Getting Your Point Across 

tothepointI like to assume that, as time goes on, we grow and learn; at least I hope we do. Everything changes over time, and as we gain experience (and some things we’ve understood are reaffirmed), we come to view things differently. As the saying goes, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose …”

In retrospect, some things are cringe-inducing. I can think of projects completed 15 years ago that I was super proud of at the time. Rather than aging like fine wine, some aged more like … milk? That’s an occupational hazard!

Many things may have changed over time in this business. One that hasn’t is how frustrating it can be trying to communicate your requirements to other trades for things you need completed on-site, such as cut-outs in the marquetry or the location of electrical outlets. It was drummed into me long ago that communicating your requirements is part of the job, and when in doubt, over-communicate. It’s better to go into too much detail than not enough.

Theoretically, going through the general contractor should make it easier to get things straight. It’s their job to keep everything sorted, but the difference between theory and practice can be vast. I think everyone has had this experience: Trying to gauge if a contractor understands what you’re asking for is like talking to a rock.

I’ve seen a number of solutions either proposed or implemented over the years, whether on the job or in continuing education courses. Broadly speaking, they can be classified as direct or indirect. Direct communication of your requirements means telling them directly. That includes both verbally and in writing by text message, email or something else. It’s not a one-or-the-other proposition. You need to do both, and probably repeatedly. Obviously, the primary value of written communication is the paper trail of what you said and when you said it.

The indirect solution is the concept of creating architectural design guides that detail installation requirements for AV. I’ve seen this solution promoted by consultants who point out that such guides exist for other aspects of building and construction: stonework, marquetry and others. However, at least to me, it’s one of those things that seems like a good idea, and maybe it can be made to work, but it has limitations.

The first issue is finding the time to write a guide. I don’t know any AV general managers who have the spare time to sit down and write one out. Theoretically (there’s that word again), the majority of the materials that would go into your AV design guide could be cribbed from the technical standards section of your company’s manual of standards or practices. That would depend on your company actually having a manual of standards or practices, but that’s a topic for another day.

Another issue is that, over time, the equipment you work with changes. Never mind that a standards guide written ten years ago would be ancient history today. What about two years ago? What about the one you wrote today that will be ancient history two years from now?

All that notwithstanding, your biggest challenge isn’t writing or updating guides; it’s getting builders and other trades to actually read it. Good luck!

It’s a dramatic example, but years ago I was working on a project where I was deeply frustrated with the general contractor and the framer. I made a cardboard cutout the size of the specific flat panel displays that were going to be installed in their own architectural features. Then, I used it as a visual aid to show them how much space to give. It worked, and it’s a trick that I’ve found cause to use in similar situations after that.

Personally, having been around the block a few times now (and conferring with peers who’ve been around even longer), a better solution is to maintain a repertoire of communication strategies. Be sure to break them out where appropriate.