Just as it is virtually impossible to be an expert in all areas of business, a profession, or an industry, it is highly improbable to be successful without a network and connections. Without the benefit of professional contacts, colleagues, clients, and friends to provide support, facilitate learning, stimulate growth, challenge ideas, field questions, and offer thought-provoking discussion, growth personally and professionally can be stunted. Especially in an advancing technology field like the AV industry, where the ability to keep up with the various products, trends, terms, and know-how can be a challenge, surviving purely on your own is a tall order.
Despite its difficulty to attract job seekers, the AV industry tends to embrace those who find it and provides a welcoming, long-term home. While the technology is cool, the applications interesting, and the opportunities for growth and advancement are available, what is often identified as the greatest attribute of the AV industry is its people. Other industries and professions have associations, conventions, networking socials, and resources for knowledge and education, but few can compare to the caring, close-knit, nurturing community that exists in the AV industry.
Because the AV industry is boutique and niche as compared to adjacent trades like IT, construction, electrical contracting, or architecture, there is a great deal of respect and recognition given to those who excel and contribute to its betterment. These individuals not only help their organization and clients succeed, they are also responsible for disseminating a significant amount of tribal knowledge, support, mentorship, and experience to everyone around them.
Especially during the times of social distancing and increased work from home, the value of human connection is in greater focus. Whether it's in pursuit of professional camaraderie, new opportunities, knowledge to tackle challenges, advice for handling situations, or simply friendship, those who understand its importance proactively make connections and seek opportunities to surround themselves with a support system of quality individuals with similar interests, roles, or needs. While this may be instinctual or obvious to those in extroverted roles such as sales, marketing, and PR, the technical nature of the AV industry attracts many engineers, technicians, and programmers who tend to be more introverted, and less adept to be outgoing and proactively make connections.
Avenues for making connections can vary from the most common and familiar methods of networking at events, trade shows, and conferences to the more specialized or hidden opportunities of virtual happy hours, certification study groups, online communities, and social media engagement. While in-person or face-to-face connections may seem more natural for some, being able to connect virtually and communicate asynchronously can be more comfortable for others. In either case, just like in business, it can take those unique, challenging, or intimidating opportunities that push one out of their comfort zone to achieve the greatest payoff.
To help facilitate an accurate identity, supportive community, and voice in the industry, groups have formed where individuals in similar positions or with common needs can connect with others like them. These groups may be councils within multi-disciplinary industry associations like AVIXA, NSCA, or CEDIA or may be specialized associations like CCUMC or HETMA. The value of these groups is undeniable: they provide supportive communities and an identity, voice, and representation for a definitive segment or interest in the industry. Examples include groups serving women, diversity, technology managers, integrators, higher education, consultants, and independent service providers.
While it is important to recognize the benefit that like-minded interest groups provide, it is equally beneficial to consider the importance of interaction with people or groups with varied experiences, backgrounds, and roles. By nature, a group of like-minded people can be very supportive when they share the same perspectives, interests, challenges, and needs. However, these same strengths and comforts also result in narrow perspectives, stagnant ideas, and potential blind spots. Engaging with others outside of a familiar circle or comfort zone can be even more beneficial for growth and learning.
Here are some strategies for making new connections and expanding one's professional network that may not be readily considered:
Grow a following on social media platforms by connecting with industry leaders, engaging with peers, and posting regularly.
Social media can be intimidating or have a negative connotation. Whether it's daunting to get started, challenging to master, or is perceived to be too time consuming, many discount the value that social media can offer professionally. The opportunity to share knowledge, build a reputation, create engagement, and curate followers all lead to increased potential for visibility, connections, and relationships. There are numerous Facebook, LinkedIn, and Reddit groups that are AV-centric ranging from general to highly specialized interests. On Twitter, identify the handles of familiar contacts, follow them, check out who they follow or who follows them; monitor the hashtag #AVTweeps and join the conversation. Lastly, look for hashtags for fun and creative outlets such as #AVFitness, #AVFoodies, and #DogsofAV and online chats that are blossoming into valued communities like #AVinTheAM.
Get involved with industry associations through volunteering and serving on councils or committees.
A great way to demonstrate support for the industry while meeting new people, cultivating relationships, and learning from others with diverse backgrounds, varied roles, and unique perspectives is to join organizations and volunteer to serve on councils, committees, or leadership boards. There is a multitude of groups that serve defined purposes including standards, education, industry verticals, industry positions, causes, and special interests. Those who participate in these groups share a common interest and are seeking a connection with others who are like them. Additionally, the reward of working toward a collective goal promotes openness and camaraderie.
Listen to podcasts, watch videos, and read blogs to build familiarity with industry thought leaders.
One of the best ways to foster bonds and learn in the process is to consume content from industry thought leaders. Most everyone who makes the effort to produce a podcast or blog is doing it to share knowledge, gain visibility, and make connections. Therefore, it is fairly common for them to be receptive toward engaging with their audience. While blogs can communicate a message through text, they rely on the reader to add their voice and imagination to bring the content alive. On the other hand, podcasts offer an even greater opportunity to get to know people and build familiarity without even meeting them. The content is delivered authentically using the tonality, emphasis, and style of the speaker. Taking it one step further, video presents an added layer of personal touch, familiarity, and openness.
Humans are wired to connect with others. Specifically, mirror neurons in the human brain are stimulated when interaction occurs, resulting in feelings of empathy and understanding. Whatever the method or mechanics of the relationship, the value of connection and inter-personal bonds is undeniable. Those in AV are not only lucky to be part of an exciting and growing industry, but also very fortunate to have the opportunity to connect with supportive people, build valued friendships, and become ingrained in caring communities.
It's a great time to reach out, pursue connections, join conversations, and get more involved in the AV industry. Most would agree that for whatever they contribute, they get more back in return!
Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.