What Do All These AV People Actually DO?!?

It takes a lot of technicians to execute a high-end corporate show. 

From the Technical Director, to the Projectionist, the A1 to the Master Electrician every position has a function and a job to do.  But what exactly are they doing?  When looking at the labor breakdown of an AV budget it’s important to know what these people to do ensure that you are adequately staffed. You want to make sure you have the right talent on your roster.   Here is a run down of the titles and functions of the technical professionals working in the ballroom: 

Technical Director (or Project Manager) creates CAD drawings and coordinates with the hotel to order electrical and rigging. Generating a dock schedule and load-in schedule, he acts on the Producer’s behalf to oversee all the technical equipment and labor. He manages the load in/out crew, and if anything technical goes awry, he’s the go-to guy to fix it.

Lighting Designer programs the lighting board with different looks for each presenter and day.

Master Electrician (ME) can program the lighting board but he is also responsible for making sure that Lighting, Audio and Video have the right power to make their departments run.

The ME ensures that power is distributed properly.

Without this guy, you could have a black out. 

And that’s baaaaad.

Lead Audio Technician (A1) mans the audio board and the quality of the sound coming from all audio sources, graphics computer, video, band monitor, individual lavaliere mics, podium mics, etc. He balances the system to ensure that the audio is clear and crisp in every corner of the room.

Assistant Audio Technician (A2) tests the microphones daily, ensures that the wireless mics are on a clear frequency without static or interference, places mics on the presenters, and wrangles them after the presentations. He is also the troubleshooter. If during the show something goes amiss, the A2 looks into solutions while the A1 focused on the show cues.

Video Projectionist ensures all the projections are identical, he fine-tunes all the projectors to ensure the focus, the color saturation, the contrast, brightness, and everything is exactly the same on every screen. He will troubleshoot the projectors if they have any issues.

Video Technical Director/ Switcher operates the switching system, sending graphics, video and IMAG to the screens and downstage monitors on the Stage Manager’s Cue. He could also acts as a Camera Shader tweaking the images from each of the camera to make them look natural. He directs the cameraman to get the shots that will look the best.   Sometimes these are two or three different positions.  If there are several cameras, you may have a Video Technical Director that is telling the individual cameras what to shoot. There may be a going to the screens.  There could be a Switcher for recording and a Switcher for the live screens…. All depends on the complexity and the client’s needs.

Video Playback Pro Operator and Recording Technician loads all the videos into the Playback Pro Systems  (PBP)(primary and back up) and puts them in proper order. He is also responsible for recording everything that the camera captures (ISO Records) and/ or what goes to the screens (Program Records) hard drive, monitoring that both the audio and video are captured correctly.  Sometimes these two positions are combined. Again, it all depends on the specific needs of the show.

There are  other positions Riggers, Carpenters, Stage Hands, etc.; the above list makes up 80% of the core “running crew”.  Do you have all the right “people on the bus”? Ask your account manager or your Technical Director to explain why each position is included. Then you’ll know for sure.

Next week we’ll delve into the Production staff. Until then, have a good show everyone.  

The Second Pillar – Unity

Unity is defined as “the state of being one” or “combining parts into one.”

One common illustration for the concept of unity is that of a rope.  Individually, the strands of a rope can be brittle and easy to break.  However, when they are unified by twisting or braiding the individual strands together, the resultant rope can provides strength and function that couldn’t have been achieved before.

In a podcast I recently listed to by Dave Ramsey, he illustrated of the power of unity using the story of the Tower of Babel from the book of Genesis.  The story takes place after “the flood” when God told Noah and his family to go forth and repopulate the earth.

Basically, the people decided to defy God and instead decided to build a tower to protect themselves from another flood.  In Genesis11:6, we find God saying, “Now, these people are all united, all speaking the same language.  This is only the beginning of what they will do.  They will be able to do anything they want.”

