The Next Show

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Well, my last column (on the death of black drape) seemed to draw a lot of attention, both for and against. I received quite a lot of email, most in agreement but a few of the if it aint broke, dont fix it variety.

And now my question is, Why?

Of all the things I write about, why does the stupid drape provoke discussion? In the past few months this column has looked at new methods of show control, webcasting, streaming, and some completely new skill sets that will be required of the stager. Weve talked about the use of robotics and the issues surrounding the blurring lines between production and staging. All of them provoked response, but none as much as our precious funeral drapes. For those of you defending the mourning look for shows because of its flexibility, let me answer your main questions:

First: Yes, I have a sizeable inventory of black drape. I didnt say I dont do it, I said I dont like it. And Id gladly give it up completely. I work every day at showing my clients alternatives.

Second: Yes, Im aware that drapery adds profitability to an already shrinking margin on equipment rentals. I made a lot of money renting slide projectors once, too, but gave them up for newer things.

But the best question I received was from somebody who seemed to get beyond the detail questions. He asked: Your columns lately have been about technologies and practices that seem to change the shows we do. If were out to change the show, what does the new show look like? And, more importantly, what does the new staging company look like?

Wow.

Okay, here goes: I believe we face the same issues as the rest of the world. Materials and equipment cost less all the time, while people are the real cost. And yet, as an industry, the model most of us use depends on deriving the bulk of our income from gear, while weve trained a market to expect many services free or at low cost because they were renting equipment. The most fundamental change we can make for the long term is to reverse that. Our clients must recognize the value of every hour every one of our people spends on a project. To make them realize that value, we must, as our early math teachers instructed us all, show our work. To do that, we need to demonstrate our brainpower advanced technical skills and creativity.
To do that, we must actually have them.

So the first characteristic of the new show is that it is crewed by people clients see as an investment. They have established professional credentials that clients care about and are assigned to the show early and work it all the way through. This lets the client learn to appreciate them as consultative professionals, rather than hands. This means that the technical planning part of the show should not be conducted by a salesperson (who the client sees as performing these roles for some kind of commission, even if theyre not) but by a technician whose time is billed. In order to make the client understand these costs, we must deliver people at the technical level who can communicate who know their way around attending a meeting as well as operating one.

The second characteristic of the new show is that it has professional presentation values. All too often, for all but the largest meetings, our clients have reduced presentation values to what they think is a good PowerPoint template. We need to deliver staging values to what we used to see as smaller meetings, because all too often the big meeting has been reduced to a number of connected smaller meetings. This was one of the reasons behind my murderous assault on our precious black drape. We must transform a higher percentage of our jobs from meetings to events.

The third characteristic of the new show is that it must utilize our brainpower on the technical side to contribute to the content and look of the show for more than switching their microphones and PowerPoint sources in a world of black drape. We have a whole new raft of technologies that are poised to transform the meeting from a technical standpoint. Automated lighting, for instance, is smaller, less costly, and more versatile than ever before. Videoconferencing and streaming is easier and less expensive to do from location than ever before. Robotics are giving multi-camera looks to what used to be single-camera shows. All of these things contribute to the content and atmosphere of a show without transforming the staging tech into a producer.

And all of them contribute to charging more for our ever-more-expensive people.

We can use these things to create an industry whose jobs cannot be outsourced somewhere cheaper. We can make a place for a larger AV industry in a world where more and more functions go online where my younger clients actually refer to an online chat as a meeting.

I believe we need to change one of our old sayings, too: From here on in, were only as good as our NEXT show.


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