In Event Tips

Top Challenges to Transforming a General Session Space on a Budget (Part 1)


Photo by Showcore

Photo by Showcore

The general session can be a powerful tool to capture audience attention from the start and set the tone for an impactful event. In Part 1 of a two-part series on general session event lighting, the following Event Production Network (EPN) members share their views on why event lighting is a key element for transforming a general session, along with the top challenges to transforming a general session space on a budget:

  • Bradford Lowery, MFA, Senior Production Designer at AVFX
  • Brian Passa, Project Manager at Showcore


Why Event Lighting is a Key Element for Transforming a General Session

Lowery: When people think of event lighting, they’ll first think about color, moving lights, gobos and spectacular effects. While these are all in the toolbox of a lighting designer, the primary goals for every project are to direct the audience’s attention and foster engagement. 

In a general session, AVFX works to encourage audiences to focus on: 

  • Presentations
  • Video
  • Image MAGnification (IMAG) content (using cameras to display your stage image on the screens) 
  • Entertainment

Effective lighting design for a general session starts with an excellent stage light that’s tuned to work with the cameras. Ideally, your presenters will look the same in IMAG as they do in-person, with the same skin tone and background colors live and onscreen.


Photo by Eric Newkirk AVFX

The person speaking should almost always be the brightest element in the room. Any décor lighting should be attractive, but secondary to the presenter. It also should never draw attention away from the presentation.

Without basic stage lighting, your event can lack focus. House light doesn’t discriminate between an audience member and the presenter. Without a defined area brighter than its surroundings, the audience has no natural focal point in the room. This leads to low engagement and attention.

In a general session, the client is spending a great deal of money to bring everyone into one space to share important and valued information. Lighting is a comparatively small price to pay to improve engagement and retention among your attendees.

Passa: Event lighting helps craft an ambience that transports attendees out of an ordinary environment and is the core pillar for a top-notch production that can even influence. By incorporating very deliberate lighting elements—from opening sequence and presenter walk-ups to video playback scenes—you’ll have an added component that leaves an impact on your audience. Innovative event lighting is the difference between a polished product and just another general session.

Top Challenges to Transforming a General Session Space on a Budget

Lowery: It’s often difficult to afford overhead lighting these days with rigging, power and labor costs skyrocketing in the past decade. As such, even getting a basic lighting rig up in the air can be prohibitively expensive for some event organizers. The venue schedule itself also can be quite challenging when your event is bookended between two others and the turnaround time is limiting the scope of your work.

  1. The lighting industry is addressing these challenges by: 
      • corys-blog-photo-2

        Photo by Sean Campbell AVFX

        Utilizing battery powered, wirelessly controlled uplighting: Transforms a room with very little labor and no charges from the venue.

      • Employing moving lights: In the hands of a skilled designer, this serves many different purposes in a session. They can seamlessly pivot from providing a gobo wash for walk-in, stage light for the presenters, moving beam effects for stingers, general area light for meals, and dancefloor lighting at the end of the night. 
      • Using one intelligent fixture: Where LDs would have hung four or five static fixtures a few years ago, we now hang one intelligent fixture. Likewise, the power consumption of fixtures has dropped dramatically in the past decade, with the ascendence of LED light sources. 
      • Applying a pre-rigged truss:  This arrives at the venue already cabled and hung with fixtures, which saves quite a bit of time on an install.


      Creating memorable events will continue to be a challenge as our access to content and the level of overstimulation in our world continues to increase at such a high rate. Meeting planners must keep up with the trends and look for unique ways to engage the audience in today’s ever-evolving market.

      Events that push through the challenges and make a lasting impression will be the ones that shape our industry, influencing the growth and change we see as we continue to progress. Looking to unique and innovative strategies will allow meeting planners to elevate their events and create the memorable event experiences attendees want in 2024 and beyond.

      All these industry evolutions have reduced the price of labor, electricity and on-site time. While every situation will have different challenges, partnering with a designer who will communicate with you to ascertain the needs of your show and tailor a solution to your budget is the first step toward giving you the most out of your event lighting.


      Passa: Lighting is typically one of the first items to be reconsidered when Showcore sees budgets start to constrict. It’s also extremely scalable, so some cuts can seemingly go unnoticed. 

      The challenge is helping a client identify what they’re missing, when they don’t have a chance to ever see actually what could have been. I find it helpful to start by explaining that it’s the easiest way to bring visual value to the space, along with any sort of pre-visual work or renders that can help showcase what’s proposed.

      Other times, Showcore sees a lack of programming time when budgets are tight. We know all too well that having a lot of lighting on-site and little time to program can sometimes leave you and your clients questioning the value of having that expense. To create the intended experience and unleash the potential of the physical units, allocate time for your lighting designer to construct the desired vision.

      To conclude, event lighting is much more than just illuminating the room. It’s a powerful tool that can completely transform the atmosphere, mood and even the perception of your general session space. Remember, effective event lighting doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. With some creativity and planning, you can achieve amazing results and elevate your general session to the next level. 

      In Part 2, discover the budget-friendly and innovative event lighting guidelines to transform a general session space, as well as general session lighting tips.