You're probably aware that I attend a LOT of conferences, conventions, seminars, and trade shows. The two most common complaints from attendees at these events seem to be "I can't hear" and "it's too loud". It seems that trade show floors have become audio battlegrounds, decibels the ammunition, and attendee ears the casualties of war. At the Illinois CPA Foundation's 2006 Business & Technology Solutions Show last week in Chicago I was [again] asked to lead "Walking Tours" on the show floor. Once each day I led a group of ~50 brave accountants across the trade show in search of new and exciting technologies to add productivity and profitability to their practices. This year I was prepared and had asked the show organizers to equip each stop with a portable public address system to ensure that their presenters would be heard. From my perspective it was a huge improvement --- unfortunately, for those in neighboring booths my "solution" was their "problem". I had simply exacerbated the problem and while my walking tour attendees were happy, others clearly were not. Fortunately for those offended by our volume, we moved quickly, thereby spreading the pain. Others have adopted this electronic solution, too --- I noticed no fewer that a dozen powered microphones on the floor, each trying mightily to drown out the others.
Then, right in the center of the cacophony, I noticed an auditory oasis. The Microsoft booth designers had wisely (and mercifully!) designed their training center to include headphones for each learner! Surrounded by 200 booths and several thousand attendees, all being barked at electronically by vendors trying to get some level of attention, was an open classroom with 20 or so accountants seated classroom style. The instructor stood at a podium and was flanked by twin 42" monitors. Each attendee station included a laptop computer and, much to my ear's delight, a set of headphones. The instructor spoke softly, or at least normally, into a headset and the entire group heard and followed ---- seemingly oblivious to the relentless droning surrounding them. Amazing!
A tip of the hat to Bob Lewis, Microsoft's Senior Marketing Manager for Accounting Professionals, and his people for thinking of their neighbors and implementing some basic technology along with some not-so-common sense. My conversations with those who had participated in these headphone-enabled on-floor CPE sessions revealed that, to a person, they were highly impressed with the variety and quality of Microsoft's offerings.
Reminds me of what Teddy said .... "Walk softly and carry a big stick." ..... er, "Talk softly and carry a supply of headphones!"