Silent Conferences: Delivering Talks and Presentations Wirelessly to Your Audience

A silent conference is a style of event that utilises a wireless headphone system to deliver audio content to its audience. By Paul Cherry, Monday, 25th May 2020
An audience enjoying an event

Presentations and talks offer event organisers excellent opportunities to engage with their audience through wireless audio.

Professional events often incorporate wireless headphone systems to silently deliver important talks and presentations to their delegates.

Specially designed event headphones that are light to wear and that are capable of receiving multiple, simultaneous audio channels are ideal for keynote speeches, seminars and parallel sessions. This wireless audio system also permits the broadcasting of multiple translations too.

This style of audio setup is used by large and small gatherings and the system’s complexity will depend on;

  • the number of channels of audio you wish to simultaneously broadcast to the headphones
  • how robust and stable your wireless system needs to be (more on this later)

Conference Headphones

Silent conference headphones can be hired from a variety of suppliers, including ourselves at Place Over Ears.

Popular versions of event headphones can receive up to 3 channels of audio, for example;

  • A keynote presentation offered in multiple languages
  • Breakout talks which take place in the same space
  • Audio for an experiential zones

Unlike their consumer cousins designed for use at home, silent conference headphones are designed for longer listening periods and they boast a healthy battery performance (our event headphones weigh just 162g – without batteries – and operate between 10 – 20 hours on a single pair of AAA batteries).

Headphones that have been specially designed for events will feature audio channel and volume controls

For audience comfort, silent conference headphones should be light-to-wear and feature on-board volume and channel controls

For every audio track offered to your attendees you will need a headphone transmitter.

Popular, easy-to-setup headphone systems offer up to 3 channels of audio. Here in the UK and Europe these systems use a licence-free FM system to broadcast your event. If you are planning a silent conference that requires 5+ channels of simultaneous audio, it is likely that you will need a more advanced headphone system which a professional AV team can advise upon.

For every audio channel you wish to broadcast at your event, you'll need a transmitter

Easy-to-setup silent event headphones can receive up to 3 channels of audio via dedicated transmitters. Specialist headset systems can receive more channels.

Transmitters for silent conferences tend to arrive in two flavours;

  1. Open and public radio frequency (RF) systems that can broadcast to headphones on 3 channels (863 – 865 MHz here in Europe, 914 – 917 MHz in the USA) – these headphone kits are simple to install, they require no broadcast licence and this makes them suited to small and medium-sized events.
  2. Events that demand many channels of simultaneous headphone content – here in the UK – will ahead of their conference, apply a paid-for permit called a Programme-Making and Special Events (PMSE) licence from Ofcom. This licence will allocate a frequency band for your headphone event within the 470 – 790 MHz range and within this band your AV team can broadcast many channels of audio during your event.

Depending on the type of broadcast system that you are seeking for your silent conference will dictate the AV supplier who can help you.

Running a Silent Event

Your silent conference headphones should arrive pre-tuned to all the channels they can receive.

When your delegates arrive ensure that the headsets are fitted with their batteries (or are fully charged) and you can distribute them by;

  • Leaving them conveniently by – or on if they are highly visible in a welcome pack – the seats in your auditorium
  • Handing them out in your conference reception or welcome area
Delegates arriving at a conference

Bringing delegates and headphones together at your silent conference should be an enjoyable and learning experience for the audience and the event organiser!

When bringing attendees and headphones together, it’s worth considering;

  • It may be a novel experience for many – at your headphone event, simple instructions on leaflets and posters around the venue will go a long way in helping to create a positive audience experience.
  • Not for home Hi-Fi – a very small percentage of delegates may think that their earphones would make a great addition to their home hi-fi collection (which without a transmitter, they won’t). How will you safely collect your hired headphones once your event is over? This can be particularly tricky at seminars with no perimeter, entry and exit points that are being actively monitored. Can you incorporate a return deposit for the headphones during registration?
  • Many days, many batteries – while popular headphone models offer excellent battery performance, back-to-back conferences will work through a good supply of batteries.
  • Promote, promote, promote – the ‘silent conference’ angle of your event can be used in publicity and advertising to ensure a full auditorium
  • Shine brightly (but not too much) – audience headphones can be classified as either ‘event’ or ‘silent disco’ headphones. Both styles will work with your transmitter, but silent disco headphones often feature big LED illuminations designed for dancefloors. Unless your event is positioned as a high-octane affair, we suggest that discrete headphones are a more suitable option.

With you audience now headphone-ready, your UHF transmitters become the beating heart of your audio delivery.

If you are broadcasting just one audio track, one transmitter will do the job and this can broadcast to an infinite number of headphones.

Presentation Transmitters

Earlier I mentioned that the robustness of your headphone system should be a factor in deciding to opt for either a licence-free or a PMSE licenced silent conference.

A popular UHF FM transmitter which can be used to broadcast audio

To broadcast your silent conference you will need a headphone transmitter like this one.

Popular headphone transmitters will output their respective channels on 863, 864, and 865 MHz here in the UK and across the EU.

These channels are free for public-use and do not require a license. However, such ease does come with a small compromise. There are no public restrictions on broadcasting in that frequency range, so it’s not a secure method of broadcast and there is a very slim possibility of channel crossover (interference) in urban areas or at busy exhibitions and events.

However, interference with licence-free RF systems is rare and as an added precaution, prior to a silent conference event, an RF spectrum analyser such as RF Explorer can be used to monitor local RF use and to select the best channel for your event.

As mentioned before, PMSE licenced systems should suffer no interference as you will have been allocated a defined band of frequencies by Ofcom.

If you rent your transmitters from a reputable AV hire company (like us) they will arrive with a variety of connectors such as RCA phono or 3.5mm headphone adaptors so that you can connect them to your professional mixing desk or smartphone, laptop devices.


A profile photo of Paul Cherry

About Paul Cherry

Paul is the founder of Place Over Ears and came up with the idea of hiring headphones door-to-door after a train ride to London with his mum in 2007. Launched in 2015 with just 6 pairs of headphones, Place Over Ears' hire service now supplies audio kit to UK and international customers.