Have you ever started talking with someone and the more you spoke with them, the more you liked them? The more you listened to them, the more you learned? The more you became like a sponge for their every word, the more you felt like you left the conversation a better, smarter person? That’s how I felt after spending an hour talking with Malissa Dillman of Kramer Electronics.
Malissa is one of those people that just makes the industry better by being a part of it. But, the truth of the matter is, Malissa didn’t originally set out to “be a part” of the industry.
“Well, in 1998 when I started out, I was an end user,” recalled Malissa. “I recruited doctors for the IU School of Medicine. We had built this lovely new facility, we had this great big, divisible multipurpose training room, and we needed someone to head up the AV for the room. Well, all of a sudden I found myself in charge of the AV for this training room.”
Malissa got a crash course in AV.
The industry, however, wasn’t really focused on education at the time. It was somewhat of a fight or flight system.
Well, it just so happened that in addition to running the AV for this fantastic, state-of-the-art training room, Malissa met and, eventually, married the guy who designed the room. Malissa and Doug Dillman married in 2000.
“At the time, Doug had his own company where he did installations — he didn’t sell product or anything,” explained Malissa. “And I realized very quickly and very early on in our marriage that I was going to have to learn this industry or I was going to die of boredom listening to him talk about it.
So I started to ask questions. I’d hear him and his coworkers talking about “RGB” all the time, so I asked, ‘What is RGB?’ and he said, ‘Well, it’s red, green, blue.’ I said, ‘Seriously?!’ And I realized if something like RGB was so simple, then I thought I can handle this. And from there he began taking me out into the field and I started doing installations with him.”
As she began doing installations side-by-side with Doug, Malissa realized how much she was learning in the field. Eventually, she started running entire crews.
That’s right around the time that the CTS Certification program started. In fact, Malissa and her husband Doug are some of the earliest holders in the state of Indiana for CTS certifications.
At the time, Malissa bad been doing installs for almost four years. She knew HOW to do things in the field during installs, but she didn’t know WHY. When she started studying for the CTS, she realized WHY. And the more she realized why they did things the way they did in the field, the more she realized she wanted to learn even more and gain and even greater comprehension of AV.
“So, a few years later I sent my husband to a CTS-D certification class. So, he got his CTS-D and his CTS-I certifications and we just wanted to get everything and anything out of InfoComm that we could,” explained Malissa. “You really get out of it what you put into it. So, eventually I called InfoComm and asked what I could do. So I got involved. I was like a kid in a candy shop.”
Five years later, Malissa got her CTS-D and CTS-I certifications.
In addition to loving education in the industry, Malissa has another passion: her daughter and her daughter’s love of dance. “I’m an official dance mom,” says Malissa of her relationship with her 11-year-old daughter. Malissa and Doug’s daughter, Joanne, is a ballerina. But like many things in her life, Malissa didn’t set out for her daughter to dance.
“One of the things I love so much about this industry is how family friendly it is,” said Malissa. “When my daughter was a baby, she would go on sales calls with me. I worked from home for a while after giving birth. In fact, I even did an auditorium install in a high school the summer I was pregnant. I have a lot of friends who were clients who eventually became like family. I remember bringing my daughter to a meeting and we’d joke that Cheerios weren’t free… my daughter had to earn her keep. You know, she’s sold a lot of systems in her days.”
Malissa loved being able to have her daughter by her side while she worked. She worked with Malissa up until the time they had to put her in preschool. A few years later when Joanne was three, Malissa and Doug were working for a company that was located in a little office building that was basically a strip with three offices. At the end of the strip, a woman put in a dance studio.
One day, the woman approached Malissa and said, “You should bring in your daughter.”
“She’s three,” Malissa said.
“She’ll have fun!” said the dance studio lady.
So, Malissa thought, why not? Little did she know Joanne had a natural talent for dance and has now been dancing for almost nine years. No matter how much Malissa and Doug travel, they always make time for their daughter and her passion for dance. In fact, they even built an entire dance studio in their home for her to practice. As a family, they’re learning French and Russian.
Malissa loves what dance is doing for both Joanne and her. She says, “Dance has given her a strong foundation. One of learning to work with a group, become very disciplined, being healthy, and it’s been great for her self-esteem. As long as she maintains that foundation and it’s something that she feels good about and that she enjoys, we will support her.”
So, between being a dance mom and an extremely active member and participant in the AV industry, Malissa keeps her days full but fulfilling. It’s just so evident how passionate Malissa is about helping others and about education. It’s clear that she instills that in her daughter and it’s clear that she is instilling that in members of the AV industry as well.
“Education is such a big thing for me,” she says. “Being the first woman to join the ranks of Educator of the Year was so exciting and really big thing for me. I try to maintain some presence so that others, especially other women, realize that it CAN be done.”
Malissa didn’t know other women who were certified or technical when she was younger and coming up in the industry. Although there are more today, certainly, it just isn’t the same as it is with men.
“I completely understand the fears surrounding the CTS tests,” she says. “I spent five years saying, ‘I don’t know enough, I’m not experienced enough.’ And the truth is, you are. I was. You just don’t know it. I just didn’t know it. By having someone cheer for you and say you can do this is huge. My husband did that for me and so I try to do that for other women. I am relentless. I make myself available to ANYONE who needs encouragement, needs direction. I’m more than happy to be anyone’s cheerleader. I’d love to see more women take the plunge and get certified.”
Malissa’s ultimate goal is to inspire others. And I think she’s done just that.