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How I Learned About Event Production From Working in a Kitchen


How I Learned About Event Production From Working in a Kitchen


My father started King Audio Visual ten years before I was born.  I was a toddler playing with microphones, overhead projectors, and hanging out in a cluttered office with a bunch of technicians.  I assisted with events in conventions centers and massive hotels in the Baltimore DC metro region before I had really even learned why such large aggregations of people were a boon to the companies who used our services. Some talents and techniques of the trade surely rubbed off on me while I grew up surrounded by those more experienced event professionals, but I didn't really understand many of the major aspects of what makes an event tick until after I started washing dishes and shucking oysters for a paycheck.    

A chef and an event professional both work on the broader spectrum of the hospitality industry.  We all serve at the whims of guests, and we're there to put a smile on their faces. However, the tensions felt in the events industry are normally sequestered to the run-up to event days rather than non-stop as in the kitchen.  For me, those fast-paced, breakneck encounters at core of the kitchen experience have helped build integrity and a forward-moving, positive attitude in my approach to the stresses of event production. Here are a few lessons I learned.  

Always Have Your Mise en Place -- Planning

The humble dishwashers, the efficient prep cooks, the soldierly line cooks, and the master chefs.  They don't just "wing it" when dinner service comes around.  They plan, and when the time comes, the kitchen brigade has every tool it needs to succeed.  A kitchen doesn't operate without its mise en place.  Those couple bites you take out of your table's appetizer can only happen because of many hours of multiple people planning and preparing for diners to arrive.  The chef designed your dish's master plan, carefully decided on it preparation, sourced its ingredients from local farms, trained the prep cooks and line cooks on execution.    

When diners arrive, the execution of every dish that gets sent out relies on line cooks having their mise en place, or all the pieces "put in place."  After many, many hours of preparation and work from a whole crew of individuals, every ingredient and tool is within an arms reach, sorted, and ready to be used. 

The key to a successful event isn't just a good, general idea of what's going to happen.  It's not even in simply planning out the needs of an event.  Success is a culmination of planning, expertise, organization, and grit.   Audio visual technicians, for example live by the same type of mise en place.  We set levels beforehand, diagram the flow of media, test, retest, and test again.   Before that event starts, we have all the things we need.  And then we have a backup of everything we might need should everything go wrong.

A Silent Kitchen is Never Good Thing -- Communication

Food would never make it to the dining room without the constant flow of kitchen lingo -- often a mixture of languages, humor, commands, cursing, and acknowledgement.  Every chef knows that when their kitchen goes silent, something is wrong or about to go horribly wrong.  Miscommunication from one person can bring down the entire line and grind a kitchen to a halt.  

We all know about communication leading up to the event.  Communication during the planning process is normally pretty smooth.  When event begins, though, that's where communication truly gets tested. Here are a few basics of the kitchen that heavily influence how I approach communicating during my events:

  • Answer with clear statements.  "Yes." "No."  "I don't know."  Don't dodge someone's questions or requests.  Don't try to over-explain something.  All are sign that you don't know what you're doing or you don't want to be doing it, and all lead away from the answer they are looking for
  • If you notice a problem, don't hide it. Be proactive in finding a solution or finding someone with a solution.  Mistakes happen.  Your client might not like that, but they definitely won't like a mistake that surprises them when you already knew about it.  Own your mistakes and find a way to make it work and not happen again.  
  • Write everything down.  Events and kitchens both run off of lists. Prep lists, set lists, orders, menus, whatever.  Even the best of the best can forget.  Writing it down is a proven way to bolster your memory even if you don't look at the list again.
  • Have a sense of humor.  Smiling is an incredibly important form of expression. It helps ease tensions, makes time fly, and builds relationships.
  • There's always knowledge and experience you can offer to someone else and something that you can learn from them.  Ask for help and offer help.   

The Seasonal Menu -- There's Always Something New to Learn

As soon as you perfect your technique for that beautiful pea shoot risotto, pea shoots are out of season. It's time for a change. Move on. Stay positive. And get comfortable with whatever your chef throws your way.  

In some ways, it's even more fast-paced in the events industry.  We get a day or maybe two with most events.  Venues change. Staff changes. Presenters change. The whims of our clients change.  Some events throw curveballs on a minute by minute basis. If you hesitate to accept the change, something will go wrong.  If you embrace the flux of events and learn from it, you'll grow rapidly in how you approach your entire business.  

