I was talking with a TD friend of mine recently, and the topic turned to repeatability. It struck me that one of the most important things we can do as TDs is create processes that are repeatable. This doesn't mean that every service or event we do is going to be exactly the same, but the process by which we get there should be pretty consistent. I've been struck by the fact that working with volunteers requires repeatable processes.
People that don't do live production every day really want to know, "How do I do this?" I suggest there are several ways to achieve this goal, and depending on the process in question, you may use one or more of these ways.
Build Repeatable Processes
If you "wing it" every weekend, it's going to be tough to get consistently good results. Almost every church I've come in to was making up the input patch every week, depending on how they felt. Anytime someone new would join the team, it would take them forever to figure out where stuff was routed because, A) everyone did it differently and B) sometimes it didn't work.
Isaiah and I have spent a ton of time refining our processes so they are as clean, efficient and repeatable as possible. We plug things into the same inputs every single weekend. For example, the acoustic is always in channel 18. If we don't have an acoustic, the input is blank. For our new guys, they don't have to guess where to plug something in; it's on the input list, the stage box is labeled, and it's really plug and play. Their learning curve is shortened tremendously.
One of the greatest tools for repeatability is documentation. Quite simply, taking the time to write out what you're doing. For example, we've put together (and when I say "we" I mean Isaiah) a pretty comprehensive document that details how to use the A/V system in our student/community room. It's broken down into sections that answer the question, "How do I?" If we have a ministry group in there and they need to use a wireless mic, they can turn to the section on wireless mics, read and follow along with the pictures and produce acceptable sound. This happens because we store the mics in the same place, have a battery procedure written up and leave everything patched the same way every time.
We are also working up checklists for various tech positions. I've done one for setting up the video capture in FinalCut Pro. Monica has put one together for presentation. The idea is to put something in the hands of the volunteer who's running that position that they can follow and be successful.
I'm not sure if that's a word or not, but I like it. We try to baseline as much as possible. We have a baseline show in our SD8 that we start from every week. We've gone so far as to set up the input gain close to where it should be all the way to building rough monitor mixes for the vocal wedges. This has two benefits; one, sound check goes really fast, and two, new people can get up to speed really quickly. We also have baseline shows in our lighting console, I have templates set up in Compressor for video, and we build Keynote Masters for sermon notes.
Baselining gives us a consistent platform to work from, which our church leadership appreciates. While this might not work in the hyper-creative church that wants each weekend to be an adventure, our church values consistency. It should be consistently good, and we have plenty of room to be creative; we just want to get in the ballpark with our templates so we have more time to refine things and make them great. I want my volunteers to be successful, so we do a lot of the harder, back-end work for them, They are then free to focus on the more creative stuff and stay present during the services.
It's important to remember that most of our volunteers don't do this stuff for a living. If you present them with a blank slate every time, they're far less likely to be successful. Certainly we all have some high-capacity team members, but they are the exception. What I've learned to do with them is have them help me build the baselines. That keeps them engaged and makes them feel valued for their extra knowledge.
What do you do to make sure your team is successful every weekend?