Know Your Audience, #AVtweeps

Photo of the Brooklyn Bridge by Paul Konikowski

I shared this joke earlier today on Twitter, during an #AVinTheAM online chat:

“An Architect, an IT Director, and an AV Professional walk into a bar…

[The AV Professional could be a consultant, integrator, or manufacturer]

The Architect orders a Vodka Sour, the IT Director orders a Rum and Coke,

The AV Professional says they need to standardize their user experiences,

orders three Long Island Ice Teas, and then asks, ‘who’s paying for these?'”

I hope I don’t offend any architects or IT people with my humor, the joke is really on the AV professional. He or she may think they are making both the Architect and the IT Director happy, by incorporating both their drink ideas into the triple order of Long Islands. There are many roads this joke could lead us, but today, we will talk about knowing your audience when meeting about an AV project.

In practice, meetings with architecture firms, IT departments, music ministry leaders, fitness instructors, technical directors, general contractors, or higher education universities, have some similarities, but each group has their own priorities and lingo.

Dropping lofty buzzwords like “user experience” and “agile workspaces” may not be as effective as using the words that they use; ask about their typical meetings, or classes, rehearsals, services. You are basically asking them about the current user experience, but in their words.  Ask them what meeting spaces are the most popular, and why.

Discuss any trends you are seeing in flexible work or education environments. Ask them if they have any divide/combine spaces, but instead, use the term “airwalls”. How often do these rooms get combined or separated? How do the systems work when combined or separated? And how well do they work for the typical room usage?

If you discussing a church, house of worship, or auditorium, say “sound board” when asking them about the FOH (Front of House) mixing position. See what I did there?

If a client or work contact uses an acronym you don’t recognize, don’t be afraid to ask them what it means, to them. Don’t assume they know your acronyms either.  You might say OMP meaning Operations & Maintenance Plan, and they may instead hear:

Office Managing Partner

Occupational Maternity Pay

Open Market Purchase

or a dozen other meanings for the acronym OMP.

And if you audience includes Millennials, they may think, for a second, that you meant

One Moment Please

because that is how OMP is used in SMS messaging and other text chat platforms! So don’t be afraid to spell out your acronyms and ask them about theirs. Some companies have so many acronyms that they develop a glossary page for them. Ask for a copy!

The other thing to ask about early on is timeline.  Architects and consultants will use acronyms like SD, DD, and CD to describe the Schematic Design, Design Development, and Construction Document phases of their drawing sets. Owners and end-users are more concerned with the commissioning and occupancy. Each has its own deadline.

What if you are going to a meeting with an architect, owner’s rep, IT department head, furniture vendor, plus various engineers from other trades?  Who are the others in the room? How do you know your audience if you have never met any of them?

Do your homework. Start with the meeting planner, and then the other people invited, looking up each one on LinkedIn or Google.  Look at their current job descriptions, but also at their work history, where they went to school; what did they study?  Read their most recent posts, and ask yourself, what drives them? Whenever possible, ask your coworkers if they have ever worked with the other people invited to the meeting.

When the meeting starts, try to quietly jot down the names of any “special guests” you may not have anticipated, and then look them up on LinkedIn or Google afterwards. Ask for business cards for anyone who has one, especially any electrical engineers.  You need to keep your coordination within proper channels, by communicating through the client, the architect or project manager, but you can address them by name in your correspondence, “Following up on the question raised by XYZ…”

Circling back to the joke I made about the architect, IT director, and the AV professional: all are highly technical people, but with different strengths. The IT Director may be able to talk at length about bandwidth, IP addresses, firewalls, and cyber-security, while the architect may be more concerned with determining the electrical and backing needs, and the BTU load of the AV racks, so they can coordinate with their HVAC and MEP engineers.  Furniture vendors need to know what holes to provide in the tables for microphones and table boxes.  They all love dimensions!  Coordinate using AutoCAD or Revit, or markup PDFs using Bluebeam or similar.

