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Five traits of a Digital Signage consultant

Do a quick search for ‘Employee Communications Consulting’ on LinkedIn and you’ll find people with degrees from Hooters to Harvard. “Oh, you’re a ‘chest’ consultant? I see…” Well, I suppose there might be an opportunity there.

So when I suggest that consulting might be helpful to customers exploring new digital signage applications, or expanding their existing network, I do so with a hearty nod to those skeptics who didn’t even open this article. Here at Creating Margin, we think implementing digital signage warrants an investment in Employee Communications Consulting to determine how that implementation will work.

Here are five traits to look for in any consultant for digital signage customers.

An Employment History In Digital Signage

An expert in any field should have first-hand knowledge of the digital signage landscape. While the age of the digital signage industry (perhaps more than 15 years) may give the impression that it is mature, in fact, the landscape is very pre-consolidation. Indeed, while revenues are at all-time highs and growing as the world economy improves, there are few industry standards in place to establish terminology, common do’s and don’ts, as well as consolidate to the true industry leaders. While some entities offer industry certifications (consider www.DSEG.com, which offers a valuable primer and expert courses), rarely can one replace the knowledge acquired from implementing a solution from conception to installation.

With these first-hand insights, your consultant will be better able to steer you in a particular, reasoned direction based on successes and failures of past implementations. In a variation of Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been,” Robert Koolen of Koolen & Associates advises that “in order to skate to where the puck is going, you still need to understand where it has been.”

Deep Technical Knowledge Of Solutions

A non-technical consultant in digital signage may be nothing more than a grizzled sales veteran with a sack of industry catchphrases. While strategic or managerial guidance is no doubt helpful to many organizations, to me management consulting rings too much of McKinsey and Company, and too little of “let’s get this piece of glass displaying the right content.”

At the end of the day, implementing a successful digital signage network requires some very specific technical input, well-defined requirements (a business problem to solve, let’s say), and a steady, confident hand in execution.

An Independent Outlook On Hardware And Software Options

Perhaps finding an unbiased consultant is intuitive to some, but many digital signage customers rely on insights from persons with a financial interest in selling a particular hardware or software product. Instead, look for an expert who is deeply familiar with all elements of a digital signage solution (from pricing to support functionality), and lean on their recommendations.

Put it this way, if you ask that CUTCO knife salesman at your door about the best way to prepare your favorite meal, do you think he’ll recommend using anything from competing WUSTHOF? No, you can be sure that all the components of that meal will be sliced, diced, and cooked with CUTCO tools. Not surprising; that salesman may never have used anything else!

The reality in this fragmented world of digital signage is that each product or service provider excels in a particular niche. Even the best software providers may lack competencies in their order fulfillment processes. What we’re suggesting is a sort of best-of-breed selection process, and to ensure that these pieces are compatible you’ll again need to look to your consultant. To be clear, we’re not suggesting that you should use 5 different software platforms to meet your requirements, that is impractical. Even so, you’ll be better off finding someone with knowledge of those 5 platforms, and no commission incentive, to speak with about your project.

A Broad Network In The Field

We’ve agreed that buying recommendations without rollout is like throwing coins into the ocean thinking it’s a wishing well – your execution will start and end a bit off target. One of the most important traits of a reputable digital signage consultant is a broad network of associates – spread out both in expertise and in a geographic area- around the world.

Once ideas have been wire framed and networks have been diagrammed, the rubber has to meet the road with a network of A/V installers to realize the vision and get the hardware mounted and displaying content. Your consultant should be connected enough to offer specific names of companies that can play a part in the rollout in each region. Mike Shanley of Denver-based KonektId (pronounced “connected”) says that “in our global economy where even the smallest villages can be accessed remotely through the internet, the core of the international business is still based on strong personal relationships.” Shanley continues that “you can learn about a new market through Google, but it is not a replacement for established local relationships.”

A Global Outlook And Background

It goes without saying that the world is shrinking, that social networks and company cultures cross borders, and that languages may be the last frontier of truly global enterprises. But there will always be peculiarities in our “cultural norms” and different contributions from team members based on background and origin.

