Intercom Etiquette

Posted on Jun 2, 2022 6:00:00 AM

In our Intercom Essentials segment, we outlined What Intercom is and Why it’s important. Now we need to consider how it is utilized. When discussing intercom communication procedures with tech leaders and volunteers, I like to use the term “Intercom Etiquette.”

The intercom is designed to make communication easy and effective. However, in the middle of a service not all information is pertinent or necessary. For me personally, “Intercom Etiquette” simply means that I’m conscientious of my surroundings, I’m aware of the atmosphere that I am helping create, and I am filtering my communication accordingly.

Making Sense of All the Voices

To better visualize why Intercom Etiquette is important, we need to understand who all might be involved. Here’s a general overview of individual operators that may exist within your ecosystem and what information they may need to give or receive during a service.

  • Service Director. This is the person that is ultimately responsible for leading the technical aspects of the service. Oftentimes, this individual communicates with other church leaders in regards to service flow and needs, so they have Top Priority when communicating updates via Intercom. 

  • Audio Engineer: Generally, this individual will not be actively wearing an intercom headset. Their primary role is to mix for the room, so they need their ears focused. However, if information needs to be communicated to them, it’s important to know how to reach them. Is another operator (Lighting, Camera Op, etc) close by that can get their attention? Is there a Signal Flasher / Call Button they can see?

  • Lighting Director: This person is actively listening throughout service for transition points and cues. In many instances, Lighting can be the “glue” that marries the Audio and Video experiences together, so this individual focuses on matching the tempo and environment of the room with the other technical aspects being used.

  • Producer / Tech Director: This is the individual operator sitting at the Video Switcher. This individual controls what video sources are seen by the congregation and/or online audience. As such, they are constantly providing instructions to Camera Operators, Computer Graphics Operators, etc. In some cases, this individual may serve as the Service Director.

  • Camera Operators: These individuals are constantly receiving instructions from the Producer. Generally, there are only a few instances when these individuals are speaking on intercom (questions, feedback on a shot, etc) but they are always listening.

  • Computer Graphics Operators (CGs): These individuals are responsible for displaying background graphics, lyrics, scripture, etc. Timing is critical for these positions, particularly when creating seamless transitions between lighting scenes and visual content. Again, these individuals are primarily listening for cues.

Trying to put each of these operators onto a single intercom channel can quickly become challenging when multiple individuals need to send or receive information simultaneously. That’s when we implement multi-channel intercom systems. This allows us to group individuals together who need to hear similar information throughout the service. For the scenario above, I would set up Intercom Channels A-D as follows.

  1. ALL Call: A place for team-wide communication. During service, this can be used to alert everyone of an update or change. Before service, this can be a good way to give last-minute reminders.

  2. Visual Transitions: In order to transition Lighting and Video elements simultaneously, the individual operators need to be able to hear when to Go, Standby or Stop. I like having a channel where the LD, CGs, and Lyrics Ops can all hear cues directly from the Director. Generally, there is very little back and forth conversation here, just cues for transitions.

  3. Cameras: Exclusively for details about camera shots. Since communication is almost constant between operators and the person calling shots, separating this chatter is hugely beneficial for the rest of the team.

  4. Directors: When feedback is needed, it can be helpful to have a place where the primary leaders (audio, video, and lighting) are all present in the same location and can discuss changes, issues, or adjustments together. Think of this like a supervisor's channel on Slack.  “Hey guys, Pastor is coming up after this video element. Lighting, standby to push front wash. Audio, standby for his mic. Video, standby for his nameslate.” This also gives opportunity for those operators to chime in with any technical issue they might be able to foresee in order to discuss alternate solutions together without disrupting service for the individual operators that are actively running lyrics, cameras, etc.

Intercom Standard Operating Procedures

Obviously, the more people are involved, the more “boundaries” are needed in order to keep communication quick and efficient. Here are my Rules for Intercom Etiquette:

  1. Recognize the Chain of Command. Who is Directing the service and actively making decisions? That individual should have Top Priority among the entire team in order to communicate quickly with everyone.
    1. If that person is talking - listen carefully.
  2. Make sure you understand what’s happening. If information isn’t being communicated or if you have a question, speak up. It’s very likely that someone else may also benefit from hearing the answer.
  3. Recognize your physical location. Am I in an enclosed tech space where I can communicate openly with the team, or am I sitting in the Sanctuary next to members of the congregation who may be able to hear me?

  4. It’s also important to recognize how loudly you may be speaking. If you have both ears covered with a headset, you may overcompensate and yell since you can’t hear yourself easily. This can easily become distracting to others around you.

  5. As you communicate, match the environment of service. In a high-energy, fast-paced portion of service, it may be appropriate to talk more or chime in with spontaneous ideas. Whereas in a quiet moment, it may be wise to defer questions or superfluous chatter for later.

  6. If you’re in a position that primarily listens, keep the mic muted whenever you’re not actively talking. An “open mic” causes noise from the service to bleed into the system which can make it difficult to hear people speaking.

  7. Remember that we’re doing this as a team. So have fun. Intercom is built to keep everyone connected, so give a shout-out to the other operators when you notice something done really well. “Oooh, nice camera shot.” “That lighting transition was really smooth.” “Hey, I love the effects on those vocals. Wait, the audio engineer isn’t listening on comm, never mind…”

Ultimately, the goal is to provide all team members with a quick and effective way to communicate service-critical updates with each other. However, it also provides a sense of community for team members who are serving together on opposite ends of the building. By establishing a few Standard Operating Procedures, you can balance Communication and Culture and get the most out of your Intercom system.

Topics:AV specialistsIntercomsChurch Leadership


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