Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: May 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Using Keynote Master Slides

One of my favorite things about Keynote it that Master Slides actually work. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in PowerPoint only to be forever frustrated with their master slides. Sometimes they worked like I expected, sometimes they didn’t work at all. When I got my first copy of Keynote a few years ago, it was life-changing. It occurred to me that some people might be out there duplicating slides and changing text instead of simply using masters so I thought I’d run through a quick example or two on how we use them.

You probably know that we use ProPresenter for all our presentation to screen. However, we use Keynote extensively to create many of the slides that end up there. The most obvious use is for sermon notes. We have a wonderfully talented designer that produces all of our themed graphics, and part of that package is a notes background. I take that background, drop it into my Keynote masters (most of which simply have to be tweaked from series to series) and the presentation operators make the graphics. Here’s how it works.

The first step is to create a presentation that matches your screen resolution—we use 1280×720 for our main screen. You can start with any of the Apple-supplied templates, but I recommend the basic white or black background. That will give you what you need without a lot of extras you don’t. Next you’ll need to view the Master Slides.

From the "View" icon, chose Show Master Slides.From the “View” icon, chose Show Master Slides.Once you have them in the sidebar, you can select them and start editing. Nearly every master slide will include a Title Text and a Body Text box. Those become the basis for my masters. You can change the fonts, shadow, color, position, size of the bounding box and a host of other options. New in iWork 09 is a checkbox that will auto-shrink text in a text box to fit the confines of the box. This can be a great help for scripture slides.

I have created a whole series of masters that accommodate almost any likely sermon note slide request. And when a new one does come up, I’ll make a new master for it. I create a current series Keynote master file that I lock in Finder so our presentation volunteers don’t accidentally over-write it. If I have to add a master or tweak it, I simply unlock it, make the changes and re-lock. We save a new Keynote file every week.

Every time we change series, I drop the new background it the masters slides. I first delete the old one (no sense having it in there slowing things down), paste the new one in, then send it to back. I’ll make any text position, format and color changes to match the design and we’re done. I recommend hiding the Master slides once you’re done editing. It’s way too easy to select one when you’re building a show and think you’re creating a slide when you’re actually editing a master. Don’t ask me how I know this.

In use, masters couldn’t be easier. When you click on the + button, a new slide is created. From the Masters menu, choose your template.

We'll select a template, in this case Scripture.We’ll select a template, in this case Scripture.Once the slide is created, you simply double click each text box to edit. You can type whatever you need to in each box, though I find that time-consuming and error-prone. Since our pastor normally sends us a Word document with his slides, we simply copy and paste—with a twist. If you copy text from a Word file, for example, it’s likely to be 12 pt. Times. When you paste that into your master text block it will appear as…12 pt. Times. What gives? I thought masters worked in Keynote? They do, but you need to paste correctly.

Once you double-click on the text box, Right-click and select “Paste and Match Style” from the dialog box. That will format your pasted text exactly the way the master text box is formatted. Perfect!

The key to cutting and pasting.The key to cutting and pasting.Once you get a good library of Master Slides, it takes but minutes to get the sermon notes formatted and ready for the screen. Once we’re done creating the slides in Keynote, we export them as JPG files, import them into ProPresenter and display them from there. We could also play out from Keynote, but I like the easy, random access ProPresenter affords in case the sermon changes.

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Own Your Mistakes

I know it’s happened to you. Like during soundcheck; you finish up with the drums and move on to the bass. As you start turning up the gain on the bass channel, you notice not much is happening. Hoping to elicit a response from the PA, you turn it up some more. Then you realize, it’s not the bass channel gain you’ve been turning at all but the overhead channel instead. 

Or maybe a vocalist asked for more “me” in their wedge. You dutifully turn it up, up, up, up, up…wait, why can’t they hear it? Doh! You were actually cranking them in the keys wedge. Or maybe you hit “Next” too many times and landed yourself in the offering song snapshot instead of the pastor’s prayer. 

Those are pivotal moments. Each is a crossroads where we have the opportunity to prove what we are made of. Do you try to cover it up and reset the controls to where you think they were? Or possibly blame the equipment? Or just keep moving on, hoping no one will notice? Or do you stop and say, “Hey guys, I messed up. Can we go back to that…” Now, I don’t suggest you stand up during prayer and confess your snapshot sin, but you should be ready to own it during the debrief. 

