on the importance of noticing invisible people

Sometimes I’m the invisible guy that stands at the back behind the sound board, the guy that runs the media. The guy that’s visible only when something doesn’t work. I like it back there.

In December, I was helping with a funeral, working with my friend Lee. We had prerecorded music, PowerPoint, video, and live singing in addition to the usual speaking. And we were recording the whole service.

After thirteen funerals in 2008 and several in 2009, we’re pretty comfortable working together. And we enjoy making things run smoothly for families who are struggling.

Before the service, because it was around Christmas, the family was pinning flowers on family members, on the ministers. It was a nice touch.

And then they brought flowers to Lee and I, up in the balcony, out of sight. First time in all those funerals. First time in 30 years of running sound.

sound man flowersI confess. I cried.

And that’s where I was going to stop when I started this post, with a simple, “encourage someone invisible.”

And then I remembered Kenny. Kenny is a guy I knew who ran sound professionally. I’d go to events around town and Kenny would be there. I liked him. He was good at what he did.

He was not a church person, so it was interesting how many events he got stuck running sound for that were churchy events. His boss did that on purpose, a little, I think. He hoped it would rub off.

Last spring I was at a dinner for an organization that is all about helping people. Kenny was running sound.  I was glad to see him again. We chatted and then I sat down and he went back to work. The featured act was a comedian. Something wasn’t exactly right about the sound system at one point. The comedian put Kenny on the spot, in the middle of the show, in front of everyone.

For me, the night was over. Everything the comedian said after that, things that were about caring for people, about family mattering, was irrelevant. He didn’t understand that you can’t talk about love while your actions to the people helping you show disrespect.

It’s a big contrast. A grieving family still can love the sound guys. A well-paid comedian gets laughs at the expense of  the sound guy.

I should probably take flowers to Kenny, just to apologize for all the people who ignored him, argued with him, treated him like a part of the equipment on their way to talk about God’s love.

I’d be putting them on his grave. He killed himself last fall.


12 responses to “on the importance of noticing invisible people

  1. Johanna Fenton

    I visited a church–it might have been my first, second or third time–and in the middle of the sermon, the pastor did just what the comedian in your story did: he berated the sound tech people. He was annoyed–maybe like Obama when the speech prompter had a glitch. I had the same reaction as yours. I couldn’t listen anymore to what he said.(And I try not to be overly judgmental.)

    The truth is, sound technicians make people on stage look good. The people on stage ought to return the favor, especially because they’re getting most of the credit.

    It’s also helpful to think about other professions or services in this vein. I’m a copy editor. No reader knows I’m part of the written piece, because the best copy editor is invisible. As is the case with the sound technician. They only become visible when there’s a mistake. Visible=bad, in these cases.

    So it’s up to the folks to God made some people to be invisible, let’s say, and invisible=good.

    Then again, maybe the best thing, especially when thinking of myself as a believer, is to praise God I am invisible, most of the time, because I think that equals something good in heaven.

  2. I wasn’t expecting that ending. Incredible story and reminder.


  3. Wow, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I was the sound guy for a stage production for a few years. One night, in the middle of the play, a fire broke out backstage. I made an announcement asking people to calmly exit the building, which they did. Later, the fire department credited “my” play crowd with an excellent evacuation… as opposed to another venue in the building where people panicked and some got trampled. I noticed however that no one credited the “sound board” guy for making a difference. Two similar venues, two different crowds made up of very similar people… yet very different reactions to a crisis. If my words didn’t make the difference, what did?

  4. Johanna I love your invisible equation. That has always been my goal when running tech. And I understand that integrity issue.

  5. Brent, your words did make the difference. What went through my head as I read this is that no one is used to hearing the voice of the sound guy. It’s another part of the invisibility. But I’m glad you did it.

    And that you stopped by.

  6. Jon,
    wow, such a sad story. I just want to know why he did that. But then, we never know. It will be on my list to show God (and probably, I won’t even care by the time I really do see God). I’m sorry you lost a friend.

  7. I’ve attended and organized conferences where a professional motivation speaker would become irritated with the media (sound, lighting, teleprompter, powerpoint, whatever) and be on stage, berating the “technical help” and treating them exactly like he was preaching to the “paying crowd” how NOT to treat people. Very sad. And sad still that is happens a LOT. I often wonder if the audience ever heard the real message.

    The last time I sat with a sound guy at the back was a few years ago. His name was Don and he had this incredible sense of humor. None of anything bothered him. He had two buttons marked on his sound board; “The Voice of God” and the “Heel of God.” The first was a channel cranked up to the highest volume with reverb and the second was the kill switch. When asked, he chuckled and called them his “technical glitches for a**hole speakers” 🙂

  8. Sally Lepley

    We used to joke about infamous church sound systems and that the reason they were so unpredictable was that when God expelled Satan and his followers from heaven they landed in the church sound system! Good or bad sound tech operators are like wedding photographers, the really good ones are not even noticed. All jokes aside, the behavior you have written about is inexcusable.

    Shame on us for our oversight. Thank you for the reminder of all the Kennys in the world that we take for granted.

  9. Thanks Deb.

    Rufus – the consistency between the what of the message (care about people) and the how of speaking (treating techs like equipment) is a huge opportunity for speakers. It can make the point powerfully. Our examples show that it is a missed opportunity.

    And when the message IS about life, that’s a tragic miss.

    Sally – as long as that theology includes computers, I agree. And you are closely related to someone who handles these things the right way. I am grateful.

  10. wow! I was actually at that event and remember it well. Sorry that kenny did what he did, but I happen to know that he was a very puzzled person with many issues. The comedian did nothing wrong and said nothing wrong. He was simmply making a joke of the “SITUATION” not the man. Kenny did not commit suicide because of the comedian or the event that he was doing the A.V. for. He did make a total of three mistakes that I heard and they were big ones. As a sound guy myself and a christian I am sad that you as a pastor would take the view that you do about the comedian. I think that you should have invested more of your life in his. I know that there were people that were investing thier lives and personal time to him. maybe rethink about who is to blame…SATAN would be a great start. I am sure that as a “pastor” you know …”satan comes only to steal KILL and destroy.”

  11. Greg – I agree. I could have invested more time in that relationship.

    And I know that one event did not trigger Kenny’s death.

    But as a sound guy and backstage guy for more than 30 years, far longer than I have been a pastor, I am very aware of the number of times that the treatment of the techs is inconsistent with the content of the presentation. And I am uncomfortable with suggesting that it is easy to distinguish between the situation and the person, even for the sake of a joke. And, somehow, knowing that someone has many issues doesn’t help me feel better about making jokes at their expense.

    The challenge for followers of Jesus is to be surprisingly compassionate, to be unusually aware of the lives of those around us, to not build ourselves up at the expense of even the egregious mistakes of others.

    And, I confess, that I have often missed on this awareness of others, have often gotten the laugh without considering the effect on others.

    I have no questions about the starting places for blame. I just don’t ever want to be a knowing accomplice. I hope that even here I am not.