spend locally.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD SOMEONE COME TO YOU SAYING, “I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH IT COSTS, MAKE IT AWESOME”?
Yes! It was at the International Market Square building for an audiologist conference and the more I’d suggest, the more they loved it! They wanted every room to be decorated and tons of entertainment. Two different bands, a lady swinging from the ceiling, a gospel choir, and more!
WHEN IT COMES TO THE FUTURE OF EVENTLAB, WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?
That’s a good question. We have goals of growing, but we aren’t aggressive about it. We are looking to do quality, fabulous events for each company. Each client gets an individual design team working with them. So we want slow growth with quality. We have a team we are really proud of, from the delivery staff to our President of the company. We are very invested in our clients and we care about who is entering into our client’s business. Whether we are entering Aria or the Hilton hotel, that is someone’s home and we want to be respectful if it.
FINALLY, WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND YOU?
Meeting Minds by EideCom