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Rigging 101

The term “rigging” can mean a few things.

For our purposes here today we will discuss rigging as how stuff is suspended or hung overhead.

Any time an item is suspended over people’s heads the first priority is safety. So, our event planning checklist for rigging all starts with load ratings. This is how much weight something can safely support. Everything has a load rating, starting with the point that something will be hung from, called a rigging point or a hang point (often just referred to as a “point”).

riggingEvery facility is different when it comes to rigging points. Some facilities have predetermined rigging points, others have a variety of steel beams in the ceiling to hang from, some have very limited or no rigging options. How many points are available and how much weight they can support will often determine what is possible for a production. A rigging point may be rated at only 200 or 300 pounds, or might support over a ton. Even ground supported rigging has a load rating, which is usually no more than 500 pounds.

Once hang points and load ratings are determined there has to be a way of getting everything off the ground and into the air. The most common way is with chain motors. With a chain motor a chain is taken up and attached to a rigging point, usually with a wire rope called a “steel”. The motor then pulls itself and its cargo up the chain. Multiple motors can be hooked up to a single controller so they all go up at the same time. Chain motors have load ratings as well ranging from 300 – 2000 pounds.

The gear being hung has load ratings too, including truss. Truss comes in different shapes, sizes, and lengths. Truss is not only rated by how much weight it can support but how far it can span. Sections of truss can be bolted together for longer lengths. In general, the bigger the truss the more weight it can support. However, most truss is rated to span no more than 40 feet. That means no more than 40 feet between rig points (or grounds support points). So if you walk into a room and see a long stretch of truss in the air with a big smile shape to it (meaning that the middle is sagging), be afraid. Be very afraid.

How everything attaches to truss or to a motor is also rated. Ropes, steel wire, straps, and fasteners all have ratings. Lights attach to truss with clamps and usually have a safety wire attached (often just referred to as a “safety”). Speakers and projectors often have rigging hardware built in with sufficient rating. All cable must be tied off and secured as well.

So, let’s do a little exercise.

Let’s say we want to rig some truss with lighting to do a stage wash. We have a wide stage and will need 60 feet of truss. We can’t span more than 40 feet, so we will need at least three hang points and chain motors. We will need six 10’ sections of truss, the lights, lets say 12 ellipsoidals, and all the electrical cable to run to the lights. Now, let’s do the math. Chain motors weigh about 120 pounds each. The truss weighs 55 pounds each. The lights weigh 15 pounds each. The cable will be about another 150 pounds. Then we factor in another 250 pounds for odds and ends that might be added later. That all adds up to 1090 pounds. If we distribute that evenly between the rigging points (remember there are three, one for each chain motor) that’s about 365 pounds per point. Where we attach those chain motors to the ceiling must have a load rating of at least 365 pounds. But wait, that’s assuming an ideal setting and all things being perfectly weighed out. A safety margin needs to be thrown in. So we would round up to a load rating of 400-500 pounds. The facility needs to approve that rating. Coordination is a must.

It may sound like a lot, and it is. Rigging is serious business and one of the most critical elements of your event production.

One rigging mistake and people can get seriously hurt.

There’s a lot of liability in rigging. A lot of facilities require the use of in-house riggers. It is now common that AV companies must use in-house chain motors and rigging supplies as well. None of which are not free, mind you. In fact, it can be down right expensive.

Whatever you do, make sure the company you use is competent. Rigging is critical to safe event management should never be taken lightly… no pun intended.

Power UP

AV equipment can do a lot these days. But, with the exception of the flip chart, it will all need power. And believe it or not, it’s not as simple as just plugging stuff in.

Power Distribution

Think of electricity like you would water. In your house there is a water line that comes in and feeds everything from sinks & showers to ice makers & outside hoses. The water needs to have enough pressure so that the shower head shoots water out rather than drizzling, but there also needs to be enough current capacity so that a shower and sink can be used at the same time. The ice maker doesn’t need much water, but the hose outside to wash the car does. You can measure the amount of water used by how much pressure there is multiplied by the size (or capacity) of a hose. You will get a lot more water out of a garden hose than you will a water dispenser in your fridge, even if the pressure is the same.