Whether you believe in the literal interpretation of this story or not, it is a great example of the power of unity.  Unity of vision, mission or identity allows preeminent companies to “speak the same language” which is an amazing foundation to accomplish “anything they want.”

Unity also provides clarity.  This clarity not only provides direction when planning the strategic direction of the organization but also clarity in everyday decision-making situations.   Organizations with a high level of unity can provide greater freedom to its people knowing that as long as the ultimate goal is known, there is greater flexibility in the exact steps taken to reach it.

As an example, at BlackSheep Productions we seek unity among our employees and vendors (our “Vision Partners”) through our vision, “Events that Make a Difference.”

We make a difference.

An audience that is inspired to perform at a higher level can affect the success of their company.  That company’s clients and shareholders are impacted by these actions, and in turn they influence their communities.

Our continued success enables us to invest in the personal and professional lives of our team members.  This allows us to make a difference in our industry and, ultimately, the world in which we live.


QUESTION:  Is your organization unified?  If so, what unifies?

SUGGESTED READING:  The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

The Indespensible Nature of Integrity

The Hoover Dam, one of the top 10 engineering marvels of the world that sits high above the Colorado River on the border of Arizona and Nevada was the location for Freightliner to launch their new ground breaking autonomous truck. 

Click here to see some video.

A few months ago a colleague of mine received the phone call to help a Producer friend of his. This Producer been contracted by a communications agency to digitally map the face of the Hoover Dam for a mysterious client.  It had never been done.   As the project grew, my colleague started to have more tasks than a human being could do, so I asked BlackSheep’s favorite question, “How can we help?” The next thing you know, BlackSheep was part of a World Record making team.

The team was responsible for mapping the face of the Dam with video, color, and key phrases as well as painting the canyon walls and surrounding mountains with light.  Challenges were enormous; not only was the throw distance an incredible 2,500′ away but, the 420,000 square feet surface had number of different angles and curves.  All of these challenges were amplified by desert like conditions,  gusting winds and miles of distance between the various components needed to bring this vision to life. The result? A 950’ wide seamless image  made with  1.17 million lumens of Barco Projectors. 

While BlackSheep was only responsible for the projection onto the mountain’s face, we learned a LOT. Most importantly, we learned integrity is absolutely indispensable.

In order to project onto the mountain face, we needed two specialized Pani-style projectors. There is one vendor on the west coast with these projectors and he is known for his maverick ways. The Producer needed to deliver on the Agency’s vision so BlackSheep was asked to manage this vendor.  Despite the pre production communications, once onsite we discovered that vendor had  not to brought the assets that he was responsible for bringing.    Later we discovered that some of his equipment had malfunctioned. This resulted in added expense, man hours, and stress. While in the heart of the challenge, the thought came to mind, ” One person can make a difference, either positively or negatively.”


 We didn’t do any  massive digital mapping or break any world records. 

But we did spare the Agency’s and the Producer’s stress by managing and supporting the Pani-style projection team.  I like to think that we were able to #MakeADifference in that small way.

Have a good show everyone.





The First Pillar – TRUST (Part 2 – Examples)

As I explore each of the Pillars of Preeminence, there will  be an opportunity for readers to give examples about other people, organizations and companies that exemplify the characteristics of that pillar.

I will refrain from giving specific examples of how we at BlackSheep are attempting to build on that pillar.  (But I welcome our Vision Partners to volunteer examples if they are so moved.)  I ask that you do the same and please refrain from self promotion or using this as a forum to advertise your company.  Such posts will be removed.

Here are some thoughts to hopefully get you going and to start discussions.

  • What are examples of companies that go to the extreme to make sure their teams are highly skilled and are positioned to deliver what they say they will deliver?
  • How do companies ensure that their employees and vendors “walk their talk”? (Would companies be OK with the spouses of their employees approving their expense reports?)
  • How are companies focused on giving back to society and creating non-monetary value?  True examples of this would go beyond one-time initiatives that support a cause (such as a fundraiser on a trade show floor).  It should be something engrained in the very makeup of the company.
  • How do companies ensure a consistent experience time after time, event after event, year after year?  Do they provide the “flexible framework” that Jim Collins referes to in Good To Great?
  • How do companies show commitment beyond themselves?

