Of Thermostats and AV

I had to replace the thermostat in my home today. It was THE latest, state of the art unit when I installed it two years ago. The answer to all my current and future heating and cooling needs. It had a large digital LCD display complete with its own stylus to enable me to take full advantage of the multiple program modes.

Today that same digital display and HVAC technological marvel stared at me blindly and defied all attempts at communication even as the radiators throughout my house belched forth enough heat to turn my home into a sauna. All I was missing were a few birch branches. Clearly, it had to be replaced.

As I found myself once again staring at the wall containing dozens of different thermostats at my local big box home improvement center, puzzling over which unit to buy and not wanting to repeat the mistakes I had obviously made two years before, it struck me how similar this was to the problems facing my clients. We are both looking to purchase technology that we needed but may not necessarily fully understand.

I needed to purchase a piece of technology, a new thermostat. Now, to be honest the thermostat is not something I spend a great deal of time thinking about. I really just want it to be there and to work when and how I want it to work. I don't want to have to teach myself a lot about HVAC systems in order to buy a thermostat. I want to set it and forget it, so I can concentrate on other, more interesting things.

So as I continued to stand and stare, becoming more and more bewildered and frustrated in the face of the latest HVAC technology, a voice behind me asked if he could help. Normally I decline such offers, but this fellow persisted. He noted the old unit in my hand and said "Oh, I see you're replacing the “Siren-Ultra Flash” thermostat. Had it about two years, I'll bet. They look impressive and we sell a lot of them mostly because the company buys them a good price and makes a high margin. But they're really not that well made. You're probably better off buying one of the models made by “Heat-Rite.” “

He then continued to ask me questions about my home, it's heating system, how we lived, what we were looking for the thermostat to do in terms of heating, cooling, on and off cycles, zones, times of day, etc. It turned out he was an underemployed HVAC contractor who was working at the box-mart to help make ends meet during the current economic downturn.

In the end, he recommended a unit which was one third the cost of my technological marvel, yet provided all the functions I really needed without a lot of unnecessary flash. One that turned out to be easier to install, MUCH easier to program and was, he assured me, a better designed and more robust unit that would not fail in less than two years.

We'll have to see about the last point, but overall I am pleased with his recommendation. The heat comes up before the alarm in the morning, turns down when I go to work, warms up just before I come home and turns down again just before bedtime. Exactly what I want and all without any further thought or intervention from me.

This is basically the same scenario that AV clients face. They need the technology for their event. AV maybe a necessary and possibly essential part of their meeting, but the workings of the audiovisual equipment is not something they may know, understand or are even particularly interested in. Like me and buying my thermostat, they don't want to learn all the ins and outs of designing the right AV system for their event. They don't care about the pluses and minuses of various projectors, lenses, sound systems, speakers, microphones, switchers or media playback devices. They just want the AV to be there to look good and most importantly to work when it's suppose to work, all without having to give it another thought or even be aware of it's existence - just like my thermostat. And in reality, that's not an unrealistic expectation.

So just like that HVAC sales person/contractor, part of my job as an Event Producer is to ask the questions, provide insight and expertise and to find and recommend the solution that best meets the clients needs and budget. The technology is forever changing and the meeting landscape too has changed dramatically over the last year requiring everyone to find new ways of reinvention. I hope this blog will be able to address some of these issues and provide help and insight as I comment on the ins and outs, ups and downs, trials and tribulations of AV in the current meeting environment. Thanks for reading.

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