AV Production Lessons: 5 Lessons My Mentors Taught Me
While my company, Total Show Technology (TST), has been a force in the events industry since 1996, I’ve actually worked in the industry since 1982. Back in 1982, I managed the audio visual (AV) operations department at GES Exposition Services, a nationwide convention services contractor based in Las Vegas.
I recently had the chance to reconnect with five GES team members who served as mentors to me early in my career. After spending some time together, I was reminded of five important lessons they taught me. These formative lessons helped me understand the vast possibilities of the emerging AV industry and make decisions that one day enabled me to start my own company.
These five lessons are as follows:
- Recognize the Vast Potential of AV
- Hire Only the Best People
- Listen to What Your Clients Really Want and Need
- Move Fast – Eliminate Bureaucracy
- Treat Your Customers Like Gold
Lesson 1: Recognize the Vast Potential of AV
While at GES, I supported AV solutions for the convention business, and through mentorship and training I recognized the potential to expand the AV production end of the business. At the time, many decision makers thought it made more sense to invest in booths, tables, chairs, and other accessories than in AV technologies. However, I could see that event companies that wanted to stay relevant and competitive in the industry would need to understand how video, audio, and lighting could literally set the stage for an event, transforming a space and making it stand out.
In 1995, I left GES to lead the AV division at a company called Heritage Display. A year later, I took a big leap and formed my own company, purchasing Heritage’s equipment and assets and hiring their staff. My GES mentors encouraged me to think big. I was ready to see what my new team could do.
Lesson 2: Hire Only the Best People
While TST is well stocked with high-tech audiovisual gear, our success is due to our staff who have the skill to make it work. We take hiring and training seriously, which is why all of our employees participate in rigorous, ongoing training and education. New employees start as shop assistants and go through a program developed in house and through InfoComm/AVIXA [AVIXA’s Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) program is recognized worldwide as the leading AV professional credential].
At GES, I quickly discovered that one reliable, service-oriented employee is more valuable than multiple average, less-motivated employees. At TST, we hire only detail-oriented, trustworthy team players who want to build solid careers. The events industry requires hard work and long hours, and we’ve made it our mission to choose people with the work ethic needed to get the job done right the first time.
This 20-person team is small enough to be nimble and large enough to handle any challenge thrown at them. And we retain the people we hire. I’m proud to say that the average employee tenure at TST is eight years, which is almost unheard of at an audiovisual production company.
Lesson 3: Listen to What Your Clients Really Want and Need
When we talk to meeting planners, they often tell us that in the past they’ve received insufficient AV production guidance and support. Communication is problematic. AV technicians lack the expertise required to make shows flow smoothly and reduce client stress. Event production involves rote response to client requests instead of analysis of budgets and needs and discussion of what’s really possible.
During my time at GES, I learned that the amount of AV production support each client needs depends on what’s happening, how fast it’s happening, and the goals that client is hoping to achieve. Understaffing can be dangerous; overstaffing can be costly. Forethought, effort, integrity, and industry experience are required to make sure we don’t over- or under-spec our clients’ shows.
More than anything else, we train our people to listen to what our clients are saying – and to weigh in. We participate in the process, represent our clients’ interests, and free up our clients’ staff to focus on other tasks. Our clients and their attendees get what they really want and need. I marvel at what our people and our clients are able to accomplish together.
Lesson 4: Move Fast – Eliminate Bureaucracy
Client goals, venue requirements, and event programs can change rapidly, and I learned from my mentors early on that in this industry you’ve got to move fast. TST’s smaller size and lack of multiple layers of command allow us to make fast decisions and remain flexible. For example, our people are empowered to make decisions and solve problems on show site.
We stay in the loop from long before each show starts to make it easier to anticipate and avoid problems – and take worry off our clients’ plates. Our right-sized team covers all video, audio, lighting, and staging needs, providing ample diversification and expertise in each discipline.
As my GES mentors taught me, it’s my job to preempt client risks and help them circumvent potential problems. It’s my job – and the job of everyone at TST – to understand our clients’ “must haves” and hot buttons, engage in open dialogue, and execute consistently. Our clients expect nothing less.
Lesson 5: Treat Your Clients Like Gold
When I started TST back in 1996, times were tough. However, the orders kept coming because we built a reputation for exceptional customer support. From the very beginning, TST has been built on a foundation of service. Our clients expect us to show up on time and make sure all equipment is up and running. It’s our job to be a behind-the-scenes solution that makes our clients’ headaches go away. If our clients need something, they simply pick up the phone, and we make it happen.
The number one question we ask our clients: How can we help?
A Final AV Production Lesson
A final lesson from my GES mentors: Your reputation precedes you. Never take it for granted.
As I was recently reminded, it’s just as important to reflect on where you came from as it is to recognize where you are and where you want to go.
Remember the people who educated you and inspired you to love and excel at the work you do. And be sure to thank them.
About Total Show Technology
TST is the total show production solution for anyone who hosts, plans, manages, or produces events, meetings, and trade shows. We own the Pacific Southwest market and travel with our clients all across the country. Our clients have relied on us to deliver audio, video, lighting, equipment rental, and show production for conventions, corporate meetings and events, and trade shows since 1996.
Whether you’re looking for audio visual support or advanced event technologies that enable you to deliver your message effectively, we help your shows go off without a hitch and always make you look good. In an industry where almost anything can go wrong, we make sure everything goes right.
Read the Exhibit City News profile of TST here.