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Managing Mistakes: We All Make Them, It’s Getting The Response Right That’s Crucial

Not all mistakes are the same, but once we identify and understand why they happen, it's important to develop a logical plan to help avoid them happening again.

Living life means we make mistakes. Michael Jordan ended a famous Nike commercial by saying, “Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

It was a powerful message, but it left out the key reason for his success. Michael didn’t just continue to repeat his mistakes. He studied, tracked, and watched hours of film on them and learned from them. Another thing he mentioned was noting which mistakes mattered, and this brings me to my first point.

Audience-noticed mistakes. Not all mistakes are the same. As techs, we hold every issue up as the most critical problem of the day, but we need to qualify our mistakes into a category that I call audience-noticed mistakes.

For example, if you accidentally made the lights red instead of blue, while having the wrong color is important to fix, surely very few in attendance noticed it. However, they did notice that the microphone wasn’t turned on, or the stage was blacked out when the pastor started speaking.

I watched a Super Bowl halftime show a few years back and monitored the online comments on how many mistakes were being made – most of which I didn’t see. But what I did notice was I couldn’t hear the lead singer. That was an audience-noticed mistake that needed to be learned from and corrected.

Studying mistakes. Once we understand which mistakes are essential and game changers, now we need to study them. Watch the service and understand why the mistake happened. Seeing the service in progress will provide many details as to why the issue happened, but watching the sound booth and/or the video booth can also help.

Many churches can easily record their booth areas and sync them up with the service video, or at the minimum, record the booth areas for reference. If you have this technical ability, it will allow you to see if distractions were going on when the issue happened.

The bottom line is starting to figure out a path for correction. Was there something in the service that was causing this mistake? Is it happening often, or was it just a natural human error that will self-correct? Let’s take a missed mic cue, for example – does it happen every week or multiple times during a service

Learning from mistakes is vital to determine our response to them. At my church, we had a sound tech who would miss three to four mic cues during a service. His mix was awesome, but no one remembered that because of all the audience noticed were the missed cues.

I didn’t have any cameras recording the booth at the time, so I decided to watch myself during the service. I noticed this person had his head down, looking at the console the entire time. In the next rehearsal, we covered up the console knobs and screen section, and it forced him to mix only with the faders and massively reduced how many processing changes he would make.

Most importantly, it clearly communicated that we wanted him to keep his head up and look at the stage. This made a big difference. At the next service, he never missed a mic cue and in addition, gained a lot of confidence.

Tracking mistakes. This is the most critical point. Create a system where you can track and graph mistakes. I implemented a system where the leads over audio, video, and lighting filled out a survey documenting the audience-noticed mistakes and why they think they happened. This can also be a single person who talks to each position and tracks the issues.

Then, establish a baseline. Collect eight weeks of data and look at the average number of mistakes for each services. With most churches I’ve worked with, we would average one-half to one mistake per weekend, and by tracking mistakes, we could see what issues were repeating.

We could also see when we had a weekend go above our baseline and look further into what specifically was happening during that time. For example, if there’s an average of one mistake a weekend, and suddenly there’s a weekend with four mistakes, find out why.

Was it personnel, a new sermon series, a particular song, or worship changes? Going above the baseline should trigger further research.

Managing mistakes. Take all of these points and create a system that fits your church’s “DNA” to manage mistakes – and don’t keep that system to yourself. Let those around you know how the system works, especially leadership.

If leadership knows you have a plan to address audience-noticed mistakes, it will add another layer of trust. This trust translates into new gear, staff and/or volunteer recruitment, particularly if it will help eliminate mistakes and/or related issues.

Above all, be positive. Mistakes are a naturally negative discussion. It’s an art to turn a negative discussion into a positive one. Helping a team member succeed because of a positive conversation about the issue will not only fix the problem, but it’s also likely to bring a smile to their face. It will also help you build teams that trust your leadership.

However, the key is always to uplift the team and work together positively to address the issue and improve. Jesus had the most remarkable ability to treat a mistake positively. He was the ultimate coach, helping people with big-time human mistakes and sins all while valuing them as human beings.

He was bold in his interactions but kind and loving in his corrections. That’s hard to do, but it can be done. Practicing positivity (and keeping sarcasm to a minimum) are the best ways to start this journey. But if you’re overwhelmed and need help, my organization, Digital Great Commission Ministries can work with you on creating positive programs that address mistakes in an uplifting fashion.

Technical gear is an instrument of worship. Like a musician hitting the wrong note, you or your team will make a mistake with the technical gear. But if you create a positive plan to identify, learn from, track, and manage these mistakes, you and your team can be the GOAT (greatest of all time) of the church tech world!

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dBTechnologies is an Italian-based speaker manufacturer, leading in the Touring & Live sound market by providing innovative audio solutions. Their flagship ViO series is made up of an entirely active/self-powered series of loudspeakers. The dBT lineup also includes passive loudspeakers, software, and amplifiers, all delivering uncompromising performance. dBTechnologies speakers headline some of the largest festivals and concerts worldwide, setting standards in both Live and Installation markets.