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Live Events Training Q&A: Andre LeJuene, InfoComm International

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Certification; InfoComm Products and Services; Live Events

Date: February 2012

In the 1970s, Andre LeJeune, CTS®, was constantly on tour, supporting everyone from Billy Joel to Barry Manilow. In the early 1980s, around the same time he gave up the road to start working for a Memphis-based pro AV company, LeJeune began teaching classes for InfoComm International®.

“For the life of me, I didn’t know why the AV company wanted to hire me at first,” he says. “But it was simply because AV was getting out of the boardroom and starting to get on stage and they needed people who could do large-scale sound and lighting.”

Throughout the intervening years, LeJeune has been a tireless educator on behalf of InfoComm, even as his pro AV career has taken him to positions at AVW Audio Visual (now AVW-TELAV), Sound & Stagecraft, and others. In 2008, he joined InfoComm as a full-time instructor. We asked him how training for live events has evolved over the years and how the industry itself has changed.

InfoComm: You’ve been doing live events training for InfoComm for decades. How has it changed?

LeJeune: Through the 1980s and up until the mid-1990s, most of the staging courses were technical because there was a lot less equipment to choose from. You used one or two different kinds of projectors, one or two different kinds of sound systems. But now, we don’t emphasize technical training as much because it’s so manufacturer-specific. Plus, that type of manufacturer training is available almost anywhere. Not to mention that technical data will not interest this crowd if it’s more than a couple of years old. The technical side of how we do live events is much more specific. Everyone comes in now with their laptops and runs the whole show.

Project management is where our focus is now. We’re more into the management and organization of putting on a live event, with an emphasis on technique.

InfoComm: How do live events students embrace your training?

LeJeune: It’s a hard group to teach because they’ve been burned too many times. They’ve been to too many seminars on projectors, for example, only to hear all about one specific projector and how all the rest don’t make the grade. So for too long, this audience hasn’t been getting the education they’ve needed. They’d come into my classes with the attitude of, “We do shows every day, Andre. Nothing surprises us. If we think you’re giving us a sales pitch, you’ve lost us. And if you make some statement we don’t regard, we’ll probably go to our phones and Google it to see if you’re telling the truth.”

What we specialize in now on the live events side is how to get through a show. Preparation is everything because you’re always going to have unknowns. That’s what we’re focused on: not how to plug in a microphone, because there are a hundred courses on how to do that, but what do you do when the client requests an 8-foot elephant and the doors are only 7 feet high?

InfoComm: And what’s the key to getting through a show?

LeJeune: The key is to understand that in live events, we do not normally deal with professional presenters. We deal with doctors, lawyers, accountants — corporate types that once a year have to get on stage and speak in front of 500 people. They’re scared to death. They don’t know how to walk a stage or use a microphone. Our job is to get them through that. They don’t care what it took to put up the lights, sound or video. The whole idea of project management in live events is to ease the process for the client. So ultimately what we push in our training are the project management skills that allow a live events company or professional to answer questions like: How do you differentiate your company from your competitors? What do you do extra? What do you do that is quality-based? Do you work efficiently? Are your estimates reasonably on-target when they come up for billing, or do your clients always question the bill?

The management of shows, especially in this economy, is important. Operations personnel may not have a role in the top line of a company, but they can certainly affect the bottom line. If they can shave 10 points off the direct expenses of a live event, that’s something they can take to their boss. That’s the direction we’re moving in with our training. Yes, we talk about mics and lights and rigging and video, because we always try to keep enough technical flavor for some of the younger professionals, but we’re there to teach them how to think.

InfoComm: How has the live events industry changed over the years?

