Friday, October 23, 2009

Voice of the Customer: When To Listen and When To Lead

This post is a commentary on customer service and in some cases disservice. Having been in the AV and live event business for over 20 years, I've worked with thousands of people from corporate executives, government officials, doctors, lawyers, middle managers, front line staff, motivation speakers, techies, artists, musicians and the like. Through all these interactions, I've come to learn that the most important piece of the puzzle is direct communication with the presenter.

In many cases, professional presenters have many layers between them and an event producer or meeting planner. Key information tends to get lost when tech requirements and special requests go through multiple parties rather than directly from presenter to meeting planner to AV service provider. Even more challenging is when no rehearsal takes place and a quick response to last minute changes leads to added cost and potential risk. There's a lot of room for error when you don't rehearse and it usually shows on stage and is amplified on the live video feed. Tech rehearsals and talent dress rehearsals are key to a successful live event.

Live events are just that, they're live! There's no do-overs!

You don't have the opportunity for retakes unless you're doing a series of multiple shows which you record and edit after the fact. "Fix it in post" is a common term among the AV profession since you can edit out any mistakes or goofs that occur in the live event like they never happened.

But when it's live there's no way to take it back or erase a major blunder from people's memory. Falling off the stage, the clicker not working, problems with videos and dead links are common occurrences that can be avoided.

So that's why it's so important to rehearse. Just like the real estate mantra says, "Location, location, location" I follow the AV mantra, "Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal."

Here's a few case examples around stage set up that may sound familiar.
  1. The busy CEO comes into the room with minutes to spare before going live and says, "Where's my podium?" or, "Where's my Teleprompter?" when you've been told repeatedly that he won't be using a podium or there's been no mention of a Teleprompter.
  2. Or you been told that the company President will have a more formal stage set-up with a podium for his notes, a chair for his jacket and he'll walk the stage and click his own slides. He walks and says no podium, he wants to sit at a table and have it informal. He then asks why didn't anyone talk with him about how he wanted it set up.
Of course, both cases could have been prevented if the CEO or President had a walk through scheduled for them. It may not sound like a big deal in either case, but last minute change has some affect -- lighting and camera positions which needs to be adjusted, stage elements that may or may not be accessible, view of stage monitors, extra stage hands available to help, and how that change affects the rest of show -- you see that it can become a big deal and would have been better to have a conversation with the executive in advance.

So, my advise is get to know your executives and presenters and find out what they want to do. In most cases they'll know exactly what they want but in some cases, the may be looking to you for answers. Know when to listen and when to lead. Every presenter has both common yet specific needs and each presentation space has different requirements. Get to know your AV team as well. Whether it be hotel or convention center staff, local union crews, freelancers, whoever it may be -- they are part of your team and contribute to your success -- and it's everyone's job to make the people on stage feel like rock stars.