By determining your audience in advance (or during a meeting, or sometimes after) you can tailor your communique and deliverable to each, making each one happy. You might also find yourself being a bridge between different people involved in a project. By speaking their own dialects, you can connect them like the boroughs of Manhattan.

And maybe Long Island :)

Photo of the Brooklyn Bridge by Paul Konikowski
Photo of the Brooklyn Bridge by Paul Konikowski

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy these other articles on PKaudiovisual.com:

Technology and Green Buildings

Your Conference Rooms Are So Trendy!

The Anatomy of an AV Integration Project

Resume of Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

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Cybersecurity In Audiovisual Systems

You Should Consider Cybersecurity During All Phases Of An Audiovisual Installation

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Bay Area was graced with the presence of President Barack Obama, who was here to participate in a Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford University.  *Side note*, I am still unsure if it’s spelled as one word or two, cyber security, or with a dash, cyber-security, and the online jury seems to be rather undecided. So for the sake of brevity, I am sticking with the one-word-version, cybersecurity. *End side note*. At the aforementioned summit of cybersecurity experts, students, and information technology managers in Palo Alto, Mr. Obama signed an executive order encouraging the private sector to share cybersecurity threat information with other companies and the U.S. government.

Rising stock prices of cybersecurity software firms like Palo Alto Networks (PANW), FireEye (FEYE), and CyberArk (CYBR) have also reflected this increased level of awareness. Why? Because unlike guns or nuclear warfare, cyber hacking can happen right under our noses, for years and years, without anyone even noticing. Larger firms have realized that they need the best of the best to combat these criminals, and investors have taken notice to the growth potential of these new age software “heroes” who will do battle for a price, much like the Routiers, the early mercenary soldiers of the Middle Ages.

As audiovisual experts we also need to become IT cybersecurity experts, at least to some degree. At minimum, we have to know what risk we are adding to the network before, during, and after the AV installation. Here is a list of ways you can protect your audio, video, and control systems against theft and hackers, in no particular order:

  • Have a frank and honest discussion with the project team about cybersecurity. Find out who is in charge of the network, and who will need access to the systems.
  • Use motorized projection screens that are fitted into the ceilings to discourage theft.
  • Mount projectors using security boxes, or scissor lifts to hide them up inside the ceilings.
  • AV touch panels and camera controllers often have passwords, but are they updated?
  • Portable TVs and poorly mounted speakers are easy targets; don’t “tempt” thieves
  • Ping all projectors and flat-panel television type displays once every minute. If the display does not respond, assume it is being stolen and automatically email security
  • Interactive whiteboards, mice, and keyboards are generally trustworthy, but who is really checking that USB stick that automatically downloads this or that app to the laptops?
  • Don’t assume that the person in charge of your computer network is the best one to test the AV installation for bugs or security breach points. Hire an expert to test it.
  • Backup all files at least once a day to a secure offsite and/or cloud storage facility.
  • Microphones and tableboxes should be periodically checked for James Bond type “bugs” that can listen to private meetings. It’s not always the newest technology that you need to worry about!
  • Videochat and audio conferencing suites should never be left unlocked while not in use
  • Make sure that end users know when a camera is on or when microphones are open.
  • Digital signage and way-finding kiosks are updated via website; use unique passwords.
  • Unfortunately, most AV equipment racks are made by just a few manufacturers, and each uses one or two different key codes in their door locks. Once you have a set of the common AV rack keys, you can open almost any locked AV equipment rack in the U.S.
  • “Security screws” can also limit the amateur thefts, but any real crook will have tools.

These are just a portion of the areas that the AV Design Engineer and Project Manager need to address during a project. The real problems are the bugs and “holes” that are accidentally left in a program, that nobody catches, mainly because, no one is looking for them. That is why it is critical that today’s AV integration firms hire a well-trained, experienced QA (quality assurance) department who will double-check the engineer’s design, the programmer’s code, and the completed installation.