Electrical power is much the same way. The right voltage, or electrical pressure, is needed for equipment to function properly. There must also be enough amps, or electrical current, to power up all the devices that need power at the same time. Some stuff needs little power, like a video monitor. Some things need lots of power, like lights. powerFunctionality is 100% dependent on proper rigging.

The total amount of electricity used, or watts, is the voltage times the amps.

At home, your outlets are 120 volts and most likely on a 15 amp breaker. That means that (doing the math here, which is 120×15) you can get a maximum of 1800 watts from that outlet. So, if your coffee maker that uses 750 watts of electricity, is turned on at the same time as your 1500 watt waffle maker on the same outlet a circuit breaker will trip, or something will eventually catch on fire.

Confused? Don’t worry. Just know that power distribution is how everything gets the power it needs.

Hot – Neutral – Ground

Using our water illustration again, there is a nifty thing called a valve. That’s how you turn the water on and off (like the on/off switch of a light). When the water is turned off there is still pressure behind the valve, but the water doesn’t actually do anything until you turn it on and it can flow. When you turn it on the water needs to have a place to go. Then, just to make sure there’s no mess, there’s a safety drain in the sink for water to go in case it gets plugged or you forget to turn the water off.

In electrical power, the wire with the electrical voltage is the hot leg. The neutral gives the electricity a place to go so it can flow, and the ground wire is the safety in case something goes wrong.


Most power distribution works using 3 phases, or hot legs. Single phase can be one or two hot legs. It is a little more complicated than that of course. In short, it’s all about how much power is available. Three phases, more power.


Just like the amount of water flowing down a river couldn’t run through a garden hose without blowing it out, a cable needs to be hefty enough to handle the power that’s running through it. riggingOtherwise it could burn up or short out.

Big power requires big cable. 



Wrap Up

So what does all this mean for your event planning?

As you probably know very few things in the meeting and event industry are free of charge, and power is no exception. And when it comes to AV equipment, it all needs power.

A big set with a lot of lights and screens will use a lot of power! Most of the time an AV company will require separate power disconnects for lighting and sound & video. Make sure you during the event planning process that you discuss power with your AV provider and don’t take for granted that it is included in an AV bid. It usually isn’t.

Power is a facility charge that is most often expected to be paid for by the client. So don’t be caught by surprise.

Also know that power has to be run through those pesky cables, some of which can be very big. Those cables can sometimes be a trip hazard or an obstacle for things like catering carts. Often there is little choice as to where the cable can run. So be prepared to work with the technical crew on site.

Feel the power! When your audio visual company says they will need a 400 amp, 3-phase power service you’ll have a little insight into what it is they’re talking about.

Presenter Requirement Checklist and Field Guide

When it comes to requirements from your presenters you must be proactive and learn their needs in advance.

plan4Don’t let them show up expecting something that you and your AV provider aren’t prepared for. Here’s a field guide checklist of things to ask presenters so that you and your AV team can prepare.


Ask Questions

Whether a presenter is giving a key note address in a general session or a lecture in a breakout room, make sure to ask these basic questions:

  • What types of media will they be using? PowerPoint? Keynote?
  • Will they be bringing any DVDs, BluRay Discs, or video files? If so, what? (Provide a list of acceptable formats obtained from you AV provider.)
  • Will their presentation have any embedded media such as videos or audio?
  • Will they be using their own computer or other device? If so, what kind of connection do they need and where are they going to operated it from?
  • Do they need audio out of their computer or any other device?
  • Do they need an internet connection?
  • Do they need a remote (or “clicker”) to advance their slides?
  • Do they need a graphics operator to advance their slides?
  • How long is their presentation and will they need a countdown clock or timer?
  • What kind of microphone do they prefer? (Common types are podium mics, lavalier mics, headset mics, & handheld mics)
  • Do they need a wireless mic?
  • Will they be having any Q&A with the audience?
  • Do they need a podium?
  • Do they need any tables or stands for their computer, papers, or other items?
  • Do they require any kind of chair or stool?
  • Do they have any ADA requirements for getting on and off the stage?
  • Will any part of their presentation be given from any place other than the stage or presenter area? (Such as in the house mingling with the audience)
  • Will they need water or any other refreshment?

