Sunday, November 30, 2008

Details are important (the devil is in them)

When contracted to do work the first thing to remember is listen. Often your client (or potential client) is upset or frustrated because they have been unable to resolve the issue. What they seek from you is assurance. So many make the mistake as I stated in an earlier post of not listening and instead of assuring them or belaying their fears trying to impress them with their technical knowledge – this is a mistake.  Details are not just technical they relate to how you interact. Your first job is to calm fears and concerns – to put people at ease not increase their anxiety. I could give you many steps to follow but I can give you the answer in one step – shut up and listen. Allow them to get their frustration of their chest and then once they have walk them through solving the problem. Telling them how stupid (technically) they are or the mistakes they made only serves to exaggerate the problem by making them feel even worst for not being able to figure things out and why should they be able to they do not have your specialized knowledge, if they did they would not need you – remember when they are coming to you it is because they know something is wrong and are vulnerable. They are admitting this vulnerability to you have a simple choice on a path forward. 

Being a technical person (detail oriented) I tend to see things and patterns that most people miss. Often even before people do things I can predict based in their behavior what they are going to do in general and yet I have to be careful because sometimes in doing that instead of predicting I can create an outcome. When you talk above people’s heads and down to them instead of listening and offering comfort and reassurance that is exactly what you are doing – creating an outcome and most likely not the one you were hoping for – focusing on your ego instead of the client’s need. An important detail is put your ego in check. 

Lets move on the next important detail – do not baffle your client with BS. You are impressing no one when you talk around things or over their head (alluded to this in another post). Remember it took you many years to learn the knowledge you have and they lack the benefit of it. Remember when you first started learning things you did not get it either guess what they are you. The greatest tool in your arsenal to handle this is again listening combined with asking questions. 

Some typical questions include: 

  • What do YOU want to accomplish?
  • What do YOU want me to do?
  • What do YOU think?
  • What were YOU doing when the problem occurred?
  • In YOUR own words tell me what you saw?
  • What do YOU think the problem is?
  • How can I help YOU? 

Are YOU seeing a pattern in the questions yet? 

Once you have gathered the information analyze it and now you must explain it in a way the client understands – let’s use audio equipment as the topic of interest. There are really only a few major components in any audio (sound) system

  1. Media Recording
  2. Media Playback
  3. Signal Amplification
  4. Sound Reproduction 

In each case in an ideal world you want a situation were the components do an accurate job of recreating the original sounds. Seems simple when I explain it like that right? It is and yet there is more detail – lets open the hood and look inside: 

  • Media Recording and Input
    1. CD
    2. Cassette
    3. Reel to Reel
    4. DVD
    5. Digital media
    6. Mixers
    7. Equalizers
    8. Mics (corded and cordless)
  • Media Playback
    1. CD
    2. Cassette
    3. Reel to Reel
    4. DVD
    5. Digital media
    6. Mixers
    7. Equalizers
  • Signal Amplification
    1. Digital amplifiers
    2. Analogue amplifiers
  • Sound Reproduction
    1. Tweeters
    2. Midrange
    3. Woofers
    4. Passive radiators
    5. Sub Woofers 

There is more that could be discussed – distortions, signal to noise, signal drop, decibel levels, noise reduction, fidelity, cross over frequencies, frequency response, signal clipping, gain, signal strength, and on and on – know what – the client really does not care about all of that an unless asked to explain do not (exception: if the client is technically inclined they do to some extent but even then not the how they mostly want to know why did you make the selection – root causes). 

Audio systems should be designed with the end use in mind and truthfully there are only three (3)

  1. Voice reproduction
  2. Instrumental reproduction
  3. Both Voice and Instrumental reproduction 

Once you have listened to your client the only thing they want to know is will it solve their problem and when can you have it done. So now that I have gone into these high level details the only thing that a client want to here is the answer the question they are asking. Let’s use an example – a client has a need for a PA system for a small school library. After following the steps outlined in the previous post your answer should be no more complicated or technical and no less concise than this: 

Here is a solution/system that you enable you to do what YOU want. In this case “Here is a system that will allow you to speak to a room full of people and we have 2 corded and cordless mics to allow you some flexibility.” 

Of course if you are good you have made allowances for future expansion and/or system augmentation. Details are important as technical people we appreciate that structure is required to make things work and we thrive on information and yet we must always focus on the audience – the client and speak with them at their level but mostly listen to what they are telling you. Provide the appropriate amount of detail based on who you are dealing with, be honest, be concise, take care of the details. 

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