This is a lesson I learned a long time ago; you build far more trust with your team if you own up to your mistakes in public and take immediate corrective action. If you try to cover it up, you will be found out and your team won’t trust you. It’s that simple. I tell my volunteers this all the time. You are going to make a mistake; everyone knows you made a mistake. Just own it and go on. 

At our Gurus panel last week, Andrew Stone related a painful story of being told by an artist he was working with that he needed to “own it more.” Her comment was, “I pay you really well to take care of this stuff, and when you make excuses for what happens, it makes you seem small.” And make no mistake, Andrew is not a small guy. But when we try to blame others for the stuff that we are ultimately responsible for, it makes us look petty and small. Just own it. You can hear that panel discussion here if you missed it.

Even if you are the volunteer—your job is to cover that technical position well. If something goes wrong, deal with it and move on. If you are a technical director or leader, never throw your people under the bus if they make a mistake, either. We’re moving into a season of having volunteers mix FOH at our church. I know they are going to make mistakes. When they do, the two of us will talk about it, figure out how not to have that happen again, and move on. But in debrief, I will take the heat. Ultimately I am responsible for the actions of my team. My leaders don’t want to know all the details of what happened and why, they just want to know we are on it and it won’t happen again. 

So I’ve shared some of my mistakes (yup, those examples have all happened to me…). What have you had to own up to? How did your team react?

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We Are The Men in Black

One of my favorite movies is Men in Black. The original one. It’s a great mix of humor, suspense and some hilariously outrageous tech. In many ways, I find myself identifying with Agents J and K; and not just because we are all most often seen wearing black. In many ways, the tech team are the men (and women) in black of our churches. 

We work in the background, mostly in obscurity, making things happen‚ protecting the universe, if you will‚ and no one even knows. At least if we’re doing our job right.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie comes when K discharges his first weapon, the Noisy Cricket for the first time. After incinerating a semi and freighting a city block, he is sternly reprimanded by J. K Fires back that they are under attack and the people need to be warned. What J says next so often describes the life of a church tech:

“There’s always a alien battle cruiser or a Cirilian Death Ray or an intergalactic plague that’s about to wipe out life on this miserable little planet. The only way these people get on with their happy lives is that they do not know about it.”

Now granted, we are not typically defending our churches against an alien battle cruiser. Yet no one in your church—in the congregation or leadership—is ever likely to know that you were there an hour early one Sunday to troubleshoot a com issue so the camera team could work. They’ll never know about the projectors that won’t initialize, the moving lights that won’t strike, the batteries that almost died, how close to the edge of feedback you were, the audio interface that wouldn’t, the digital piano that wouldn’t play. 

They come to church thinking everything is just hunky-dory and enjoy the service. They never know about any of the battles you’ve fought to get there. And you know what? That’s probably OK. After all, we don’t want them thinking about that stuff during the service. We really want them to experience a connection with their Creator. We are there to help facilitate that. 

And as much as we might wish our leadership team would recognize what we do, they probably won’t either. Mainly because they have no idea what we do and if we try to explain it to them, their eyes glaze over. And in fact, I’d much rather have my pastor focused on delivering his message instead of wondering if that problem we solved and told him about is going to crop up again. 

No, it’s better to keep these things to ourselves. We are a rumor, recognizable as Deja Vu and dismissed just as quickly. Anonymity is our name. Silence our native tongue. We’re them, we’re they. We are the men in black.

OK, so maybe that last part was a bit dramatic (unless you read it in Rip Torn’s voice, then it’s awesome!). But you get the idea. And I do have two bits of encouragement for you. 

First, if you don’t already have some fellow tech friends, find some. We get each other. When you tell a fellow tech a story of a crazy thing you had to fix, we can laugh (or cry) with you. We get it. We feel your pain, and we understand.

Second, God sees what you do in the shadows. He knows how early you get up in the morning and how late you stay at night working hard to make it all happen. And He is pleased with you. He wants you to be encouraged and strengthened. He loves your heart for service, your mind that is capable of understanding and fixing all sorts of crazy tech issues (in fact, He gave you that mind), and wants you to know it’s all worth it.

So while we may never get our hands on a Noisy Cricket, it is good to know that we are doing our part to defend and protect our congregation from the alien invasion of noise, pops, feedback and other technical anomalies. And that’s pretty cool.