In their book “Building Cross-Cultural Competence”, Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars speak to the difficulty of delegating work across different in-country teams. Figuring out who is best positioned to succeed in a given assignment (whether short or long term, local or foreign) is a subjective measurement.

Each team member’s contribution must be evaluated from experience. A global view of cultural strengths can move us in the right direction in this analysis. Take the Dutch speed skating team in the Sochi Olympics for example – clearly, they have the special sauce when it comes to their sport. Do the Dutch have particular strengths in content creation or a unique software offering? For that, you’ll have to ask a digital signage consultant!

Lean on a consultant with these traits, and you’ll find digital signage to be an integral part of your IT and communications systems.

Technical training for a non-technical audience

Explaining technical topics can be tricky, especially when your audience is not technically inclined.  But at some point, every technology company will need to train non-tech people on complex tools or processes.  We hope that the following recommendations will help you engage team members who are unfamiliar with, or even averse to, technical subject matter.

Audience Awareness

As with any presentation, knowing your audience is critical to technical training.  Making false assumptions about your listeners or addressing them at an inappropriate technical level can have devastating effects.  You can leave your audience not only just as uninformed as before but also soured on the notion of learning the topic in the future.

Knowing to whom you are speaking is a nuanced process.  Typically your listeners will have a wide range of technical aptitude, and it is the presenter’s job to find the “sweet spot” for the training.  Ideal evaluation of your training would consist of majority audience satisfaction, with a few edge cases faulting you for being either too technical or not technical enough.

Covering The Right Material

Having a good feel for your audience will help you select the scope of material to be covered.  Determining what to cover and what not is key, because it helps you deliver the material effectively.  Too broad of a scope can be overwhelming and convoluted, while too narrow of scope may bore the audience due to lack of substance.

For longer training segments, you must be prepared to change directions and add or delete material based on progress.  If your audience requires more attention to basics, you may consider cutting out a more advanced topic.  Conversely, you should have supplemental material ready to be added if your listeners grasp the initial concepts rapidly.

The K.I.S.S. Method (“Keep It Simple, Stupid!”)

One of the most important skills of a trainer or presenter is simplifying complex material.  You may be inclined to show off your thorough knowledge of a topic, but instead, try asking yourself if each component you cover will help the listener do something useful.  If not, you are better off saving it for another time.  Use your experience to stage the complexity of your curriculum appropriately.

A great way to keep a topic simple is to summarize or give a shortened version of it by focusing on its main points.  In many cases, your audience will not benefit from knowing every detail, unless the topic is a specific tool or procedure.  It is your job as a trainer to find the 20% of material that will help your trainees get familiar with 80% of the topic.  This allows your audience to give extra attention to the most important information while not getting lost in the details.

Attitude Vs. Aptitude

Half the battle in teaching a technical topic is the presenter’s demeanor.  Your audience is not stupid, but they may not have any prerequisite skill set or knowledge for the topic you are teaching.  Moreover, you cannot expect them to have the same level of interest that you do.  It is important to remember that you are the expert in this particular topic, but also that your audience likely knows more than you about a number of other topics.  Respect your listeners and be attentive to their questions, comments, and concerns.

Be enthusiastic and authentic.  Your excitement for the material will be inspirational and, eventually, contagious.  Put your interest in a topic on display, and you will find it that much easier to captivate your audience.  How you present yourself should be exactly who you are.  Be grateful for the opportunity to speak before your audience, and have a good time with it.  A dull learning environment reduces productivity –– you will get better results by making the material fun and having a sense of humor.

Training Is A Team Effort

Audience participation is generally a good thing and should be encouraged.  Technical knowledge is more likely to be retained by an actively engaged listener.  A great way to increase participation is by asking for questions at each stopping point.  Instead of “Are there any questions?”, try asking in an open-ended way, such as “What questions do you all have?”  This phrasing tells the audience that you expect questions, and you should be prepared to wait until the first one is posed.  Don’t be afraid to take the presentation from a lecture to more of a conversation, as long as you can stay on-topic.  People learn in different ways, and group discussions can be a great addition to your training.

We hope this post helps provide some guidance for your next technical training session.  Additionally, we would love to hear other tips and tricks you have used that are not mentioned here.  Now … What questions do you all have?