ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
How can I dampen ambient sounds and reduce distracting echo effects at my corporate and hospitality events?
One of the best and most inexpensive ways to soften sound and create comfortable conversation areas is the use of soft goods. In the event-design industry, the term "soft goods" refers to fabric treatments (or fabric-covered elements) used throughout a space to soften the reverberation of voices or music that otherwise bounces off hard surfaces.
To better understand the concept, think back to a time when you first moved into an empty apartment or home. The environment was likely an echo chamber, as sound rebounded off the hard surfaces and reverberated back at you. But once you filled that space with furniture, area rugs or carpeting, etc., the echo effect disappeared, as the fabrics absorbed the sound and buffered the reverb.
The same concept applies to events. Venues are typically void of furniture and fixtures until your event moves into the space, and as such, you need to include a variety of soft goods to improve sound quality. Granted, each venue will have different soft-goods requirements. For example, a cavernous, marble-walled venue with 65-foot ceilings, such as Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal, will need very different soft goods than, say, a 60-by-60-foot freestanding tent in Central Park.
Generally speaking, however, you'll want a considerable amount of fabric throughout your event. So consider all of your application methods. Material can be hung from rigging points, erected via freestanding tensioned-fabric structures, spread across the floor, draped across tables, etc. When I design a space, I incorporate my soft goods after all the other key elements are in place, thereby allowing the materials to act as final accessories to tie the whole composition together.
To determine what soft-good treatments to use, you must first understand your audience and the overall look you want to create, ascertain what effects will add to the beauty and design of the room, and establish what areas need sound-quality enhancement. Your event-design team should have some suggestions based on your specific needs, but here are some soft-good elements I frequently employ when staging client events.
Consider the use of tablecloths (overlays and underlays), fabric chair covers, custom fabric treatments draped around existing windows to create drama, oversized freestanding spandex wave walls, carpets or throw rugs (perhaps with custom logos or branding elements), floor-to-ceiling custom fabric banners, and chandeliers covered in flowers and silk for a romantic, garden-inspired look. Also think about wrapping venue supports with thick black fabric to help them blend into the background and offer sound dampening to boot. Elevated floral centerpieces can also function as soft goods, but be sure they're positioned out of sight lines.
As you select your soft goods, try not to be heavy-handed. If you incorporate too many fabrics, your event will take on a cluttered look and a mausoleum-like feel. But with a light touch and a careful eye, soft goods can enhance both your event's functional properties and its aesthetic appeal.
— John Ierardi, founder, Event Energizers LLC, New York