LeJeune: Well, when some of these companies started out ten years ago, their meetings had 20 people and one microphone. Now they’re doing corporate events for 2,000 people. It’s what differentiates the pro AV live events market from the entertainment live events market. It’s not about the equipment; we all have the same gear. The same rock and roll systems that they use on the road are the same systems we use in large corporate presentations. But we’ve cracked the code of dealing with amateurs — of realizing it’s not just about going up there and making things look good. It’s about making the client happy, because this is a word-of-mouth business. No one ever picks a live-events company from the Yellow Pages. It all boils down to quality and efficiency and keeping the client happy.

The best firms communicate with their clients and the presenters. I was a stagehand for years. When a Broadway show came in, I expected them to know what they were doing. I never had to tell the cast how to take a mark, or get closer to a mic, or not to step back when the stage lights come on. Today, in our business, that’s a lot of what you do. And a lot of times, techs don’t understand why the clients are asking such “stupid” questions. It’s because our clients are not in our business.

InfoComm: How has evolving technology affected live events?

LeJeune: We all thought that with the digital age, we wouldn’t have to stay at the venue until 3 in the morning. But we were wrong. Back in the days of 35-millimeter slides, you couldn’t change the show at the last minute unless there was a film lab open in the middle of the night. Nowadays, because of the digital equipment we’re using, clients can edit all the way up to the last minute. And often, they do. Technology has definitely improved the quality of all the systems, but it doesn’t necessarily reduce the complexity. And of course, the Internet now plays a much bigger role in live events. There’s nothing that scares a live events person more than having something in your show that you have no control over.

InfoComm: On the installed AV side of the industry, AV professionals need to me more fluent in information technology. Is that true of the live events side?

LeJeune: Absolutely. You can not be a modern AV tech without learning about IT. Period. End of story. A lot of new equipment hooks up digitally. Video-switching systems that used to take a pile of BNC cables now hook up with five Ethernet cables. The transmission of signals—audio, lighting, and video—has moved to fiber optics and Cat-5.

When I started, if I could learn to run seven or eight film projectors, I was a competent tech. Now you almost have to be an IT expert to understand some of these newer systems. There are already manufacturers putting AVB ports on the backs of their systems. They may not be not hooked up to anything yet, but they’re there. And that’s going to be a headache for IT. Imagine telling your network administrator, “We’re using Audio Video Bridging for a meeting we’re having today. It’s scheduled for 2 o’clock this afternoon and it’s going to run 45 minutes. And oh, by the way, the AVB cloud bridging system will partition the network during that period.”

InfoComm: In your experience, how have live events professionals come to accept the Certified Technology Specialist™ (CTS) certification?

LeJeune: We’ve made some headway. What we’re finding out is that CTS has appeal beyond the installation market. IATSE, for instance, has signed an agreement with InfoComm to start teaching CTS to its members. And here’s the reasoning, from a live events person’s point of view: “I don’t care that it’s not always something I do every day. CTS it is the only thing in our industry that is ANSI certified and has teeth.”

Stagehands want to earn their CTS because contracts are starting to come down requiring CTS certifications. Yes, it’s more of an install market certification, but electricians are getting it, architects are getting it, and the best thing a live events professional can do is have those three letters after their name and have them mean something. It’s the closest allied certification we’re going to get right now. If their company can say they have four CTSes on-staff, that’s a selling point.

InfoComm: What can we look forward to in live events training this year?

LeJeune: For one thing, we’re planning an 8-hour technical course for InfoComm 2012 that goes back to the basics of on-site video production. It’s really for technology managers at, for example, universities and media centers, who operate many classrooms with a lot of fixed equipment but who are being asked more and more to do portable shoots. The course will deal with camera set-up, capture, lighting and sound. It assumes a basic knowledge of the equipment. We won’t be teaching how a camera works, but rather how to apply it when you’ve got 15 minutes to set up and go live; or maybe you have half a day and you need to make a site look better.

InfoComm: What one takeaway would you want a live events professional to get from InfoComm training?

LeJeune: That live events run on karma. Every project manager, or lead tech, or production manager on a show is sensitive to the mood. When it comes to the best project managers in live events, their shows go well because they’ve thought things out past the Nth degree.