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“Perfection” is the Wrong Word


Recently I was reading an article about Sir James Dyson, the guy who came up with that super-sucker of a vacuum and that really sweet air blade hand dryer. It’s a classic rags to riches story; he toiled away in obscurity in the garage for years trying to get his invention right, and then almost lost everything before it became a success. His “overnight success” was really the result of many years of hard, hard work.

As a fellow entrepreneur, I find stories like that fascinating. But what stopped me in my tracks was his quote about perfection. The write of the review suggested that the inventor would most likely be a perfectionist given his obsessive desire to make his products the best they can be. Instead, he said this:

“‘Perfect’ is in fact completely the wrong word to use. You start with a goal and you make the best possible version you can make at that moment. You give the customer the best available at that moment, and then you set another goal and start working on it again.”

When I read that I thought church tech directors and volunteers. We may want it perfect, or our leadership may want it perfect, but perfect is the wrong word. The truth is, it will never be perfect. But that’s not an excuse to phone it in, either. While we can’t make it perfect, we can make the best possible iteration of it (whatever it is) at this moment. 

Perhaps next week, next month or next year with some additional training, equipment or time, we can make it better. For now, this is the best we can do, and that’s OK. Don’t give up or feel like a failure; just set a new goal and get back to work. 

I actually find this concept quite freeing. As a recovering perfectionist, I tend to get frustrated at the obstacles to my getting something as close to “perfect,” at least in my own mind, as possible. But now I simply have to consider if I’ve done the best I can with what I have available. If I have, and I’m not satisfied, I can set some new goals and give it another go. It’s brilliant, really.

How have you overcome the pursuit of “perfection?”

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Going to Gurus

Later this afternoon, Van and I will board a plane bound for Chicago so that we can be part of this spring’s Gurus of Tech conference. I am personally very excited about this year’s event, if for no other reason that a lot of my friends from around the country will be there. 

One of the great things about technology is that it allows us to stay connected to people on the other side of the country (or world). Thus, I get to maintain great friendships with people in Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, Nashville and all over. But there’s nothing like being together in one room. And a conference like Gurus is a great place to facilitate that. 

We talked about it on the podcast last week, Dave wrote about it on his blog, and I want to say it again; if you’re coming to Gurus and see me standing around talking with some guys, please come up and say hi. As Dave said, we’re all fairly introverted (except for Van) and tend to talk with the guys that we know—especially when we don’t see each other very often.

But we all really want to meet you because we all enjoy getting to know other guys and gals who are in the tech trenches every day. I love having the opportunity to interact with so many of you on Twitter and through comments and e-mails, and welcome the chance to put faces to names (or Twitter names). And speaking of Twitter names, it’s sometimes helpful if you introduce yourself with your Twitter handle if it’s different from your real name. In fact, I think our Twitter names should be on our name badges. But I digress…

If you haven’t already signed up for the CTLN dinner on Tuesday, here is the link to do so. A bunch of us will be there, and we’d love to hang out and swap stories with you. 

On Wednesday morning, I get to be part of a FOH roundtable with (and I can’t believe I get to be on this panel) Dave Stagl, Scott Ragsdale, Andrew Stone, Lee Fields and Daniel Rosenbalm. I’ll also be around all day Tuesday as well as before and after our panel discussion so if you want to talk audio, or pretty much any other topic, feel free to look me up. 

I will try to be Tweeting my whereabouts during the conference so if you want to hang out, you can find us easily. I do sometimes forget or get caught up in the moment, so if I’m not doing so, it’s not me being secretive. It’s just because I forgot. 

I know I speak for Van, Duke, Jason, Dave and a bunch of other CTW regulars when I say we’re really looking forward to seeing and meeting many of you this week.  

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The Box of Freedom

At first, it might seem like being in a box is antithetical to the concept of freedom. But in fact, we find our box quite freeing. Let me elaborate. 

We came up with the “Box of Freedom” concept about a year and a half ago. We were running into some issues with our lighting team; well, that may be too strong. What we were finding was that some of the guys did things one way and others did it another way. Some of the ways were fine, others were not as well received by senior leadership. And if you remember from my recent post, What’s Important?, consistency tops the list of things that are important at Coast Hills.

So we needed a way to create some parameters for our lighting guys without completely shutting down their creativity. And thus was created, the Box of Freedom. The idea behind the Box of Freedom is to essentially create a “sandbox” big enough to play in, but with boundaries that are acceptable to our leadership team. 

