Early on in their careers, many budding journalists get frustrated with these meetings, during which vendors describe the latest version of their software or take reporters on 20 minute booth tours, replete with product demos. They find the whole process has little value that couldn't be gained by simply clicking around Web sites in their offices.
You see, they have yet to realize the best approach for these little get togethers, an approach I developed during my eight years in trade publishing at three different magazines. This particular approach can make these perfunctory interactions more valuable — and pleasant — for both parties.
Whenever I accept a request for one of these meetings, I do my best to make it clear that I am not interested in hearing about Version 6.0. What I am interested in is meeting with somebody at the company who is involved in strategic decision making. I make it clear that I would like to speak with that person about high-level trends they see moving the industry in one direction or another.
Equipped with this approach, reporters may find their interviews more lively, valuable and insightful; and so much more pleasant for the interviewee.
“You are the first reporter at this show to interview me like this,” a vendor once remarked to me. “This was fun.”
While “having fun” at a show like HIMSS might seem unlikely — given the size of the exhibit floor and, more significantly, everyone's frighteningly packed schedules — this approach may work for you too. For all meetings, take the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Don't let the other party drive the agenda. Following this approach for all your business interactions may yield some patterns, perhaps even a trend, giving you insights that would otherwise go undiscovered.
For example, our reporters hit the show knowing they have to meet with all sizeable vendors on their beats. Take wireless — interviewing the top eight wireless network, software and hardware providers using our high-level strategy should reveal the top trends in the space. Hearing about Version 6.0 will not.
The February issue of HCI is a reflection of that overall strategy, executed not only at trade shows, but during every interview and conversation we conduct throughout the year. With all those discussions in mind, all those notes to sift through, it wasn't too hard to come up with some ideas for our Top Tech Trends. But we didn't stop there. Editors personally contacted our highest-level sources, a group of around 300 people I call FOPs (Friends of the Publication), anchored by our Editorial Board. They put the final seal of approval on each trend we ultimately selected.
While you may not be approaching HIMSS with the same goals as our writers, you do have an agenda. Perhaps you're looking for a particular solution to a specific problem. Well, get organized. Pick out the vendors or organizations you want to meet with, set up your meetings and get your pencil ready to take some notes. After all your chats, review your notes to look for trends. Control the conversation and don't get pitched on Version 6.0. If you discover a natural affinity for interviewing and taking notes, drop me a line, we're always looking for freelancers.