Attending Trade Shows

Photo courtesy of NABShow

Since I’ve been at Coast Hills (or more correctly, since I’ve lived in Southern California, which is near Las Vegas...), I’ve had the opportunity to attend six major trade shows. In the past, I’ve been able to get to one or two here and there, but the last few years have been a boon. We were talking at NAB the other day about how important it is to be able to go to trade shows, especially for church techs. We also realized that most churches don’t see the value in sending their tech guy to a trade show. That’s a tragedy, as the church is missing out on a valuable resource.

I can see the perspective of church leadership, but I think it’s misguided. A pastor or board may see the costs associated with sending their tech guy to a trade show and figure that money could be better spent on equipment (or better yet, on something non-tech related). However, by missing out on trade shows, the church is actually spending more money and potentially getting the wrong gear.

To help curb this trend, I want to present to you a few reasons why your church should send you to a trade show. Feel free to pass this on to your pastor or church board.

Manufacturers Contacts
One of the biggest reasons to attend a trade show is to gain contacts inside manufacturers. If you’re a tech guy at a church somewhere is the rural midwest, it can be really tough to find anyone who can help you solve technical problems. However, by going to a show, you meet engineers and product managers who can walk you through solutions to technical challenges. 

For example, I’ve been working on trying to come up with a cost-effective solution for the video system in our community room. We have a weird distribution system and unusual input needs. Yesterday, I talked with engineers at two companies who outlined solutions for me. One told me that at the moment they didn’t have a super-elegant way to solve the issue, but if I could wait a month or two, at InfoComm in June, they would be introducing a product that would fit the bill perfectly. Now I have some real options to consider, and we’ll end up with a better solution than if I had tried to figure it out based on looking at their web sites. Plus, I have contact info for those guys, and I can now call them up and run scenarios by them. That’s a valuable resource.

Finding Unusual Solutions
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a show thinking I was going to just look at the product I was already aware of, and then came away with a whole new plan. Trade shows are the best place to see a cornucopia of gear all in one place. More than once I’ve been on my way to see one product and a similar product in another booth caught my eye. Upon some investigation, this other product turns out to be a much better fit than the original. Sometimes this causes a complete change in the plan.

For example, last year I went to InfoComm to meet with DiGiCo and Aviom to talk about how we could make a system work. At the DiGiCo booth, I noticed a prototype of the S-MADI Bridge from Roland. I started talking with the Roland guys and found out that I could use that to connect the M-48s to the SD8. As I was literally a week away from ordering my system, this altered the landscape significantly. We ended up buying the Roland system along with the SD8 and it’s been a huge improvement to our sound system. That’s an understatement actually; the system we ended up with is orders of magnitude better than it would have been had I not gone to InfoComm.

Meeting Other Techs
This is perhaps the least appreciated aspect of going to a show. But now that organizations like CTDRT are putting together dinners and breakfasts, there are more opportunities than ever to get to know other tech guys. And by following people on Twitter, we can easily arrange ad hoc meet ups and get to know the people behind the tweets. We talk about this all the time, but we can’t emphasize enough how important this is. I think some pastors are threatened by their tech guys getting to know other tech guys, but I have to tell you, nothing will burn your TD out faster than keeping him isolated. 

The simple fact is that very few people truly get tech guys, and we have to have someone else to talk to. We need support and the best way to do that is to reach out to others who do what we do. Moreover, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve learned of a new solution to a problem I’ve been having simply talking to some other TDs over dinner at a show. A few months ago, I found out I can save almost $2,000 by changing the way I re-lamp one of my projectors. I learned that by talking to anther TD. 

So the bottom line is this: Yes, sending your TD to a show might cost you $1000-1500 by the time you fly him in, put him up in a hotel and give him a meal allowance. But you will get that back and more. Your TD will come back energized, more excited about his work and full of ideas for solving problems. And you will likely save many times as much as you spend based on actually getting the right solutions. Find some money, and get your TD out to a trade show. You won’t be sorry.

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