Speak Up!

The art of presentation plays such a dominant role in the businesses of our clients that one could say that this is the true definition of our business.
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Speak Up!

May 1, 2003 12:00 PM, MARK MAYFIELD

The art of presentation plays such a dominant role in the businesses of our clients that one could say that this is the true definition of our business. A presentation might be considered a form of one-way communication, but most professional presenters would probably disagree with that assessment — a good presentation (one that involves human-to-human interface) requires interaction and feedback to be successful. Unless you specialize in an area like security systems, systems designed with sound, video, lighting, and networking all have the same purpose: to convey information from one point to another and back again. It's the essence of communication.

The technology to accomplish this purpose is progressing at a truly staggering pace, and trade associations, publications, equipment manufacturers, and consultants seem to be playing catch-up. The rate of technological advancement, combined with an accelerated trend of convergence, forces us to constantly reassess our business. Companies believe they need to be all things to all people.

The evidence abounds. I could name at least eight trade shows where you'll find about 80 percent of the same companies in attendance. They may be showing other brands or lines, but that points to their belief that they must serve all market segments. At these shows, you'll see about 80 percent of the same people, publications, products, educational programs, and so on. With all of the resources consumed in these exercises in redundancy, it's a miracle that businesses (especially manufacturers) have enough resources for running and growing a business.

Or do they? Think about the last few industry trade shows you've attended. You probably saw hundreds of interesting products. But how many were truly innovative, unique approaches to solving our customer's problems? Incremental product improvements are important, but compared with other industries, the audio and visual presentation industries seem to embrace technological change at a slower rate than their counterparts in the computer, telecommunications, and IT industries.

I'm not suggesting that anyone stop going to trade shows, attending training programs, or reading trade publications. However, for the system integration industry to thrive as it should, we should practice more of what we preach: communication. Tell your loudspeaker supplier that you don't need another ceiling speaker, line array, and so on. Let your projection equipment supplier know that a projector that's x lumens brighter or b pounds lighter would be nice, but how about giving customers something that will make a significant difference in their boardroom, church, restaurant, or nightclub installation?

The technology that drives significant advancement is out there or in development. Some argue that customers won't pay for it, but a growing number of enterprising systems contractors and integrators disagree. Most of these companies have adopted the look, language, and structure that resembles Silicon Valley. These companies have developed marketing approaches and selling skills that mirror their customers' professionalism. That level of professionalism can be achieved only by continually advancing training, product competence, technical skill, and the ability to meet customer needs. Success depends on doing this better than the competition. Your supplier, trade show, or trade publication should make this effort. If you're not getting this from these business partners, speak up and communicate.

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