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Volunteers beyond the basics
In order to develop your team to a greater level, people need to be in roles for which they have a natural aptitude. Even consider placing them in a role that may not require an artistic touch, such as an audio assistant or stage manager.

Getting Volunteers Beyond the Basics: Match Roles to Natural Aptitude

There comes a point when you have to be honest with yourself, and with those members of your team, about where a volunteer's strengths lie.

Developing a strong, well-trained and healthy team of volunteers is one of the most important parts of being a church technical director, or TD, and it’s one of the most rewarding.

Every volunteer is a blessing, and every role is important, but not every volunteer is a great fit for every role.

t’s not usually too difficult to come up with introductory training guidelines and goals, since most technically-capable folks can learn the basics.

Taking your volunteers to the next level, though, can prove to be very challenging for two big reasons: 1) it usually takes a lot of time, and 2) the volunteer must have the natural capability to develop that far.

Today, we’ll talk about a few of the ways to get your team to reach new heights of technical production excellence.

I want to start with a more difficult topic first, because it is key to meaningfully developing a highly-trained team. To be blunt, there will be volunteers who weren’t born to be really good at particular tech roles. For example, audio engineering is a difficult blend of art and science. Many people can be taught the basics of how to get the sound system functioning and hit cues, but far fewer have it within them to craft a great, musically-interesting mix (regardless of training time).

There comes a point when you have to be honest with yourself, and with those members of your team, about where their strengths lie. In order to develop your team to a greater level, people need to be in roles for which they have a natural aptitude.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you take volunteers off your team who you believe don’t have that God-given natural talent for their role. Instead, rotate them around and see if something else sparks a latent talent. Or, consider placing them in a more purely technical or administrative function that may not require an artistic touch, such as an audio assistant or stage manager.

Every volunteer is a blessing, and every role is important, but not every volunteer is a great fit for every role.

Now that we understand the importance of honestly assessing the capacity of your volunteers, let’s look at a few examples of how to raise them to a higher level.

You probably know about virtual sound check, or VSC, which is a mixing console’s capability to record the band and vocalists during a rehearsal or service and play the multitrack (isolated) signals back through the console later.

Most modern consoles have this capability to some degree, and all you typically need is a computer to use as a multitrack recorder. Many times, the connection can be made via USB or Ethernet, and Waves makes free software (Tracks Live) which is perfect for this. If you don’t already have this function, I urge you to look into it.

With VSC, you can have multitrack recordings ready for your volunteers to practice with. There’s a lot less pressure when the band isn’t there, and a lot more time for experimentation. This is critically important to help your audio folks develop their mixing chops, because it takes an audio engineer a great deal of time to get really good at mixing. Group training sessions aren’t enough and mixing the services (even for several months) doesn’t allow enough meaningful time to learn and experiment.

Get VSC set up on your system, and maybe even hold some friendly mix competitions to help your audio team learn from and challenge one another. The more time you give them on the console, the better they’ll become.

You might also consider bringing in a professional audio engineer to provide some training and critique mixes. Even with that guidance though, as valuable as it can be, there is no substitute for providing people large amounts of time using the system. VSC is one of the most beneficial ways to help a team grow.

If you’re doing video production, it’s worth your while to also spend plenty of time helping the video director and camera operators sharpen their skills. Great video production can really enhance a worship experience, and (like audio) bad video production can actually be a distraction.

For your video directors, consider watching and critiquing other church services (and even regular TV broadcasts). Take notes about the types of camera shots used, the pacing of switching between those shots, and how framing and motion are used to make the overall production interesting and compelling. This is useful, whether you’re doing just IMAG (video projection for the benefit of those in the room), broadcast (which includes webcasts), or both.

In addition, spend time reviewing your own production and look for areas that can be improved. Then, pick one or two details each week that you can focus on improving.

For your camera operators, help them improve their speed in focusing and framing shots by setting up a game I like to call “Camera Wars.” This is a friendly competition where the director calls for a particular shot and several camera operators race to perfectly capture it. Ideally, you’d set up a few cameras in the same location, but this can work even with the cameras in their normal spots.

As soon as the director sees the winner, they take that shot on the switcher. You keep this going in a fast pace for as long as you want, and the camera ops and director all get some fun practice doing mock video production. This game works best if you have a few people randomly moving around the stage as “targets,” so the camera operators can also practice smoothly following someone around.

To get your lighting team to a new level, have them build their lighting design while occasionally viewing through a video camera (this works even if you don’t normally use cameras in your services). Our eyes are very forgiving with dynamic lighting, but cameras are not.

To ensure that your stage lighting can always produce great photographs and video production, the camera makes a great lighting design reference. While programming looks, send a camera to your IMAG screens (if you have them) or set up a video display at the lighting position. Also, be sure that the camera’s iris and white balance are set to manual operation, so that the lighting designer must make the lighting work well for the camera (without the camera automatically compensating). You’ll find that you can still be very creative and dynamic, and that this constraint actually makes you better.

There are many ways to work with volunteers to take them beyond the basics, but I hope these examples gave you some ideas to stretch and strengthen your team. It will take a lot of time and creativity on your part to raise the bar, but these are investments in the church and its people.

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