When Technology Fails
Troubleshooting Your System
Technology can fail. It can stop working, it can let you down at the most critical time you can think of- as in five minutes before the big Christmas Eve service the church has been planning for six months, before the most inspired sermon your pastor has ever prepared to preach. The technology you took a week to prepare can fall flat at the last minute.
So, do I have you completely depressed and ready to chuck the whole idea of a media ministry? No? Good! That is the first step in troubleshooting: knowing that things can fail.
So what is so important about being able to troubleshoot? First and foremost, it’s going to save you time and money. If you have to call a technician to come out to look at a piece of equipment every time something goes wrong, you are going to end up spending a lot of time and money on things you might have been able to do yourself.
Troubleshooting is the key that can turn an ordinary techie into the techie that gets reactions like: “Wow he’s amazing!” or “She knows this stuff like the back of her hand.” In reality you may not know everything about a particular system, but you know how to fix things when they go wrong. Of course working in a church we are not supposed to be about receiving the praise, rather giving it.
So what is involved in troubleshooting? How do you even know where to start? What do you do when you’ve run out of ideas? Over my short few years as a techie, I’ve learned from some of the best I’ve come to encounter how to figure out those tech issues that seem unsolvable. I’ve also been able to break this down into three steps.
I remember one service where a tape got stuck sideways in our playback machine 5 minutes before it was supposed to roll. Everyone went into crisis mode and panicked. My boss was standing over my shoulder asking me every 30 seconds if I could fix it and if I had a back up plan. The volunteers were running around trying to figure out what they needed to do. And I was stuck in the middle trying to solve the problem and keep people calm at the same time.
My first job in this situation was to reassure people that we could get things going and it would have no impact on the worship service. I had to make sure my boss knew that I had the problem under control, and that there would be a solution. Or, if I didn’t have a solution, that we would have to work together to convey the issue to the pastor to see what they wanted to do.
When troubleshooting the first key is to STAY CALM. Be the rock that everyone can lean on to know that there will be a solution to the dilemma. This is a lot easier said than done because as tech people, our personal skills are not always our strongest suit. We might get frustrated with a particular problem. The techie should not let this show. The techie should be the reassuring voice that everything will be ok, or at least have a poker face; not giving away how dire the situation might be. Don’t let the stress of the situation show because others will feed off that and it will escalate the problem.
The second key when something goes wrong, whether it’s five minutes before a service or six months before, is to have a plan of attack. Since there is no way to plan for every problem in every situation, you must come up with a formula that can be applied in almost any situation. When problems arise, use the formula. It has to be something that just comes as second nature. With that consistency you will be able to focus more on the resolution and how you are going to find out what’s wrong.
You should also help others to help you. Here’s what I mean by that. Any time someone in our media department comes to me with a problem that needs fixing, they know that there are certain questions that I am going to ask and certain tasks that I am going to perform. They know that if they don’t have the answers to those questions, it could slow down the process of getting the issue resolved. I’ll usually ask things like, “What were you doing when the problem started?”, or “How long has it been going on?”, or more obvious questions like: “Is the power on?”, “Is it plugged in?”, or “Did you press the green button?”.
Yes, they seem obvious but you’d be surprised at how many issues were resolved that way. In my plan I always start with trying to recreate the problem. If someone is telling you that the projector flickers every few minutes, then wait around until the projector flickers or see what you can do to make it flicker. If you are able to make the problem happen on purpose, you have a much better chance at resolving it.
After I’ve observed the problem, I start the search process to find the source. The best way to do this is by following the signal path. The signal path is the chain in which units are connected. So let’s say you have a computer connected to a scan converter connected to a projector. The computer is the source in your signal path and your projector is your destination. So when checking the signal path I would start at the source. Is the source flickering? No? Move down the chain. If I remove the scan converter does the flicker stop? Yes? Then the issue must lie in the scan converter. At that point I narrow down my efforts to the scan converter. This process is the same with any piece of equipment.
My third and final key is, don’t be afraid to ask for help or say you don’t know. This key is mostly directed at me because I like being able to fix problems. But at the same time there are things I just don’t know. I have to put my pride aside for the good of the ministry and call in someone who knows more about that area than I do. Not only will the problem get fixed but you might learn something in the process.
So those are my three keys to troubleshooting. Stay calm, have a plan and don’t be afraid to ask for help. By putting these into action and constantly educating yourself, you should be able to tackle most problems that arise and tame the unruly beast that is technology.