This is a guest post by Howard Givner, Executive Director, the Event Leadership Institute.

One of the surest ways to tell a good event planner from an incompetent one is whether whatever is projected onto a screen at the event fills the entire screen, or has what we call “stupid black lines” on the vertical or horizontal edges.

What are stupid black lines?

These are the same lines you see when you watch an old TV show on a flat screen TV (which produces black bars on the sides), or when you watch a DVD on an older, more square TV (which produces black bars on the top and bottom).

Why do stupid black lines happen?

This occurs when the content (whether it’s slides, a movie, a montage, etc.) is created in a certain aspect ratio, which is the ratio of the length to the height, but presented on a screen with a different aspect ratio.

What are the common aspect ratios?

Projection screens, whether they are set up on tripods or drop down from the ceiling, are most often in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is about the same aspect ratio of older TVs. Plasma, LCD, or LED flat screen televisions, on the other hand, are formatted in a 16:9 aspect ratio and are referred to as ‘widescreen.’

Officially the phenomenon is called letterboxing, and in my mind there is simply no excuse for seeing it at a professionally run event or meeting. Why? Because it only happens when there is no communication between the folks supplying the projection screen at the venue and the folks preparing the slides or movies to be shown, which is usually because the planner involved doesn’t know about aspect ratios.

How can event planners fix the problem?

Event planners are often searching for ways to demonstrate their value, and this is one of the best and easiest ways to do so. All you have to do is find out from the venue what the aspect ratio is of their screens, and advise whoever is creating content to build it in that aspect ratio. Or, if it’s very important that the media be created in a specific aspect ratio, you simply look for a venue with that type of screen, or arrange to bring one in.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to bother your speakers, you can hire someone to collect their slides in advance and convert them to the proper format, which is something many event companies often do.

For additional tips on this topic, check out the Event Leadership Institute’s class Presentations & Presenters: Best Practices, by Brandt Krueger of metroConnections.

Here’s a clip about formatting for the big screen: