Are You Talking to Me?

by Curt Taipale

Shoptalk comes easily to any church AVL tech volunteer, even more so for those who make their living in the industry. It’s easy to assume that everyone we talk with has the same level of even basic knowledge and experiences that we do. And that can lead to misunderstanding or even frustration on the part of a pastor who only has a basic level of knowledge of AVL gear.

In many churches the worship pastor oversees the work of the tech support ministries. I’m not quite sure why that is, but maybe it’s the easy way out, or maybe since many worship pastors work with synthesizers or recording gear the senior pastor just assumes they understand the technology better than anyone else on staff. But that’s not necessarily so. I’ve met with many worship pastors who readily admit that they don’t understand the AVL systems beyond a surface level.

I know that if I put the key into the ignition of my car and turn it clockwise, that the engine will mostly likely start. I put it into gear, press the pedal and down the street we go. But that’s about the extent of my knowledge of a car. And I think a lot of music pastors have a similar level of understanding of the sound, video and lighting systems. Not all mind you. I also know a number of music pastors who really understand the stuff, maybe even have a recording studio in their own home, and can talk the talk alongside anyone else. But it’s been my experience that those are rare individuals indeed.

When I tell someone that a loudspeaker needs to sound and perform great, I’m saying that based on 30+ years of listening very analytically to loudspeakers. I know from firsthand experience that a small loudspeaker can’t deliver the same quality of sound that a physically larger loudspeaker can. As I make such a statement, in the back of my mind I’m assuming that everyone understands that physically large loudspeakers can do a better job of controlling where the sound goes down to a certain frequency than a smaller loudspeaker can. I assume they know that pattern control is a key component in improving gain-before-feedback, among other things. Doesn’t everyone know that!?! I sometimes forget that it took me years to understand pattern control of just one loudspeaker, and a few more years to grasp what happens to the pattern when we group two or more loudspeakers close together.

Do you get caught off guard in a conversation when someone asks a question like “So what is a “DSP” for anyway?” or “What’s a “DCA”? When that happens to you, you need to mentally regroup, ask some simple targeted questions to get a sense of the level of knowledge of the person you’re talking with, and then come at your explanation in a different way.

If you’re not careful, your modified response could begin to sound condescending, like you’re talking “down” to the other person. Don’t go there. There’s some reason that you’re on the topic at hand, and your goal is to help the other individual truly understand the technology. They probably don’t need or even care to know the topic at the depth of knowledge that you have, but a few well chosen words shared in an encouraging manner can truly help that person you’re explaining things to, and can ultimately boost their respect for you.

Part of my work as a consultant is to tune sound systems, new and old, to help them sound as good as they possibly can. Most of the systems that I encounter these days use a Digital Signal Processor to let me adjust the various settings (e.g., equalization, delay, limiting, etc.) for the loudspeakers. It seems every DSP manufacturer takes a slightly different approach to making the connection from a laptop computer to their DSP. And frankly it used to drive me nuts because one day I would be able to connect effortlessly to brand “X” DSP at one church, and the next day it might take me an hour to get my computer to talk with brand “Z” DSP at another church.

That is until one day when Sean, a church client that I was working with, took a moment to explain TCP/IP to me. It helped that Sean also happened to be the IT manager for a regional bank, and I’m sure it helped even more that he used to teach classes in IT. What he shared with me in the span of just ten minutes – with a knowing smile and in such an encouraging manner – changed my work with system optimization forever. Nowadays it’s very rare for me to spend more than a few minutes to get connected to a DSP, which means I get on with the task at hand (1) happier and (2) far more quickly.

So allow me to challenge you to do the same. The next time you’re presented with a question about the technology that you work with every week, that gear that you take for granted and maybe assume that everyone else knows about as much as you do, step back and make sure that you’re communicating with true understanding, that you’re not talking down to the person nor boring them with information they may know more than you.

Copyright 2015. Taipale Media Systems. All Rights Reserved.
Originally published in April 2013 issue of TFWM.