Helping make conference a success: Behind the scenes, hundreds help to ensure sessions run smoothly

Friendly visiting tapers off and then ceases as clocks inside the filled-to-capacity Tabernacle on Temple Square read 9:59. It's Saturday morning, and another general conference of the Church is about to begin. With the chime of the Nauvoo Bell outside the historic building, the choir begins singing as television monitors and screens at thousands of satellite downlink locations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe display the colorful and beautifully groomed grounds of Temple Square. An announcer's voice introduces the broadcast as that of the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, originating from the historic Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The congregation on the hardwood Tabernacle benches - along with many thousands of members at other locations who are watching the proceedings via satellite - listen carefully in anticipation as the music ceases and the member of the First Presidency conducting begins:"My beloved brothers and sisters, we welcome you to this, the opening session of the. . . ."

Simultaneously, broadcast technicians in the Tabernacle and elsewhere breathe a collective sigh of relief. "We're on the air!" The 160 volunteer ushers in and around the building and in nearby overflow locations remain positioned at doors or take their seats. Many interpreters in the basement of the building begin the work of translating conference into 33 languages.

Another conference is under way.

While Church members worldwide bask in the spirit of this weekend's general conference, few will be aware of the countless hours of preparation and behind-the-scenes efforts given to ensure everything goes smoothly.

That's exactly as it should be, according to those involved in general conference planning and satellite services under the direction of the First Presidency.

Many Church departments, personnel and volunteers are involved in the myriad efforts that go into conference planning and support. One overarching philosophy in these efforts is that the participation of those involved should be virtually invisible.

All of the preparation is designed to enhance the spirit of conference. The behind-the-scenes efforts are to ensure that everyone can feel the Spirit as they listen to uplifting music and the messages of the Lord's chosen servants.

As one calculates the number of Church employees and volunteers who help make conference happen, the total quickly climbs over a thousand. For starters, there are 350 volunteer interpreters doing the translation - some for live broadcast and some recorded for future distribution on videotape and audiotape.

Conference technical and production support is provided by KSL Television and Bonneville International Corp.

Beginning last conference, translation efforts have been simplified and enhanced by an automated system that monitors and governs microphone controls and volume levels. The new system takes the place of an individual who used to turn on the right microphones at the correct times and mix the sound levels properly.

When the conference speaker begins his address in English, the translator begins to speak, and the volume of the English needs to drop while the other language goes up. That used to be done by operators trying to match sound levels. Now, with just one operator, the whole system functions smoothly. The translators just have to speak, and the entire technical system is automated. With all of the translation work going on at conference, the impact of the international nature of the Church is readily apparent.

In addition to the translators, there are the 160 volunteer ushers who give up their weekends, coming from throughout Utah and surrounding states in the Intermountain region to assist conference-goers in the Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, other overflow locations and throughout Temple Square. The ushers begin helping lines form outside the Tabernacle as early as 4 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Besides the approximately 300 volunteer voices in both the Tabernacle Choir and Mormon Youth Chorus, another 360 will sing in the special choir providing music for the Saturday afternoon session. Typically, at each April conference a special men's or young men's choir provides the music for general priesthood session. In October, a mixed Tabernacle Choir and Mormon Youth male choir is used.

When one stops and thinks about the stake and ward music leaders, conductors and organists also involved in putting together and preparing a special choir for conference, the number of people involved is staggering.

Grounds and physical facilities preparations for conferences are immense. An estimated 75 custodians, plumbers, electricians, gardeners and general maintenance personnel make sure everything on Temple Square is in tip-top condition. Chrysanthemums are added to the grounds prior to October conference to dress things up a bit. Most of the flowers on the square are planted in the spring, but by the time summer is over, the heat has exhausted some of the plants. Due to this and other problems, some of them need to be replaced come September.

A week after conference, about 1,600 volunteers will help remove 130,000 flowers and then plant bulbs, so they can bloom in time for April conference.

Hundreds of other people are involved before and during conference. Volunteer physicians and nurses are always on hand to provide emergency medical treatment. Church Food Services prepares hundreds of lunches for conference volunteers, participants, choir members, and media representatives covering the proceedings. The Temple Square presidency and sister missionaries on the square are extraordinarily busy during conference weekend. Church Public Affairs personnel handle many media requests, and Church Hosting assists the many government, business, civic and other leaders who are on hand. Other Church departments directly involved in conference include Information Systems, Curriculum and Human Resources.

General auxiliary leaders and other Church departments are heavily involved with open houses and displays at Church headquarters for two weeks beforehand.

And on and on it goes - year after year, conference after conference. People behind the scenes are trusted by the Brethren to properly and effectively do their jobs. And those Church employees and volunteers consistently perform their tasks well. Behind the calm in the Tabernacle, there's a lot of unseen but not unappreciated activity that helps make conference successful.

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