In Start With Why, Simon Sinek says that trust beings when others understand that you care for something beyond your own selfish needs and desires.

QUESTION:  Who and what brands do you trust?  Why?

SUGGESTED READING:  Start WIth Why by Simon Sinek

The First Pillar – TRUST (Part 1)

Trust is the foundation of all relationships – personally and professionally.  When trust is broken, the relationship is not necessarily doomed, but certainly faces a long and arduous struggle to regain any semblance of its former self.

Everyone wants to be trusted.  But what does it look like?

Ultimately, trust comes down to confidence.  The antonym of trust is doubt or suspicion.

As Stephen M.R. Covey writes in The Speed of Trust, “The difference between a high- and low-trust relationship is palpable!  Take communication.  In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people witll still get your meaning.  In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.”

He goes on to write about five types of trust:

  • Self Trust – Everything boils down to credibility.  Do you have the skills and ability to deliver what you say you will deliver.
  • Relational Trust – Are you consistent in your behavior?  Do you “walk your talk”?
  • Organizational Trust – Ensuring that all systems and strcuturs of an organization are in harmony with the values and behavior of a company.
  • Market Trust – How does the market see you?
  • Societal Trust – Focus on creating value instead of destroying it and giving back instead of always taking.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Lannom a few weeks ago and am currently reading his book, People First.  (I highly recommend it. It is written in much the same style as books by Patrick Lencioni and makes me remember reading The Five Minute Manager some 20 years ago.)  He gave me another way to look at trust.  He said that in order to be trustworthy, you have to have

  • Character – remember by holding your hand in front of your face (like a mask in a play)
  • Competence – remember by holding up both arms and flexing your biceps
  • Confidence – remember by giving the “thumbs up” sign with both hands
  • Compassion – remember by placing your hand on your heart
  • Communication – remember by making a typing motion with your fingers
  • Consistency – remember by pointing to your watch (or where it used to be before you got an iPhone)
  • Commitment – remember by pointing to your ring finger
  • Congruence – (I added this one; remember geometry where congruent angels are equal and formed by a line intersecting parallel lines) – remember by placing hands equidistant from each other in front of your face and moving them down to your waist, keeping them the same distance apart

Next week I will explore some examples of how to view trust as it relates to me personally as well as professionally.

QUESTION FOR CONSIDERATION:  How trustworthy are you in your closest relationships?


  • The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

NEXT WEEK:  A deeper look at trust.

Is There a Difference between AV and Production?

A lot of times Production and AV are lumped together, which is a natural thing since these two elements of the live show work so closely together.

Is there a difference?

How does a meeting professional choose what kind of company to work with?

I posed this question to a colleague who’s been in the industry for over thirty years. He said, “Production Companies own the intellectual capital. They have the experience and the creative staff. AV Companies have the technical equipment and labor.” In the course of the conversation we agreed that a third type, a Hybrid of AV and Production company, has come about since the recession. This is a result of AV companies offering production services, essentially becoming a “one stop shop.”

Let’s examine the benefits and limitation of each.


Production Companies have strategic relationships with diverse AV companies.

Different AV companies have different specialties based on the products in which they have invested.  Some AV companies have an enormous supply of LED screens; some have a great lighting inventory.  Some are regional, some are national. They trust these partners and can use their relational equity to help provide a solid value for the client.

AV and Hybrid companies may have more  flexibility to offer competitive pricing for equipment that they own.

A Hybrid company has the added benefit of the one stop shop. 

The communication between the production staff and the technical staff tends to be strong and they can partner to design a very cost effective show. — Made up of the equipment that they own


AV companies and Hybrid companies are limited by their inventory.