In our box, we set standards for house light levels during different parts of the service, guidelines for a few things not ever to do (shine lights in the eyes of the congregation, for example), and other general parameters. Other than that, the guys are free to do pretty much whatever they want. 

When creating the Box of Freedom, we involved my boss—the Pastor of Weekends, our service producers, me and my ATD and two of our more experienced lighting volunteers. We wanted to be sure to include the team in the process so that they could not only speak into it, but also hear the reasoning behind some of the parameters. We took detailed notes and afterwards, I condensed it down to a double-sided single page of guidelines. After getting final approval from all at the meeting that this is what we agreed to, this was printed, laminated and left at lighting.

In practice, this has worked quite well. What we didn’t want to be doing was constantly running up to lighting telling the guys they were doing something “wrong” (and I put wrong in quotes, because it’s not necessarily wrong, just not appropriate for our venue). We all felt like that would eventually demoralize the team, and not bring out their best. By creating a set of parameters that everyone works within, and giving freedom to be creative inside those parameters, everyone wins. 

We get much less negative feedback from leadership after a weekend, and the guys have more fun doing lights because, like many areas of art, restrictions actually increase creativity. Our services are more consistent, though each one bears the fingerprints of the L1 for that weekend.

The Box of Freedom concept can also be applied to other disciplines as well. It is fairly easy to come up with a Box of Freedom for audio—maximum SPL, average SPL for music, average SPL for speaking, overall mixing style, etc.. Inside that box, each engineer can approach the weekend in their own way, but the week-to-week consistency is reasonably high. And—hopefully—there are fewer complaints from management and the congregation about things being out of bounds. 

In many ways, the Box of Freedom is like a style guide. Style guides provide organizations a way to keep their message and branding consistent. In the technical arts, we need to do the same thing. 

Do you have a Box of Freedom at your church? How is it working out?

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What’s Important?

One of the most important (and difficult) things a church technical director needs to learn is how to determine what is important. We have a never-ending list of things to do, work on, fix, set up, prepare for and take down. There are events to cover, volunteers to train, plans to make and systems to upgrade. Based on my conversations with dozens and dozens of TDs over the years, I think we could all easily fill a few pages with the projects we feel we need to work on. 

Obviously, can’t work on all those projects at once. We don’t have the time or the budget to do everything. That means we must prioritize. And that’s where we can get into trouble. 

Before we start attacking our list, we need to determine what is important. The problem is, what is important to us may not be important to our leadership. And as my friend Van says, what is important to the Sr. Pastor is what is important. Everything else? Not so much. 

I’ve said may times before that what we do is as much about people as it is about technology (regardless of how we feel about that). If we are going to be successful as a TD, we need to learn how to figure out what is important to senior leadership, and make those things priority. 

For example, one of the things that is very important to our senior leadership is consistency. They don’t really care for big changes. So we have to move slowly and incrementally improve things. When we take a really big swing at something, we usually get pushback. Audio is a high value as well; it needs to be clear, mixed well, not too loud and—you guessed it—consistent. Video is not as important. So I spend a lot more time tweaking our audio systems and training that team than I do on the video system (much to the chagrin of the video team). 

Long-time readers will also know that I consider being a TD a long game. We really can’t measure things in terms of months, but in terms of years. And this is where it gets interesting. If we spend a good amount of time building trust with leadership, focusing on the things that are important to them, improving those things and demonstrating progress, we will get increasing amounts of time, budget and leeway to work on the projects that are important to us.

Trouble comes when we reverse that process. I know guys who have gone into a new situation and immediately started making changes to suit their preferences. They often get a lot of negative feedback from leadership and it starts the relationship off on the wrong foot. It then takes months or years to rebuild that trust—if it is ever rebuilt.

The better plan is to come in and not make any changes for a while. Learn the systems and the people. Figure out what is important—to leadership, not to you—and start working on those things. Once we demonstrate progress on the issues that are troubling management, then we can working on the things we deem important. 

As much as we might think we know best (and honestly, sometimes we do), it doesn’t matter. The technical director is a servant role; we serve the needs of the worship leader and senior pastor. Take care of those needs, and you get the freedom to do what you want to do. Start off doing what you want, and your life will be full of strife. 

What have you found to be important in your church, and how have you addressed it?

Today’s post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

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