Weed-whackers -- Pushing Through

Every good cook knows what it's like to be "in the weeds," feeling so far behind that you'll never get out of it.  It can happen on even the best nights.  "Weed-whackers" are the people who embrace the challenge and help pull the line back from the brink of meltdown. Cooks experience the need to push through on a daily basis.

At large and small events, there's a palpable tension that can be felt once it starts.  Even when it's going well, the line between success and failure is thin.  Being able to push through, keep calm and communicative, and -- more important than all else -- keep everything moving even when mistakes happen is the sign of a professional.  


4 Ways Planners Can Use Event A/V Technicians as a Resource


4 Ways Planners Can Use Event A/V Technicians as a Resource this best of all possible worlds the baron’s castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and my lady the best of all possible baronesses.
— Voltaire

Veteran event planners are a laser-focused category of human beings.  A vision of perfection drives them to plan for every aspect of an event and push everyone involved forward. That vision is why businesses and individuals hire them to manage our most important days.  Product releases.  Weddings.  Press conferences. Conventions.

In the flurry of planning an event, groups and planners often overlook the expertise of event technicians.  These technicians handle everything from A/V to staging to lighting to audience interactions.  Planners need to know that techs should be a golden resource before the event as well as during.  Often, the technicians are hired mostly to push through the event in a short time from testing equipment on-site to operating the event and breaking down  We all know, though, that planning ahead trumps all else when it comes to an event.  Here are some ways to include your technicians in planning your event.  

Share every piece of information you can.

Videos. Powerpoints. Photos. Music. Contact information. Schedules.  I repeat, share every piece of information you can.  This way, you never rely on a single copy of anything!

Some events are planned and set in stone, but for the most part, both large and small events start as an idea, form into a general plan, move through vendor contracts and venue bookings, and then become more solid as time moves on.  The audio visual experience is just a sliver of all that, and often, many changes happen without being shared by everyone involved.

Communication is the biggest asset for both the planner and technician.  Think about CC'ing the technician or A/V company in the planning process.  If you don't want us to chime in, we won't, but a paper (or email) trail helps to inform us about what changes and why.

Personally, I offer my email and phone number to event planners to give to their presenters and performers.  Some planners would rather not pass it on, but  it's a show of good faith that we want you to succeed.  For larger events, I offer to set up a group DriveBox, or OneDrive account, so that everyone involved has access to as much info as possible.

Ask them questions about the event venue and similar events they've produced.

Most of our technicians operate audio visual experiences at diverse venues regularly.  It may be your first time at venue or it might be a yearly event, but some technicians might operate out of that space on a daily basis.  Involving them more in the planning process taps into a perspective that can help you make an event more than just another notch in the board.  

Ask us what we think of your ideas.  Ask us if we have any of our own that might work.  Ask us about our favorite event we've produced at that venue.  This kind of knowledge is the power to exceed expectations.

Similarly, A/V techs love playing with new toys and new setups.  If you want something a little bit different at a new venue, it's possible with a little bit of planning.  Event apps? Audience polling?  Livestreaming?  Let them know if you want something that's a little bit different.    

Introduce everyone involved and run them through the itinerary.

Things can get crazy on the day of an event.  A planner might not be within reach and someone might need to mic'd or otherwise prepared for the event.  Something as simple as making sure the technician has been introduced to a performer or presenter before they go on can make a huge amount of difference.

For the days of an event, have a proper written itinerary with the names and info of all presenters and participants and their presentation time-frames noting the equipment they'll be using. Distribute copies for the technicians and everyone who needs to be involved.  Then, run them through the itinerary and introduce them to everyone involved.

Make sure everyone knows that "Early is on time."

We really do want to help you with any and all last-minute changes.  Sometimes we can't.

Last-minute changes are just a part of the events industry.  Thinking on our feet, having a truck/room full of back-up equipment, and knowing alternate solutions is pretty much the reason event technicians keep their jobs.  If an event has already begun, there're only so many things a technician can do without interrupting the event.

Chances are, the technician has been there for at least a couple hours before anyone else. Use that time to discuss changes and offer up their expertise to your presenters and performers.

Really, this is all to say that we realize we're all in the hospitality business.  All event professionals are employed at the whims of their clients and their clients' guests.  If planners and techs work together, a single day turns into an eventful memory.  




Matthew King is the Director of Sales and Marketing at King Audio Visual and runs the new A/V and Events Services blog, Technically A/V.  Previously, he grew up in the audio visual industry  and has over 10 years of professional experience in the hospitality industry as a chef, event planner, audio visual technician, and operations manager.

photo credit: Daniel E Lee via photopin cc