Proactive Event Planning and Avoiding Calamities

When someone brings a presentation on a thumb drive just before they go on stage, they run the risk of their presentation not working properly. There are lots of reasons for this: their fonts might not be available, their audio or video clips may not be embedded correctly, the proper program or version might not be available, files could be corrupt, and so on. You, as the event coordinator, never know.

Even if a presenter is using their own computer, it is important to test connections and quality. That’s why it is an essential part of smart event production to get stuff in advance, preferably the day before. Then there is time to fix things if all doesn’t go as planned. field guideUltimately, problems that are discovered at the last minute simply make for a bad presentation or session. That’s not good for anyone.

To avoid this, plan time in the schedule for a tech run-through, especially if there will be multiple presenters. Schedule specific times for each presenter to test their presentation, giving them enough time for a quick run through. Bigger presentations may need a full rehearsal. At a minimum, presenters should review their presentations with the tech crew a day in advance. Why not an hour or two in advance? Because tech crews are often busy preparing other stuff for the next session and there may not be adequate time to fix any issues if they arise.


An approval process may or may not be appropriate for your event. If there are time limits or content requirements it may be something to consider, not just for the benefit of the event but to be fair and equitable to all presenters. For this process, presentations are submitted in advance, reviewed, and either approved as is, or rejected with an explanation (such as being too long, inappropriate content, etc).

event planner

Who determines criteria and decides what is acceptable will obviously depend on the client and the event. Just do it far enough in advance so that presenters have enough time to edit and resubmit. This process will also fish out possible technical problems that can help you and your AV team better prepare.


Let your client and presenters know that you want to be prepared for them using this event planning checklist. But also stipulate that there are no guarantees if they don’t get information to you in a timely manner. Have a cut-off date for requests (giving you time to prepare with your AV provider). After that they will have to use whatever is available. Also notify presenters that there are no guarantees for presentations that are not reviewed in advance of the session (preferably 24 hours) or for those who fail to show up for a tech run-through. Be prepared for resistance. But if you stand fast presenters will cooperate.


Too many times I’ve had a presenter show up

with big requests that no one knew about. The response is usually “I sent my request to so and so last month.” Usually what we find is that the presenter’s assistant was supposed to send a request but sent it to the wrong person or place, blah blah blah.

My point is this: have a well-defined process or use a reliable field guide. It can make all the difference.

Specify how requests are made along with deadlines. When a request is received send them a confirmation. field guide

Have an understanding up front: if they didn’t get a confirmation their request was not received.


Rider – A part of a contract with a presenter or performers that lists their production requirements (usually audio). For example, a band may require a specific type of sound system or a presenter may require a certain type of microphone. This is a contractual obligation between the talent (presenter or performers) and the client. The client must then make sure they are contracted with their AV company to provide those items.

Don’t Be Line Item Wise… and Big Picture Foolish

We’re starting to see it a lot these days – clients need to cut their budgets.

So they pick line items out of their budget and start asking, “Can we cut this? Do we really need that?”

Ah, if only life were that simple.

An AV budget is (or at least SHOULD be) a lot more than just a bunch of lines with numbers. There’s the overall big picture to consider…making a budget

Gear, labor, facility regulations & charges, transportation, planning, and timing are all intertwined. Changes to one area of event production affect the others. You may think you’re saving money but you could end up paying more in the long run.

Some decide to go with inferior gear (or providers) when making a budget. For example, you may decide to use projectors that are not as bright in order to save a few bucks. But the end result is screens that look washed out that people have a hard time seeing, so all the money you spend on great cameras and switching gear is pointless. If you cut too much lighting then your cameras may look terrible. Going with a smaller or lesser quality sound system means people can’t hear as well, so what’s the point of having a great-looking set when the sound is inaudible? An AV company that is cheap but inefficient or unprepared may end up costing you a fortune in union labor and overtime.

