DocuDrama

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Well, fall is upon us, and along with it comes the fall meeting season. For those of you in the rental and staging portion of the industry, this is a time of year when clients who have been away for the summer suddenly call in a panic to book a meeting for tomorrow (if you are lucky) or for this afternoon.

Along with a return to business in the autumn, we in the industry usually experience new requirements for those same sudden meetings. Not only are the manufacturers and distributors introducing new products that our clients will suddenly demand, mostly because they have seen them in airline magazines, but we usually also experience a wave of new government regulation. Here in beautiful southern Connecticut, our clients are mostly involved in the finance and banking worlds. Back in 2008, our industry was disturbed by simple government statements discouraging the financial industry from traveling for meetings.

featured-crewcall(Side note: If you all remember, Las Vegas was a huge target of several senior government speeches even though, as we all know, Las Vegas is the least expensive city in the United States in which hold a large meeting.) Since then, although they have lightened up on our friends at the casinos, the federal government (in an effort to decrease the chances of another financial decline and to increase the legal compliance in other industries) has issued new compliance documentation requirements for many industries.

However, I was speaking yesterday with a colleague in Louisiana whose clients are mostly petroleum firms and they are experiencing the same autumn phenomenon this year that we are with regards to new government regulation. Most of this revolves around how we document a meeting.

Documentation of public events once had fairly light requirements. Often, simply making an audio recording, or at most a single camera videotape, fulfilled any requirements for compliance documentation.

However, today we face the challenge of the connected meeting. In other words, we are challenged by the fact that meeting content, and even meeting presenters, are not all in the same room or even in the same time zone. The location and time factor is complicated by the fact that there are also a number of ways people participate in these conferences. Besides those who are present (and can therefore easily be recorded), we can have participants via audio conference, video conference, email, instant messaging and collaboration software.

Whenever a change in regulation (or just accepted practices of an industry) occurs, it can, for a time, discourage people from undertaking the kind of activities that are regulated while they attempt to deal with the new requirement. So it behooves us as an industry to do some work to deal with it for them. And, since the term “AV professional” is generally used to refer to someone who gets paid for their efforts, it behooves us to go one step further than advance investigation, and to be prepared with a billable service offering.

So how does one offer comprehensive documentation of an event with these kind of multi-point characteristics? The answer to that will depend very much on your clients and their requirements, but the following are a few of my favorite thoughts to get you started:

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Simple and inexpensive:

Remember, here, that we are talking about documentation and not production. So one easy and inexpensive method would be the use of a multi-track video recorder, such as a security recorder, where sources such as audio tracks, a camera, and the various computers that are used in a meeting for presentation and messaging purposes can all be plugged into a single recorder for the purposes of recording them in a single, time coherent recording. This can take some juggling of tracks and settings to produce a reasonable quality recording, and can be complicated by the fact that all the sources must become compatible with the inputs of the recording system (often now HDMI). However, if you are in the rental business, this can produce some additional hardware rentals and since it is for documentation purposes it can satisfy many clients needs to completely document the meeting in real time.

Slightly more difficult, more comprehensive:

As my readers will know, I am a big fan of collaboration software, with my personal favorite being Cisco’s WebEx. One of the virtues of these types of software packages (certainly not limited to WebEx; there are several alternatives) is that they can record in real time everything that happens during a meeting from video to graphics and from presentations to instant messages. So I have been experimenting lately with plugging everything into a WebEx client for documentation purposes, even those elements that are taking place in the room, and computers that are being used for presentation locally. This allows me to then send a link to the meeting to the meeting’s organizer, often fulfilling their documentation needs.

Really comprehensive while more expensive:

There are a number of comprehensive conference recording systems on the market that can produce outstanding documentation. One of these is Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite product, which can (with knowledgeable setup) produce recordings of all of the elements that we have talked about, producing documentation of extremely high quality, such that it can also be used for later educational purposes or even, in some cases, for post-production. There are a number of companies marketing recording products like this, and I mention the Sonic Foundry product simply because it is one that I have worked with and had excellent results. All of these systems require significant operator training for best results, but if your clients are in an industry type that requires that they comprehensively document strategic meetings, the investment in this type of product can be one that pays off well into the future.

One final caveat: All of these systems requires significant advance preparation, both on the part of the AV contractor and on the part of the client to ensure that on the day of the meeting all sources are compatible. A suggestion to those of you in the industry: This is labor you need to charge for, and a trial run should be done, because an offer to produce compliant documentation carries with it a responsibility to make sure that it is done right.

But that’s exactly what we are here for, isn’t it?