One Teaches, Two Learn


By Joel Rollins

Yesterday, I was hunting through quotes by one of my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein. I was looking for the exact text of his famous quote about technology sufficiently developed being indistinguishable from magic.

But I came across another quote, attributed to this groundbreaking author of science fiction, although I’m sure it is probably older. And I’m sure of that because it’s something I consider a basic truth, one our forefathers would have termed “self-evident.”

It was: “When one teaches, two learn.”

Let me explain why I believe this to be true.

I came into this industry about 28 years ago; I was a hotel manager recruited by my favorite AV company to take over the sales and marketing of their rental and staging department. My boss was Terry Friesenborg, the rental manager (now vice president of InfoComm). This was the early ‘80s, and video and data projection systems were the hot new technology in AV rental. Terry, widely acknowledged as a leader in adopting these new technologies, as well as more traditional AV technologies, had been asked by ICIA to develop and teach a new Institute course: The Fundamentals of AV Rental Operations.

But Terry was a very busy rental manager, and, while he had a good outline for the course, it was now two weeks out from that Institute, and ICIA was asking for the manual for the course so that it could be reproduced and bound for the class, which was sold out. And I could write, after a fashion. So Terry hadn’t just recruited me to take over rental sales, he had recruited me to help him produce that manual.

So we stole the giant IBM Selectric typewriter from the office, and the rental department’s first Compaq portable PC (the sewing machine-style one with the 7″ CRT built in). And we moved into my living room. For a week.

Now, I had always been an amateur photographer and was an early computer enthusiast, and had spent time building the crystal radios that you have all heard about. I had also worked closely with Terry on staging in my capacity as a facility manager. So I was not without technical background.

So, at the end of that week, I must have been one of the most knowledgeable newbies in the history of the audiovisual industry. Imagine being able to spend a solid week of one-on-one learning with an expert who was also a good teacher. Everything I have managed to do in this industry I can trace back to that week with Terry.

At the end of that week I was so drilled up on procedures, facts and figures that Terry asked me to come to Bloomington to teach the course with him. I have always loved teaching, had done a lot of it both in school and within a hotel organization, and was really looking forward to it.

Then Terry and his wife had a baby — the day we were due to leave for Bloomington.

Suddenly, I was the teacher. I had able help from a couple of our technicians, but the bulk of the classroom presentations would be on me.

The course was a smash success. It went on to be the bestseller among InfoComm courses for several years thereafter. And, at the time, I actually had the least amount of time actually working in the rental industry of anyone in the class.

Some of you will be reading this who did not know this until now.

Another side effect was that those basics, those procedures, those immutable laws of physics were all drilled into my head in ways that simply reading them and memorizing them never could. I came away from that class so confident in what I had learned, that I think I just went back to work and got to start in at a different level than I normally would have.

So the point of my story, and the quote from Robert Heinlein? The very best way to make any set of knowledge your own is to help pass it on to somebody else. Then you own it. Now, I’m not suggesting that any of you jump into a situation like I had. It sounds great now, but I had a number of anxiety attacks at the time. What I am suggesting is that anybody with a desire to stay on top of this technology, anybody who possesses knowledge that could help the rest of their organization, and any of you who just plain have talent for teaching get involved in doing so. Our industry organizations like InfoComm, CEDIA and NSCA all have need of good volunteer teachers. It sounds like a lot to give up a week or two of your time to teach, but trust me, you will walk away from the experience feeling much more confident in the knowledge that you possess.

Oh, and it looks pretty good on your resume, too.

joel-2011(Note: if any of you have a desire to do this and are unsure of where to best utilize the knowledge that you have, or who just want to ask questions about being in industry trainer, send me an email or respond on our blog. I would be happy to help put you in touch with people that you could work with.)

rAVe Rental [and Staging] contributor Joel R. Rollins, CTS, is general manager of Everett Hall Associates, Inc. and is well known throughout the professional AV industry for his contributions to industry training and his extensive background in AV rental, staging and installation. Joel can be reached at