So here’s my point: when making a budget you have to consider the big picture. That means getting event production priorities down to an understandable level. What is REALLY important for your event? That needs to be the starting point. making a budgetFor example, if you have big-name presenters at your event then audio is crucial. Start with a good sound system with good microphones and a good audio engineer. Then go on from there. How many people are attending and can they all see the stage? If it’s a big audience then you should have cameras and screens. Recording the event to edit later? Then quality video is a must. For each thing you add to the priority list you have to consider how that affects your budget in other areas. Oops, you decided on cameras and screens so that means you’ll need lighting. That also means rigging and possible facility charges. See how this goes? It can get expensive quickly.

It’s too easy for priorities to get lost in the chaos of AV budgets and event planning. Money starts getting thrown into areas that, in the long run, really aren’t that important. Or, worse yet, a knee-jerk reaction makes you cut something out of the budget, then you pay a fortune to add it back on site because it was more important than you thought. Believe me, it happens. A lot! There’s a saying in the AV business: in chaos there’s profit! Don’t get caught. Understand what your priorities are and be prepared. THEN, go to your AV provider and see where you can save.

Don’t Forget the Fire Marshal!

So… you’ve planned your event, your AV company has set up, the tables and chairs have been dropped. Then the fire marshal walks in and throws a monkey wrench into your whole program.

Believe it or not they actually do show up, and more often than you may realize. event planningThey are not interested in whether your set up looks great or not. They are interested in public safety. And, if they see fit, they can prevent your session from taking place.

But with a little due diligence you, as the event planner, can avoid this problem.


Make sure that all exits are clearly visible.

Depending on room size and seating capacity, the fire marshal may require that exits behind the stage and technical areas be accessible. A fire marshal may even require personnel stationed at exits to assist in the event of an emergency.

Aisle Ways

Aisle ways need to be clear and unobstructed.

Required widths of aisle will vary depending on crowd size and location of exits. Usually the facility will know what the fire marshal requires. Obtaining this information should be a priority on your event planning checklist.

Trip Hazards

You might think that trip hazards are things that are in the way of walkways or exits. But trip hazards can also be considered thing that COULD be in walkways.

Fire marshals may require chairs to be tied or fixed together, preventing them from being moved into areas where they would be in the way if there was an emergency. A good event coordinator will make sure everything is up to code beforehand. 

Believe It Or Not… The Fire Marshal Doesn’t Care How Great Your Set-Up Looks. His No. 1 Concern Is Public Safety… And If Isn’t Yours, He’ll Shut You Down.


A fire marshal may require that an AV equipment company provide proof that drapery and other scenic material have been fireproofed.

Most professional drapery will have a tag sewn in. But other custom-made scenery may be an issue if near lights or other heat sources.

Also, anything hung over people’s heads must have a safety wire that is steel.

Fog Machines & Fire Alarms

AV companies and lighting designers love to use fog machines and hazers because it makes the light beams visible (which is a great effect, by the way), but these devices wreak havoc on smoke detectors.

event planning checklistUsing fog machines must be approved in advance so that smoke alarms and fire detectors can be disabled.

But wait!

In order to do that at a fire marshal will usually requires that at least one person (sometimes more) be hired to stand guard and manually trip fire alarms in the event of a fire. This is usually the case ANY time smoke detectors are disabled, even for rehearsals and focusing lights.


Simply put, if you have any kind of fireworks in your event don’t mess around.

First, make sure the facility knows of your plans. Then, call the fire marshal at the very beginning of your event planning stages. Tell them everything you’re planning on doing and get their approval.

Also, make sure your AV company knows what you’re doing. Placement of pyrotechnics is also of major concern for the AV company since they can damage screens and other delicate AV equipment.

Lighting Your Event

Lighting can dramatically add to your event and can be reasonably priced to very expensive. Like most things, it needs to be planned out. Here are some basics.

Stage Wash

A stage wash is just what the name implies: general lighting covering a stage area.

A stage wash needs to be even (without bright spots or dark spots), especially if you are using cameras. That means you need enough lighting instruments to cover the size stage you have, not only from side to side but front to back. The number of lights needed varies depending on the type of lights used (ellipsoidals, par cans, parnels, fresnels, there are all kinds).

Positioning of the lights is also important. If the lights are hung to low or too far away then they tend to blind the people on stage. Too high and the lights cast shadows on people’s faces under eye sockets, noses, and chins, which just plain looks bad. Ideally, lights should aim down at a 45 degree angle.

