What I Learned from CEDIA Business XChange

You may have felt the winds of change last year as you walked by the new and much improved CEDIA booth at the “expo.” I remind you of all of this change as I nurse my sunburned face and arms on the way back from this years’ CEDIA Business Xchange in San Diego. The event—I describe to strangers is a management conference—it wasn’t really a conference at all. It was so much more.
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You may have felt the winds of change last year as you walked by the new and much improved CEDIA booth at the “expo.” Or maybe you noticed the new logo announced along with our trade association’s new branding strategy? Blindly, if you saw neither of the above, you must have at least heard murmurs (actually they were shouts) of change when Vin Bruno took over as our new CEO. I remind you of all of this change as I nurse my sunburned face and arms on the way back from this years’ CEDIA Business Xchange in San Diego. The event—I describe to strangers is a management conference—it wasn’t really a conference that at all. It was so much more. 

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Our time together began with an evening dinner cruise followed by a fun bonding activity. We were handed numbers as we boarded the boat that not only designated our table, but also our team for a scavenger hunt that ensued when we reached Coronado Island. The quest involved reaching out to strangers, taking crazy pictures near specific landmarks, and even the collecting sand from a beach. Although my team didn’t win (despite what we picked as our souvenir from the island—a picture of us all touching the ocean), it was a high-energy, impossible-to-ignore team-building, relationship-building event. (Side note: the winning team appropriately won on their team name, “It worked when I left.”) You get much closer to people when you’re trying to win a competition, than just sharing a drink, I promise you. 

Our first full day did have a more typical “management” class feel. The presenters brought into Xchange offered answers to what CEDIA members have been asking for years. This year’s event focused was hiring and retaining employees, along with a sprinkle of labor law—all pain points for our industry for years.

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In an effort to open up further topics later in the Xchange, we were given “dot stickers” and asked to place them next to topics on a grid that we’d like to discuss with others. The themes (Recurring Revenue Programs, Employee Incentive Plans, Project Management Tools) that received the most stickers became the “Idea Xchange”—moderated open conversations—on the second day.

But first, after a long day inside learning from author Mark Murphy about how to “hire for attitude,” we were once again divided into random teams (by hat colors sponsored by Z-Wave, and participated in the Beach Olympics. (I have not laughed so hard in awhile.) From disc golf, to having 12 people on a team balance a tennis ball on a ring only using long string, to brain games, these events used talents from everyone on the team. This time, we came in second place (I’m still demanding a recount!). The evening wrapped up with an outdoor BBQ and short film courtesy of Barco Residential (Nice projector, by the way, Barco!) and then beach fires were lit and admittedly some beer was consumed.

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Bright and early Friday morning our day started with a 7:00 a.m. breakfast followed by an 8:00 a.m. presentation by Kelly Hughes on the “Top 5 Employment Law Mistakes,” followed by lunch where you could play to win an Oculus Rift only after visiting each of the sponsor (the guy next to me won; see how close I kept coming to greatness?), and then those breakout sessions I mentioned above. One more presenter (Jana Anders on “Getting Good People to Stay” followed this.) If it sounds like a lot of, it was. The closing event was a trolley ride to Old Town San Diego and free shots, I mean tasting, of tequila. I will let the story end right there, but I bet tales will echo for years to come. 

Why is the “fun” important to the overall cause of CEDIA? Because it builds relationships, fosters friendships, and infuses humanity into the overall experience. This, in my humble opinion, is something desperately needed for the association to survive.

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To the small business/installer, CEDIA Business Xchange is not cheap. The event costs between $899-$999, not including travel and hotel costs. If you add up what you could take away from the event, however, you might come out ahead. This equals: bullet points for an employee manual (one company told me he paid his lawyer five grand for his); a tangible beginning of a recurring revenue plan; the proper way to hire (hint: know what you want in an employee first and who your company is), and then how to keep your new good employee. The “tangible” material you walk away with can quickly add up to over the amount paid for these few short days. And this still it does not include the connections you make at such an event that can last a lifetime. At about 125 people, it was easy to get to know everyone and reach out after the experience.

CEDIA is not just a trade show, and they are desperately trying to get that across to the industry. There’s no doubt that my friends over the last few days truly understand the community we have. Do you?

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