In order for them to be profitable, AV and Hybrid companies need to get “gear off the shelf and into a ballroom.”  The busy seasons are January – June, September – November. If during that time the equipment you need isn’t available or you need something that they don’t own, then they will go to a wholesaler and ‘cross rent’ or ‘sub rent’ that specific equipment.  Additionally, during the busy season, they may have allocated all of their full time staff to other projects and need to outsource from a pool of very talented freelancers. This is industry standard, we all do it, but since that is a hard cost, that hard cost is passed on to the client.

AV Companies and Hybrid companies have higher overhead.

Trucks, forklifts, warehousing, labor to pull orders, bench test equipment, load trucks, all of this is overhead that they have to cover in their pricing. Also, if the project is outside of a 100-mile radius, the client will have to pay for trucking the gear to the show site.

So how to choose?

Illustrative Examples

AV Company:
A one-day simple sales training meeting for seventy-five local employees down town. Morning breakfast and then General session, Lunch function and breakout meetings, then departures.   A local AV company would be a good fit.  The planner could manage the whole thing. The trainers could run their own presentations in the General sessions and in the breakout sessions, while the planner attends to the BEO’s.

Let’s say this same training is now two days and has half the people flying in.  There may be a few creative elements that need to be created.   Now the planner may want to bring in a local hybrid company. There is more content going in the ballroom and the planner is now managing transportation, rooming and F&B. The planner will need a producer partner to manage the General Sessions to free him/her up to do the rest of the logistics.

Production Company:
Let’s say this same training session is now for three days, with several hundred people.  A theme needs to be developed and supported graphically.  There are multiple speakers, each with unique presentations that need to be managed during the production process.   Entertainment and off-site dinners may need to be planned for one or more evening.   The planner is definitely going to need a more robust AV set up, and probably going to require some help with speaker support and rehearsals. Additionally the planner may need some creative elements to help tie the messaging together.  There is a lot more heavy lifting for the planner. Unless the planner already has a relationship with a hybrid company in that market, having a true production partner will ensure the best value at the highest production quality.

The bottom line is this:

Form true partnerships with the people who you trust and have the best possible product to bring to the market.

I would like to know your opinion. What kind of company do you work with now and why?

Have a good show everyone!




For the last two weeks, I talked about the first two reasons that I believe people pursue preeminence.  This week, I will discuss a third, and at least for now, the last on my list.

To be honest, I don’t think that this third reason is the strongest reason and one that can provide adequate motivation over time.  However, I do believe that it is a reason that some might begin their journey.

Reason #3:  Maximize profits or increase value:  If you look back to the second blog post on The Preeminent Journey when I explored “What Is Preeminence“, I named four companies – The Ritz Carlton, Chick-fil-A, Southwest Airlines and Zappos.

Why is it that The Ritz Carlton or The Four Seasons can price their rooms as they do when there are most likely many other companies that offer rooms within a few blocks at a price significantly lower?  Why is it that Chick-fil-A can charge $2.78 for a chicken sandwich when McDonald’s and Wendy’s both have chicken sandwiches for $0.99 (and usually a shorter line at the drive thru – at least if you are on North Druid Hills in Atlanta)?  I believe that the answer is that customers are not just buying a room or a meal, they are buying a higher priced experience – an experience created by a commitment to the pillars I will discuss as the foundation of The Preeminent Journey.

However, some companies that I have identified as preeminent don’t charge a premium to their market peers.  Consider Southwest Airlines and Zappos.  While Zappos might not always have the lowest price for a pair of shoes, I imagine any regular customer will recognize significant savings over the years when factoring in the free shipping that they offer.  Similarly, Southwest Airlines will never be known as the higher priced option for an airline ticket.  Both of these companies are able to offer a greater value to the customers that value their brand through a commitment to the same preeminent pillars.


QUESTION FOR CONSIDERATION:   Which of the three reasons resonate the most with you?  Can you think of another?

NEXT WEEK:  The First Pillar – Trust