So (this is the part where those high school geometry classes pay off), if the lights are hung 16 feet above the stage, they should also be 16 feet in front of the stage. If you have a really deep stage then you may need multiple rows of lights.


Specials are fixed lights used for a specific purpose, say a podium special or a talent special.

Maybe someone is going to sing a solo on stage and you want to light just them and not the entire stage. That’s where you need a special (even though the talent may not be, if you get my drift). Specials can also have gobos, which are patterns or logos.

Specials are easy to do but need to be planned in advance. Once the light rig is in the air and focused it’s a real pain (and a costly one) to add lights later.

Scenic Lights

These can literally be just about anything, from light set pieces on the stage to lighting center pieces on audience tables.

Scenic lighting can add color & patterns and change the overall mood of the room. Some basic examples are uplighting of drapery, wall and ceiling lighting, and lighting of the audience area.

Lighting Can Define Your Event, Or Bankrupt It. Knowing How to Effectively Plan Gives You the Power to Make the Smartest Bid Possible.


av equipmentYep, you guessed it. Lights that move. Moving light technology has exploded over the last 10 years or so.

Some movers just add color washes to the stage and scenery. Some movers have amazingly sophisticated patterns and effects capabilities.

These lights can shine on objects for effects, such as backdrops or scenery. But with a little haze in the room the movers shoot beams of lights of every conceivable sort that add big WOW factor.


Naturally, there are associated costs beyond the cost of the lights.

In addition to rigging and cabling, lights require lots of power. And, if you want to use haze (which lighting companies love to propose) then it MUST be planned with the venue.

Use of hazers and fog machines require that fire detectors be disabled, which usually also requires hiring a dedicated person to stand guard and pull a fire alarm in case of a real fire.

So when you get your bid, ask lots of questions about additional requirements.

Get Your Measuring Tape

It amazes me still how often mistakes are made

over the amount of space audio visual equipment needs for proper set-up. Often we walk into rooms where chairs and tables go wall-to-wall and we’re expected to set up screens, projectors, lights, sound equipment, audio equipment, and technical positions where there’s very little space to put it all.

Just as you shouldn’t book a room without being sure you can seat enough people, you need to take into account how much space you need for audio visual support.

Probably the biggest thing that gets overlooked is ceiling height and obstacles such as chandeliers and ceiling coves. So let’s get our measuring tapes and do the math.

Measure Twice, Set Up Once: In the Midst of High-Tech Audio Visual Technology, Event Planners’ Most Important Tool Remains The Simple Measuring Tape

Let’s say you want a big screen for your event. We’ll be brave and say you want a 11’3″ X 20′ screen. The screen with its frame is 12′ tall. You want it a minimum of 4 feet off the ground (preferably more) and probably a drape over the top (which is another foot). So, in this scenario, you will need a room that is at least 17′ tall with no ceiling obstructions where you want your screens to go. Lighting rigs and speaker systems also have ceiling height requirements based on the type of systems.

Also overlooked is reasonable space for technical areas, such as places for mixing consoles (also known as Front-of-House), camera positions, video technical area (also known as Video Village), and backstage areas. Depending on the size of your event, these areas may need a little or a lot of space.

Then there’s the space that’s needed to operate the AV equipment. Take projectors and screens, for example. There is a minimum projection distance required for a projector to fill a screen, whether it’s front or rear projection. There’s no changing that, no matter how much space is needed for tables and chairs!

There are a lot of options for projector lenses, but, usually, projectors need– at minimum– a distance about 1.5 times the screen width to fill the screen (twice the width for most small and lower end projectors). That’s from the projector lens to the screen. So, if you’re planning on a 10-foot wide screen, the projector has to sit 15 feet away; plus a couple of feet for the size of the projector.

Items such as speaker stands and ground-supported lighting towers will also take up significant floor space.

So, plan for some head-room (no pun intended). Your AV provider will be able to tell you how much space will be needed. As always, don’t just rely on the venue to tell you how much space you need, they are sometimes wrong. And, once the room is booked, your options become fewer and– perhaps– more expensive.

You are the event planner or event coordinator. So don’t forget your measuring tape!
measuring tape 2