Who’s ready for a master class on AV team management? Because that’s exactly what we’re talking about on today’s episode of Event Tech Podcast! If you’ve been following Endless for a while, then you already know we’re an AV company and we are passionate about AV. But today, we want to focus specifically on all the details surrounding AV team management. Because let’s face it, anyone who works in the field knows how tricky things can get.
Joining our always jolly hosts Brandt Krueger and Will Curran is Andrew Latimer of Endless Events. You might remember Andrew from our episode on how to save money on AV quotes or maybe you have seen him on the AV Audit. Well, this time around, our Design Engineer extraordinaire won’t be breaking down an AV quote. Instead, he’s here to get into the nitty-gritty of AV team management. Press play, it’s time to get technical!
AV Techs Per Breakout
Brandt wants to jump right into the number of AV techs per breakout. And Andrew is quick to state that “that is the million-dollar question. I think it’s a cop-out to say that it’s case-by-case but in reality, it does become that. So, my dream goal for every single show is I would love to have at least one person in every single breakout”. He goes on to add that “the reality often dictates otherwise. Because that does add up. But I think the mantra that I try to instill in anyone, whether it’s a tech or a producer or a client is that a breakout is not necessarily anything less than a general session.”.
Is It Really Different?
“So, I think it comes down to as a client how important is the breakout experience to you as a brand. And to your attendees from a retention standpoint”, Andrew explains. “Is this going to be where you’re putting top-end speakers from your company, is your CEO going to be talking in these breakouts and having small panels? Or is it really just kind of informal meetings where someone is going to give an update, clicking through a bunch of slides, they’re not a professional presenter”.
“So, how I see that playing out is you may have on the higher end, you might have an audio technician, a video technician, and potentially even a camera operator or a live streaming technician in those rooms. That gets up to a 4-person crew, that better be a fairly sizeable breakout room because your tech riser might be bigger than the entire breakout”, he adds.
The Ideal Numbers
Andrew fees like that’s the absolute minimum. As he explains, when you get below that it becomes scary. You’re trying to turn over a whole bunch of presenters real fast and man that, I would say, it takes about five minutes per presentation to get their laptop set up, get them mic’d up, get them all settled in. And you know you figure you got a 15-minute changeover, that gives you room to get to three different presenters, maybe four. So, I think that’s the range we’re typically looking in, is either four rooms per person all the way up to four people per room”.
Will follows up with an interesting question. If there is a room moderator, is there a need for techs? “I think from my perspective the room moderator is great to be able to assist. It definitely is going to make me feel more comfortable having one floating tech per four rooms. Where I would say that it becomes a concern is if you do still have recordings if you have a lot of wireless mics, you know a lot of times it’s people that really do want to help but might not know how to love up a presenter”, says Andrew.
“I would never say that a room moderator should replace the tech though if it’s a situation where it’s hey we have records, hey we have a live stream, hey there’s switching that needs to go on between graphics. The best-laid plans they’re just not going to end well for you”, he adds.
Schedules Matter, People!
Brandt adds that “paying attention to your schedule, rather than having a dedicated person in every room, maybe you do more people in the morning and then slowly taper it off over the course of the day”. Andrew agrees, and adds that “I think what can even play further into that, if you have a general session crew, maybe your general session is also a breakout, that can be additional cost savings but you can also to an extent utilize some of that expertise in downtime if you’re not rehearsing in the afternoon. And you’ve just had a one-hour session in the morning you can potentially look at repurposing and now you have one audio engineer who’s going to be assisting you with breakouts”.
A Gamble That Could Pay Off
Andrew’s proposal might not always fly with every client. As he puts it, “you never want to jeopardize your general session”. But even though it presents a reputational risk, “there is an opportunity to consider that as you might scale down people or if you’re building your session but you have a pre-conference meeting, maybe somebody can pop over. Someone that’s either one of your techs or you can pull off two of the guys that are helping to set up your general session. Have them go throw the pre-con meeting up ahead of time. You might not need somebody in the room. You might not even need to add extra billing for that”.
AV Team Management: Into The Specifics
Will brings up that “I see a lot on AV quotes like hey, we’re just going to have an AV technician. And one of them for four rooms, five rooms. Is that ideal? What sort of challenges does that perceive and then as they scale up a number of rooms, what sort of positions do you like to see?”. Andrew is one creative professional, and he has some wisdom to share.
“As a broad rule of thumb, you have your top-level producers, technical directors, stage management. You can also have a breakout TD, breakout technical director or a breakout manager. And you might see it listed as really any of those positions to oversee all of your breakouts just as a technical director might oversee your general session”, he explains. “Below that, we have your top-level designers that are overseeing the entire creative element of the show. You have your engineers, your programmers, your operators falling below that. Then you have your technicians, who are going to still be a specialized department. Maybe it’s a video technician, maybe it’s a projectionist, maybe it’s an LED wall technician, an audio technician and so forth”.
“As the breakout skill though, you definitely want to start thinking about that breakout manager position”, continues Andrew. “I would say even as small as four rooms, you want somebody that’s going to be responsible for the delivery of that entire service package. We also see a great utility in having an A2 audio technician, potentially even an A1. So, there’s a whole lot of consideration when you start to get to that level”.
