The Skill Set

featured-crewcallHappy New Year, readers! Last month’s column left our hero (yours truly, since I’m writing this) promising to explore the skill set required for the successful rental and staging technician. It’s quite a list, starting with a firm understanding of how things work in the physical world, and this month moving on to include interpersonal skills that make it easier to get the job done. Plus, some extra special wish list items. Ready? Here we go:

Mathematics

Can you do math? Can you do math in your head? The answer should be yes to both, because as a tech, you’re not only going to have to figure voltage, dimensions and aspect ratios, you’re also going to have to figure them out on the fly, if you don’t plan on blowing circuits, overloading speakers or dropping large weights on people’s heads. Rental and staging techs should understand that measurements and standards are more than approximations.

Physics

A grasp of the fundamentals of physics is the single skill that will save an AV tech the most time and heartache, as it will save time wasted attempting the impossible. There are some realities of the physical world you can’t ignore, among them the laws of energy, light and sound, of course, and the effects of gravity. An AV tech has to know what will work in a space, what won’t, and what will happen if the issue is forced. Same with rigging — what will hold, what won’t, and what will happen when the chips fall.

AV techs don’t need advanced degrees in math or physics, but they do need to respect the fixed aspects of the rental and staging environment, in the same way that a trapeze artist, undersea diver or arctic explorer respects reality. Without at least a fundamental grasp of math and physics, prospects shouldn’t start a career in this industry. At best, they will develop some level of rote capability, but can never lead. Which means at best, they are limited in terms of advancement potential. At worst, they can (and do) kill people.

Reference Skills

Every AV tech should know a good librarian. Barring that, every AV tech should know where to look up standards, capacities, and regulations. They should also not be adverse to using online help, and when all else fails, as they say, be prepared to read the manual.

Digital Technology and Networking

Once you have a grasp of the physical world and how it works as part of an audio/video/data communications system, you need to learn how the system communicates and how information enters and leaves it. And we might as well face the fact that the future is ALL about the network. The ability to create “islands” for audio visual, or systems on their own separate networks is as dead as the proverbial doornail. And so is the concept that we are AV specialists who get the networking covered by “working with” a network specialist outside our crew. Certainly, in large networks there will be an over-arching IT presence, but they will increasingly (and rightly) expect that we know how to integrate into the overall network based on their intended structure (which will require that we be fully fluent in their language) and that we be able to troubleshoot and resolve any issues without asking for too much help. And this is especially true of staging, where we will be responsible to quickly make a temporary system function with their media and information infrastructure. Personally, I don’t believe AV can continue as a separate art that operates in parallel with IT.

Communication

None of your company’s ideas or designs are any good if you can’t communicate them to your colleagues and clients. And though often the show is already sold by the time an AV tech meets the client, the challenge of communication continues into set up, rehearsal, execution and strike. An ace AV tech will be fluent in “co-worker,” and “client.” Communication with co-workers includes planning, production, and troubleshooting. With clients, it’s the same, with an extra layer of…

Diplomacy

It is so important to remember that you’re a guest in the client’s house. If anyone gets to be territorial, it’s the client. But let’s assume you’re both on your best behavior. An AV tech’s approach to any client questions or complaints should be informative and constructive. Ironically, when a client knows you’ve got his back, his need to fiddle with the show disappears. (OK, I’m being diplomatic here.)

Now the Wish List:

Clairvoyance

Remember the time when, after three days of rigging, you found out that the client would be hanging banners between your projectors and the screens? Or that the VP had invited a whole other department, and the audience size had doubled? Or the classic, “we rewrote the script last night?”

Invisibility

Of all the skills I wish I could perfect, this is the one. Usually, the need arises when somebody has produced a real turkey, and you feel every eye in the audience converge on you at the control table.

Time Travel

One of my favorite movies is a great comedy called “Galaxy Quest.” A mysterious alien technological device called the “Omega 13” plays a prominent role when it is revealed to be a time machine capable of setting the clock back 13 seconds just one time. When a crewman asks what possible use that could be, the Captain replies, “It would be time enough to redeem a single mistake.” Truer words were never spoken, and most of us can remember that mis-cue that made us wish for the power of the Omega 13.

Have thoughts on this list? Or the design for the Omega 13?

Post them in the comments section for this post.