We all make mistakes, its human nature. And even when we don’t make mistakes, we certainly overlook things that others might catch. Having someone else check your AV design, bug test your code, or evaluate your network or website for cybersecurity threats will always uncover more than checking it yourself.  If you are not putting up “constant vigilance” against the hackers, and paying an expert to test your systems, then you are just living in denial, thinking that your systems are working properly and secure. If these hackers can break into insurance companies and Target, you have to assume that they are trying to hack into your systems as well, (or that they already have!)

constant vigilance

How Video Streaming Is Changing Education [INFOGRAPHIC]

In The Future, Higher Education Will Be Free, Via Massive Open Online Courses (And Advertising)

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Last month, Starbucks announced a new program called the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, that would essentially give their employees the opportunity to achieve a college education at a reduced cost. Baristas and other team members can attend Arizona State University classses online using a special discount code. 3rd and 4th year students will even receive reimbursement for non-tuition expenses like books, beer funnels, bongs…just kidding.

Google openly “supports the development of a diverse education, as learning expands in the online word. Part of that means that educational institutions should easily be able to bring their content online and manage their relationships with their students.” Google has worked with edX as a contributor to their open source platform, Open edX, as well as MOOC.org. Google also leads the Girl Code effort.

AT&T now offers nano-degrees that unemployed people, retirees, or even teens can use to get into the workforce.  Dell recently released a YouTube video mockumentary about the Center For Selfie Improvement as part of its real-life Learning Means Doing campaign.

Sure, there’s been hundreds of programs designed to teach kids geography, history, or math while they play video games (Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego or the classic Oregon Trail).  And computer software and programming courses, from Logo to Java, have been taught in schools for years’ but recently, something has changed in education.

The kids learning to code today are no longer lonely individuals playing video games in a AV closet. Nowadays, programming is a very social endevour, and you must know how to work as a team, just like you would work as a team in the new first-person-shooter video games. Teens are also learning to drive better with web-based training tools.  Yes, there’s an app for that.

High schools and universities like Stanford are adopting their programs to fit this new style of online learning. There are also for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix where students can earn a degree on their own time, taking the classes at night or on weekends while working other jobs. Its important the classrooms that are used to “film” the video course have adequate lighting and good acoustics so that the quality of the video course is as good as being in the classroom.

There is also a new type of online video student that has emerged, who learns new skills by watching videos on YouTube, Linda.com, live webinars, and/or other sources of video classes that are definitely not typical college courses. Many of these skills could not be learned as easily before the Age of YouTube, unless someone had shown you how to to do it in person.  Here are some examples:

  • Learning a new recipe, gardening, or .i.y project
  • Cyclists can learn to do their own bike repairs
  • Sewing or knitting techniques, fashion trends
  • Restoring a classic car, boat, or motorcycle
  • Promote your business using Facebook & Twitter
  • Become a better investor by learning stock charts
  • Teaching yourself guitar chords and cover songs
  • Optimize your Linkedin Profile for search engines

Getting back to Starbucks and Dell, I believe these corporate video education models are going to be more and more popular moving forward. The skilled worker gap will be filled by companies who realize that the only way to fill it is with education. I envision companies like CVS and Walgreens starting their own indentured-servant-style pharmacist degree programs.  In the future, maybe medical students will go to school for “free”, as long as they promise to work for Kaiser when they graduate.  As companies become larger and larger, they will realize its easier to offer “free” education, than it is to recruit and hire.

I keep putting the “free” in quotations because as much as I love the word free, we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Although not widely monetized, many YouTube videos have commercials or pop up ads that users have to sit through like movie previews. Free apps and video games are usually subsidized by banners, audio, and video clips.

It hard to say which comes first, the chicken (the audience who want things for free) or the egg (advertisers who want the audience) but in the end they both need each other to survive, and I believe that will be the future model of educational videos. Online college students will have to sit through video commercials during classes.  Electronic books will be free with banner ads.  Computer and tablets will be available for free as long as they can track everything you do online.  “Free” education will continue to grow as advertisers realize the potential sales of the online audience, and foot the bill.

In closing, I shared this infographic a while back, but its still very relevant to MOOCs. By the way, I am not sold on the term MOOC, but I am quite sure this learning-by video thing is here to stay. -pk

MOOCs
Source: BestCollegesOnline.org