AV Team Management Is A Different Story
Andrews states that his mindset depends a lot on whether he is in a “management role, which is still even different than if I am in a breakout where I have to be in customer service focused on someone that’s not necessarily a professional presenter”. And Brandt specifies that “everybody is different on how they define each of these roles”, sparking a conversation on the topic.
Crunching The Numbers
“I think for me in my role I’m always fighting to go the other way. I want to start with everyone and only trim down as is required to me to budget”, says Andrew. “Reality is there’s a budget for everyone. And as much as I’d like to have a technical director and show caller on every single show and a lighting guy, there is a point where that’s not necessary. So, it is kind of at that point hopefully the show is contracted. Or I have an idea of who’s going to be available for it so I can at least get some fillers out. Because it’s definitely going to influence the decision of who I’m putting on a show”.
Who Does What?
“Another example we see a lot is having the show caller might also be the lighting operator and the graphics operator”, says Andrew. And Brandt jumps in, stating that “every company is going to have different ways of doing things, every company is going to have different personnel. So, while company X might have someone who is capable of doing that, and is able to bridge a couple of positions using one person, company Y might not be able to do that”.
“So yeah, you might have a lighting person who’s really capable and is able to kind of call the show and keep an eyeball on things. Versus someone who just, again, stays in their lane and this is what I do, and this is all that I do”, continues Brandt. And this, of course, brings a fantastic point, which is the importance of talking to your AV company. That’s the only way you can understand “why it can be so difficult to line things up apples to apples, and oranges to oranges, and apples to oranges, and apples to pears. It’s because of all of these variables definitely come into play when we’re talking about labor”, adds Brandt.
Management – Do You Need It?
So, at what point does it become necessary to have a management layer after all? “I do believe that you should always have one, even if it’s not someone on-site, have an ally in your production company”, says Andrew. “You want to have a really strong account executive that’s backing you. Even if they’re not necessarily on-site. But regardless, I would encourage that there should always be someone on-site that is in a production management capacity. Even if it’s not necessarily a dedicated person”.
Who’s Calling The Shots?
“You want someone who can call the shots. Maybe that’s you”, Andrew continues. “But I think there’s just so much that you can build for the success of the show. You know, have that person there that they’re going to help you tweak the graphics. They will go the extra mile to put together or run a show. Make sure everything is lined up. And that I think is where you can really separate the difference and put a little bit of tangibility. But an audiovisual technician versus having management who can prepare that audiovisual technician is just game-changing”.
Labor In AV Team Management
Brandt is interested in knowing what the turnaround time is when it comes to labor. “In simplistic form, it’s when did we end the last shift to the time that we started the next shift. Commonly you’re going to see that as our corporate show ended at 6:00 p.m. today. We come back at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. So that gives 14 hours off. Everyone is going to be happy with that”, Andrew explains.
“The alternative is when you start to get into your awards show that might not wrap up until 11:00 p.m.”, he continues. “And coming back for a 6:00 a.m. rehearsal now you’re talking about seven hours off for the guys. Go home, sleep, get ready, get dressed. That turns into a couple of hours of sleep at most. And that often is either translated as a one and a half times rate for the following day”. Brandt emphasizes that the human body can’t handle working at that rhythm on a daily basis. “We need to make sure that our crews are compensated for when we do those really long days”, he says. “And for when we do get a short turnaround time where you’ve only got a few hours of sleep and you’ve got to get back up and bright and shiny in the morning”.
“I want to talk about call times”, adds Brandt. “You know, usually the call times are being set by the technical director or whoever. So that we’re ready by a certain time. If we’re going to have rehearsals in the morning, we want to make sure that we’re ready to go before those rehearsals. If we have no rehearsals and it’s just doors at a certain time, we want to be ready to go by that certain time. I’m a huge fan of letting the AV company, or letting the production company kind of set those times internally, have the crew call be whatever it takes to be ready by that time. And then you’re avoiding, again, that situation of people sitting around”.
Andrew adds that “there are so many opportunities to engage that management in setting your effective call times. And advising the crew or advising the client and the crew. Like hey, we’re about to go into overtime, who can we cut, who’s not essential to the continuation of this rehearsal. And I think that’s a really good reason that you want management on your show because it does avoid that surprise of what do you mean we got an extra $7,000 of overtime?”. Get someone to keep eyes on the clock!
AV Team Management – The Crew Chief
Andrew throws the idea of a crew chief. “It’s something that gets to a lot of the points we were talking about. As an additional option of having somebody that is dedicated to managing those hours. And making sure that they’re hitting their meal breaks, that nobody is running into overtime that doesn’t need to be”.
“And whether it is actually a crew chief or not. Having somebody that can serve as your crew mom, crew dad. Just looking out for people. Human factors are such an important thing in our whole industry. And that’s what we are doing as our job is trying to engage other people’s senses and feelings and sense of belief and purpose”, he adds. “So, it’s just giving back a little bit to us. I mean the smallest things go a long way. So, staying out at overtime when you can, making the rehearsals useful. Acknowledging that hey, if we’re going to go late tonight, let’s take an extra half hour so that you can call the family. In fact, that goes a long way”.
And that’s all for today’s episode of Event Tech Podcast! How did you enjoy our masterclass on AV team management? What are the things you simply can’t wait to implement? Make sure to let us know! And check out the amazing resources section below. Plus, don’t forget to join us again next week. We have more exciting event tech to tackle!
- Top Tips For Hiring an Event A/V Company?